Tampa Bay Vacation Planning Guide

  • 01 of 09

    Tampa Bay: Best Time to Visit

    Downtown Tampa Skyline
    ••• Downtown Tampa sits at the mouth of the Hillsborough River as it opens into Tampa Bay. © Tampa Bay CVB

    Regionally, Tampa Bay encompasses four cities — Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Bradenton. Tampa Bay is actually a body of water, the largest open-water estuary in Florida, covering nearly 400 square miles around these cities. While the television media has expanded their viewing area to also include Hernando County to the north and Sarasota County to the south, geographically Tampa Bay only includes these four cities.

    Besides its unlimited outdoor recreational opportunities, including some of the nation's best beaches, Tampa Bay is unique in its diversity of available activities. Home to the African-themed Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, it also boasts major sports, museums, shopping and entertainment venues and water parks. If you're planning a vacation in the Tampa Bay area, learning a little bit about the area and what to expect will help you get the most from your time and vacation dollars.

    If you are planning to visit the Tampa Bay area on vacation, one of the hardest things...MORE to do is choose when to visit. Other than the weather, special events and promotions tend to have the most influence on attraction crowds. The area's beaches trend toward being the most crowded during spring break and in the summer, of course. Use these month-by-month guides to Florida to give you more insight into when might be the best time of the year to visit. Or, you may prefer to plan your vacation around one of these popular events:

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  • 02 of 09

    Getting To and Around Tampa Bay

    Tampa International Airport
    ••• The soon to be remodeled Tampa International Airport opened in 1971 and was the first airport complex in the nation designed like a spoke wheel. © Tampa Bay CVB

    When planning your vacation to the Tampa Bay area, how you're going to get there is an important consideration. These handy tools will help you decide whether it is cheaper to drive or fly.

    If you've decided to fly, you'll want to familiarize yourself with the airport and transportation options from the airport:

    • Tampa International Airport
    • St. Petersburg/Clearwater International Airport

    If you're planning a vacation in Tampa Bay and you've never been there before, it is important to get to know the neighborhoods and learn how to get around. No matter how you are getting around town — rental car, cab or public transportation — these maps of the greater Tampa Bay area will be helpful.

    And, finally, this driving distance chart will be helpful if you plan to visit Central Florida's attractions and beaches located along the East Coast of Florida.

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  • 03 of 09

    Tampa Bay Attractions

    Jungala
    ••• Come face to face with tigers at Busch Gardens' Jungala!. © Busch Gardens Tampa Bay

    Tampa Bay's attractions offer a wide variety of entertainment for families.

    Tampa Attractions

    • Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is an African-themed attraction that offers thrilling rides, beautiful gardens and animals in natural habitats.
    • Glazer Children's Museum is one of Tampa's newest attractions that features permanent and traveling exhibits.
    • Museum of Science and Industry is more commonly known as "MOSI" and is the largest science center in the southeastern United States.
    • The Florida Aquarium, located in Downtown Tampa's Channelside District is a cool way to "sea" life.

    St. Petersburg Attractions

    • The St. Pete Pier will eventually be torn down to make way for a new pier of different design, so see this unique landmark while you can.
    • Florida Holocaust Museum honors the memory of millions of innocent people who suffered and died in the Holocaust.
    • Florida International Museum is a Smithsonian affiliate that brings you the latest exhibits making it the premier museum in...MORE Florida.
    • Salvador Dali Museum was recently relocated into a building inspired by the artist.
    • St. Petersburg Museum of History houses a great collection of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County history.

    Clearwater Attractions

    • Clearwater Aquarium is where you can see Winter the dolphin that stars in the upcoming 3D movie.
    • Sunset Celebration at Pier 60 happens every night, featuring live entertainment and more!
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  • 04 of 09

    Tampa Bay Beaches

    Caladesi Island Beach
    ••• Umbrellas are lined up awaiting rental by beach goers at Caladesi Island Beach. © Dawn Henthorn, licensed to About.com

    Tampa Bay's beaches are some of the top in the nation, even making it onto Dr. Beach's annual Best Beaches in America list. If relaxing on sugar white sand under sunny skies sounds appealing and simply spectacular sunsets sounds romantic, then these top Tampa Bay beaches are for you!

    If you're looking for a particular Tampa Bay beach, look no further:

    Increasingly, Clearwater Beach is becoming a spring break destination, bringing crowds to the beach and area hotels. Those that want to avoid crowds on the beach and roadways, will want to avoid visiting this time of the year.

    >Florida Beach Photo Gallery

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  • 05 of 09

    Tampa Bay Cruises

    Sensation Cruise Ship
    ••• Sensation docked at Port of Tampa. © Dawn Henthorn, licensed to About.com

    Tampa is home to one of the nation's fastest growing cruise ports. The Port of Tampa is located in Downtown Tampa's Channelside District, adjacent to the Florida Aquarium. Passengers can book cruises to their favorite Mexican or Caribbean destinations and spend a day before or after their cruise exploring nearby attractions in Tampa Bay.

    Tampa Bay also offers a variety of dinner cruises, sightseeing cruises, sunset cruises and themed cruises that sail from marinas along the Bay and Gulf of Mexico.

    Dinner Cruises

    Sightseeing Cruises

    Sunset Cruises

    Themed Cruises

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  • 06 of 09

    Places to Stay in Tampa Bay

    InterContinental Tampa
    ••• The InterContinental Tampa, located near Tampa International Airport is just one of many hotels in the Tampa Bay area offering deluxe accommodations. © InterContinental Tampa

    Tampa Bay has a variety of lodging choices:

    Tampa

    St. Pete Beach

    Clearwater

    • Sandpearl Resort is the first new resort built on Clearwater Beach in a quarter of a century.
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  • 07 of 09

    Places to Eat in Tampa Bay

    Frenchy's Restaurant
    ••• Frenchy's Restaurant in Clearwater Beach. © St. Pete/Clearwater CVB

    Be sure to come back and look for my best of Tampa Bay restaurant choices.

    Restaurant Reviews from around About.com

    • Bern's Steakhouse - Tampa
    • Costas Restaurant - Tarpon Springs
    • Frenchy's Rockaway Grill & Beach Club - Clearwater Beach
    • Ggi's Italian Restaurants - South Pasadena, Treasure Island & St. Pete Beach
    • Green Springs Bistro - Safety Harbor
    • Gulf Drive Cafe - Bradenton Beach
    • Hard Rock Cafe - Tampa
    • Hula Bay - Tampa
    • Pickle Barrel Deli - Seminole
    • Skipper's Smokehouse - Tampa
    • The Taco Bus - St. Petersburg
    • Tum Nuk Thai - Largo
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  • 08 of 09

    Shopping in Tampa Bay

    Johns Pass
    ••• Johns Pass in Madeira Beach. © Dawn Henthorn, licensed to About.com

    The Tampa Bay area boasts some of the best shopping in Florida — malls with nationally recognized brand-name stores, one of the most popular outlet malls in Florida and unique shopping districts.

    Tampa

    • Hyde Park Village - Tampa
    • International Plaza and Bay Street - Tampa
    • Westfield Brandon Shopping Mall - Brandon
    • Westfield Citrus Park Shopping Mall - Tampa

    St. Petersburg/Clearwater

    • Johns Pass Village and Boardwalk - Madeira Beach
    • Tyrone Square Mall - St. Petersburg
    • Westfield Countryside Mall - Clearwater

    Bradenton

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  • 09 of 09

    Tampa Bay Sports

    George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa
    ••• The New York Yankees open spring training on March 3, 2010 against the Pittsburg Pirates at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. © Photographer Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

    Tampa Bay teams "sport" all kinds of titles — including winning three pro sport championships within just 18 months — and win or loose the teams continue to win the hearts of Tampa Bay fans.

    Tampa Bay's Teams

    • Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NFL) won Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003. Their home turf is Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
    • Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL) won the Stanley Cup in their 2003-04 season. They call Tampa's St. Pete Times Forum home when they're not on the road.
    • Tampa Bay Rays (MLB) franchise is based at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg and won their first division title in 2008.
    • Tampa Bay Storm (AFL) brought home the National Arena Football League championship in 2003.

    Tampa Bay's Spring Training Locations

    Tampa Bay's Stadiums & Ballfields