Are you planning a trip to the Big Guava? We’re jealous.
Cultures come together in Tampa to make something totally special. Whether you’re here on a family vacation or partying with the homies, Tampa is full of unique things to do you won’t find anywhere else.
Check out our list of some of the best things to do in the city, and make sure you pack your swimsuit, your sneakers, and a whole lot of energy because there’s no shortage of fun to be had.
We have to get this one out of the way first. If you’re in Tampa, one of the first meals you eatneeds to include a Cubano.
You might associate Miami more with the delicious sandwich featuring roast pork, swiss cheese, mustard, and pickles, but Tampa actually claims to be the birthplace. We’ll leave that up to the experts, but either way, Tampa Bay does the Cubano right, even including salami in their recipe as a nod to the many Italian immigrants who call the city home.
From the grilled, fluffy white bread to the melt-in-your-mouth mix of cheese and meat, the Cubano is a must-eat while you’re in Tampa. The Columbia in Ybor City or West Tampa Sandwich Shop will both hook you up with a mouthwatering Cubano you’ll be thinking about for years.
We’re kind of into sports around here (couldn’t you tell?), so we’d be remiss not to include a call out to the incredible sports teams that call Tampa Bay home. Between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Tampa Bay Rays, and the Tampa Bay Lightning, the city always has a hometown team to root for year-round.
These days, Tampa Bay has been going by Champa Bay. The Bucs and the Lightning have brought home three championship trophies over the last couple of years. You may not necessarily associate Florida with the ice, but this town is absolutely devoted to its hockey team. The Raymond James Stadium for the Bucs, the Amalie Arena for the Lightning, and Tropicana Field for the Rays are all well worth a visit.
Not looking to spend too much? Don’t discard the minor league teams. Tampa is full of them, and they have a small but passionate fanbase that’s a ton of fun to watch a game with.
Florida is known for its theme parks, but did you know that there are plenty of offerings outside of Orlando? Yes, that’s right. You don’t need to go see the mouse to get a world-class roller coaster out of your trip to Tampa.
Busch Gardens is an animal kingdom in its own right, easily accessible from the city center. It merges the best of thrill-seeking rides and the scenic views of an expansive zoo for an all-around great time. It also conveniently is located across the street from a water park called Adventure Island, so if the Florida sun gets you down, you can cool off nearby.
If you prefer your scenic views free of any roller coasters, the Hillsborough River State Park is an awesome way to really soak up the natural landscapes of Florida. Located northwest of the city, the park is a quick drive away and sports beautiful opportunities to swim, fish, and kayak.
This is the real Florida; Swamplands, diverse animal and plant life, pine flatwoods, and natural swimming holes. The park has tons of trails to hike on, including a beautiful suspension bridge to watch the river rapids rush by.
Assuming you had a wifi connection in the last year or so, we’re pretty sure you watched a little documentary about tigers. Well, you can actually visit the cats (and a few of the characters from the doc) at the Big Cat Rescue on a 67-acre sanctuary for tigers and other large felines rescued from the trade.
Like Boston’s Freedom Line, the Tampa Riverwalk is a convenient way to see so much of the city’s history, sights, and best tourist offerings all in one walk. The 2.4-mile stretch is allegedly the world’s longest continuous sidewalk, and it spans much of the city, from the Water Works Park to the Florida Aquarium.
Along the way, you can enjoy street performers, fabulous restaurants and food trucks, an impressive display of public art, and so much more. If you have kids with you, the Glazer Children’s Museum is located along the walk, with lots of immersive, educational fun to be had.
One of the biggest highlights of a trip to Tampa is spending time on the beach and in the water. Perched right on the Gulf of Mexico, Tampa Bay is known for its fantastic, awe-inspiring sunsets. If you ask us, there’s no better place to see them than from the water.
There are a vast number of private boat tour companies that will take you out for a sunset cruise, including a tiki bar boat (yes, really), a dolphin sightseeing tour, and a full dinner option, with top quality food to pair with your top quality view.
So far, we’ve mentioned a few times in the list some options of activities you can do with kids. Well, what about a unique experience for adults only? That brings us to the Castle. Up on North 16th street, the Castle is a gothic nightclub that has been serving up memorable nights since 1992.
Sure, the Castle may be a little outside of your standard club fare, but that’s what makes it so special. The club lives by the motto, “everyone is welcome, nothing is taboo,” and it's that openness and accepting nature that defines Tampa Bay’s nightlife scene.
Plus, how often do you get to say you partied in a castle? Exactly.
Tampa Bay truly is a melting pot, with European, Caribbean, Indigenous cuisines and customs mixing to create a unique city with unique traditions. Nowhere is that more clear than in Ybor City, the home to the 20th century’s Spanish and Cuban cigar-making industry. Today the neighborhood is known for its vibrant nightlife and only-in-Tampa shopping.
Centro Ybor is a two-story shopping mall (yes, we promise a mall is worth going to see) that includes a cinema, a theater, many food establishments, and bars galore. It’s an awesome venue to see a live comedy show and get a taste of the Spanish and Cuban flavors that still influence the Big Guava.
Pro tip: If an area of the city is mobbed by locals on any given Friday night, that’s generally the place you want to be. Centro Ybor is that place.
No, we did not make a typo there. Tampa Bay has real mermaids. Well, maybe not real, but about the closest thing we’ve ever seen. Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is an iconic Florida mainstay that’s been attracting crowds since 1947. Cheesy in all the best ways, Weeki Wachee also lowkey sports incredibly beautiful views with crystal clear Florida water showing off all the wildlife the state is known for.
The Weeki Wachee mermaids show is a half-theater, half-aquarium, as a team of talented swimmers (with tails) do a performance of the classic show, The Little Mermaid, effortlessly maneuvering around the tank. For those of us that grew up desperate to believe that Ariel could be real, the Weeki Wachee attraction is a must-see.
It’s Florida at its most authentic. That is to say; it’s a colorful, lush, and flashy way to see the sights.
If you’re just visiting Tampa Bay, we hope this list provides you with a full itinerary to make your trip the best it can be. If you’re local to the Big Guava, maybe there are a few items here you haven’t tried out yet. There’s so much to do in Tampa and the surrounding counties; you can go years before getting to them all.
Speaking of locals, if you want to show off your pride for the 813, check out our collection of Tampa Bay vintage tees and merch. With shirts featuring “Champa Bay” and the beloved defunct teams of the past (go Pelicans), we’re sure there’s something comfortable and cotton with your name on it.