Tampa’s Riverwalk is one of my favorite parts of the city.
Photograph by Visit Tampa Bay
Getting to and around Tampa
Tampa Bay is one of the most easily accessible regions in Florida with Tampa International Airport. Once you arrive, there are plenty of ways to get around. Transportation across Tampa Bay is available by shuttle system, Uber/Lyft, regular taxi and rental car. The ‘Downtowner’ is a cute little electric car that also offers complimentary rides in the downtown region. You also have the option to take a ferry from Tampa to St Pete and connect your adventures.
Best Budget Accommodations
Airbnb Tiny House
I’m a sucker for a tiny house. I know – I KNOW. They’re adorable in the most charming ‘Swiss Family Robinson’ kind of way. This one in Tampa is available for $58/night at the time of this posting and this tiny in Ybor is $120. If you’ve never used Airbnb before use this link to get $40 off your first stay.
GP Gram’s Place Hostel
If hostels are more your thing check out Gram’s Place. The beds are made from repurposed train cars and the lounge area is set up for optimal socializing without being too crazy. The cute little dip pool is the perfect way to escape the summer heat and for $55 a bunk, you can’t beat that price.
Best Midrange Accommodations
Sheraton Tampa Riverwalk
I stayed at the Sheraton while I was in Tampa. It’s perched on a small hill above the Hillsborough River. It’s directly above one of Tampa’s best attractions – The River Walk. The views from my room were of Tampa Bay’s most iconic features, the two drawbridges and the silver minarets of the historic Plant Hall on the University of Tampa. Rooms run anywhere from $130-$200 depending on the season.
Best Luxury Accommodations
The Epicurean is the definition of a well put together hotel. It’s a food and wine-themed boutique hotel without being cheesy. It comes complete with a bakery, restaurant, spa and wine store on the property. The interior is done tastefully with a nod to the food theme using an urban industrial aesthetic. Guests can register for cooking classes in a state of the art demo kitchen. Check-in comes complete with a sampling of red and white. The details are everything here, from the old school shoes shine station to the rooftop bar, which is the only one in Tampa. You can book a room for $170-200 in low season or high season runs about $300-$400 per night.
Le Meridien Tampa
Tampa Bay’s former Beaux Arts-style federal courthouse in the heart of downtown was renovated into the city’s newest boutique hotel, Le Meridien Tampa. Despite the change, the hotel has preserved many most dramatic aspects of the original building. You’ll walk on the original terrazzo tile floors, sleep in a former judge’s chamber, and dine at Bizou Brasserie beneath the coffered ceilings in a former courtroom where hundreds of historic decisions were handed down. One of the coolest parts of this 4 diamond hotel is their emphasis on the arts. Each Le Meridien Hotel partners with a local museum for free admission. Rooms run around $250-$350 per night.
Things To Do in Tampa
Named for a legendary pirate, Jose Gaspar, who terrorized the coastal waters of West Florida during the 18th and early 19th centuries, Tampa Bay’s annual Gasparilla celebration kicks off each January with a full schedule of exciting pirate-themed events. From a four-mile long parade of pirates and period memorabilia on display, and a waterfront half-marathon, the entire city of Tampa unloads untold Gasparilla treasures. Mostly, I just want to head back to Tampa Bay during Gasparilla so that I can speak with a pirates accent to annoy my wife, Lindsay the whole time.
The Tampa Riverwalk runs for 2.5 miles along the Hillsborough River and Garrison Channel, linking the downtown area together. PRO TIP: alcohol is legal on the riverwalk as you stroll, as long as they buy it from the eight approved vendors along the way and carry it in specially designated cups. Like, The Sail which is an open air bar on the Riverwalk. It’s also the #1 dog-friendly bar in the US. You can also try Tampa Bay Water Bikes or catch a ride on the water taxi for just $15 for an all-day pass. At night, the riverwalk’s canopies are lighted along with the bridges the cross the river making for a romantic evening activity.
The Tampa Theater is designed to look like a Mediterranean courtyard. This old school movie theater is built to look like an opera house with visually stunning features. For an epic hipster evening, check out Dr. Steven Ball, the young professor who plays the soundtrack to silent films on the giant organ.
Tampa Museum of Art
Check out the exhibit, ‘Black and White’ by Alex Katz. Once you’re finished head downstairs for lunch at Sono Café and have lunch with a view. There is no better view of downtown than from the covered plaza in front of the Tampa Museum of Art. The museum houses a collection ranging from ancient Greek and Roman to Pop Art legend Roy Lichtenstein. It also hosts many traveling exhibits, recently covering the works of Christo, Andy Warhol, and Norman Rockwell. At night, the museum becomes a work of art itself when its façade comes to life with thousands of shifting colors in Leo Villareal’s “Sky (Tampa).”
Visit the Ybor City Chickens
Ybor [pronounced eee- bore] City is a neighborhood in Tampa rich with history, restaurants, nightlife. But for me, the best part of Ybor were the chickens. Yes – chickens. Ybor City’s immigrant history lives on today in the lives of the chickens that range free among the bushes, streets, and sidewalks of Tampa Bay’s historic Latin Quarter. That rooster you hear crowing down the block is descended from backyard birds kept by Cuban, Spanish, Sicilian and German immigrants who built Ybor City into the Cigar Capital of the World during the Gilded Age. The birds are protected from harm by a city ordinance that makes Tampa a bird sanctuary. Check out @Yborchickens on Instagram to keep up with Ybor City’s walking (and crowing) pieces of history. The chickens are protected by local and state law and there are steep fines for touching them so careful with those photo ops folks.
La France – Vintage Clothing
LaFrance is the vintage clothing shop of your Tumblr wet dreams. They cater to all genders and have a wide selection of vintage clothing and accessories. I was lusting after an early 90s tracksuit while I was there – who knows what treasures you’ll find?
Henry Plant Museum
The Henry Plant Museum may not seem like your average tourist attraction at first, but trust me – it’s the most Instagramable location in Tampa. Located in the former Tampa Bay Hotel, the museum is dedicated to 19th Century railroad baron Henry B. Plant, who helped turn Tampa Bay into a hub for commerce and tourism. The museum features a dramatic collection of Gilded Age furnishing, art, and other items Plant acquired during trips to Europe as he established his resort hotel. So basically it’s an old school bougie hotel museum from railroad tycoon but the design of the place makes for an epic backdrop. It also has some interesting historical exhibits and artifacts from the lifestyles of the rich and famous circa 1900.
Places to Eat in Tampa
U le le
Ulele is a Rustic-chic restaurant for native Floridian fare, with barbacoa grilling & house-brewed beers. Named for the native Tocabagan princess, the restaurant’s owners repurposed the old Tampa Waterworks building into a stunning waterfront urban industrial eatery. The Riverwalk is directly out front and the water taxi stops here along the way up river. Ulele has a beautiful outdoor patio bar and independent brewery with home brewed flights for the beer enthusiasts. The Wedding and Honeymoon Beers are the most popular. Try the oysters, I’m not usually an oyster person but these were delicious, char-grilled garlic butter oysters with parmesan romano cheese cooked over an open fire. Also note that Ulele has gender neutral bathrooms.
Executive chef Chad Johnson and the Laxer family have built one of the most beautiful restaurants in Tampa. Elevage puts a modern twist on traditional American favorite dishes. The Laxer family, which owns Elevage along with nearby Bern’s Steak House and Haven, have built the world’s largest private wine collection. You can sample some of it at Elevage or enjoy their handcrafted cocktails with unique liquors. Elevage which means lifted in French is definitely a step above the rest.
Oxford Exchange is a gorgeously posh restaurant, bookstore, lifestyle gift store, co-working space, design studio and event venue. The place looks like someone’s “dream home” Pinterest board come to life, in the best possible way. I was there for brunch because bottomless mimosas are life and had the Ricotta Pancakes ($14) with blackberry maple, lemon cream, and sweet toasted almond because go hard or go home.
Ybor City’s unique history envelops this restaurant in the landmark Centro Español, one of five ethnic social clubs that were (and in some cases still are) the hubs for life among Ybor City’s immigrant-rich community. The Centro Español served Ybor’s Spanish and Cuban communities with tea dances up to the 1950s. These days it’s serving steaks to hungry patrons as the Carne Chophouse. With traditional steakhouse fare at an accessible price, you can enjoy $3 Finlandia Martinis and be bougie on a budget. The prosciutto wrapped mozzarella is sinfully delicious.
Hamburger Mary’s is a queer institution. The classic LGBTQ party spot features a low-key menu of burgers and fries, a balcony overlooking Ybor City’s Seventh Avenue nightlife and Drag Queen bingo several nights a week. Next door, you’ll find Hamburger Mary’s Pub House complete with local beers and a sports bar.
Fodder & Shine
Fodder & Shine is a unique restaurant located in the heart of hipster-friendly Seminole Heights features meals inspired by the old days before Florida became a haven for tourists and retirees. The Cracker cuisine draws on local and native ingredients available to Florida’s settlers between the mid-1800s and World War II. Those “Cracker” settlers got their name from the sound their whips made as they herded cattle left behind by the Spanish explorers a century before. Try the Cornmeal Fried Chicken or one of their many vegetarian and gluten free options.
Seventh Avenue (La Sétima) at night
Even as it becomes a popular spot for office work and lunch, Ybor City remains the heart of Tampa Bay’s nightlife. After sunset, Seventh Avenue – running through the middle of the historic Latin Quarter – comes to life with restaurant-goers, sight-seers, and party-hoppers. The street is an eclectic mix of restaurants, retail shops, gay and straight dance clubs and cigar stores.
Whenever I quizzed any of the locals about where the LezBiQueers hangout, the vote was instantly for Honey Pot on Saturday for their 18+ party. If you’re looking to hang out with some local lesbians, check out Honey Pot for drag shows, DJs, and shot specials.
A long-time member of Tampa Bay’s GaYbor district, Liquid Tampa is a two-level, high-energy nightclub with a different theme each day of the week. I was there on XXX Tuesdays which feature gay porn idols and go-go dancers, it caters to mostly gay men but there were more than a few lesbians who I grilled for information about the scene. Their take was that Tampa is a very mixed crowd.
Bradley’s on 7th
“Drinks. Divas. Dance.” Bradley’s on 7th has become a mainstay of Tampa Bay’s GaYbor district, with nightly events year-round. This is a gay male-centric bar but lady friendly, come dance the night away while some of the area’s best DJ’s choose the tunes.
The Castle is a mixed LGBT multi-level dance club with music from new wave to pop & a crowd dressed from Goth to fetish. They advertise Thursdays as Ladies’ night but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to check it out myself.
LGBT Friendly Nightlife
Rock Brothers Brewing is a music themed brewery and cocktail bar with cool art and hip design. While it’s not a gay bar it makes the list. Rock Brothers’ Brewery is always on the move, hosting concerts, beer festivals, fine dining pairings. The venue is completely design driven with an epic attention to detail.
The Independent is a cool hipster bar with a wide variety of craft beers and wine. Outdoor patio with a hip crowd. Independent Bar is located in Seminole Heights, the hipster area of Tampa and comes off as a chill and no frills place to grab a drink with friends.
Anise Global Gastrobar
Among downtown’s trendiest restaurants, Anise began as a food truck selling Asian-style sticky buns. Those buns are still on the menu, along with a variety of Asian-style food, salads, and cocktails. The comfy chairs outside make a great place for people-watching as the sun goes down and downtown’s lights come up. The patio is a few steps from the Tampa Riverwalk and downtown attractions. While we were there the crowd was mostly POC with a fashion show, spoken word poetry and live music.
Is Tampa LGBT Friendly?
I’d list Tampa as LGBT friendly. I never experienced any unpleasantries while I was in the city. Tampa is home to an active LGBT Film Festival and numerous LezBiQueer centric meetup groups. They have a thriving LGBT nightlife district and I ran into several straight people in some of the gay bars we visited. I would caution you to note that Florida is a very conservative state, which is more noticeable once you’re leaving some of the cities.
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This post was created in collaboration with Visit Tampa Bay. As always – all opinions are my own.