Here's what its like to live in Tampa, FL
Thinking about moving to Tampa, Florida? Tampa is situated on Tampa Bay on Florida's west coast, near the Gulf of Mexico. The city is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the southeastern United States and houses Florida's biggest and most important port. The Tampa Bay Area includes Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, and their four surrounding counties. Greater Tampa also encompasses Sarasota.
If you are considering a long-distance move to Tampa, you are not alone. Tampa itself has an estimated population of over 385,000 people, while over 4 million people reside in the Greater Tampa area. The prosperous city continues to grow at an impressive rate, with individuals, couples, and families drawn to work opportunities in the area as well as the vibrant arts, culture, and quality of life available in the Tampa Bay region.
Life on the Bay in Tampa
The city of Tampa stretches across 175.3 square miles, according to the United States Census Bureau; although 61.8 miles of that is water. The topography is low-lying, only rising 48 feet above sea level at its highest point. Tampa Bay is formed by two distinct bays that are known as Old Tampa Bay and Hillsborough Bay.
Water surrounds the city on all sides, from the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay on the west to the Hillsborough River, which passes right through Downtown Tampa. The smaller Palm River flows east of the city into McKay Bay at the northeast side of Hillsborough Bay.
Summer in the city is hot and humid, and thunderstorms are common. Summer temperatures typically range from the 70s to the 90s. The hot weather fosters lush vegetation, so in Tampa, you may spot coconut and royal palms. The city marks the northernmost point at which the plants can typically grow and thrive.
The humid subtropical atmosphere of Tampa makes it a haven for those who despise winter weather. Tampa residents enjoy dry, mild winter weather ranging from the 50s to the 70s. This means winter in Tampa is still the perfect season for fishing, boating, golfing, or any other outdoor activity you'd like to pursue.
Given its location right on the Gulf of Mexico, Tampa is quite vulnerable to storm surge and damage from tropical storms and hurricanes. Global warming is also becoming a concern as sea levels rise and threaten waterfront developments.
Tampa has not been majorly affected or hit directly by a storm since the 1920s, but should a storm pass directly over the city or hit it from the south, the city would likely experience severe property damage. Residents are advised to listen closely to any city or state weather warnings and to prepare adequately or evacuate if needed.
When you understand the history of a place, it's much easier to understand its present-day culture. Tampa has always been a port city and hub for maritime activity. Over the centuries, its diverse population has evolved and assimilated new influences and new traditions.
The first Tampa Bay area residents settled along the coast thousands of years ago. These native tribes included the Calusa, the Tocobaga, the Pohoy, and more whose names have been lost to time. The earliest known mentions of the Tampa name came from the native Calusa, who called it "Tanpa." The Calusa were followed by the Spanish under Hernando de Soto and Panifilo de Narvaez. The Spanish never really established a firm foothold in the area, and after first contact, the area remained largely depopulated for several hundred years.
The U.S. gained control of Florida in 1821, at which time the Seminole resettled in the area. The United States opened Fort Brooke in 1824 on Tampa Bay, and the city, then known as "Tampa Town," was incorporated in the 1840s, within a few years of Florida joining the Union.
Florida seceded during the Civil War, and Tampa became an important port for blockade runners. This situation eventually led to the Battle of Tampa, the Battle of Fort Brooke, and the Battle of Ballast Point. The skirmishes completely destroyed the fort, and the only traces that remain to this day are two cannons you can see on the University of Tampa campus. The Tampa Convention Center stands on the former Fort Brooke site.
Tampa's Industry and Economy
Phosphate was discovered in the 1880s in the southeast Bone Valley region, and the mineral continues to be important to Tampa's economy. This, together with the arrival of the railroad and the continuing boom in commercial fishing drew many new Cuban, Italian, Jewish, Eastern European, and Spanish immigrants to settle in Ybor City and West Tampa.
Ready access to Cuban tobacco and a booming port positioned Ybor City and West Tampa to become major cigar manufacturing centers and established Tampa as the world's capital of cigar making.
Today, Tampa's economy has diversified to include finance, shipping, telecommunications, health care, shipping, sports, tourism, insurance, and real estate. Notable employers include the BayCare Health System, Publix Super Market, JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Raymond James Financial, to name a few. Tampa also welcomes more cruise ships than almost any other city in the state, second only to Miami. MacDill Air Force Base also employs over 15,000 active military members, civil service workers, and contractors in the Bay area.
Tampa Bay Neighborhoods and Suburbs
Once you move to the city, you'll become a "Tampan" or a "Tampanian,” depending on who you ask. Others might call themselves tampeños. This diversity of viewpoints is reflected in the array of neighborhoods that make up Tampa and the Greater Tampa Bay Area, and each has its own character, landmarks, and culture. Here are some of the best-known Tampa neighborhoods, to help you decide which is the best fit for you:
- South Tampa is popular both for its waterfront location and urban vibe. Neighborhoods within this area include Bayshore, historic Hyde Park, Ballast Point, Davis Island, SoHo, Port Tampa, and MacDill Air Force Base. Homes here can be expensive, especially in Hyde Park, but your relocation budget will get you a choice of a historic home, luxury loft, or condo, or even a residence in a gated community if you desire. You'll also be within walking distance of parks, restaurants, and boutiques. Living here is ideal if you want a short commute to downtown. For more of a village-like community in South Tampa, consider the Davis Islands, which offer easy city access via Bayshore Boulevard.
- Downtown Tampa boasts an impressive skyline with 18 buildings that rise over 250 feet high and 69 high-rises, most designed in a post-modern style. The Downtown area is enjoying a renaissance of redevelopment, evolving from a business district to more of a mixed-use neighborhood. Downtown offers upscale urban properties, complete with luxury building amenities like fitness centers, doormen, and security.
- East Tampa is a diverse neighborhood with a rich and longstanding culture. It is located just four miles from downtown, making it a good choice for affordable and convenient housing.
- West Tampa is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city. It is located west of the Hillsborough River, just about 1 mile from downtown Tampa. From its earliest days, West Tampa has been a significant Latin enclave. Like Ybor City, West Tampa got its start as a cigar manufacturing district. Today, you can still get delicious Colombian, Puerto Rican, and Cuban cuisine here. West Tampa offers the authenticity of Ybor City, with less commercialization.
- Ybor City was once home to Cuban cigar factories and pre-Prohibition-era Latin nightclubs, and now, many of those historic spaces are bustling once again. The converted breweries, restaurants, and clubs are destinations for live music, Cuban and fusion cuisine, cocktails and craft brews. Not only will you enjoy unparalleled nightlife options in Ybor City, but you'll also enjoy easy access to the trolley system, which connects Ybor to South Tampa and Channelside.
- Interest in the Channelside District is heating up, thanks to the recent launch of Sparkman Wharf and its proximity to The Florida Aquarium, the Amalie Arena, and its panoramic city views. You'll have your pick of high-rise condos and lofts in this neighborhood, as well as locally owned dining options.
- Located north of Interstate 75, New Tampa is a suburban community that includes Pebble Creek, Wesley Chapel, Cross Creek, Hunter's Green, and Tampa Palms. Families love access to The Shops at Wiregrass, an outdoor mall, as well as its proximity to Busch Gardens and Adventure Island. New Tampa is also a great neighborhood for golfers and hikers, due to the numerous golf courses and the Hillsborough Wilderness Reserve located nearby.
- North Tampa extends from The University of South Florida Tampa Campus to the Tampa International Airport. Housing options here include apartments, condos, townhomes, and stand-alone homes that range in price. It's also close to the University Mall and numerous bars and restaurants, making this a popular area for college students.
- Seminole Heights and Tampa Heights have developed a reputation as hipster enclaves full of craft breweries and independently owned shops. This neighborhood offers a great balance of suburban affordability and city amenities.
- Brandon encompasses suburban communities like Dover, Valrico, Seffner, Fishhawk, and Lithia. Some are classically suburban, and others are more remote, ideal for those who like ample acreage with their property. Locals shop at the Westfield Brandon Town Center. You don't even have to venture downtown for entertainment, as there are bowling alleys, pool halls, movie theaters, and community centers right nearby.
- South Shore is a new moniker that ties together the existing communities of Apollo Beach, Gibsonton, Riverview, Ruskin, and Sun City Center. Some are senior citizen communities for those wishing to downsize to a small retirement condo, while others are private homes with canal access to the rivers. Homes vary in price and style, including a wide range of apartments, townhomes, and houses. If you have a boat, need marina access, and don't mind being farther from downtown, this may be the community for you.
- Plant City is a quiet historic community located southeast of Tampa. Savvy buyers, young couples, and families are snapping up 1920s bungalows in this charming community where brick roads, stately live oak trees, and an adorable downtown area promise an idyllic lifestyle and a place to put down roots. As if all that charm wasn't enough, Plant City hosts an annual Strawberry Festival each year, complete with country music headliners and strawberry shortcakes.
Tampa's booming population means that just like in any large city, traffic congestion and parking can be a problem downtown. The city has heavily invested in alternative transportation options to help you get around easier than ever, even if you don't have a car.
- To ease congestion during peak periods and to encourage people to leave their cars at home, the city offers free on-demand shuttle service. You can hail a free ride in Downtown Tampa using the free Downtowner app.
- The Pirate water taxi provides service to only presents a relaxing way to see the city. Take it after 6 p.m. to watch the sunset and you'll score a discounted rate.
- The Teco line streetcar has 11 stops and comes by every 20 minutes. It's perfect for a bar crawl, so no one has to act as the designated driver. once a month, the streetcar hosts a band on board.
- Get some exercise and fresh air when you rent a Coast bike with an hourly or monthly membership plan. After a relaxing ride, you can also drop your bike off at any of the many convenient racks around downtown, Harbour Island, and Ybor City.
- If you need a car, but just for a few hours, get a Zipcar pass and pick up a Zipcar vehicle at one of 4 pickup spots around Tampa.
If you do need to get around Tampa in your own car, there are numerous major routes that will connect you easily with downtown and outlying communities, whether you're traveling to Lakeland in the east or St. Petersburg in the southwest.
Situated to the east of the city, Interstate-75 runs roughly north-south, before eventually redirecting across the state to Fort Lauderdale. Connect to Interstate-275 just north of the city to cut right through northern and northwestern Tampa, cross the Bay, and head into St. Petersburg over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. East to west, Route 4 connects Tampa to Lakeland and connects to I-75 and to I-275.
If you'd rather stay local and enjoy a scenic drive, cruise down Bayshore Boulevard, which skirts the Bay just east of historic Hyde Park.
Things to Do in Tampa
If you're just getting to know Tampa, there's no better place to start than by spending time at the Tampa Riverwalk. Here are a few highlights you will encounter along the way:
- Visit the Riverwalk at The South Plaza, where you can enjoy a collage of more than 500 original photographs by Bruce Marsh.
- The Florida Aquarium is home to thousands of fish. Visit a Coral Reef exhibit, watch the sand tigers swim, and touch a manta ray. Take time to visit the SS Victory, a World War II Victory ship turned museum ship, anchored in the water next to the Aquarium.
- Keep going past Port Tampa Bay cruise terminal to the Channelside Bay Plaza, site of the new Sparkman Wharf. This is the hottest new destination on the Riverwalk, home to buzzy new food kiosks and a beautiful open-air space to enjoy your food on the waterfront.
- Proceed to the Tampa Bay History Center, where you can survey more than 12,000 years of local history, from the prehistoric Native American era to the present day.
- Next, stop at Sail Pavilion to rent a water bike. Better yet, pop in for a drink at the Bay area's only 360-degree open-air waterfront bar.
- Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park is a favorite hangout for dog owners and their hounds.
- The Tampa Museum of Art and Glazer Children's Museum are right next door. You may need to plan another few days to take in both museums' engaging collections and exhibitions.
- The David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, the largest such center in the Southeast, is the next landmark along the way. Plan to visit for live ballet, music, and theater performances once you settle into your new home, from the likes of The Florida Orchestra, Opera Tampa, The Master Chorale of Tampa Bay, and the Tampa Bay Symphony, plus other local and national touring shows.
- End your walk with a delicious meal at Ulele, housed in the historic Tampa Heights Water Works building. Where else can you enjoy craft beer and alligator hush puppies?
Outside of the Riverwalk, you'll find there are many more Tampa Bay arts and cultural sites to explore, including:
- The Museum of Science and Industry.
- The USF Contemporary Art Museum.
- The Tampa Firefighters Museum.
- The Henry B. Plant Museum.
- The Ybor City Museum State Park.
- Gorilla Theatre.
Outdoor Activities in Tampa
Tampa residents enjoy access to over 165 different parks and beaches and an additional 42 public spaces in the suburbs. Some of those highlights include the Tampa Riverwalk, which stretches over 2 miles long and offers excellent views of the downtown Tampa skyline. If you're a skateboarder or simply want to watch the local pros in action, head over to the Bro Bowl, one of the first substantial skateparks established on the East Coast back in the 1970s.
The Busch Gardens Tampa theme park also attracts many tourists to the area for thrilling roller coaster rides and family fun. Adventure Island offers a refreshing water park escape that is a great antidote to humid Tampa summers.
Animal lovers enjoy visiting Lowry Park Zoo, with over 2,000 animals, the Florida Aquarium, and Big Cat Rescue, which is home to lions, tigers, cougars, and more. Busch Garden's coasters get all the publicity, but the park also offers the opportunity to interact with African wildlife.
Shopping in Tampa
Many traditional shopping malls in Tampa have been converted to office facilities or other uses in recent years, as locals now prefer to visit mixed-use developments and shop locally in their neighborhoods. Tampa residents head to International Plaza and Bay Street, the WestShore Plaza, Hyde Park Village, and the SoHo district to shop. Suburban communities in New Tampa and in Brandon offer more options for outdoor shopping malls, strip malls, and big box stores.
Dining in Tampa
Dining in Tampa is a delight for foodies who love fusion and Latin-inspired cuisine. The Cuban, Spanish, Italian, and international immigrants each left their stamp on the Tampa food scene of today.
Tampanians love variety and celebrate this fusion, something you can experience and taste for yourself at Tampa's new food halls like the Hall on Franklin and Armature Works. You can't miss a visit to Columbia Restaurant is the state of Florida's oldest restaurant. This is the perfect place to taste Tampa's famous Cuban sandwich. If you're feeling spontaneous, just take a drive through Ybor City, Seminole Heights, and South Tampa, and no doubt you'll spot food trucks, fine dining establishments, and cafes you'll want to check out.
The food in Tampa is so good that many restaurants have become chains or have their headquarters in Tampa, including Bonefish Grill, Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba's, and The Melting Pot, to name a few.
Tampa's Bars and Nightlife
If you're looking for a good time in Tampa at a bar or lounge, here are a few favorite spots to check out in Ybor City and beyond:
- Tampa's Coyote Ugly Saloon is famous for its bar-top dancing (just like the film). Stroll down the East 7th Avenue corridor and you'll find many lounges and bars to explore during a rowdy night of barhopping.
- Stroll on down to Bradley's on 7th, The Honey Pot, or Southern Nights if you're seeking live entertainment, billiards, drag shows, and DJ sets with dancing.
- The Castle in Ybor City is a multilevel Goth nightclub offering places to relax with a drink downstairs, and a fun dancing environment upstairs. The Castle also regularly holds events such as Cosplay Night and 80's Video Night.
- Celebrate Ybor City's cigar-making past at King Corona Cigars and Cafe. You can sip a cafe con leche or enjoy a beer with your hand-rolled cigar.
- For a night of salsa dancing, check out the five-floor Club Prana.
- Downtown, check out The Hub Bar, a 1940s-era throwback lounge, for the stylish atmosphere and some of the strongest drinks around.
- Fans of classic Irish pubs should check out Four Green Fields near Bayshore Boulevard.
- If the weather is fine (and in Tampa, it probably is), head to The Patio Tampa in Parkland Estates.
The first brewery came to Tampa's Ybor City in 1896, and now a new wave of Bay area breweries is carrying on the tradition:
- The Tampa Bay Brewing Company has gained acclaim and a loyal following for its IPAs, pale ales, and porters.
- Cigar City Brewing's popular Jai Alai IPA can be found at two locations, one of which is in the Tampa International Airport.
- Coppertail Brewing Company offers a two-story tasting room, and the brewery's unusual Captain Jack's Stone Crab Stout boasts a cult following.
- Angry Chair Brewing in Seminole Heights serves small pours, so you can sample all the unusual flavors, like German Chocolate Cupcake Stout.
- Six Ten Brewing in Town-N-Country, just west of downtown, is known or its fruit-infused brews.
- Four Stacks Brewery in suburban Apollo Beach is considered a nanobrewery, due to its extremely small-batch production.
- Ulele Spring Brewery is housed in the Tampa Water Works building on the Riverwalk, alongside Ulele Restaurant. It's best known for its lagers and its beer garden that overlooks the Hillsborough River.
Annual Events in Tampa
Tampa has been described by Maxim magazine as one of America's biggest party cities. That party city reputation also extends to Tampa's impressive slate of annual events. The city's festival season unofficially runs from January to May, but in truth, there are events happening in Tampa all throughout the year.
Tampa's flagship annual event is the Gasparilla Pirate Fest in January. A festival which first took place in 1904, it was named in honor of local pirate Jose Gaspar, who is supposedly the last of the pirates who terrorized the Gulf of Mexico and southwest Florida in the late 18th and 19th centuries. No one can be sure if he actually existed, but he certainly does in the mind and hearts of Tampanians.
Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, a civic association established the Tampa tradition of staging a mock invasion of the city followed by a memorable parade, and now more than 50 local krewes of pirates help throw the festivals each year. In recent years, Gasparilla has evolved into a whole season of pirate-themed events, including:
- The alcohol-free Children's Gasparilla invites pre-school aged children to participate in a costumed Gasparilla Preschooler's Stroll along Bayshore Boulevard.
- The following weekend, the Seminole Hard Rock Gasparilla Pirate Fest continues the pirate-themed fun with the Gasparilla invasion presented by Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla. The imposing Jose Gasparilla pirate ship and a fleet of other ships storm Hillsborough Bay to invade the City of Tampa.
- A Parade of Pirates and Pirate Fest follow with live music and entertainment into the night. The next day, the Gasparilla JazzFest welcomes families to enjoy free entertainment downtown.
- The Gasparilla Music Festival is held each year in the Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and Kiley Gardens Park in early to mid-March. The festival attracts big-name acts from numerous genres, from Americana to rock and R&B.
- The Gasparilla Festival of the Arts has been held over the first weekend in March for over 48 years. Artists in numerous mediums exhibit and compete for a $15,000 Best in Show prize, as well as other monetary prizes.
- In late March, the Gasparilla International Film Festival draws in top directors and over 15,000 people to view over 140 films in just 6 days.
The city also hosts a good mix of family-friendly events and festivals geared to a more mature crowd throughout the year, so everyone from families to art lovers and partygoers can find things to do that fit their interests. Here are more highlights from the Bay Area's favorite annual events:
- The Beer, Bourbon, and BBQ Tour takes over the town in mid-February.
- The Charity Polo Classic is a glamorous charity event and polo tournament that takes place in February. The event benefits numerous Tampa Bay area charitable organizations. If you've ever wanted to live out your Julia Roberts "Pretty Woman" fantasies, buy a ticket to this event.
- You will know it is officially the summer season in the Bay area once Memorial Day arrives and it's time to celebrate the Tampa Bay Margarita Festival.
- September brings the summer to a close with the riotous Summer of Rum Festival over Labor Day weekend. Rum tastings, a food market, and fireworks make this a festive event you won't want to miss.
- Mark the Tampa Pig Jig on the River on your calendar in late October. Not only will you enjoy great music and tasty barbecue on the waterfront, but proceeds also go toward the NephCure Foundation.
Education in Tampa
Tampa families are blessed to have access to some of Florida's best public schools. Consider some of these neighborhoods, which are home to some of the top-rated public schools in the Tampa Bay area:
- Children of military families stationed at MacDill Air Force base are assigned to the best high school in the area, Plant High School.
- For solid elementary, middle, and high school options, consider a move to the FishHawk Ranch area.
- Citrus Park is a family-friendly area that not only has great shopping options, but also some of the best schools around.
- Though New Tampa is a favorite neighborhood for young professionals, singles, and young couples, the area is catching on with families thanks to the area's high-quality public schools.
Many families also opt to enroll in Tampa area private schools. In Hillsborough County, you can choose from 137 different private schools.
Life in Tampa Bay is full of sunshine, fun, and festivities. Whether you choose to settle down in quiet Plant City, move to historic Hyde Park, or find your home in a luxury high-rise in downtown Tampa, soon you'll be living like a local and enjoying all that Tampa has to offer.
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