The ultimate weekend in Tampa, Florida


While Florida destinations like Miami and Palm Beach get most of the hype these days, don’t overlook Tampa on the state’s Gulf Coast. The growing mid-sized city exudes a polished ease that makes it a relaxed and inviting vacation spot.

I grew up in Tampa, and it has a freshness and gravity that always pulls me back. I always end up lingering at home thanks to the city’s sunny days, convenient size, active culture and friendliness – there’s always a new, funky spot or activity to check out, plus a dozen staples I simply need to visit every time. Luckily, I’ve mastered a three-day itinerary that covers the best things to do in Tampa, balancing old staples and new must-sees.

From beaches to theme parks, don’t miss Florida’s top experiences

People watch from shore as boats sail into Tampa Bay as part of the pirate-themed festival Gasparilla
If you’re into the pirate aesthetic, visit Tampa during Gasparilla © Shutterstock

The basics

When to arrive: If you can, arrive on Thursday night to take advantage of the full three-day weekend. If you can’t get away from the office entirely, working by a body of water sure makes that Friday workload feel lighter.

How to get from the airport: Grab a ride share from TPA, a near-perfect airport. Fares vary based on time of day, but you’ll likely pay between $30 and $50 to get to wherever you’re headed.

Getting around town: Certain pockets are more walkable than others, and residents are stubbornly devoted to trekking about. (If you visit during Gasparilla, our “Mardi Gras-but-with-pirates” holiday in late January, locals will say the city’s doable on foot. You just might get 30,000 steps.) If you don’t plan to rent a car, try to stay near the Riverwalk, Water Street or Hyde Park for the easiest access. Ride shares are easy, bikes and scooters are available, and you can even take the trolley. 

Where to stay: Tampa hotels tend to have a chic, upscale vibe rather than boutique flavor. Swanky travelers might hype the luxurious, ultra-glam Tampa EDITION, but more mid-range travelers will have a stellar stay at the Aloft Tampa Downtown or the Epicurean Hotel in Hyde Park. Budget travelers will likely fare best with Airbnb if they want to stay in central neighborhoods.

What time of year to visit: While I love Tampa year-round, those seeking refuge from winter will love visiting during the winter months. (You’ll want to avoid January if the Gasparilla festivities and crowds aren’t your scene.) Summer’s sweltering, but if you can visit before hurricane season (which takes place from June to November), a cocktail tastes like a reward when it’s poolside on a hot day – and most establishments love their AC. 

What to pack: It’s usually hot and humid, so pack your lightest fabrics – but you can still get fancy. During winter, a light sweater or jacket tied around your waist can come in handy, especially if spending time on the water. Don’t forget good walking shoes, bathing suits and SPF in the Sunshine State.

An aerial view of people on a white sand beach with turquoise water at Florida's Clearwater Beach
If you’re in Tampa, you’re only a short drive from paradisiacal beaches, like Clearwater Beach near St. Petersburg © Getty Images

Friday

Morning: Start your day with a long walk down Bayshore Boulevard – the longest pedestrian walkway in the world (humble brag) – alongside bikers, runners and rollerbladers. When at Rome Ave, veer into Hyde Park Village and pop into Buddy Brew Coffee for a latte, or Goody Goody Burgers for a massive sit-down breakfast. 

How to spend the day: Shop in Hyde Park or swing back towards the Riverwalk, but do call in sandwiches for pickup at Wright’s Gourmet House for lunch. The slight detour to Palma Ceia is worth it. Get a toasted BLT, a chocolate alpine cupcake and an iced sweet tea. Then, get to the nearest body of water. Tampa itself has its bay, pools and various shorelines; for a more quintessential beach, you’ll want to drive roughly half an hour to an hour to St. Petersburg or Sarasota. Nearby beach towns worth noting include charming coastal spots like Anna Maria Island or Indian Rocks Beach.

If your abode doesn’t have an outdoor pool, absolutely snag a day pass nearby. You could also rent a small boat and circle Davis Islands.

Dinner: Swing by Ulele for funky Floridian fusion dishes like okra fries and seafood risotto. The gator tail may sound intimidating, but it’s very similar to chicken. Since the Riverwalk is a wet zone, you can take your cocktail for a stroll in the warm breeze. If you’re with a picky group, Armature Works is also a crowd-pleaser for its variety. Top tip: the open container law only applies to drinks purchased from approved vendors, so you can’t BYOB.

After dark: Tampa is known for partying, and the nightlife can be as lively or chill as you’d like. Head up to the deco-inspired rooftop bar at M.Bird for a striking view of the water and downtown. To get rowdy, take a quick ride down to South Howard “SoHo” to go out at bars like SoHo Saloon and MacDinton’s Irish Pub.

Want more Florida beaches? These are the best

A historic street in Tampa's Ybor City lined with old brick buildings and palm trees
Head to historic Ybor City for an afternoon in one of Tampa’s most fascinating corners © Wangkun Jia / Shutterstock

Saturday

Morning: A café con leche is calling your name, and a one-day unlimited trolley pass from downtown to Ybor City is only $5 – hop on and make your way to this fascinating historic neighborhood. Try Blind Tiger Coffee Roasters for quicker bites or Florida’s oldest eatery, Columbia Restaurant, for lunch if your “morning” looks more like 11am.

How to spend the day: Ybor City was once the cigar capital of the world, thanks to Spanish, Italian and Cuban influences. Stately brick factories now house bakeries, clubs, tattoo parlors and more. Learn about the area’s history at the cigar worker houses at Ybor City Museum State Park, open from 10am to 3pm. Ybor also has the best thrift and antique shopping in the city, so be sure to budget time for poring over racks.

Dinner: Head to the Channel District for a swanky dinner. From elevated French cuisine at Boulon to Michelin-starred prix fixe at Lilac to oysters at The Pearl, Tampa brought its culinary A-game out on its reimagined Water Street. Even if you rent a car, take a ride share here regardless – you’d have to valet anyway. 

If the Tampa Bay Lightning are playing at home, pivot to dining at hot spots in another neighborhood, like Cru Cellars in Palma Ceia or Willa’s in North Hyde Park; traffic downtown near Amalie Arena can get thorny.

After dark: For late night, you could sip and snack your way down Water Street or Bay to Bay Boulevard until last call with no regrets, or opt to revisit SoHo.Tampa is so navigable and compact that it’s easy to adjust plans.

Sunday

Morning: Brunch at Oxford Exchange is the aesthetic highlight of a Tampa visit. This elegant space features an independent bookstore, cafe, tea room, restaurant, champagne bar, shop and co-working space, and its tasty menu and stunning ambiance make it an ideal experience to end your trip on. Plus, you can snag a read for the plane and a snap for your socials.

How to spend the day: Walk across the street to the University of Tampa, where you’ll see rowing teams skimming across the Hillsborough River and students hanging up hammocks under the palms. Then pick up Cubans at West Tampa Sandwich Shop on N. Armenia before heading to the airport.

While Tampa’s satisfying to pop into for two or three days at a time, I nearly always end up stretching my trips there by a few days and still end up wanting more.

You can also always stretch your trip to see the rest of Florida, too. 

Keep planning your trip to Florida:



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