Best place to live in Florida; a top-ten market for millennials to move to; one of the world’s greatest places. In a world that loves a superlative, Tampa has secured a spot on an outsized amount of best-of lists of late thanks to new and rapid development. And while we’re not ready to say “move over, Miami,” just yet, if it’s been some time since you checked out this sun-splashed city on Florida’s Gulf Coast long been overshadowed by heavier Florida hitters, then chances are you’ll be surprised by the Tampa of today.
Sports fans know the city for its winning NFL, NHL and MLB teams. And in 2024, the city’s first professional women’s soccer team, the Super League’s Tampa Bay Sun FC, will take the field. But Tampa has long evolved from its sports bar and chain-restaurant heavy roots into a city with wellness-driven neighborhoods, a restaurant scene that’s constantly one-upping itself, and a palpable entrepreneurial spirit driven by youthful energy pouring into the city from across the state and country—according to a 2022 Smart Asset survey, Tampa left Miami in the dust as one of the top ten American cities attractions millennials and Generation Z. For the best things to do in Tampa (and new, truly impressive places to stay), read on for our favorite ways to enjoy Florida’s it city right now.
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What to do
Tampa is a city of leafy and palm-lined neighborhoods, the most inviting of which hug Tampa Bay and the Hillsborough River and radiate out from a new downtown district lined with boutiques, public art and worldly restaurants.
Pedestrian-friendly walking paths like the one along Bayshore Boulevard, which stretches for nearly 5 miles, and the 2.6-mile long downtown Tampa Riverwalk pair with a free downtown streetcar system that make it easy to explore on foot, via public transport or by renting a bike or motorized scooter to get around.
The city’s neighborhood du jour, Water Street Tampa, was recently named by the International WELL Building Institute as North America’s first certified wellness neighborhood thanks to design elements and policy strategies that spotlight community-focused elements (including public art, double-wide sidewalks and reduced light and noise pollution) that improve the lives of residents and visitors.
The 16-block district has completely remade the downtown corridor, once a virtual dead zone outside of business hours, into a livable, walkable, lively center, with events like monthly street markets and pop-up art installations that had long been missing. From Water Street Tampa, you can stroll the Tampa Riverwalk, scouting for passing dolphins and manatees along the way, to Armature Works, a gastronomic food hall housed inside a former streetcar warehouse where you can grab birria tacos or a Florida grass-fed beef sandwich for lunch. After, rent paddleboards nearby at Urban Kai to paddle out onto the river.
Just south of downtown in Hyde Park Village, a few blocks off Bayshore Boulevard and where 20th century craftsman bungalows abound, you can stroll leafy Snow Avenue, stopping at one of the many cafes and restaurants, ordering an espresso drink at Tampa’s homegrown Buddy Brew or getting a retail fix at at craft jeweler Albisia or French pret-a-porter import, Zadig & Voltaire.
For a more hipster scene just north of downtown, the residential and neighboring barrios of Tampa Heights and Seminole Heights are a hit for laid-back nightlife, especially at spots like craft cocktail hideaway Mandarin Heights and Shuffle, with indoor and outdoor shuffleboard courts and local beers galore.
If you’re visiting during the cooler months, from November to mid-April, rent a car for the short drive to the newly updated Manatee Viewing Center, just around the bay in Apollo Beach, where manatees arrive by the scores (and often times hundreds) when the mercury drops to warm up at the power station’s water outflow.
The best restaurants in Tampa
Tampa was finally awarded its first Michelin star in 2023, and you’ll want to book well in advance to land a table at Chef John Fraser’s Lilac, located in Water Street Tampa on the ground floor of The Tampa EDITION and where four-course Mediterranean-inspired meals comes with wine pairings from Sicily and Greece.
Water Street’s go-to spot for a lively brunch is Boulon Brasserie, for fruits de mer platters piled high, brioche benedicts and live music. And the more wallet-friendly and utterly delicious Pearl, across the street, serves Southern comfort fare like chicken wings confit and jalapeño spoon bread that’s great for sharing.
In 2023, Beacon rooftop bar opened atop the JW Marriott Water Street Tampa’s 27th floor as Tampa’s highest rooftop (and Florida’s second highest), with outdoor tables from which you can enjoy sweeping views of downtown and Bayshore Boulevard alongside charcuterie towers and the divine steamed pork belly buns. Across the street at the Tampa Marriott Water Street, Lona by Chef Richard Sandoval has Water Street’s best daily happy hour (from 4pm to 6pm) and margs and mojitos from $7. Bookmark Predalina, also in the district, for upscale Mediterranean fare, and finish the night with a scoop of the Cuban-inspired guava and pastelito ice cream at scratch-made Tampa ice creamery, Chill Bros.
Hyde Park Village’s hottest restaurant newcomer is Ro, where the fresh seafood is flown in from Tokyo’s Toyosu Market for Tampa’s most revelatory sushi and sashimi experience. Nearby, On Swann has been a neighborhood fixture for several years and stays packed with loyal diners who gravitate to the stylish, tiled interior and cozy sidewalk patio for the cult kale salad and generous steak frites. Families like Forbici Modern Italian for pizza and Bartaco for Mexican, both with a boisterous atmosphere that cancels out both crying babies and partying college kids.
And in Seminole Heights, the brewery crowd converges at spots like Southern Brewing & Winery and Common Dialect while Michelin-worthy Rooster & The Till remains the neighborhood’s gastronomic go-to for its central wraparound eat-in bar (calling all solo diners) and Latin tasting menus.
Other restaurant newcomers to seek out around Tampa include Ebbe–Chef’s Counter, a few blocks off the Tampa Riverwalk and where Swedish chef Ebbe Volmer’s seasonal tasting menus are served in an intimate 24-seat space, and Sunda New Asian in the city’s burgeoning Midtown district.
You’ll never go wrong in Tampa with dinner at the circa 1956 Bern’s Steak House (if you can snag a table, of course), with its legendary wine cellar housing more than 100,000 bottles and where locals know one of the best seats in the house is a walk-up spot at the bar for the off-menu steak sandwich.
Where to stay
To be close to the best things to see and do in Tampa, opt to stay at a hotel in Water Street Tampa, Ybor City or Hyde Park Village. In the former, The Tampa EDITION (from $399 per night) opened in 2022 as the city’s first true five star property, with a gorgeous rooftop pool deck cascading with tropical plants, onsite nightlife venues (including the jewel-toned Punch Room, where rum drinks reign) and one of the city’s top spas.
Right in Hyde Park Village, Palisociety debuted its only Florida property in late 2023, Palihouse Hyde Park Village (from $305 per night), a boutique beauty housed on the second floor of a discreet building just steps from restaurants and bars (including the gorgeous house one, reserved for hotel guests) and with just 36 lavishly appointed guest rooms.
Ybor City’s finest address is Hotel Haya (from $175 per night), which pays homage to pre-revolution Cuba at fine dining restaurant Flor Fina and the gorgeous little coffee and breakfast bar, Cafe Quiquiriqui, which serves some of the city’s tastiest Cuban sandwiches and strongest cortaditos.