When we decided to spend 2 months in Tampa, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. All I knew was we wanted to experience a new place, attend the Tampa RV Show and go on a cruise without flying anywhere; the area met those goals and surpassed our expectations. Read on to see how we enjoyed our time (and you can too) during your visit to the Tampa Bay area.
Visit the Tampa Bay area
Parks and nature
Nature is plentiful in the metro area. There are lots of parks, ocean activities, wildlife viewing, kayaking opportunities and more! We tend to enjoy nature and being outside more than other activities.
Alderman’s Ford Park This place, for me, was a hidden gem. This is a county park which was quiet, had a wonderful loop trail and an extended boardwalk area along with a great canoe/kayak launch. There is a small fee of $2 to park here which I found totally worth it for the solitude. There is also a nice playground should you be traveling with kids. You can also have your dog on leash throughout the trails.
Lithia Springs Park – This is a county park which offers a natural spring that continuously discharges 72-degree water and serves as a nice place for swimmers to cool off on hot summer days. It also has a first-come, first-served campground which looked nice. You could visit both this park and Alderman’s Ford together as they are only about 20 minutes apart and your entrance fee to one will be accepted at the other.
Lettuce Lake Regional Park – A great park for wildlife watching and exploring the boardwalks. This park also has a small fee, $2, to park and explore. Get out and see the wildlife. Bring a camera, picnic lunch and enjoy nature.
TECO manatee viewing center – This is a boardwalk viewing area to see manatee. The local power plant uses the bay water to cool the plant and then releases the warm water back into the bay. Well, the manatee discovered the warm waters and enjoy floating about. They built a totally free boardwalk to observe the mammals. There are also a few short hiking trails which should not be ignored. They are quiet and peaceful. Be aware since this is free that it gets crowded! I found taking the trails a nice break from the crowds of the boardwalk area and parking lots.
Museums and inside activities
Ybor City – This is the history of Tampa! We learned a lot by walking around, visiting the little museum and visitor’s center and soaking in the vibes of this historic district. You can do everything from ride the historic street car, smoke a hand rolled cigar and watch them being made, learn about the history of the city of Tampa, partake in the nightlife and visit the historical buildings and museum. There are also free roaming chickens which added to the old city charm. This is an area of the city that is being revitalized, so we’re sure it will be different when you visit. However, we think it’s worth a stop. There are many restaurants to choose from and nightlife seems to be abundant.
Florida Aquarium – From everything I heard about this place, it should be a good time. However, we did not visit it during our visit. Pair it with a walk on the Riverwalk.
Henry B. Plant Museum – This place is a historic hotel which looks amazing from the outside. It has the oddest architecture and you’ll know what I’m talking about when you see it for yourself. We didn’t tour it, but we think we would if we had more time to explore.
Take your pick from the following: Children’s Museum, Tampa Bay History Center, Museum of Science and Industry. As you can see, Tampa has no shortage of museums to fit different likes. If you have a rainy day or it’s simply too hot to be outside for extended periods, pick one and go explore.
Food and drink
Breweries – Over 80 breweries are scattered throughout the Tampa Bay area and probably more are opening each year. Take your pick. Some of them offer food, while others have a food truck parked outside and the rest usually allow you to bring food into the establishment to consume with your beer. We enjoyed Coppertail Brewing (great food here too!), Bootleggers (bring your own food), Cigar City (food truck), Ybor City Mead and Cider (food in the area) and more! Seriously, there are too many to list.
Columbia Restaurant – The oldest Spanish restaurant in Florida serving up what we hear is delicious food. Visit this famous establishment in Ybor City and possibly even enjoy some flamenco dancing along with your dinner.
There is everything from seafood to Italian to Mexican to vegan restaurants. We won’t listing them all because there’s always yelp for those reviews. Plus, they are always new places opening which might be worth a stop. Find one that suits your taste buds.
Festivals and special events
Strawberry Festival in Plant City (about 30-45 minutes away) – I wish we had one more week in the area, so we could attend this 11-day festival. Held in the beginning of March every year, I’m thinking it would be a blast to attend. I wish I could tell you more, but I’ll leave it to you to explore further.
Gasparilla – A festival lasting 6 weeks where pirates invade the city of Tampa. It starts with a 4.5 mile parade where 500,000 people watch as pirates float down Bayshore Blvd tossing beads at a rowdy, mostly drunk crowd. The festivities are land and water based. Watch out for the boats lined up on the water because they throw water balloons at you!
The weeks following hold all kinds of events with pirate themes including a half marathon, 5k, and more! Don’t miss this very local tradition.
Take a Cruise – Tampa is home to a cruise port which the following cruise lines depart from – Holland America, Royal Caribbean and Carnival. We really enjoyed a week away to the western Caribbean and it was really great to take a Lyft from our RV park to the port.
Tampa RV Show – This is one of the largest, if not the largest, RV show in the country and it runs every year at the Florida State Fairgrounds in January. It is huge! There are tons of RVs to walk through, 2 exhibit halls, a workshop arena, food vendors and more! You can also pay to park in the parking lot for $20/night. Your $10 admission is good for two days, if that tells you anything. You can walk for miles and spend hours walking through so many different RVs from class As to Bs to Cs to travel trailers and more.
Beer, Bourbon and BBQ Festival – We happened to be in the area during this fun little festival held Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. Actually, we found out about this festival on LivingSocial where we purchased discount tickets. This company produces festivals all year long, so keep an eye out for one that fits your schedule and tastes.
It was really a fun-filled afternoon with tastings galore from so many breweries and distilleries. The tastings are included with your entry, but you have to buy any BBQ or other food. The weather was perfect for 2018 and we enjoyed listening to the music alongside all the tasty beverages.
We coupled this activity with a stroll down the Riverwalk, which we thought made for a perfect day. Parking downtown is free on the weekends which was an added bonus!
Tampa Riverwalk – a nice path to stroll the river in downtown Tampa. You can pair a walk here with a meal at one of the nearby restaurants or a visit to the Aquarium. There is also a water taxi, if you get tired or want to experience the water. This is dog friendly and they even have doggie stations.
Busch Gardens – Who doesn’t know about this place? We didn’t visit, but know that some people would enjoy a day or two here.
Disney, etc. – Disney and the attractions of Orlando are only an hour plus away. Take your pick to explore the parks and tourist attractions around the area. You could even spend a night or two there as Disney has its own RV park, Fort Wilderness. If you’re a Florida resident, search around for the resident discounts.
If you’re in the area and looking for more to do, read our post about St. Pete. There’s even more fun activities and places to explore.