Best Things to do in Tampa - Siesta Key Beach

Best Things To Do in Tampa

BY Fifty Grande Editors | August 5, 2020

Welcome to Fifty Grande’s Best of the U.S. Bucket List series. This is your one-stop travel guide to the best, most unique and quintessential experiences of a city, state or event. Want to know how to “do” Tampa? We’ve got you covered. Curated by experts, vetted by in-the-know locals, this is all you need to have the best trip ever. If we’ve written a Bucket List, we recommend you go. If it’s on this list, it’s the best the city has to offer right now. Consider this your one-stop answer to “What are the best things to do in Tampa?”

Quiz time: I’m the lightning capital of the world, Babe Ruth hit his longest home run here, and my largest export is phosphate. What city am I? If you said Tampa, you cheated by reading the headline. But you’re correct anyway. Tampa might not be the first city that comes to mind when you think of Florida, but it has TONS to offer. Rich cultural history? Check. Family fun? Check. History of pirates? Check. To-die-for beaches? Double check. Florida’s largest port can satisfy even the pickiest traveler. Let’s get Tampa-ing, people. Like all of our Fifty Grande Best of the U.S. Bucket Lists, this guide will take you through the very best, most unique and quintessential experiences offered here right now.

You’re here for Cuban sandwiches

The birthplace of the Cuban sandwich is a murky one, but it’s likely the story starts right here in Tampa. What’s not in dispute is that you’ll find perfect versions of the Cuban sandwich today when you visit. The influx of Cuban immigrants in the late 1880s who came for work in the cigar industry brought the recipe with them. And viola. A Florida food staple was born. The sandwich includes baked ham, roast pork, salami — in Tampa; the Southern Florida version is without salami — Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard between two slices of Cuban bread. Make sure to sample a bunch, including the Tampa favorites at Bodega, La Segunda Bakery and Columbia Restaurant. 

Columbia Restaurant, Tampa
#1
Columbia Restaurant

Columbia Restaurant

2117 East 7th Avenue, Tampa, FL, USA

This longtime Tampa staple first opened its doors in 1905 and has been owned and operated by the Hernandez/Gonzmart family the whole time. It’s considered the home of the original Cuban sandwich and a must-try when you’re here. 

Bodega Seminole Heights
#2
Bodega Seminole Heights

Bodega

5901 North Florida Avenue, Tampa, FL, USA

Located in Tampa‘s Seminole Heights neighborhood, this Latin-focused walk-up window offers the Miami (salami-less) Cuban sandwich. It’s an offshoot of the original St. Pete Bodega.

La Segunda Bakery, Tampa
#3
La Segunda Bakery, Tampa

La Segunda Bakery

2512 North 15th Street, Tampa, FL, USA

Opened since 1915 (!), they employ the authentic Cuban bread baking tradition of using palmetto leaves to top each loaf and noted for their stalwart sandwich.

Hit the beach

White sand beaches have a magical appeal, and Tampa has the country’s best. Find yourself a slice of paradise and spend a day under the sun.

Clearwater Beach
#4
Clearwater Beach

Clearwater Beach

Clearwater Beach-Tampa, Clearwater, FL, USA

With its pillowy sand, crystal waters and nearby nightlife, Clearwater is internationally -renowned as one of America’s must-visit beaches. It’s typically calm waters are perfect for swimming, wading and water sports.

Siesta Key Beach
#5
Siesta Key Beach, Shutterstock

Siesta Key Beach

Siesta Key Beach, Florida, USA

Just south of Tampa Bay is Siesta Key Beach which is another of our country’s great powdery, white-sand gems. 

See why they call it “Cigar City”

Ybor City (pronounced EE-bore) was originally Florida’s cigar-making hub, where tobacco processors churned out thousands of hand-rolled sticks. (In 1929 alone, they rolled 500 million!) These Cuban and Spanish cigar makers laid the foundation for the district’s rich cultural diversity, which still thrives today. These days, Ybor City isn’t just acclaimed for its cigars, but also its coffee, food and art.

7th Ave, Tampa
#6
7th Ave, Tampa

7th Avenue

7th Ave, Tampa, FL, USA

Explore the Latin Quarter, grab a Cuban sandwich, see a cigar factory, visit an art gallery or just kick back, stogie in hand, and soak it all in. 

Where to do your day drinking

Or night drinking, whatever floats your boat. Point is, Tampa has a few unique spots that outshine your typical watering hole. 

Jimmy's on the Edge, Clearwater Beach
#7
Jimmy's on the Edge, Clearwater Beach

Jimmy’s on the Edge

505 S Gulfview Blvd, Clearwater Beach, Clearwater, FL 33767, USA

Don’t let Florida’s sunshine go to waste by eating indoors. Jimmy’s is the largest rooftop bar in Clearwater and features great panoramic views. And it’s perhaps the best place in town to watch a sunset. Do you want to sip your mojito while overlooking the beach, the bay, or the city? You’ll get views of each here.

Sparkman's Wharf
#8
Sparkman's Wharf

Sparkman’s Wharf

615 Channelside Dr, Tampa, FL 33602, USA

Long known as the Channelside Bay Plaza, this entertainment complex rebranded recently. But it’s still one of Tampa’s go-to spots for tourists and locals alike. It boasts top-notch street food, craft beer, live music, and waterfront dining so close to the port you can (but shouldn’t) dip your feet in the water. Catch a live show on the weekend or a family movie during the week

Play Shuffleboard

We know what you’re thinking, but shuffleboard isn’t just for retirement homes anymore. It’s a staple for country clubs, a few bars (even some in Brooklyn), and backyards across Florida. It’s simple, entertaining, and you can play it while drinking (it’s a one-handed game for a reason, right?).

Shuffle: The Heights Shuffleboard Society
#9
Shuffle: The Heights Shuffleboard Society

Shuffle: The Heights Shuffleboard Society

2612 North Tampa Street, Tampa, FL, USA

Four regulation-sized courts, six rotating taps, bar food, and happy hours – amateurs and shuffleboard experts can push the pucks around at this Tampa Heights bar. 

Go for a stroll

Bayshore Boulevard, Tampa
#10
Bayshore Boulevard, Tampa

Bayshore Boulevard

Bayshore Blvd, Tampa, FL, USA

This 4.5-mile walkway is the longest continuous sidewalk in the United States. But that’s not the only reason to visit. Bayshore is lined with parks and scenic views of both the city and the bay, ideal for walking, biking, running, unicycling, leapfrogging, whatever you want. If you’re trying to get in a sunrise jog or afternoon stroll during your stay, don’t miss it.

Tampa riverwalk in downtown Tampa
#11
Tampa riverwalk in downtown Tampa, photo by Shutterstock

Tampa Riverwalk

Tampa Riverwalk, Tampa, FL, USA

Meandering along the Hillsborough River, this path offers glittering waters on one side and city lights on the other. With plenty of stop-offs along the way — like Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, the Tampa Museum of Art, the Glazer Children’s Museum and waterfront eateries — you can easily turn the Riverwalk into a full-day excursion. If you get lucky, you might even spot a manatee or two in the water.

If you’re with the fam

Load up the van or buy out a full two rows on the plane, because Tampa has plenty for a family vacay. Scratch that animal-encounters itch at the Florida Aquarium, ZooTampa (in Lowry Park), Hillsborough River State Park or Netflix-famous Big Cat Rescue. More of a thrill seeker? Try Busch Gardens. Or dive into unique learning experiences at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI), Tampa Bay History Center and Henry B. Plant Museum. 

Florida Aquarium
#12
Florida Aquarium

Florida Aquarium

Florida Aquarium, 701 Channelside Dr, Tampa, FL, USA

If you love sea creatures but Jaws gave you a healthy fear of the ocean, hit the Florida Aquarium. Here you’ll find over 9,000 animals in 250,000 square feet of exhibits that recreate coral reefs, wetlands, beaches, and oceans. 

Busch Gardens
#13
Busch Gardens, photo by Jesse Adair on Unsplash

Busch Gardens

10165 McKinley Dr, Tampa, Florida, USA

This African-themed amusement park is a three-in-one adventure. In a state loaded with parks, Busch Gardens is perhaps the roller coaster capital. And after you’ve taken one too many loop-de-loops, take a calming ride on the Serengeti Express and cool off at the Adventure Island water park.

Be a pirate

José Gaspar (aka Gasparilla) is a storied figure in Tampa’s folklore, a pirate who supposedly raided merchant ships off the coast in the early 1800s. Now, his spirit lives on through Tampa’s two-month Gasparilla season, which includes parades, live music, art shows, and general pirate revelry, culminating in the extravagant Gasparilla Pirate Festival, where Gaspar’s crew “invades” the bay on giant, colorful ships. So, if you see pirates strolling the streets or sitting down for some rum, don’t be alarmed. 

Tampa Convention Center
#14
Tampa Convention Center

Tampa Convention Center

Tampa Convention Center, 333 S Franklin St, Tampa, FL, USA

Here’s where Gaspar’s salty crew moor their ships and seize the key to the city from Tampa’s mayor, then begin their parade downtown.  

Ascend to craft beer heaven

Tampa is truly a craft beer paradise. There are over 80 breweries in the Tampa Bay area, and new ones are sprouting up every day. Plus, there’s nothing better than a freshly tapped pilsner or pale ale on a hot Florida day. Popular brew destinations include Cigar City, 7venth Sun, Coppertail and Hidden Springs Ale Works.

Cigar City Brewing
#15
Cigar City Brewing

Cigar City Brewing

3924 W Spruce St, Tampa, Florida, USA

They might be nationally-renowned, but that doesn’t mean they’ve forfeited their Tampa Bay roots. Make sure you try whatever special release is on tap when you visit. 

7venth Sun Brewery
#16
7venth Sun Brewery

7venth Sun

6809 N Nebraska Ave, Tampa, Florida, USA

An popular choice among Tampa residents that specializes in Belgian-style beers and barrel-aged sours. 

Catch up-and-coming Tampa musicians

If you’ve been tapping your toes at the aquarium and humming tunes at the beach, you’re in desperate need of some live music, and we’ve got the perfect venue for you.

Crowbar
#17
Crowbar

Crowbar

1812 N 17th St, Historic Ybor, Tampa, FL, USA

That music coming from the heart of Ybor City is Crowbar, an independent music venue and nightclub where you can catch up-and-comers in a variety of genres. Or take the stage yourself for hip-hop open mic or karaoke.

Stumble upon colorful murals

Tampa’s street art celebrates the city’s rich cultural and artistic history with full-blown, vibrant murals. Keeps your eyes open, whether you’re in the Channel District, Ybor City, St. Pete or on the Tampa Riverwalk.

American Journey mural
#18
American Journey mural

American Journey

Adamo Drive & North 17th Street, Tampa, FL, USA
Stay Curious mural, Tampa
#19
Stay Curious mural, Tampa

Stay Curious

2401 E Yukon St, Tampa, Florida, USA

Trendy public market alert

Years ago, The Armature Works Heights Public Market was a maintenance barn for streetcars and trolleys. Now, it’s a renovated, mixed-use community hub with a trendy, upscale food court.

Armature Works, Tampa
#20
Armature Works, Tampa

Armature Works Heights Public Market

1910 N Ola Ave, Tampa, Florida, USA

Heights Public Market is a 22,000 square-foot, food hall which is billed as a “food-lover’s dream” and labeled a “game changer” for the local food scene by the Tampa Bay Times. They also hold events like cooking classes, wine tastings and pop-up dinners.