Tampa is a big city that loves to live outside. The city of almost 400,000 has gone from old-time Florida to explosive modern growth, surprising some long-time residents to find that their city is suddenly hip. Tampa’s setting on Tampa Bay lends itself to water sports. Thanks to recent development along the Hillsborough River, including a 2.6-mile Riverwalk, Tampa is very pedestrian-friendly. It’s a winning combination of sunshine, beaches and big-city amenities.
The Riverwalk is probably Tampa’s most popular place to run, bike, or walk your dog. It’s even well-lit at night, with locals and visitors strolling until late.
You can also rent a kayak or stand up paddle (SUP) board from several shops along the Riverwalk. “You get a different perspective from the water,” said Aida Perez, manager of paddle rental outfit Urban Kai. “You get that feel of a really live and active city when you’re paddle boarding on the river.” Urban Kai also offers lessons and guided expeditions. It’s fun to SUP under bridges and get your photo taken with Tampa’s tallest buildings in the background.
Just north of Tampa, Thonotosassa offers a completely different view of the Hillsborough River. Rent a canoe from Canoe Escape and you’ll see alligators. A lot of alligators. Plus roseate spoonbills, herons, snakes and birds I’d never heard of, like anhingas and limpkins. “We always tell people you’re visiting their home,” said Mike Cole, general manager of Canoe Escape, as he calmly paddles by 6-foot gators drowsing on logs.
Tampa’s warm weather lends itself to outdoor fitness classes. It seems like every night of the week offers free or low-cost group exercise, from Zumba in parks to weekly yoga sessions in the courtyard of Armature Works, a converted streetcar barn which is now a lively public market.
Kodawari Studios offers lots of wellness under one roof, including chiropractic care, energy work, a float tank, sauna, cold plunge and a robust yoga schedule spanning styles from power to yin. Yoga Loft Tampa has locations in downtown and Ybor, and offers aerial as well as lots of flow classes.
Spa Evangeline gives facials and massages. For a specialty couples experience, soak in a two-person Jacuzzi, followed by side-by-side massages with agave rubbed into your scalps while drinking champagne.
Eating out in Tampa
Tampa has lots of healthy eating options. Both bowl specialist Fresh Kitchen and Taco Dirty work on the customizable plan. Pick a combo of bases, protein, veggies, and sauces. Vegans might choose kale slaw or braised lentils at Fresh Kitchen, or lime jalapeno sour cream and vegan cauli queso at Taco Dirty.
Plant-based Dixie Dharma debuted in Tampa in 2019. Top vegan takes on Southern classics include Carolina jackfruit, chili dogs, and the orange bird — a sloppy joe with orange barbecue sauce and house slaw served on a toasted potato bun.
Vietnamese restaurant Bamboozle has vegan pho, vegan tofu lemongrass banh mi sandwiches and three types of vegan fresh rolls — avocado, veggie and tofu. They make each roll fresh as you wait and also craft three different vegan dipping sauces.
Sweet Soul SoHo is a can’t miss for vegan dessert lovers. The brownie sundae is a big bowl of soft serve topped with chocolate granola, cacao nibs, brownie chunks and your choice of drizzle. “Everything here has a nutritional benefit,” says owner and Tampa native Taylor Winter. The gray vanilla ice cream takes a little getting used to, but the charcoal adds a detox benefit without altering the flavor, Winter says. Same with the Blue Majik algae that makes the coconut soft serve a glacial blue.
If you’d rather not fly to Tampa, check out the Amtrak timetable. Tampa is right on the New York-Miami Silver Star line, with two passenger trains daily. You can also take Amtrak trains or buses to many points within Florida.
Tampa must have the most beautiful streetcars in the country. Streetcars were a common way to get around the city from the 1890s until just after World War Two, when cars took over. But Tampa brought back electric streetcar service in 2002. Now about ten historic replica streetcars carry folks around, plus one refurbished original that plied Tampa’s tracks from 1923 to 1946. All have gorgeous wood interiors. Take the streetcar from downtown to Ybor City, a historically Cuban neighborhood once famous for cigar manufacturing, and now known for nightlife and colorful chickens in yards.
The Tampa Marriott Water Street is the top wellness hotel in town. Its Stay Well rooms, located on the 15th floor, have spectacular river views, comfy Stay Well mattresses and an air purification system. The circadian lighting system is fun to play with. You can set it to modes like “energize,” “relax,” and “play,” which makes lights cycle through shades from light pink to magenta. There’s even a special shower infuser which promises softer skin and hair.
Embassy Suites by Hilton earned a 2-palm rating from Green Lodging Florida, which means they pay attention to things like waste reduction, recycling, water conservation, indoor air quality and energy efficiency.
For a funkier, more communal experience, stay at Gram’s Place. This independent hostel is in a residential neighborhood, a short walk or bike ride from downtown. Dedicated to the late musician Gram Parsons, the hostel has two fully equipped kitchens, a sundeck, clothing-optional hot tub, small backyard bar, dorms and private rooms.
Images via Teresa Bergen / Inhabitat