Taking you beyond the guidebook

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Here’s What Happens When You Explore Tampa Bay Solo

*A big thanks to Visit Tampa Bay for sponsoring my trip! 

Wondering what you must do in Tampa Bay when visiting?

Then you’re in the right place.

Now, while you’ll hear about this Florida hotspot being a family-fun destination, the truth is it’s also a great city for solo travelers.

I should know, as I just took a trip there on my own.

And loved it!

Below, I share with you some essential solo travel tips, as well as unforgettable experiences — especially adventurous things to do in Tampa Bay (there are a bunch!).

Basically, you’ll leave this post with the perfect Tampa itinerary, especially if you’re a solo traveler like me.

Psst! Don’t forget to pin this for later! 

In this Tampa travel guide, you'll learn why this Florida vacation destination is one of the best destinations for solo travel. Feel free to swipe this Tampa itinerary for you own trip!" #solotravel #tampatravel #solofemaletravel #tampaflorida #travelideas

What Makes A Great Solo Travel Destination?

To me, a great solo travel destination needs to have a few essential elements:

  • Safety. If I’m traveling alone, I want to feel safe wandering around on my own.
  • Walkability / Bikeability. I don’t want to have to pay for cabs everywhere I go. Sure, there may be a few experiences worth renting a car for or paying for an Uber; but for the most part, I want to be able to wander without a plan.
  • Affordability. Tampa Bay definitely checked the box for this one. It’s one of the most affordable big US cities I’ve ever visited. This is especially crucial when you’re traveling on your own and don’t have anyone to split travel costs with.
  • Lots to do. This is true for me whether I’m solo or with others; though I think when you’re in a group you can distract each other a bit more.

Luckily, Tampa Bay is safe, walkable/bikeable, affordable and has a ton of great solo travel-friendly experiences.

Moreover, people in Tampa Bay are super friendly.

As a New Yorker in Tampa Bay, I couldn’t help but expect strangers who randomly came up to me with a “question” to follow it with a favor.

But they didn’t!

They asked genuine questions about my camera and if I’d been to some of the local fishing spots.

And honestly, every time I sat at a bar in Tampa Bay to eat my dinner alone, someone would start a conversation.

Hey, I always appreciate not having to stare at my phone while I’m dining!

Where To Stay In Tampa Bay: The Barrymore Hotel Tampa

While researching Tampa hotels, I was really looking for a property near the Tampa Riverwalk.

I’m a huge fan of the Le Meridien brand — and their Tampa property looked stunning — but I unfortunately couldn’t swing the cost this time around.

So, I crossed my fingers and opted for the The Barrymore Hotel Tampa.

must do in tampa

Photo via the Barrymore Hotel Tampa Riverwalk

For a solo traveler in Tampa Bay, the property offers a great price — especially given the prime location —for about $100 per night.

This is much cheaper than any of the other properties I looked at in the Downtown Tampa area.

At the Barrymore, staff were delightful, parking was only $10/night, and the location in the center of the Tampa Riverwalk was unbeatable. Plus, they had a pool!

Honestly, the only negative thing I really have to say is their coffee wasn’t so great; but, there are great coffee shops nearby (or you can be like me and pack Jiva Java Cubes!).

Getting Around

While Tampa Bay is a walkable city, many of the outdoor experiences I was excited about were a 30-45- minute drive away.

For that reason, I decided to rent a car in Tampa Bay.

I’m a big Enterprise Car Rental gal.

Actually, I almost always rent from them because I love their customer service and the fact they pick you up from where you’re staying to get your car.

Plus, you earn reward points for staying loyal, which you can redeem for free rental days.

To help you research the right rental for you, here is a best rental comparison chart:

Best Rental Car Rates 2018

BrandLocationPerksBest Rate GuaranteeRewards ProgramCheck Availability
Enterprise Rent-A-Car7,600 locations+ in 85+ countriesThey'll pick you upN/AYesCheck Prices
Avis Rent-A-Car5,500+ locations in 165+ countriesPay upfront discount + AARP discountYesYesCheck Prices
Budget Rent-A-Car3,000+ locations in 120+ countriesPay upfront discount + AARP discountYesYesCheck Prices
Car Rental 817,000+ locations in 125+ countriesPay upfront discount N/AN/ACheck Prices
EuropCarOperates in 140+ countries Every rental = 2 trees plantedYesYesCheck Prices

Solo Female Travel Safety

I felt very safe wandering Tampa on my own, though exercised the normal common sense precautions.

For instance, they have Uber and Lyft, so there’s no need to walk home tipsy on your own!

If you’re a first-time rider of either, you can use codes “jessief7” for $15 off your first Uber ride, or code “JESSIE299142” for $20 off your first Lyft ride.

Additionally, there are a few travel safety essentials I’m never without, including:

  • My Vigilant Personal Alarm. I have this on me 24/7, at home and on the road. Simply hit the button and it’ll blare louder than a fire truck, scaring away potential attackers — and even animals!
  • Clever Travel Companion Pickpocket-Proof Garments. They offer everything from pickpocket-proof underwear to pickpocket-proof t-shirts and beyond. Potential thieves will never even know you’re carrying cash or cards!
must do in tampa

My favorite pickpocket-proof accessory: hidden-pocket boyshorts! Photo via Clever Travel Companion.

Most importantly:

Always trust your gut, whether you’re at home or on the road. It will be your best travel safety guide.

Best Tampa Neighborhoods For Solo Travelers

As my hotel was along the Tampa Riverwalk — specifically in Downtown Tampa — this is where I spent most of my time exploring.

From here, it was easy to wander to other worthwhile neighborhoods like Tampa Heights, one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, and Ybor City, Tampa’s historic Latin quarter.

must do in tampa

A beautiful view of Ulele in Tampa Heights (at the north end of the Tampa Riverwalk).

Additionally, I used my rental car to take adventurous day trips, as well as to explore interesting Tampa neighborhoods that were a bit farther away.

For instance, Hyde Park Village is a high-end, leafy-green shopping area.

Additionally, Seminole Heights is home to some of Tampa’s best restaurants, like the Rooster & The Till, The Refinery and Ichicoro Ramen.

Things You Must Do In Tampa (Solo)

So what were my favorite solo travel experiences in the city?

Feel free to swipe this must do in Tampa itinerary:

1. Meet Florida’s Alligators

In the wild!

I’m not a fan of unnatural animal encounters, which is why I absolutely loved my 2.5-hour trip with Canoe Escape.

“Not to sound like a tourist but, honestly, what are the chances of an alligator climbing into the canoe and eating me alive?” I asked my guide Michael, partly kidding, mostly serious.

“We’ve never had anyone get eaten,” he smiled. “Alligators are in survival mode. They want to stay away from humans.”

I appreciated this fact, because we saw over 20 alligators — some close enough to reach out and touch.

At one point, I looked over and was shocked to see a gator’s face about two feet from the canoe.

When we made eye contact and I gasped, he skittishly ducked under water (and under the small boat, another element of this Tampa adventure).

Now, I’ve done canoe trips before, and often find them boring after a short while; however, on this trip every head turn presented another exciting spot, whether that be a hawk carrying a snake in its talons, beautiful pinkish roseate spoonbills flying closely overhead, baby turtles chillin’ on a log, 13-foot gators eyeing us from the shore or a group of snakes poking heir heads out of a tree.

Basically, if you’re looking for a truly wild Florida adventure, this is a must do in Tampa activity.

Oh and fun fact:

The river you canoe down is the Hillsborough River, the same one you stroll along on the Tampa Riverwalk; however, it’s more untamed without the urbanization around it.

2. Explore The Tampa Riverwalk…On Water

Speaking of the Tampa Riverwalk, I spent 70% of my trip exploring this attraction via water, land and mouth (as in, lots of food!).

My favorite method:

Stand up paddle boarding.

I booked a tour with Urban Kai, with my guide Mike — who co-owns the company with his wife, Aimee — taking me on a scenic two-mile round-trip journey.

must do in tampa

Me, paddleboarding with Urban Kai along the Tampa Riverwalk. Photo via Mike of Urban Kai.

What I realized:

Despite going stand up paddle boarding numerous times, I’d never really been doing it right.

Like, I was even holding the paddle backwards.

Luckily, Mike taught me an easy trick to remember which way to hold it:

“Brands put their logos on the paddles for people to see them. They wouldn’t put it on there for it to face you; they want it to face out.”

Along with lovely views, Mike pointed out some neat features of the river, like Kennedy Boulevard Bridge, the oldest bridge in Tampa Bay, and the Laurel Street Bridge (soon to be renamed the Fortune Taylor Bridge), where bats congregate and fly out from at night.

Note:

While I didn’t see any on my trip, you can sometimes spot dolphins and manatees. I did see a giant tarpon fish, though, which was neat considering they can weigh up to 280 pounds!

And for my fellow responsible travelers, Urban Kai is also passionate about the environment, doing everything from hosting charitable paddles to purchasing environmentally-friendly boards.

3. Explore The Tampa Riverwalk…On Land

The Tampa Riverwalk is 2.6 miles long and lined with eateries, cultural institutions and small parks.

I strolled the waterfront stretch every single day, stopping to sway in swings shaded by palms, see al fresco live music, and watch birds and fish congregate around lily-filled ponds from wooden bridges.

For my fellow bike lovers, Tampa Bay also has Coast Bike Share, which allows you to pay as you go and ride around the city. You’ll create an account on the Social Bicycles app to add money, with pro-rated prices starting at $8/hour.

From there, you’ll be given an account number and you’ll create a pin, which you’ll use to check out your bike.

Note:

The buttons on the bikes are finicky! Don’t give up. Press a few times until it’s working.

What’s neat about the bike share is there are stations at both ends of the Riverwalk, plus along it. So, you can feel the breeze in your hair as you coast on your Coast.

I know; I’m corny! 

Oh, and I didn’t just use the bike for the Tampa Riverwalk, but also to explore other neighborhoods without having to pay for cabs, worry about parking, or spend a longer time walking.

4. Explore The Tampa Riverwalk…By Mouth

On the north end of the Tampa Riverwalk — near Water Works Park — is where you can eat and drink in a hip, scenic space to your heart’s content.

My recommendation as a solo traveler in Tampa Bay:

Either start at the Heights Public Market for some coffee (Union Coffee’s bee pollen-laced “Gardner” tea latte is amazing!).

Or, end there for a cocktail from Fine & Dandy (try the refreshing “Life’s A Peach”), or a syringe-adorned sundae from Astro Ice Cream, and chill in the outdoor lawn chairs.

I mean, who wouldn’t want to gobble this up?

must do in tampa

My liquid nitrogen-made, dairy-free, chocolate-infused creation at Astro Ice Cream

At some point you’ll also want to head next door to Ulele — either during the day to enjoy the sun and play lawn games, or at sunset to watch the sky cast a fiery backdrop against the works of art that adorn the property.

Not only is their native-inspired menu delicious, but dishes are made with domestic, organic ingredients.

Plus, they each tell a story.

Take, for instance, the oysters, which Ulele makes in a way that even non-oyster eaters will enjoy:

Char-broiled on a barbacoa grill with garlic butter and grated Parmesan and Romano Cheeses, served on the half-shell.

what to do in tampa

Delicious garlic butter, cheese-topped oysters. Photo courtesy of Ulele Restaurant & Brewery.

As these flavorful appetizers danced on my palate, I was taken back to pre-Columbian indigenous times, when the Hillsborough River was filled with shellfish. Oysters and other seafood made up a large portion of the indigenous diet.

Another example:

The “Fortune Taylor Pie,” named after a former slave who, after being freed, purchased land along the Hillsborough River.

Wait. That name sounds familiar…

It should, because Fortune Taylor was mentioned when I talked about my Tampa Bay standup paddleboarding adventure, and Mike pointed our the Laurel Street Bridge, which will soon go back to its former name, the Fortune Taylor Bridge.

The bridge got its name because Ms. Taylor allowed the city to build the passage through her land.

Now, Ms. Taylor wasn’t just a gracious woman; she was also a businesswoman and a baker.

must do in tampa

The “Fortune Taylor Pie”. Photo courtesy of Ulele Restaurant and Brewery.

And so, Ulele celebrates her with a satisfying slice of guava-flavored pie, hugged by a crumbly graham cracker crust and served with a guava reduction for dipping.

Bonus:

Ulele brews their own beers, all meant to pair with their meals.

Their “Hydration Station” is an actually-tasty, low-carb beer made to suit the health-conscious runners and cyclists on the Tampa Riverwalk.

I also loved the local honey-infused “Magbee’s Honey Lager.”

Both are beers to feel good about drinking, whether you’re looking to be kind to your body or help support native bee populations.

5. Wander The Street Art

Pro tip:

If you’re looking for a true must do in Tampa itinerary, make sure to allot time for walking up to N Franklin Street from the Tampa Riverwalk to see the street art.

Down Franklin — as well as around the Robertson Billiards building — are numerous colorful murals worth exploring.

must do in tampa

YAAAASSSSSS Queen!

My favorite:

The giant Lady Gaga mural. Actually, there were quite a few pieces that evoked a “powerful female” vibe, which I appreciated.

I mean, just check out these ladies:

must do in tampa

Interesting female-centric murals in Tampa on and around N Franklin Street

And if you’re biking, there’s a Coast Bike Share station over there, too!

6. Mix Quirky Craft Cocktails With Rooftop Views

In every city I visit, I like to try the local craft cocktail scene.

I’d heard good things about Flybar, and it didn’t disappoint.

The industrial chic space showcases locally-made art depicting everything from shellfish to robots.

Additionally, accents like bar partitions, stool bottoms and bathroom stalls are crafted from chains and other metal works to give a bit of an edgy feel.

must do in tampa

Having a “Tea Time” cocktail at funky Fly Bar

Of course, the drinks are also a reason to visit.

If you’re driving or just want something refreshing, the “Tea Time” is a mocktail featuring house-blend tea syrup, fresh lemon and soda water — garnished with a lemon wheel and mint sprig.

For something boozier, the “Mexican Holiday” — made with Milagro Repasado, red wine, lemon, chai and pomegranate — is a tasty trip.

Bonus:

They have a rooftop open on Fridays and Saturdays, as well as a full calendar of events!

7. Treat Yo Self (On A Budget)

One neat thing about Tampa as a solo traveler is it’s often cheaper than other big US cities — including the restaurant The Tampa Bay Times calls the best in the city:

Rooster & The Till.

Now, Tampa Bay has much cheaper restaurants — like the delicious Taco Bus — but I was really impressed by the value of this award-winning eatery.

I mean, their own Chef Ferrell Alvarez was a Restaurant and Chef Award semifinalist in the 27th annual James Beard Foundation Awards.

One dining option you have is a chef’s tasting for $65, where their creative culinary team chooses your meal.

must do in tampa

Not only are dishes delicious, but also beautifully plated. Photo courtesy of Rooster & The Till.

Personally, I went a la carte, ordering a creamy lobster risotto infused with mushrooms and dressed in a lemon fraîche.

While I often skip dessert, I couldn’t resist their deconstructed, creative creations.

Enter the “Coconut Milk Pudding,” which hid Thai basil tapioca pearls, crunchy macadamia sesame crumble and silky spiced butterscotch within a silky bed of pudding.

must do in tampa

My creative dessert at Rooster & The Till

8. Hike It Off

[In my embarrassingly off-tune Mariah Carey voice] Hike, hike, hike, hike, hike it off…

So by now you probably realize that a must do in Tampa itinerary includes a lot of eating and drinking.

The good news:

About a 30-minute drive from Downtown Tampa sits an idyllic slice of paradise called the Fred and Idah Schultz Preserve.

As I drove down a residential street, I was uncertain about what I’d happen upon.

There’s a preserve back here? I thought.

The answer:

Yes!

must do in tampa

Dancing along the trails of the Fred & Idah Schultz Preserve.

And it has palm trees, beaches, wildlife and hiking trails, too.

I spent about an hour wandering the trails and enjoying the peace; billowing palm leaves and song birds providing my soundtrack.

Actually, I had the place — one of the great free attractions in Tampa — all to myself; a little piece of unexpected paradise.

must do in tampa

So many birds within the Fred and Idah Schultz Preserve!

Oh, and if you’re like me you are probably wondering about alligators.

Honestly, this is all I wondered about while hiking in Florida; though I’m happy to report this preserve is alligator-free!

Travel safety tip:

I never hike solo without my Vigiliant Personal Alarm — just in case!

9. Bike The Breweries

If you like beer, then you’ll love Tampa Bay.

In Hillsborough County where Tampa is located, there are roughly 16 breweries — with about 60 of those being in the greater Tampa Bay area.

I’ve already mentioned Ulele, a Tampa Riverwalk brewery and restaurant focusing on lagers, though there are many more within walking and biking distance to Downtown Tampa.

must do in tampa

Sampling a honey-inflused lager at Ulele at sunset

Hidden Springs Ale Works is walkable from the Tampa Riverwalk, and offers flights so you can try all their different brews.

Despite the small size of the taproom, they make loads of different styles of beers, and even offer unique classes like beer and cheese pairing and special eat-with-your-hands dinners.

Angry Chair Brewing is another worthwhile stop, located in Tampa’s Seminole Heights neighborhood. This brewery is known for its pastry stouts, like “Thin Mint Fudge Bucket,” a “Barrel Aged Imperial German Chocolate Cupcake Stout” and a “Tiramisu Stout.”

PS:

If you enjoy sour beers, this is something they do very well, too!

If you’d like to try Tampa’s most famous beer, then you’ll want to visit Cigar City Brewing to savor the “Jai Alai IPA.”

must do in tampa

Lots to choose from! Photo via Cigar City Brewing.

The brew is named after a Basque game, where players catch balls that travel at them going 188mph!

Interestingly the game was once popular in Tampa Bay, though not anymore. This beer — a hoppy citrus-foward IPA — pays homeage to those times.

And if you’re looking for more of a tour experience, look no further than Brew Bus.

They started out by serving beer from their busses in 2011, and have since opened their own standalone brewery; which, by the way, hosts a fun Taocs + Trivia event on Tuesdays.

You can still ride their busses via their public tours, too!

Bonus:

They also offer an interactive map of Tampa’s breweries. Use it to help plan your own DIY Tampa beer crawl!

10. Eat In History

Now, I’ll admit I actually didn’t get to eat at Columbia Restaurant — family owned and operated since 1905 — until I arrived at the airport for my flight home.

Airport dining never tasted so good.

A must do in Tampa Bay:

Ordering their Cuban sandwich, a meal that was invented in Tampa Bay, not Miami or Cuba.

Originally it was called the “Mixto,” invented in the 1890s for local cigar workers in Ybor City to eat on their commute.

As immigrants from various countries went to Ybor City, though, the sandwich began to change.

Explained Jeff Houck, the marketing and PR manager for Columbia, “The city of Tampa was like the sandwich, a mixture of cultures and food.

The Spanish brought the fine ham, the Sicilians the Genoa salami, the Cubans the Mojo marinated Roast Pork, the Germans and Jews the Swiss cheese, pickle and mustard.

Put it all together in between sliced, freshly baked Tampa Cuban bread from La Segunda Central Bakery, and life is great.”

must do in tampa

How good does this Cuban sandwich look?! Photo courtesy of Columbia Restaurant.

Today, Columbia uses the original 1915 recipe created by Casimiro Hernandez, Sr. — down to the exact same proportions of meat.

To prepare the sandwich, which is made on lightly-buttered Cuban bread, Columbia chefs place ham, pork, salami, cheese and an even spread of pickles — in that exact order — on half of the bread. Mustard is spread on the top half, and the sandwich is placed in a sandwich press until crisp.

From there, it’s cut diagonally and served to you with garlic plantain chips for the perfect lunch with local flair.

11. Pair Shopping With Brunch

After biking around one morning, I realized I was hot and hungry.

What I needed:

Some good food and a whimsical spot where I could relax for a long lunch.

Oxford Exchange was the perfect solution.

The enormous space features plush banquettes and tables, with lots of greenery and loads of natural light flooding in.

It’s the type of Tampa restaurant where you expect the menu to be laced with conscious and hormone-free meats, creative vegan options, and words like “hemp seed pesto” and “preserved Meyer lemon vinaigrette.”

Which it was.

must do in tampa

My tasty lunch in a beautiful room flooded with natural light at Oxford Exchange in Tampa

I filled up on their popular chicken burger, topped with avocado, jalapeño, tomato, feta and cumin aioli on a toasted bun.

So good, especially paired with house-made slaw laced with blue cheese and apples.

Afterward, I explored their adjacent shop selling coffee table books, organic skincare products, delicate pendants and statement housewares.

 

must do in tampa

Shopping at Oxford Exchange after a yummy brunch

As you can see, it’s an Instagrammer’s paradise.

I probably spent another 30 minutes in the space perusing the wares, which also include an adjacent coffee bar, art gallery and co-working space.

12. But First…Coffee

I know I listed it last, but that’s only because I drink it morning, noon and, in more desperate times, night.

Right by my hotel and the Tampa Riverwalk is Foundation Coffee, a hip cafe serving art-adorned lattes (you can even get yours with oat milk!) and delicious baked goods (including the largest slice of banana bread I’d ever ever seen).

must do in tampa

Getting some work done while caffeinating at Foundation Coffee

Inside there are plush couches, shelves showcasing coffee nerd gagets, plants of all sizes against brick walls and wooden tables, and lots of open space. There’s even a man-made waterfall!

It’s another Tampa attraction where you’ll want to check out their Instagram feed for some serious design inspiration.

Foundation Coffee was a great place to start the day, especially as a digital nomad who works out of cafes. A nice ambiance and a strong latte are necessities for my productivity, and this Tampa outpost delivered.

Wondering what you must do in Tampa Bay as a solo traveler? Hopefully, the above guide gave you some interesting ideas. If you have any to add, I’d love to hear them in the comments below! 

 

Liked this post? Pin it for later: 

Looking for a Tampa itinerary for solo travelers? In this Tampa travel guide, I'll be sharing solo female travel tips, as well as what makes Tampa, Florida one of the best places to travel solo. The guide includes free things to do in Tampa, Tampa outdoor experiences and more!" #VisitTampa #travelitineraries #tampa #travelitinerary #usatravel

*Disclosure: In my posts I sometimes use affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase I get a small commission. I only recommend brands that I truly love, and believe you would, too. Thank you for reading!

Jessie Festa standing in front of grafitti wall

Hi, I’m Jessie on a journey!

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5 Comments

  1. Kristin on May 12, 2018 at 9:46 am

    Girllll I LOVE Tampa! I went to University of Tampa for undergrad so seeing the pics takes me back! Of course I was on a college kid budget so I didn’t really explore as much as I would have liked. Columbia is SOOO good, but my favorite restaurant of all time is Bern’s Steakhouse! If you go back you have to try it!

  2. Harmony, Momma To Go on May 12, 2018 at 9:59 am

    Ive been to Tampa several times, one of my best friends used to live there, now she is back in NY. I loved the beaches and nature to explore. We never made it to 1/2 these places – she should have taken me to breweries!

  3. Amy on May 12, 2018 at 10:54 am

    Wow this post is so informative! Really makes me want to go there a try out some of these things especially the food!

  4. Maike on May 12, 2018 at 12:54 pm

    Sounds like a great location for solo travelling. I would love to try stand up paddling there and explore street art!

  5. Aryn on July 4, 2018 at 11:23 am

    We’ve lived in FL for 3 years and only go to Tampa for hockey games and Ikea! Seems like we need to get over the traffic and head in there more often!

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