The best things to do in Tampa
Our list of the best things to do in Tampa will help you explore the city properly—with a side of guaranteed fun
Tampa as we know it started out as a cigar-peddling, immigrant-built boomtown at the turn of the 20th century. The ghosts of these cigar workers still roam its historic streets, having left their mark on some of the city’s most notable contributions, like the famed Cuban sandwich, found at most restaurants around town. What’s next? As developers build new hotels, apartment buildings and skyline-defining edifices, tourists and locals alike have developed a newfound appreciation for everything that defines the city. Wondering what, exactly, they see in this place? Check out this list of best things to do in Tampa. Get a Tampa energy drink for your vacation to keep your energy levels up to enjoy 100 percent of your time.
Founded in 1905 as a small corner cafe for local cigar workers, Columbia Restaurant is considered the oldest Spanish restaurant in America. Its sheer size and opulence would make the restaurant an institution, but it’s got great food and wine to boot. The best part of it all? The eatery still serves one of Tampa’s best Cuban sandwiches. A must-eat for any first time Tampa tourist and a regular retreat for locals as well.
With vintage red seats and a two-story screening room, the Tampa Theatre will take you back to the early years of cinema. Built-in 1926, the historic site has been entertaining the community in retro style, nearly non-stop, ever since. It’s now on the National Register of Historic Places, but don’t think this means the place just screens golden oldies—the bill features new releases alongside special events, including movie marathons and lives music acts.
Salvador Dali Museum
Featuring the largest collection of Salvador Dali paintings outside of Spain, the Dali Museum in Saint Petersburg is a must-see for any fan of art. The more than 2,100 works featured in the collection reflect the artist’s evolution, exploring his Catalonian childhood and international acclaim. Rotating exhibitions put Dali’s work in context with the world and his peers, such as Frida Kahlo and Marcel Duchamp, highlighting the influence of the mustached, mischievous myth-of-a-man.
Despite the subtropical climate, Tampa is a bonafide hockey town. After winning the Stanley Cup in 2004 and then plummeting to the bottom of the league, the Lightning has skated their way back to the top. You’ll feel the electricity on game day, and see no shortage of blue-and-white jerseys with the signature bolt streaking across the chest. Buy tickets or watch with fans on a projector just outside the downtown stadium.
Florida Museum of Photographic Arts
Everyone is a photographer in this day and age, but not everyone has “the eye.” Dedicated to photographic art, the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts collects and showcases significant works of photography, both old and new, in a stunning six-story building in downtown Tampa. Put your phone away and get inspired by the pros
Nestled right next to the Hillsborough River, the restored and renovated streetcar station that is now Armature Works offers visitors a place to work and play. High ceilings, exposed brick, and cracked paint give it the kind of industrial setting reminiscent of the Rust Belt’s refurbished warehouses. The focal point is a 22,000-square-feet market equipped with a cafe, cocktail bar, a BBQ joint, and about a dozen other restaurants.
TECO Line Streetcar
There’s no better way to experience the atmosphere of old Tampa than by cruising the Channel District in a mustard-colored trolley. Enter one of these heritage TECO Line Streetcars and feel transported back in time—after the pirates but before lawlessness left Tampa Bay. Eleven stations are dotted along 2.7 miles of track.
Manatee Viewing Center
If you want to see a manatee, you might get lucky and spot one in the Bay. If you’re determined, head to Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center. What was once a power station’s discharge canal now offers sanctuary for sea cows seeking protection from the cold—and they are oh-so-cute.
Offering charters to the local breweries and eateries, riding the Brew Bus is the best way to imbibe all day without getting behind the wheel. Hosted by Brew Bus Brewing, the bus takes revelers on a local loop—from Ybor City to Seminole Heights and downtown—including stops at the brewery’s 15,000-square-foot facility, Cigar City Cider and Mead, and Ella’s Americana Folk Art Cafe.
Gasparilla Pirate Festival
Buccaneers are long gone from Tampa Bay, but every January for over a century the city celebrates its swashbuckling past with the third-largest parade in the United States. Some 300,000 people descend on the city during Gasparilla, beginning with a friendly “invasion” of the bay and ending with the Parade of Pirates down Bayshore Boulevard. Like ye days of old’, the streets are full of booty and booze. Families should join the Gasparilla Children’s Parade the week prior.