Tampa was our home from 2005 to 2008. We recently returned to the area and were reminded why it’s such a great destination to visit year round. While Orlando is the theme park capital of the world, Tampa has great theme parks like Busch Gardens and is more of a foodie town compared to Orlando (a city we’ve also lived in). Tampa is close to great beaches like Clearwater, Honeymoon Island and St. Pete Beach. The powdery white sand of Florida’s west coast beaches are generally nicer than Florida’s east coast beaches. There’s a lot of history and culture in the area, beautiful vistas around the bay and lots of great day trips from Tampa. Here are some of the best places that both locals and visitors enjoy.
Tarpon Springs prides itself on being the “the sponge capital of the world.” In the early 1900’s, Greek immigrants built a bustling town around a sponge industry that has remained for over a century. Walk around Tarpon Springs today and you’ll feel like you’re in Greece. The area around Dodocanese Street is lined almost entirely with Greek restaurants, cafes and shops.
Tarpon Springs is a fantastic town to spend several hours. Lap up the seaside ambiance over delicious Greek entrees, fresh seafood and tasty desserts. Dmitri’s on the Water is one of the best places to eat in town. Traditionally, Greeks eat family style. So order dishes to share among your table. A couple highlights at Dimitri’s are their huge quality salads and octopus stifado (octopus cooked in tomato sauce with feta cheese) We also highly recommend Hella’s Bakery for their incredible dessert selection and Fournos Bakery for delicious bread and spanakopita (spinach pie). Grab some sponges too, as they’re a great way to scrub yourself or your home!
Where to stay in Tarpon Springs?
Innisbrook Golf Resort in nearby Palm Harbor is a good choice for luxury travelers. There are 5 on site restaurants, outdoor pools with water slides, 11 tennis courts and 4 golf courses. This is a great place for guys to hit the links and for ladies to relax at the spa.
Hampton Inn and Suites Tarpon Springs is a quality option. Hampton Inns offer a reliably comfortable stay with a good breakfast
Quality Inn and Suites Tarpon Springs is a good budget option. Rooms are comfortable for the money.
Families will find the best deals on Airbnb. We recently stayed at Genka’s first floor place, a 3 bedroom apartment that’s walking distance from everything in Tarpon Springs and a couple mile drive to beautiful beaches like Sunset Beach. If you’ve never used Airbnb before, sign up here for free and receive $40 off your first stay over $75!
We typically prefer quieter beaches compared to busy ones that tourists are also drawn to. But despite being busy, Clearwater Beach is beautiful, fun and someplace locals enjoy too. We highly recommend paying just a $1 admission to walk to the end of Clearwater pier just before sunset. It’s a gorgeous view, and you’ll be greeted on the pier by pelicans, cranes and other interesting birds. Clearwater’s Pier 60 is also a great place to buy hand crafted art and jewellery. Consider tours like a 2 Hour Cruise Around Clearwater Beach with Optional Dining.
There’s several great places to eat in Clearwater. We highly recommend Palm Pavilion, which is right on the beach and has been in business since 1926. This is a laid back restaurant with good food, and there’s almost always quality live music. Order a pina colada, some fish tacos and enjoy beach life.
St. Petersburg is a beautiful town across the bay from Tampa. St. Pete is a great place for food, drinks, beaches, boat rides and art. The Dali Museum was recently renovated and is one of the most popular attractions here. St. Petersburg is also home to the Tampa Bay Rays, so if you enjoy baseball, you can catch a game during the season. A St. Petersburg Historical Segway Tour is a fun option to get to know the town.
The Saturday Morning Market in St. Petersburg is one of the best farmer’s markets you will come across. You’ll find gourmet cheeses, fresh vegetables, eggs, honey, crafts, jewelry and even exotic items like truffle olive oil can be sampled. Visit the Farmer’s Market, then grab a drink or some food on the patio overlooking the sea at The Moon Under Water. The Moon Under Water is a unique British Colonial Tavern featuring both British and Indian dishes.
Honeymoon Island State Park
Honeymoon Island State Park was one of our favorite places to visit when we lived in Tampa. The beach on Honeymoon island isn’t as busy or commercial as Clearwater. So if you want to enjoy the beach while avoiding larger crowds, this is a great place to go. Food options are more limited in the state park so you may want to bring a picnic.
The park boasts several bird observation areas and nature trails. Visitors can also fish, snorkel and swim in the warm waters of the Gulf. As the Gulf currents deposit a wonderful variety of seashells on the shore, shelling is especially good here.
Fort De Soto Park
Fort De Soto was named by Trip Advisor as America’s Top Beach in 2009. The largest park in Pinellas County, Fort De Soto lies on five interconnected islands on 1,136 acres of land. The islands are home to beach plants, mangroves, wetlands and many native plants. The fort was built in 1898, a remnant from the Spanish-American War that houses a museum today. Fort De Soto is a great place to kayak, relax on the beach and take in some history.
Tampa Area Recommendations
Ybor City was founded in 1885 and is a must on any trip to Tampa. During the day, Ybor City is a great place to eat, shop and explore a historic area built around the cigar rolling industry. Late at night, Ybor’s is a great place to party with a wide range of bars and clubs catering to a mostly 20-something crowd. Consider a Tampa History Cruise to get to know the area better.
Tampa is famous for Cuban food and you shouldn’t leave without eating a delicious Cuban sandwich. A great place for this is Aguila Sandwich Shop. La Teresita is iconic and shouldn’t be missed if you want to sit down for good Cuban food in a no frills environment. If you love coffee, be sure to order a cafe con leche or espresso, as Cubans usually brew excellent coffee.
If you like fine dining, steaks, and good wine, head to Bern’s Steakhouse. This is one of the most beautiful restaurants in Tampa. Don’t miss touring their world class wine cellar and enjoying the Harry Waugh dessert room. The Bern’s Steakhouse experience is a great way to cap off an anniversary or other special occasions.
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