As a native of Tampa, I’m really excited to write this post, as well as highly qualified to do so. While I lived in Tampa for 18 years before moving to Alabama, the city has truly become even better in the 5 years since I’ve left.
The city has made a big commitment to revitalizing its downtown, as well as staying true to community. Tampa is close to some of the world’s best beaches, is home to a variety of theme parks, and has become a destination for food, beer, and festivals.
I’ve broken down the guide roughly by neighborhoods, as the city is pretty spread out. Tampa is made up by a variety of neighborhoods and smaller cities, each with its own character and charm. While I tried to include as much as possible, there are a ton of great things I had to leave off the list, so feel free to ask if you have any questions.
Enjoy my Tampa City Guide!
About 15-20 minutes north of downtown, Carrollwood is the neighborhood of Tampa that I grew up in. While it definitely has a suburban feel with a lot of chains, this community is also tightly knit and is starting to embrace local. Growing up, I couldn’t go anywhere in Carrollwood without running into someone I knew; it was really cool to have a small town feel, even in such a large city.
Just down the street from our house is my favorite bagel place, New York Bagel and Bean. We call it George’s, because we know the owner and find that to be a more suitable name! George and his family are Greek, and make a ton of delicious Greek food. They also cater and host meals at their small family restaurant. This is the best place in Tampa to get great bagels and lox!
Another great new addition to Carrollwood is the North Tampa Farmer’s Market. Located at the Carrollwood Cultural Center each second Saturday of the month, this market is held year round, and really thrives in the summer.
While the market has a lot of local produce, it also has a multitude of food trucks and vendors, as well as other handmade goods. A personal favorite is Tree Dog Roots, a stand that serves up amazing smashed root veggie bowls with toppings like goat cheese, avocado, and bacon.
Located about 15 minutes from Carrollwood and on the way to downtown, Seminole Heights is a historic neighborhood with an abundance of local restaurants, brew pubs, and antique shops. The area previously suffered from some rough economic times, but has done a great job of supporting local businesses and getting back on track.
There are a variety of great eats in the neighborhood; The Refinery Restaurant is a two-time James Beard nominee restaurant, while Independent serves up a variety of small bites, coffees, and beers, and often has live music and events.
The Front Porch is a charming bungalow-style restaurant in an early 20th century home; while they have great seafood and pasta dishes, they’re also rumored to have some ghosts as well!
Located a few miles from the main drag, Taco Bus is a Tampa staple in the Seminole Heights area. An authentic Mexican restaurant located in a retrofitted bus, Taco Bus has won about a million awards- including one of the nation’s top food trucks in 2013. This is also a great late-night spot, as it’s open 11 am to 4 am on weekdays, and 24 hours a day on weekends.
Taco Bus has added multiple new locations throughout Tampa- although none will be as good as the original bus.
Seminole Heights is also home to a variety of excellent antique shops, vintage clothing stores, and even a record store. My personal favorite shop is Vintage Post Marketplace, which has a good selection of handmade furniture and restored pieces, as well as clothing and accessories.
With a beautiful waterfront, sports venues, and a theme of urban resurgence, downtown Tampa has made leaps and bounds in the last 5 years. Home to the University of Tampa, Amalie Arena (home of the 2004 Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning!), and the Tampa Convention Center, as well as museums, parks, and a newly expanded streetcar system, downtown is slowly becoming more of a destination for this predominantly suburban city.
As a major part of the urban redevelopment downtown, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik has pledged to invest $1 billion in developing 40 acres in downtown Tampa to become a vibrant waterfront district.
This project has been a source of excitement for Tampa residents; along with revolutionaries like Richard Gonzmart (owner of restaurant Ulele; I wrote a review which you can view here) and the support of Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Vinik seeks to completely transform downtown Tampa into a nationwide destination.
One of the initial catalysts to the recent change in downtown Tampa was the introduction of restaurant, bookstore, and event space Oxford Exchange. Originally built in 1891 as a stable, the space has gone through a variety of transformations before becoming British-inspired Oxford Exchange in September 2012.
While it sounds like a simple concept, Oxford is a stunning architectural space with a glass conservatory and skylights throughout. The space is not only constantly jampacked with visitors to its restaurant, tea counter, and coffee bar, but also hosts weddings and events after-hours. Oxford also has a beautifully curated shop with jewelry, furniture, and home goods, so you can browse while you wait for a table at the restaurant.
Located about 20 minutes west of Carrollwood and 20 minutes northeast of downtown, Temple Terrace is a residential area of Tampa situated relatively close to the University of South Florida.
I had multiple friends grow up in TT (as it’s affectionately known), as we spent many good times horsing around on the golf course that many of the small communities in this neighborhood are centered around.
While not located directly in Temple Terrace, the Dallas Bull is a short drive away, and one of my favorite spots on this list. The “Bull” is a two story, 34,000 square foot honkytonk, complete with mechanical bull and line dancing floor. As soon as I turned 18, I would be at the Bull every Thursday for Ladies’ Night, where women drink for free until 1 am (of course, I just went for the line dancing until I turned 21!)
While some of the line dances are pretty complicated, many are relatively easy to pick up; the Bull also offers free lessons during the week for beginners. Even if you aren’t a line dancer, the Bull plays music for every taste, and also has an upstairs room that plays more club-style music.
Many artists that play at the amphitheater also head over to the Bull after their shows for after parties!
Home to the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, St. Pete (as it’s commonly known) is about a 30 minute drive from downtown Tampa.
St. Pete has done an amazing job in recent years of promoting community and local shopping, and the city has tons of fantastic indoor and outdoor markets.
The Saturday Morning Market is located in the heart of downtown, and right beside the waterfront harbor. Considered one of the largest markets in the Southeast and one of the 20 best in the country, the market sees over 10,000 visitors each Saturday.
With over 200 vendors and live music, this is one of my favorite markets to visit on a sunny Saturday. The Saturday Morning Market is open every Saturday from 9-2 and runs from early October to late May.
My 2 favorite indoor markets in St. Pete are Locale and Mazzaro’s.
New on the market scene, Locale is a carefully curated shoppe with beautiful charcuterie, gelato, a wine bar, and prepared dishes for sale. Created by Michael Mina and Don Pintabona, Locale seeks to elevate the grocery experience in St. Pete by providing the highest quality, freshest food in the area.
The market also features FarmTable Kitchen, which is a family-style restaurant on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays highlighting local produce sold at the market.
Mazzaro’s, which could be considered the complete opposite of Locale, is a rustic Italian market with more traditional staples. Mazzaro’s has an excellent wine selection, fresh cheeses and breads, an espresso and dessert bar, and unbelievable fresh pasta.
As an Italian, I was super impressed with Mazzaro’s. Every item we bought was fresh and authentic, and reasonably priced. You could stock up for months with all of the amazing items you can buy here! There’s also prepared food for sale, which you can enjoy on the enclosed outdoor patio.
St. Pete is also home to the Dali Museum, located right next to to the beautiful Vinoy Park. The museum houses an excellent collection of Dali’s works, and is an architectural masterpiece featuring an outdoor waterfront garden and labyrinth.
Located about 45 minutes west of Tampa, Clearwater is known for its beaches, which are considered some of the best in the country.
Clearwater is an easy drive for Tampa residents, and has a variety of good local restaurants and shops. A Clearwater staple is the local chain Frenchy’s, which has 8 different locations scattered around the beach.
My personal favorite is Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill; with inexpensive but tasty seafood, daily live music, and a patio situated directly on the beach, this is the perfect spot to grab some food after a long day on the water.
If you’re looking for a livelier atmosphere, Shephard’s Bar is your spot. Part of Shephard’s Beach Resort, the tiki bar and margarita grill is known for bikini contests, live music, and Spring Break parties- so come thirsty.
Known for harvesting some of the world’s best sponges, Tarpon Springs is a heavily Greek-influenced community famous for its sponge docks and diving.
Every January, about 50 young Greek men dive into the springs to retrieve a white cross for the Epiphany celebration; Tarpon Springs has the highest concentration of Greek-Americans in the US, and the festival attracts thousands of people each year.
Tarpon Springs makes a great day trip from Tampa, and provides a good excuse to eat some authentic Greek food.