Florida’s New ‘It’ City Has an Over-the-top Pirate Festival, Beautiful Parks, and Michelin-starred Dining

Here's what you need to know before visiting Tampa, Florida — including the best things to see, eat, and do.

<p>John Coletti/Getty Images</p>

John Coletti/Getty Images

Miami is always going to be Miami. But when it comes to the places everyone is talking about in Florida, it’s impossible to ignore Tampa. The Tampa Bay area has grown rapidly in recent years, with new residents attracted to the region's endless opportunities to get outside and a booming food scene constantly that's leveling up.

“Tampa has always been an appealing destination,” says Emmy Award nominee Java Ingram, who co-hosts the popular local morning show, Great Day Live. “It’s a city cloaked in sunshine, sandwiched by water, with a rich history, cultural diversity, and a stone’s throw away from award-winning beaches.”

With warm weather and hundreds of sunny days per year, the Gulf Coast city beckons for a winter warm-up as much as a summertime beach escape (spots like Clearwater Beach and St. Pete Beach are around 40 minutes away) where you can look forward to big-city museums, fine dining, and festivals galore.

The city’s marquee festival happens every January, when the Gasparilla Pirate Fest — said to be one of the largest parades in the country — involves celebrations both on the water of Hillsborough Bay and along Bayshore Boulevard, a waterfront promenade that gets taken over by floats and bead throwing.

The multi-day Gasparilla Music Festival draws big-name bands to a downtown riverfront park in February, and there are tons of food festivals throughout the year, too, including the Cuban Sandwich Festival in historic Ybor City every May.

The city is best explored by neighborhood-hopping, says Shawna Wiggs, managing editor of several of the city’s premier lifestyle magazines, including Tampa Magazine.

For the trendiest part of town, she points visitors to Water Street Tampa, a growing wellness district in the heart of downtown that’s been completely reimagined in recent years. “Here you'll find places to eat, stay, and play in an atmosphere that gives off a big-city vibe,” Wiggs says.

Hit South Tampa and neighborhoods like Hyde Park for a totally different feel. “This is the residential neighborhood you'll never want to leave. Strategically located in close proximity to downtown, you'll find the tree-lined streets of historic neighborhoods, the hottest restaurants in town, and numerous parks and recreation areas like Bayshore Boulevard, known for its scenic waterfront walking and biking paths,” says Wiggs.

Below, find everything you need to know before visiting Tampa.


  • Grab an amazing steak and seafood dinner with some of the best people-watching in town from the streetside patio at Meat Market in Hyde Park. 

  • Stroll, bike, or jog while scouting for dolphins and rays along Bayshore Boulevard or the Tampa Riverwalk. 

  • Go restaurant and bar-hopping in the new Water Street Tampa district, starting with The Tampa Edition’s great venues like its rooftop pool bar and lobby bar.

  • Play pirate and catch beads during January’s annual Gasparilla Pirate Fest.

  • Neighborhood-hop in Hyde Park Village, Water Street Tampa, and Ybor City.

Best Hotels and Resorts

The Tampa Edition

Ian Schrager’s Tampa Edition sits at the heart of Water Street Tampa and has the city’s most beautiful rooftop pool (draped with bougainvillea) as well as the Michelin-starred Mediterranean restaurant, Lilac, helmed by Chef John Fraser, tucked just off its lobby.

Palihouse Hyde Park Village

New in 2023, this hotel opened along the historic and tree-lined streets of Hyde Park Village, one of Tampa’s toniest and most pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods. The 36 rooms at Palihouse Hyde Park Village have SMEG mini-fridges and a lovely mid-century aesthetic. Public spaces, including a jewel box of a bar, are decorated with vintage Hermes scarves and other treasures.

<p>James Jackman</p>

James Jackman

JW Marriott Water Street Tampa

Come for Tampa’s best spa and highest rooftop bar, Beacon, which crowns the 27th floor of the JW Marriott Water Street Tampa with 360-degree views of downtown, Hillsborough River, and Hillsborough Bay.

Le Méridien Tampa

Housed in a former downtown courthouse, the 130-room Le Méridien Tampa feels like a modern urban hideaway and sits just a few blocks from the Tampa Riverwalk and its lovely museums, parks, and riverfront path.

Hotel Haya

Roosters roam the streets around stylish Hotel Haya in the historic Ybor City neighborhood. Come for the courtyard pool and the great Cuban sandwiches and cortados at Havana-inspired cafe, Cafe Quiquiriqui.

Best Things to Do

<p>TriggerPhoto/Getty Images</p>

TriggerPhoto/Getty Images

Tampa Riverwalk

Stretching over 2.5 miles to the city's most gorgeous food hall at  Armature Works (a former street car warehouse), the Tampa Riverwalk makes for a delightful destination to stroll, jog, rollerblade, or bike. Along the way, stop at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park to check out a pop-up event or let the kids run on the playground, pop into the Tampa Museum of Art for the latest exhibition, or rent a paddleboard from Urban Kai to tool around the Hillsborough River. Hop just across the river for great restaurants like Oxford Exchange.

Bayshore Boulevard

Tampa’s great year-round weather is one of its major draws, and the city gets its exercise in the fresh air along 4.5-mile-long Bayshore Boulevard. The waterfront park is lined by some of Tampa’s most exquisite homes, and it's said to be one of the longest continuous sidewalks in the country. Follow it all the way south to oak-filled Ballast Point Park, where you can stroll the pier or grab an ice cream.

Tampa Electric's Manatee Viewing Center

From November to mid-April every year, you have a good chance of seeing many, many manatees where they converge at the warm water outflow at Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center, about a 20-minute drive from downtown Tampa. Particularly during cold spells (when temperatures dip into the 70s and below in this part of Florida), you’re likely to see scores of the gentle marine mammals below you while strolling the boardwalks.

The Florida Aquarium

In downtown Tampa’s Channel District, The Florida Aquarium has interesting exhibits showcasing Florida’s most iconic natural environments and denizens, including alligators, river otters, and wetlands birds like roseate spoonbills. There's also a touch tank with cownose rays that kids love.

Wat Mongkolratanaram

A riverfront Thai temple might be the last thing you’d ever expect to find in Tampa. But visiting this beautiful place of worship and its gorgeous orchid-filled grounds just east of downtown for the weekly Sunday market is a cherished weekend ritual. Grab a picnic table under the towering oak trees, let the kids run around, and enjoy the serene vibes, spectacular setting, and delicious eats.

Best Restaurants


Hidden away near Armature Works, come to Kōsen for an exquisite omakase experience helmed by Chef Wei Chen, who honed his talents at New York City’s three-Michelin-star restaurant, Masa. It’s a pure pleasure to sit at the 12-seat counter and try things like Hokkaido uni and toro from Tokyo’s Toyosu Market while watching Chen’s impressive knife skills. Be sure to book far in advance as this spot fills up in a hurry.


Michelin-starred Italian hot spot Rocca never disappoints, particularly when you kick off your meal with the house-made mozzarella that’s hand-pulled table side. “I will never turn down dinner at Rocca, but after earning its first Michelin star, a reservation is hard to get,” says Wiggs. “If you aren't planning in advance, I recommend going when the restaurant first opens and snagging a seat at the bar.” Wiggs loves to order the dirty martini with grilled olives and whatever crudo is on offer. “You can't go wrong with any of their pastas,” she adds. “The spaghetti al limone and rigatoni all'amatriciana are outstanding.”

<p>Courtesy of Meat Market</p>

Courtesy of Meat Market

Meat Market

Right in the heart of Hyde Park Village, Meat Market’s indoor and outdoor tables are packed every night of the week. “For a more glamorous take on the traditional steakhouse, there's no better stop than Meat Market,” says Wiggs. The sea bass with truffle mash and wild mushrooms is always a winner, and if you’re into all things wagyu, you won’t be disappointed here — the ribeye is as buttery as meat gets.


For one of Tampa’s best brunches, head to this West Tampa Greek spot. ”The food, ambiance, and staff are incredible at Psomi,” says Ingram. “On any given Saturday, you will find me ordering the lamb burger – it’s packed with flavor and good to the last bite. If I still have room left after the burger, I’m ordering the saganaki or the spanakopita.”

Sunda New Asian

Tampa’s up-and-coming Midtown neighborhood has some great new restaurants, too, including Sunda New Asian. “The owner, Billy Dec, has family from both the Philippines and Tampa, which is why he opened a location here,” explains Ingram. “The restaurant is gorgeous from a design perspective and the menu has dishes that represent several Asian cuisines. I love the bulgogi roti tacos, the yellowtail jalapeño sashimi, and the lobster wagyu sushi.”

Best Time to Visit

Tampa is a year-round destination. Visit during the winter months, from December through March, for the best chance at seeing manatees in larger numbers when they converge in warm waters at nearby springs and the electric plant. The annual Gasparilla Pirate Fest takes place in late January and is a big draw for what’s essentially a massive alfresco party, but note hotel prices surge over this weekend and the crowds tend to be on the rowdier side (think Mardi Gras in miniature).

<p>Michela Sieman/Travel + Leisure</p>

Michela Sieman/Travel + Leisure

How to Get There

Travelers can fly into Tampa International Airport or St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport. Flying into Orlando International Airport, about 90 minutes away by car, is also an option, with more international and domestic connections.

Neighborhoods to Visit

<p>Peter Titmuss/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images</p>

Peter Titmuss/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Ybor City

Tampa earned its nickname, Cigar City, in this historic district settled by Cubans and other immigrant groups — many of whom worked in the cigar factories — in the 19th century. “From roaming roosters to cigar factories, Ybor City is a must when visiting Tampa,” Ingram says.  “Entertainment, food, and history are all up for grabs in this historic neighborhood.  I love attending events at The Cuban Club.” She recommends a stroll along 7th Avenue to enjoy Spanish and Cuban fare at Florida’s oldest restaurant, Columbia, open since 1905 in the neighborhood. “I also recommend a tour of J.C. Newman Cigar Company, one of the last operational cigar factories in the United States,” Ingram says.

Water Street Tampa

These days, all things downtown revolve around Water Street Tampa, a 55-acre project developed by Strategic Property Partners bustling with great restaurants like gastropub The Pearl, brunch and date night hot spot Boulon Brasserie, and Lona by Chef Richard Sandoval (the latter skews deliciously Oaxacan and has downtown’s best happy hour margaritas). Stroll to the waterfront and spots like Sparkman Wharf, with a lively beer garden and pop-up restaurants from some of Tampa’s best chefs inside shipping containers.  Don’t miss sampling the guava pastelito ice cream at Chill Bros., an ice creamery where everything is made in-house.

Hyde Park Village

This upscale neighborhood full of Florida craftsman houses is located just south of downtown, steps from Bayshore Boulevard. “Hyde Park has stunning architecture and great shopping, restaurants, and views,” says Ingram. “It’s home to some of my favorite spots including On Swann and Timpano restaurants." Ingram says to stop by Sunni Spencer boutique for "Après-Sea" pool and beachwear, and then catch a film at Cinebistro, a movie theater where you can dine on bistro eats while watching the latest releases. Ro Hyde Park is hard to top for an elevated Japanese and sushi restaurant in the neighborhood.  And ask someone how to find the hidden-away new speakeasy, Jekyll.

Seminole Heights

The historic neighborhood of Seminole Heights, located just north of downtown, is home to a young, creative scene, as well as some of the city’s best bars and restaurants, including spots like Rooster and The Till, helmed by lauded Tampa chef, Ferrell Alvarez, hip shuffleboard bar Shuffle, and breweries like Common Dialect Beerworks.

St. Pete

Tampa’s neighboring city across the bay is always worthy of a visit, too. It's home to the great new St. Pete Pier — with a tiki bar, pirate-themed playground, and onsite environmental center — as well as The Dali, which houses the largest collection of works by surrealist painter Salvador Dali outside of his native Spain. The bar at Allelo is beyond beautiful — backed by a mural of Florida birds, some extinct and others still among us — and the charcuterie and mezze platters are an absolute delight.

How to Get Around

You’re best off picking up a rental car to explore Tampa at your leisure. You can also get by using the Coast Bike Share program, Pirate Water Taxi, and Teco StreetCar to explore the areas around Water Street Tampa, the Tampa Riverwalk, and Ybor City. The Cross Bay Ferry connects downtown Tampa with downtown St. Pete.

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