Often overlooked in favor of the glitz and glam of Miami or the theme park delights of Orlando, Tampa is one of Florida’s most underrated destinations.
Written off for years thanks to a (largely unfair) sketchy reputation, Tampa has hit the headlines in the last few years, thanks to a booming food and live music scene, its unsung natural beauty, and its awesome climate. Hosting (and winning!) the Super Bowl in 2021 didn’t hurt either! These days, this long-misunderstood Florida gem is now beginning to get the attention it deserves. So if you are cruising from Florida and want to see what all the fuss is about, why not take a few days to explore Florida’s third-largest city? Here are some of the best hidden places to discover in Tampa.
Discover the birthplace of the Cubano
Contrary to popular belief (we see you, Miami), the Cuban Sandwich or Cubano was first created in workers’ cafes in Ybor City and West Tampa. You can taste this delicious creation in pretty much any deli, cafe, or restaurant in the Latino districts in West Tampa, as well as fancier versions in the upmarket restaurants of downtown. One of the best expressions of this classic sandwich is made by the geniuses at Cafe Quiquiriqui, situated in the gloriously decadent Hotel Haya. You’ll be transported to Havana with every bite in these luxurious surroundings.
Hit up the Gulf Coast craft beer trail
Put on your best hiking pants and get ready to walk and drink beer – Tampa boasts some of the best and most innovative craft breweries in the country, and the Gulf Coast beer trail is the perfect time to taste the best suds that the city has to offer. From Tarpon Springs to St Pete there are around 30 breweries, with some of the best brews around.
See manatees in fresh and salt water
Manatees are an icon of Florida, and Tampa offers unrivalled opportunities to see them in their natural habitats, both in the ocean and in the river. Manatee River is, unsurprisingly, one of the best places to view sea cows in Florida. Fed by natural springs, the river fills up sufficiently during the summer to allow tubing, and a long, gentle journey downstream almost always guarantees a manatee sighting or two. During the winter, the warm waters outside of Tampa Electric attract these gentle water mammals, making the Manatee Viewing Center a must-visit.
Find the Hindu Temple of Florida
Just a few miles north of Tampa Airport, this remarkable white pyramid stands out from the rest of the architecture of North Tampa, and is a truly stunning sight. The temple is beautiful when viewed from the outside, covered in frescos and sculptures, and is a haven of peace and tranquility inside.
Go to Cuba
Thanks to a geopolitical quirk of history, you can technically visit Cuba without leaving Tampa! Parque Amigos de Jose Marti was donated to the Cuban government three years before the communist revolution, and is officially considered Cuban territory. It has been the site of political tensions over the years, and clashes between pro- and anti-communist activists and protestors, but these days it is a fascinating historical monument and well worth a visit. You don’t even need your passport!
Recreate the Golden Age of Cinema
Tampa Theater is one of the last great palaces of cinema, a paen to the Golden Age of film, and a lavishly beautiful piece of 1920s architecture and design. It is a surreal and stunning place to visit, with classic Spanish, Persian, and Greek influences, and a ceiling painted to mimic the night sky. Although it is no longer a functioning cinema, it does host regular events, shows, and performances, and is a magical place to visit.