Tampa offers a taste of Florida beyond the theme parks and spring break-packed beaches. Sure, you’ll find your share of roller coasters and water activities, which we’ll clue you in on below, but Tampa is also home to one of Florida’s fastest-rising craft beer and restaurant scenes. The city also boasts a fascinating history and thriving Latin culture.
Whether you’re looking to eat, drink or learn, you’ll find a host of sites and activities all within a 30-minute drive of the cruise port. Break out the sunscreen (this is Florida after all!) and get ready to explore Tampa.
1. Florida Aquarium (5 minute walk)
With more than 20,000 sea critters and a host of interactive exhibits, the Florida Aquarium has been rated one of the best in the country. And for good reason. The aquarium's Florida Wetlands Trail exhibit gets you up close and personal with otters, alligators and the invasive Burmese python. Look up to see native herons, owls and ibises soaring above. The free-flying birds make their homes in rafters above the trail. For a taste of even more exotic wildlife, the aquarium’s Journey To Madagascar exhibit features lemurs, chameleons and hissing cockroaches (euw!)
Insider Tip: You can store your luggage at cruise terminal 2 if you buy your tickets for Florida Aquarium at the cruise port.
Florida Aquarium, 701 Channelside Drive, Tampa, Florida 33602. (813) 273-4000, www.flaquarium.org
2. Tampa Bay History Center (15 minute walk)
Your ship will dock just a few blocks from where this city began. The history of Tampa can be traced back to 1824, when 500 soldiers set up camp in what is now downtown. The Tampa Bay History Center traces Tampa’s evolution from a military outpost, to the one-time cigar capital of the world, to the 350,000-person city it is today. The city’s stories are vividly retold through interactive exhibits, multimedia displays and interesting collections. Admire the replicas of the city’s old cigar factories before checking out the display on the world’s first commercial flight, which landed in Tampa on January 1, 1914. Travelers can thank local pilot Tony Jannus for creating air travel, as we know it (minus the baggage fees).
Tampa Bay History Center, 801 Old Water St, Tampa, FL 33602. (813) 228-0097, www.tampabayhistorycenter.org
3. Channelside Neighborhood (7 minute walk)
The neighborhood surrounding the port is one of the most up-and-coming areas of the city. Billions of dollars have been invested in commercial and residential projects to renovate the former warehouse strip. Consider it Tampa’s answer to Miami’s Wynwood Art District. New stores and restaurants are taking over formerly abandoned buildings. Hotels will soon stand in what are now parking lots. Get a taste of the growth by popping into Pour House at Grand Central, one of the first bars to open in the area. In the evenings you’ll find a lively sports bar with overflowing popcorn machines and brews on tap, and by day the space is occupied by the new Ginger Beard Coffee, where the beans are locally roasted and the staff’s facial hair is at least chest-length.
4. Cigar City Brewing (15 minute drive)
With more than two-dozen breweries in its city limits, Tampa is gaining a reputation as Florida's craft beer capital. Many local brewers are quick to credit Cigar City Brewing, the granddaddy of Tampa’s beer scene. When it opened in 2009, CCB (that’s what we call it here) put Tampa on the map of beer drinkers everywhere. Its brews were ranked among the best in the world by the ale aficionado site Ratebeer.com. They also won a gold medal at the 2013 Great American Beer Festival. After taking a tour of the brewery head to the tasting room, where you’ll find a rotating cast of about two dozen taps, ranging from CCB’s popular Jai Alai IPA to specialty batches like Hibiscus Cedar Pale Ale.
Cigar City Brewing, 3924 W Spruce St, Tampa, FL 33607. (813) 348-6363, www.cigarcitybrewing.com
5. Ybor City (8 minute drive)
From the 1880s to the mid 1920s, the cigar industry was the foundation of Tampa’s economy. More than 400 million cigars were rolled each year in Ybor City, a neighborhood just northeast of downtown Tampa. Today, Ybor is Tampa’s Latin Quarter and entertainment district. Grab a stogie and a sidewalk table at King Corona Cigars for some of Ybor’s best people watching. Then get a taste of the local music scene at New World, a former brewery turned biergarten and concert venue. With live shows throughout the week, New World is a great place to catch the best of Florida’s up-and-coming music acts.
King Corona, 1523 E 7th Ave, Tampa, FL 33605. (813) 241-9109, www.kingcoronacigars.com
New World, 1313 E 8th Ave, Tampa, FL 33605. (813) 248-4969, www.newworldbrewery.net
6. Seminole Heights Neighborhood (15 minute drive)
Just north of downtown, Tampa’s Seminole Heights neighborhood is home to many of the city’s most popular bars and restaurants. The Independent (or The Indie, as locals call it) was among the first businesses to set up shop in the neighborhood’s strip of former car dealerships and gas stations. A stellar lineup of rotating taps, ample bottle selection, and frequent concerts make this one of the most well-known neighborhood bars in the city.
Grab a seat under the palm trees in the biergarten, then check out the retro clothes for sale at the nearby Sherry’s YesterDAZE Vintage Clothing & Antiques. Here you’ll find everything from 1950s house dresses to late 1800’s furniture.
Finish your neighborhood exploration with a taste of Florida’s history at Fodder and Shine. Run by a repeated James Beard semifinalist for “Best Chef South”, Fodder’s specialty is (what he calls) Depression-era Florida Cracker food. Smoked mullet is served with a side of bacon fat cornbread, and the fried gizzards are washed down with a Hemingway daiquiri, a mix of rum, lime and grapefruit juice.
The Independent, 5016 N Florida Ave, Tampa, FL 33603. (813) 341-4883, www.independentbartampa.com.
Sherry’s YesterDAZE Vintage Clothing & Antiques 5207 N Florida Ave, Tampa, FL 33603. (813) 231-2020, www.yesterdazevintage.com.
Fodder and Shine, 5910 N Florida Ave, Tampa, FL 33604. (813) 234-3710, www.fodderandshine.com.
7. Busch Gardens (20 minute drive)
More than a decade before Disney World opened there was Busch Gardens. This sprawling theme park is home to more than 12,000 animals and rides that range from relaxing to downright hair-raising. Cruise over the zebras and rhino babies grazing in the park’s Serengeti Plain before taking a 335-foot freefall on the new Falcon’s Fury, the tallest freestanding drop tower in North America.
Busch Gardens, 10165 N McKinley Dr, Tampa, FL 33612. (888) 800-5447, buschgardens.com. Military discounts are available through www.seaworldparks.com/en/buschgardens-tampa/waves-of-honor/
8. Curtis Hixon Park (8 minute drive)
Ten years ago, this was a parking lot. Today the eight-acre Curtis Hixon Park is one of the most popular - and picturesque - parks in Tampa. Depending on the day and time, you might stumble upon a free concert, yoga class, or outdoor movie night. Curtis Hixon is also a great spot to watch the bridges over the Hillsborough River light up with colored LEDs as part of the city’s nightly Agua Luces art display. Those minarets across the river? That’s the University of Tampa, formerly the Tampa Bay Hotel. Once one of the most regal lodgings in the south, the hotel’s guests included everyone from Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders, to the Prince of Wales, and even the Queen of England. Fun fact: Babe Ruth reportedly signed his first baseball contract in the hotel’s dining room.
Curtis Hixon Park, 600 N Ashley Dr, Tampa, FL 33602.
9. Tampa Riverwalk (15 minute walk)
Curtis Hixon Park is an excellent spot to hop on the new Tampa Riverwalk. Follow the 1.8-mile recreation trail as it weaves along the Hillsborough River from the park to the Convention Center and back to the cruise port. Along the way you’ll see locals out for a jog, fellow travelers snapping pictures, and downtown workers taking a cubicle break in the sun. On weekends and festival days you may find pop-up bars and food vendors. But most days this new path is all about enjoying the river as it slinks through downtown. Keep an eye on the water line for alligator snouts, dolphin fins and the occasional manatee coming up for air.
Tampa Riverwalk, www.thetampariverwalk.com
10. Hillsborough River State Park (35 minute drive)
For a more natural take on the river, mosey up to the nearly 3,000-acre Hillsborough River State Park. When it opened in 1938, this was one of Florida's first state parks. You can rent a canoe to explore the water, or a bike to explore the grounds. Or you can bust out a sturdy pair of shoes and wander more than seven miles of trails crisscrossing hammocks of hickory, live oak, magnolia, and sabal palm trees. Don’t forget the bug spray!
Hillsborough River State Park, 15402 N US Highway 301, Thonotosassa, FL 33592, www.floridastateparks.org/park/Hillsborough-River