Florida. Beaches, shopping, theme parks, relaxing. There is no shortage of things to do in this area. But beyond the touristy things, what is there? In town and looking to explore Tampa the way the locals do? Then look no further! I have lived in Tampa my whole life and here are a few of my recommendations for everything you must do while you are in town.
One of the best things about Tampa is the food. Since many people move here from all over the world, you can find authentic food from just about any region/culture at the local places. Pizza, Phillys, Tacos, and the famous Cubans, here are a few can’t miss places:
Mise en Place
Recently named the #1 restaurant in the Bay Area Mise en Place is located right downtown (and also has its own Wiki page, its that popular!) Featuring New American Cuisine with a regional flair, Chef Marty Blitz uses locally sourced ingredients whenever possible. Try the “Get Blitzed” tasting menu; its a sampling of all of the Chef’s favorite dishes that week.
A Tampa Landmark since 1905 the Columbia can be found in Historic Ybor City (not far from downtown Tampa). It serves incredible Spanish food and the interior of the resturant is a beautiful old world style. Try the 1905 Salad, or the Tapas (small plates) if you are in the mood to share with friends. Oh and don’t forget to try their sangria! Its amazing!
The same family that founded The Columbia is behind the hottest new place in South Tampa, Ulele (pronounced You-lay-lee). The food here is out of this world good, and the menu is a mix of Florida seafood and southern comfort. Ulele pays homage to the area’s former Native American inhabitants both in the menu and with its name. They are also a working brewery if you are into craft beers and offer tours. Located along the riverwalk they are next to the Water Works Park. Ulele is fast becoming a Tampa favorite!
If you are looking for a great place to grab lunch downtown be sure to stop by Moxies. They have sandwiches, soups, salads, and the biggest homemade cookies you have ever seen. Bonus they also have a full coffee bar and homemade ice cream. My favorite is the Amore sandwich (add tomatos!) and the out-of-this-world pasta salad. You won’t regret it!
Not technically downtown Datz is in near by South Tampa. A super popular brunch spot, Datz has great good and ambiance. Make reservations or be prepared to wait for a while, Datz is a Tampa institution and incredibly popular. But that’s how you know it’s good! While you wait, pop over to Datz Dough next store and check out the dessert cases and pastries. Its worth the trip!
Located just over the river from Downtown and across from the University of Tampa Oxford Exchange is an upscale yet relaxed location to grab a bite to eat and socialize. Grab a coffee or a tea at the bar, lounge in the overstuffed chairs, or poke around their shop. OE is a local favorite and will be yours too!
Its probably no secret that Tampa likes to drink and party. There is a vibrant craft beer scene, and no shortage of bars and clubs all over the city. Here are a few of my favorites near downtown.
One of the trendy places to see and be seen there are few places hotter on a friday night than Jackson’s. Located on Harbor Island, Jaskson’s has great drinks, and even better food. At night the rooftop terrace turns into a nightclub with a South Beach vibe and the young and beautiful take over. Definitely a Tampa must-do!
If you are anywhere near downtown, stop in to Fly Bar. A popular after-work watering hole, the Fly Bar outside patio is one of the places to see and be seen in Downtown Tampa. The drinks are great and dinner on their rooftop deck in the evening overlooking the city is a great date night. Bonus that they are located next to the Tampa mural!
Floridan Palace & The Sapphire Bar
Located in the newly restored Floridan Palace (the sign on top says Hotel Floridan) the Sapphire bar is all elegance and a great excuse to see the inside of the hotel. Built in 1926 the hotel is all old world charm and grand elegance. No visit to Tampa would be complete without checking it out.
Cigar City Brewing
No trip to Tampa would be complete without checking out our Craft Beer scene. In the past decade Tampa has become a mecca for those who love beer. One the best breweries in town is Cigar City Brewing company. Although they are not located downtown (they are several miles away on Dale Mabry) it is totally worth the trip. Take a brewery tour (it comes with a beer in a souvenir glass!) and learn all about how beer is made, bottled, and shipped.
Tampa has its own speakeasy but you have to know where to find it. Here’s a hint; its on the first floor of a building at Howard and Bayshore. Don’t look for a sign, cause there isn’t one. But you do need to know the password and it changes daily. Find a local we will show you how it works. Once inside its like a step back in time as the staff (and many patrons!) are in authentic 1920’s garb. If you didn’t pack your 1920’s gear, still be sure to dress up, there is a dress code. The drink menu is really more of a small novel and features appropriately old fashioned drinks. Anyone in the mood for a gimlet? Definitely the coolest bar you have ever been to!
Things to See
Now that the important things are out of the way, get out and do something! There are many things to do in the area both indoor and outdoor. Its very helpful to have a car as there is extremely limited public transit but here are a few of my picks that are walking distance from the downtown area.
The Tampa Theater
Catch a movie, take a tour, or just get a picture with the marquee out front, no trip to Tampa is complete without a visit to the Tampa Theater. Opened in 1926 the Tampa Theater is an atmospheric theater designed by famous theater palace architect John Eberson. On the historic register, the Tampa Theater has been named one of the top 10 movie palaces in the world by The Credits. Before each movie the Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ entertains the audience. Step back in time and check this place out. You won’t soon forget it!
The Tampa Mural
Located on the north side of downtown, the Tampa Mural can be found on the side of the PP+K Advertising Agency. Stop by at some point during your trip and get a picture to prove you were here!
University of Tampa
The Minarets of the Plant Hotel on the University of Tampa campus have become an iconic part of the city’s skyline. Check out their campus along the river, and get great photos from across the river in Curtis Hixon Park. There is even a historic tour of Plant Hall.
Curtis Hixon Park: (Including Florida Museum of Photographic Arts, Tampa Museum of Art, and the Glazer Children’s Museum)
Curtis Hixon is the park at the northern end of the new Tampa Riverwalk. It is the site for many urban happenings, concerts, and large scale events like Margarita Fest and this weekend’s Gasparilla Music Festival. From the park you can walk along the river south to MacDill park, Harbor Island, and Channelside. Boardering the park you will find the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts, Tampa Museum of Art, and the Glazer Children’s Museum. Check them all out if you have some time.
Sacred Heart Catholic Church
Its not all booze and pirates in Tampa!
If you are into stunning architecture, check out Sacred Heart Church in downtown. Open daily, it is absolutely stunning inside and out. A dozen stained glass windows, incredibly detailed alter and original tile work make this a must see. Mass is offered 5 times on Sundays with other services during the week.
Officially the longest continuous sidewalk in the world, Bayshore is the site for the infamous Gasparilla Pirate Invasion Parade and a favorite for local runners. Lined with massive mansions and the trendy Hyde Park & South Tampa neighborhoods Bayshore is a great place to watch the sunrise, or just stroll along the water.