Tampa Bay Vacation Planning Guide

Tampa, Florida. View of downtown to north

Alvesgaspar/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

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 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. You may prefer to plan your vacation around one of these popular events:

Read more about what to do in Tampa Bay during Christmas time.

01 of 08

Getting to and Around Tampa Bay

Tampa International Airport
LoneStarMike/Flickr/CC BY-SA 3.0

When planning your vacation to the Tampa Bay area, how you're going to get there is an important consideration. If cost is your primary concern, 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:

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 —maps of the greater Tampa Bay area will be helpful.

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

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02 of 08

Tampa Bay Attractions

White Siberian Tiger Busch Gardens, Tampa Bay
Abi Skipp/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

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

Tampa Attractions

St. Petersburg Attractions

  • The St. Pete Pier in under construction in 2018, so keep an eye out for the new and improved pier.
  • 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 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

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03 of 08

Tampa Bay Beaches

Caladesi Island Beach
Pinellas County/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

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:

  • Fort DeSoto Park
  • Fred H. Howard Park
  • Honeymoon Island State Park
  • Indian Rocks Beach
  • Treasure Island

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.

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04 of 08

Tampa Bay Cruises

Carnival Paradise Cruise Ship Docked
Jared/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

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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05 of 08

Places to Stay in Tampa Bay

Don Cesar Hotel Passe-A-Grille St. Pete Beach
psyberartist/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Tampa Bay has a variety of lodging choices.


There are a variety of hotels to choose from in Tampa ranging in price and location. 

St. Pete Beach


  • Sandpearl Resort is the first new resort built on Clearwater Beach in a quarter of a century.
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06 of 08

Places to Eat in Tampa Bay

Frenchy's Clearwater
Keith Walbolt/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

There are plenty of good Tampa Bay restaurant choices, many of which are right on the waterfront.

Restaurant Recommendations Around Tampa

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07 of 08

Shopping in Tampa Bay

John's Pass Pier
Nick Ares/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

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.


St. Petersburg/Clearwater


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08 of 08

Tampa Bay Sports

The New York Yankees spring training at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa.
Joseph Brent/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Tampa Bay teams "sport" all kinds of titles — including winning three pro sport championships within just 18 months — and win or lose 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's Spring Training Locations

  • New York Yankees Spring Training - Tampa
  • Philadelphia Phillies Spring Training - Clearwater
  • Pittsburgh Pirates Spring Training - Bradenton
  • Toronto Blue Jays Spring Training - Dunedin

Tampa Bay's Stadiums & Ballfields