An Insider’s Guide to Tampa Bay, Florida

Tampa is a rather small city, according to US standards and has almost 3 million residents. I loved how authentic Tampa was in comparison to the touristy cities of Orlando and Miami. I fell in love with its chilled out white beaches, turquoise waters and a downtown filled with skyscrapers. 

After 2 days in Miami, we continued our road trip to Tampa Florida where we’d be staying for 10 days before heading to New York. It was one long drive from the Keys to Tampa Bay, and we were welcomed with frightening storms. It was probably the worst i’ve ever witnessed! Once we arrived, we met with my extended family where they showed us our villa.

As we were here to visit family, we had some local tips on the best places to go in and around Tampa. Here a few top things you could do in the city!  

Lettuce Lake

Tampa Bay has plenty of beautiful parks to explore. My uncle, who lives there took us to his favourite lake – Lettuce Lake, located near the University of South Florida, in the northern section of Tampa. We came here during the weekend and it was a great place to come to escape both the city noice and the Florida heat.

The admission fee is only $2 per car load (up to 8 people). We started off by parking near the Visitor Centre and then walking along the 3500ft boardwalk. The shaded walk goes across hardwood swamp forest.

This path will take you up to the Hillsborough River and to an observation tower. While walking the boardwalk we saw some pretty amazing sites!

Along the way, you might even catch a glimpse of a gator! In fact, Lettuce Lake Park is well-known for being one of the best places in the city for spotting gators in their natural habitat. We saw a five-foot alligator up close and personal! He was just hanging out right off the boardwalk. 

The observation tower (pictured below) gives you the chance to take in panoramic views of the Hillsborough River. A beautiful sight – be sure to bring with your camera!

Canoeing at Weeki Wachee River

If you visit Tampa, I highly recommend the chance to kayak the Weeki Wachee River – located about an hour north of Tampa. Its suitable for the whole family as its quite a nice calm ride. The swift current makes it much easier to paddle downstream, but then going upstream afterwards, towards the end closer to the gulf –  is slightly more challenging. 

The water is beautiful and just looks like it came out some sort of Disney movie. Each turn you take in your kayak, the water turns different shade of green or blue. The spring that fed Weeki Wachee River has crystal clear water that flows in the Gulf of Mexico. 

It was really nice just kayaking for a little bit and then taking a dip in the river before kayaking a bit more. I just wanted to make sure I didn’t swim near a manatee because they’re ugly (sorry but its gotta be said). 

The river winds through the forests and mangroves and has plenty of wildlife. We jumped off the a few trees and swung on a few ropes near the riverbed. When I think of Tampa, these are the sweet memories that come in mind. 

But guys, if you can’t swim, be extremely cautious – there are some deep water areas in the river. We had an incident where my auntie and mum were in a kayak with all of our bags and electricals (don’t ask why). They were stuck in this current which quickly took them under a tree in the riverbed. They both grabbed onto the tree above their heads to try and stop the kayak moving forwards and then it capsized and flipped. I was sharing a kayak with my father and so I told him to stay in the kayak while I jump in, as he’s also not a very confident swimmer. At this point, I didn’t know my auntie couldn’t swim so I dived in to grab the mobiles, wallets and bags. It was only when I re-surfaced that I saw my cousin swimming over to pick my auntie up. Luckily everyone was fine with just a few scratches here and there. Now we laugh about it but it was scary times guys! Just be cautious… 

Clearwater Beach 

There was one afternoon where we went to Clearwater Beach to watch the sunset and swim in the sea. It is really a chilled out “local” beach – in fact, this is the sea where my uncle wakes up at 5am to go swimming in (how impressive is that!?)

We were on the beach, sunbathing and swimming for more than hour – before lightning struck, literally. We were stuck in the Pier 60 for 20 minutes with everyone else who also decided to wait it out and take shelter. We made the most of it by sitting in a circle and playing cards.

Downtown Tampa

We visited downtown Tampa in the evening and found it impressive, albeit a quiet city centre. It has stunning skyscrapers and a pleasant waterfront park. We parked our car and then walked along the river. The Tampa Riverwalk runs for 2.5 miles along the Hillsborough River and Garrison Channel.

After admiring the views, we drove around the area and the resident streets behind the city centre – the houses were MAHOOSIVE and each house/mansion has its own character. It was good fun…  

Chilling with family! 

Of course my main reason for going to Tampa in the first place is to visit my mothers brother (i.e. my uncle) and his family. The last time I saw them was in Gaza, many many years ago so it was amazing to re-connect with them. 

Do you have any questions about travelling to Tampa that I didn’t answer? Be sure to leave them in the comments, and I’ll get back to you as quickly as possible 🙂

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