View of downtown Tampa from the campus of the University of Tampa as taken by my iPhone
Tampa Bay is one of the fastest growing cities in the country. A lot of jobs and people are moving and settling into the Tampa area. It is heaven for water fans with beautiful beaches facing the Gulf of Mexico in the West and the bay and rivers that run through the metropolitan area. It is a perfect place to sail boats large and small or jet ski. You will see them everywhere you go. Of course, you can also just relax and lay out on the beaches. On the other hand, it is a very hot and humid place to be in the summer like the rest of Florida. Naturally, the sun in is extremely strong. I put on sunblock and still got slightly sunburned. Nevertheless, definitely wear sunblock. Moreover, make sure you have water and stay hydrated. More importantly, remember you are in Florida so be cognizant of alligators and snakes, especially when you are around fresh water. Similar to the rest of Florida, it will likely rain at some point during the day but it is usually not prolonged.
1. Clearwater Beach
Clearwater Beach is the biggest draw for visitors of the Tampa Area. It is one of the best beaches anywhere. In my travels, it is the most beautiful beach I have seen on the East coast. The most unique aspect of Clearwater Beach is its white sand. On any other beach, my bare feet feel burned from the sizzling hot sand on a summer day. However, the white sand does not absorb the heat as much. Consequently, it is at the perfect temperature of warm and not scorching. Next, Pier 60 has the best views of the beach with the hotels to the south and the vacation rental homes and more hotels to the north. Around the pier, there are a lot of blue, pop up cabanas that beachgoers rent and relax in. There is also a short boardwalk at the south part of the beach. Accordingly, you need to walk on the sand to see most of the beach. However, it is a nice walk since you can walk comfortably on the white sand. Of course, there are plenty of restaurants and shops along the beach. In addition, it is one of the most clean and upscale beaches I have visited. On South Beach in Miami, I have seen a lot of homeless wandering around. In contrast, there was a push in Clearwater to get them off the streets and into shelters years ago. During my visit, I did not see any near the beach. Obviously, I hope they are getting the care they need in the shelters. Nevertheless, it is clear that great care has been taken to ensure luxury and décor of the beach for visitors.
In terms of parking, you need to get there early for the parking lots right at the beach. The spots are limited. They are the cheapest parking too so it only enhances their desirability. If you miss out on those spots, there are alternative spots away from the beach. We found a parking lot for a shopping plaza that was $4 per hour and a maximum of $24 for the day. Traffic could be an issue driving into the beach. The causeway enters the beach into a traffic circle. Of course, my friend told me it can be a nightmare during prime hours on the weekend. If you do not want to deal with the crowds and still want a beach day, he recommended Honeymoon Island Beach to the north and another local suggested Indian Rock Beach to the south of Clearwater.
- The Bait House (45 Causeway Blvd, Clearwater Beach, FL 33767)
It is a hole in the wall restaurant at the back of a bait shop located on the pier where the causeway crosses as it connects to the beach. It is a great spot for fresh fish. It featured some of the best fish I have had anywhere. I ate my best meal in Tampa here. The ahi tuna appetizer was outstanding. It was perfectly panned seared. After traveling to Hawaii the last two years, I have been spoiled by fresh tuna and have not been impressed with any spot outside of Hawaii until I ate it at the Bait House. I also ordered the fresh catch of the day for my entrée, which was grouper. It was caught that morning and flawlessly blackened. In terms of the sides. The pasta salad was solid. The broccoli was plainly steamed. Another item I recommend here is the sweet tea. It was sweet but not too sweet.
- Rahvia Acai Bowls (517 S Ft Harrison Ave, Clearwater, FL 33756)
I fell in love with Acai bowls at first bite at Under the Mango Tree in Miami in 2015, which still has the best acai bowls I have ever eaten. The bowls are a cold, sweet treat that is good for you since the acai berries are high in anti-oxidants and the toppings are generally healthy. I have sought out great acai bowls in my travels ever since I tried my first one. Not surprisingly, the best bowls are in the hot or tropical climates I have visited. Accordingly, Tampa has some excellent spots for acai bowls. Rahvia Acai Bowls is one of those spots. I ordered the Berry Bowl. The acai base was great. The temperature is perfect: cold with a chill. It was a tad sour from the berries and I really like it that way. All of the toppings were fresh and excellent: granola, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and kiwis that were substituted in for raspberries since they ran out of them. I also find that a stellar honey really tops off a great bowl. It is generally an area of improvement I note for a lot of bowls I have eaten. Rahvia passed my test. The honey is very sweet and delicious.
It is located in Clearwater shortly after you return from Clearwater Beach and get off the causeway. It is a perfect snack to wait out any traffic if you run into any. For me, the bowl really rejuvenated me after enduring the heat from walking the beach.
- Downtown Area
1. Tampa Riverwalk
Tampa has a decent downtown area. The Riverwalk is a promenade in downtown Tampa that runs along part of the Hillsborough River and the channel it empties out into. It is not one of the most memorable things you will ever do but it is nice walk and activity to do when you are in the downtown area. From Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, where you can see the University of Tampa, to the north end of the Riverwalk; it is currently an eye sore because there is mostly construction on the other side of the river. Nevertheless, the Water Works Park is a pleasant spot to sit and enjoy the breeze off the river. It is a free public park that has some water sprinklers and a large toy bucket that fills up and eventually tips over a little bit to splash the kids below. Moreover, Ulele (1810 N Highland Ave, Tampa, FL 33602) is a beautiful restaurant at that end of the Riverwalk. I heard great things about it but did not have the chance to try it.
Nevertheless, the parts of the Riverwalk south of Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and the University of Tampa are definitely the more scenic stretches of the promenade. At the Convention Center, you get great views of the channel and bay. Next to the hotels, there are beautiful docks and boats. Moreover, there are excellent views of the downtown area. I also recommend crossing the bridge on West Kennedy Boulevard and walking on to the University of Tampa side of the river. The best view of downtown is from the campus. The architecture of the main building of the university is distinct. At first glance, it looks like a replica of the Kremlin in Moscow. The Riverwalk is 2.5 miles one way. If you do not want to walk the whole thing, definitely walk the southern stretch.
Along the Riverwalk, you will see stops for the Water Taxi if you want to stop walking at any point. By the Convention Center, you will also see a lot of different rental boats and boat rides for visitors. When I was walking along the River Walk, I saw an interesting boat filled with people drinking and pedaling at the same time. It was an interesting combination of multitasking. The entire River Walk also conveniently has free public Wi-Fi. Parking was not too bad in the downtown area on Saturday. We found street parking for $1.60 per hour.
- First Watch (520 N Tampa St, Tampa, FL 33602)
First Watch is a chain with multiple locations throughout the Tampa area. It is not a must try. Nevertheless, it is a solid breakfast spot. I started my breakfast with a kale tonic: kale, fuji apple, cucumber, and lemon. It was really good. The fuji apple adds enough sweetness to balance out the greens. For my entrée, I ordered the Farmhouse skillet: eggs, home fries, bacon, avocado, onion, and tomatoes with egg on top. The presentation was picturesque. Everything in the skillet was very good. The avocado was excellent. The home fries could have been a little less salty. The sides that came with the dish were awesome. The whole grain multigrain toast was delicious and the fruit was very fresh.
While you will probably not be blown away by First Watch, you cannot go wrong with it either. This location was a great spot to eat breakfast before going on a walk on the River Walk.
- Courtney Campbell Trail (Gulf to Bay Boulevard Bridge)
The Gulf to Bay Boulevard Bridge, which is part of Highway 60, connects Clearwater with Tampa. The Courtney Campbell Trail runs for 11 miles parallel on the side of the bridge. It is for pedestrians and bicyclists. In my opinion, the best spot is at the side closer to Tampa where land meets the bridge. There are great views of the skylines of Tampa and St. Petersburg as well as the Long Howard Frankland Bridge that connects Tampa and St. Petersburg. Moreover, it is a great spot to watch dolphins. It is definitely worth taking some time to stop and park on the trail while you are crossing the bridge.
- Other Food
1. Raw Smoothie Co. (408 N Howard Ave Unit D, Tampa, FL 33606)
It is a hot and new spot in Tampa. It had one of the more unique acai bowls I have eaten. I ordered the RSC Aaci bowl. The base included pure acai puree, banana, almond milk, and agave. It was very sweet and the perfect chilled temperature. For toppings, I got to pick two fruit. I went with blueberry and strawberry. They were very fresh. One of the atypical aspects of the bowl was that it included chopped up lettuce. It was a bit weird and I did not like it at first. However, I eventually liked the contrast to the sweetness of the rest of the bowl. I would actually recommend chopping up kale. Since it was one of the most expensive acai bowls I have ever ordered, I believe that they should use as many premium ingredients as possible. Of course, kale has more flavor than lettuce. Next, the granola was excellent. It is usually at the top of an acai bowl but the RSC Acai bowl already has a lot going on at the top so the granola left something awesome on the bottom. The bowl was topped off with cocoa nibs. Normally, I criticize a lot of bowls for not having a great honey on top. However, the chocolate was so amazing that it was one time I concluded that honey was not needed. Normally, coconut shavings top off the RSC Acai Bowl. Since I am allergic, they allowed me to switch to hemp seeds, which were very good.
Again, it was one of the priciest bowls I have eaten but it does feature premium ingredients to justify the price.
- Loli’s Mexican Cravings
It is a great local, hole in the wall type taco shop ten minutes from the airport for cheap and delicious tacos. I stopped by here before catching my flight home. I ordered four tacos: fish, carnitas, ribeye, and pastor. They ranged from $2.49 to $3.49 per taco. I have been to San Diego so Loli’s is not the best tacos I have ever eaten. Nevertheless, they were very tasty. The meats were not the highest quality but still good. It is not unexpected because the tacos would cost a lot more if they used better cuts of meats. The marinade, flavors, and homemade soft tortilla shells were top notch. The carnitas taco was probably my favorite. The ribeye and al pastor tacos were also very good. The fish taco was a bit disappointing but I had also just been to Alaska where they have amazing, fresh fish [cod, salmon, and halibut] in the fish and chips. However, they also cost 5-6 times the price of a Loli’s fish taco. The fish in the taco was fried and breaded well. It was the only taco with avocado, which was fresh and excellent.
Loli’s also has a hibiscus drink. For anyone who has tasted the Jamaican drink, sorrel; it tastes exactly like it even if Loli’s does not want to call it that. It definitely liked it.
- Good Food But…
Except for the Bait House (definitely recommend finding spots in Tampa that serve great, local, and fresh caught seafood) as well as acai bowls if you enjoy them, everything else I ate was good but I would not necessarily recommend going out of your way to try them. The two spots below are more in the suburbs northwest of the Tampa downtown area. Consequently, they are out of the way from downtown Tampa and Clearwater and not on the way in between the two.
- Mother’s (12227 W Linebaugh Ave, Tampa, FL 33626)
It is a good spot for dinner. We ordered the meatloaf sliders for appetizers and they were very good. For my entrée, I had the Argentine Churassco steak. It was awesome. It was very tender and chewy. The sauce added additional great flavor. The vegetable medley, especially the potatoes and mushrooms, were very good. Their fish dishes looked delicious too. On the other hand, I would not venture too far away from their top dishes. My friend ordered the pork chop. It was a very thick piece of pork. I was surprised they cooked it so well with no raw or overcooked spots. Nevertheless, it was too thick. I had a piece and it took some effort just to chew it. I would cut the pork chops thinner and marinate it with some sauce to make them chewy and more flavorful. In addition, the waitress told us they were removing the roast chicken from the menu because they had too many instances when it was raw. I applaud them for recognizing an issue and getting rid of it altogether. Nevertheless, it did not give me too much confidence to try something other than their most popular items.
- Bell’s Tap and Tavern (8552 Gunn Hwy, Odessa, FL 33556)
It is a sports bar with very good barbecue. My friend told me it used to be a great barbecue spot. While it still does barbecue, everything comes in sandwich or flatbread form. Just barbecue meats is no longer on the menu. It made no sense to me. I really wanted a combo of pulled pork, brisket, and maybe some sausage. Nevertheless, the food was still good. I definitely recommend the pulled pork nachos. The portion size was huge. The pork was smoked beautifully. For my entrée, I had a burger. While the beef was definitely high quality, the burger was a bit too salty for me.
- Buddy Brew (2020 W. Kennedy Blvd Tampa FL 33606)
It is an excellent specialty coffee shop with a couple locations in Tampa. I had an excellent latte there. It was not watery at all. It could have been a little richer and smoother to match up with the best coffee shops I have tried around the country. Nevertheless, Buddy Brew is the spot to visit for coffee in Tampa.