Florida’s subtropical climate, Latin-infused culture, relaxed pace of life and gorgeous beaches make it a compelling vacation destination. There’s nothing quite like stepping off a plane from New York or Seattle in the winter to be greeted with warm breezes, the sun on your face, and the sound of waves lapping at white sandy beaches.
When it comes to Florida destinations, Tampa has sometimes suffered in comparison to Miami, Orlando, and the Florida Keys. It has, in the past, had a rather gritty reputation, but this is undoubtedly no longer the case. Tampa has seen a renaissance, with exciting new restaurants and sophisticated bars popping up all over the place, a load of superb museums and galleries, and a picturesque Gulf of Mexico location making it an incredibly attractive place to visit.
Tampa, and Tampa Bay are now very much on the map for travellers, from adventurous wildlife seekers to parents heading off on a family cruise from Tampa. However the city and the Bay area remain somewhat under-the-radar, and plenty of visitors still don’t entirely know what to expect when they arrive. Take a look below at some of the best bits of this lovely part of Florida, and some bits and pieces to keep in mind when planning a vacation to Tampa Bay.
Be ready to enjoy yourself
Florida life in general, and Tampa in particular, is all about enjoyment. Tampa is geared up for people to have a great time, whether trying out water sports for the first time, getting in a round of golf, enjoying the amusement parks at Busch Gardens, or just exploring the city. The vibe is all about fun, so embrace it, and take advantage.
Florida life is also played at a slower pace, and Tampa is no exception. Relaxing by the sea is pretty much mandatory, and once you’ve seen the beaches around Tampa Bay, you’ll understand why. Beaches around the bay are easily accessible from the center of Tampa itself, and places like Clearwater and Honeymoon Island boast some of the finest stretches of sand in the world. Further afield, St Petersburg and Sarasota are a stone’s throw from equally wonderful spots to lay back, relax and soak up the sun.
A diverse, vibrant culture
Tampa has been a home to immigrants for a long time, and historic Ybor City in downtown Tampa is a vivid, rich example of Latin culture in the US. Founded by cigar manufacturers in the late 19th century, it houses a variety of diverse communities, principally Cuban, Spanish and Italian. Ybor City is full of history, bursting with cultural sights and phenomena, and an amazing place to try the wonderful cuisines of these communities. Embrace this heritage, and discover that Cuban cigars were originally made in Tampa, the Cuban Sandwich was invented here, and that you can even travel to Cuba itself without leaving the city, by visiting Jose Marti Park, gifted to the island nation in 1956 and officially Cuban sovereign territory.
Driving is a must
Tampa is a spread-out, suburban city, and a great many of the best spots in the Bay are a fair way from the center of town. While getting around Tampa itself can be done relatively simple on foot or by streetcar, to get the most out of your trip renting a car is a really sensible option. With a car, you’ll have access to the beautiful beaches of St Pete’s and Clearwater, the artsy neighbourhoods of Sarasota, and even be able to head off further afield to discover the amazing natural beauty that surrounds the city. Discover amazing wildlife and gorgeous waterfalls, as well as undiscovered spots around the Bay.
Keep an eye on the weather
Tampa’s climate is pretty much perfect, with sun all year round, but temperatures never heading above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. However, you would be wise to plan your Tampa vacation outside of the hurricane season, as high winds and heavy downpours can put a literal dampener on your trip. Summer storms also bring the risk of lightning, with more people struck here than anywhere else in the US. January to May is the high season, while November and December are good months to visit too, albeit with slightly cooler temperatures. Even when it is warm, don’t forget to take care of the sun and pack plenty of sunblock.
Watch out for wildlife
When exploring Tampa Bay you’ll undoubtedly come across a variety of lakes, pools, and rivers. Although freshwater can be a tempting alternative to the sea, do take care, as bodies of water not marked for swimming can bring a toothy encounter with an alligator! With over 1 million alligators in Florida and freshwater pools linked by underground aquifers, these fearsome beasts have a habit of turning up unexpectedly. Don’t worry though, alligator attacks are incredibly rare!
You can check out my travel section here for other destinations to visit.
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