Florida is one of my favorite go-to vacation states. Great weather, wonderful attractions, and rich culture make for one of the most enjoyable locations in the US. Florida is so diverse, that every city has something different to offer. Today, we wanted to focus on one of our favorite gulf coast cities – Tampa.

So if you’re planning on exploring Tampa, take a look at these 5 travel secrets that made our last vacation an absolute blast!

1. Rent a car – you’ll thank us later

Some places are known for their great public transportation. Unfortunately, Tampa is not one of them.

Like much of Florida, attractions spread across long distances in the city, which makes getting around quite tough. The year-long hot & humid weather can also make it difficult to wait for buses or streetcars.

If you really want to enjoy the city to the max, look into rental cars in Tampa. It will give you the freedom to move around from location to location and maximize your time. Plus, there’s nothing quite as comfortable as getting around in an air-conditioned, comfortable car in hot weather.

With a car, you can visit areas that are not downtown, like the famous Clearwater beaches, or make it to the amazing zoos and theme parks across the city with ample time to explore.

Your best bet is to look for car rentals at Tampa Airport – that way you start your trip with a bang and not waste any time on alternative transportation.

2. Beach time – with some added extras

There’s more than meets the eye at Tampa’s beaches, including unique experiences like manatee viewing at a real manatee sanctuary, which is right across from an electric power plant. The manatees are drawn by the warm waters produced by the power plant. The best part – it’s free!

If impressive engineering is your style, look for the Sunshine Skyway bridge on I275/US 19. Its graceful curves are shaped to allow the passage of vessels underneath. It’s both exciting to look at from the beach and drive over. Plus, you can find kite boarders across the water in the area.

Of course, if what you’re looking to do is relax by the beach, Tampa has you covered. The city boasts some of the world’s top-rated beaches which can be enjoyed year-round.

Stop by Siesta Key Beach and enjoy the softest and whitest sand you will ever see and feel. It’s 99% quartz and pure bliss to step on.

3. Theme Parks & Safaris, all-in-one

In search of an adrenaline rush?

Tampa is home to Busch Gardens, a world-famous theme park expanding on a whopping 335 acres. The theme park offers entertainment for all family members including water rides, roller coasters, performances and shows, live music, and even a safari. You’ll be able to experience seeing a giraffe up-close and catapult through an exciting roller coaster – all in one day.

Of course, Tampa wouldn’t be the ‘Theme Park Capital of Orlando’ if it had only one world-famous theme park. You can find many more spread throughout the city, including Adventure Island, which has its own fun wild rides.

There is also the Grand Prix Tampa with its go-kart tracks, miniature golf courses, and bungy dome – the perfect place to take the kids for a fun day. If you need other ideas, look into the Qzar Laser Tag to find one of the largest laser tag arenas in the country.

Want to enjoy a day at the zoo? ZooTampa is a non-profit zoo spanning 63 acres and showcasing multiple exhibits, animals, and even children’s rides. Or go to the ‘The Florida Aquarium’ to experience the world under the sea.

You just can’t get bored in Tampa.

4. Try the food and all its flavors

Cities like Tampa thrive from a multicultural infusion of food that is sourced from all corners of the world.

The city is even home to Florida’s oldest restaurant Columbia, which just so happens to be the world’s largest Spanish restaurant. Today, the restaurant serves delicious Spanish-Cuban cuisine like only Florida can offer.

Of course, a wide variety of cuisine is offered across the city. From NY pizza to Greek, Asian, and seafood, you can find it all, and at quality. And if you’re a fan of coffee, oh boy, Tampa is the city for you. There are independent coffee shops all over, with unique blends and coffee grains that you can’t find just anywhere.

Personally, I prefer to ask locals for recommendations on their favorite restaurants and cafes in the area. It’s led me to taste the most delicious food and find hidden gems that most tourists do not experience.  Forget Yelp and Google Maps – just ask people in the region, and they’ll be happy to advise you!

5. Ahoy Matey – Enjoy Pirate Season

Florida has a long association with pirates across its rich history. Today, this history is celebrated for 2 full months in February and March, when the city comes alive with musical festivals, parades, and film and art festivals, all in honor of pirates.

The main highlight is the Gasparilla Private Festival when a parade of boats crosses Tampa waterways to come ashore so the crew can take over the city. It’s such a massive festival, that there are usually over 300,000 spectators!

This has been a tradition for over 100 years and is so massive a festival, that it’s actually the 3rd largest parade in the country. It’s a can’t-miss experience!

Excited to go to Tampa? Want to share about other exciting spots? Share with us below!