10 best things to do in Tampa, from baseball to beach days

Tampa weather is perfect in spring, the best time to explore the coastal city — Photo courtesy of benkrut / Getty Images

Tampa’s year-round offerings are a testament to the city’s diversity, blending cultural richness, natural allure, and festive vibes. But springtime is special for visitors and locals alike, when the weather in Tampa is perfect, and everyone embraces the warmth and the vibrant tapestry that defines the area.

Here are 10 things to do in Tampa, Florida, from pirate-themed festivities and to dining al fresco along the Tampa Riverwalk.

Celebrate Gasparilla season

Hundreds of thousands of revelers flock each year to Tampa to witness the Pirate InvasionHundreds of thousands of revelers flock each year to Tampa to witness the Pirate Invasion — Photo courtesy of Visit Tampa Bay

Tampa has a thing about pirates, and spring is the best time to experience it. Gasparilla Season, named in honor of the legendary pirate José Gaspar, features festive parades, parties, and much more from January through March.

The children’s parade kicks things off followed by arts and music festivals, a film festival, the Pirate Invasion and Parade, Nighttime Sant’ Yago Knight Parade, and the Gasparilla Distance Classic.

Explore the Tampa Riverwalk

Walking, jogging, or biking Tampa's scenic Riverwalk is a favorite spring pastimeWalking, jogging, or biking Tampa’s scenic Riverwalk is a favorite spring pastime — Photo courtesy of Visit Tampa Bay

One way to celebrate Tampa’s beautiful spring weather is to walk, jog, or bike the Tampa Riverwalk. More than just a scenic route, it’s the perfect orientation for first-time visitors exploring downtown.

The 3-mile walkway connects city attractions, downtown hotels, entertainment spots, and dining options. Along the way you’ll encounter iconic landmarks, such as Armature Works and the Heights Public Market, Straz Center for the Performing Arts, Tampa Museum of Art, Tampa Convention Center, and the Tampa Bay History Center.

Dine al fresco at Tampa restaurants

Explore sophisticated sidewalk dining at Water Street's Boulon BrasserieExplore sophisticated sidewalk dining at Water Street’s Boulon Brasserie — Photo courtesy of Strategic Property Partners and Robin Hill

Many Tampa restaurants take advantage of the warm sunny days and starry nights of spring by offering outdoor dining. Some of the most popular options are in the visionary Water Street neighborhood, where the public areas promote community engagement and pedestrian comfort. The result is a neighborhood with wide sidewalks and spacious public spaces perfect for cultivating cafe culture.

The neighborhood is home to Sparkman Wharf, featuring street-food concepts by some of Tampa’s best chefs and served from creatively renovated shipping containers. The vibrant locale also boasts a spacious community lawn, outdoor games, and a bandshell for entertainment.

Find spring strawberry delights

Visitors to the annual Strawberry Festival line up for fresh strawberry shortcakeVisitors to the annual Strawberry Festival line up for fresh strawberry shortcake — Photo courtesy of Visit Tampa Bay

Nothing says springtime in Tampa more than a heaping helping of fresh strawberry shortcake topped with whipped cream. Any local will tell you that the best strawberry shortcake is at the Florida Strawberry Festival. Located in nearby Plant City, this community event celebrates the strawberry harvest in Hillsborough County, which accounts for almost all of Florida’s annual crop.

Each year, over half a million visitors enjoy the headline entertainment, carnival rides, midway, youth livestock and craft shows, and strawberry shortcake.

If you want to get a little dirty, you can pick strawberries at local farms. Standout u-pick destinations include Parkesdale Farms, known for its amazing strawberry milkshakes, and Keel Farms.

Enjoy the sparkling waters of the Tampa Bay area

eBoats are a popular choice for visitors looking to explore downtown Tampa waterwayseBoats are a popular choice for visitors looking to explore downtown Tampa waterways — Photo courtesy of Skye Rodgers

There are so many things to do on the water in Tampa Bay area. Along the Riverwalk, multiple vendors offer hourly rentals for all kinds of watercraft. Float by in a kayak, take stand-up paddleboard lessons from Urban Kai, or opt for a serene electric boat rental from eBoats Tampa.

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To get away from the crowds, rent a kayak or canoe at one of several county parks located farther upriver. The slow-moving waters of the Hillsborough River offer a peaceful paddling escape with glimpses of local wildlife like turtles, alligators, and elegant wading birds such as herons and ibis.

Take a ferry across Tampa Bay

Taking a ride on the Cross Bay Ferry is a great way to explore St. PetersburgTaking a ride on the Cross Bay Ferry is a great way to explore St. Petersburg — Photo courtesy of Skye Rodgers

Operating October through May, the Cross Bay Ferry is a seasonal high-speed ferry that connects downtown St. Petersburg to downtown Tampa. The exhilarating 50-minute journey is a unique opportunity to see both city skylines from the water while enjoying a snack and adult beverages.

Once there, you can take your time discovering downtown St. Pete. Check out the innovative and entertaining St. Pete Pier complex, beautifully manicured waterfront parks, world-class museums, and celebrated dining options.

Eat all the foods at the Florida State Fair

Sampling unusual food combinations is an annual tradition at the Florida State FairSampling unusual food combinations is an annual tradition at the Florida State Fair — Photo courtesy of Florida State Fair

Every February, Tampa hosts the Florida State Fair, 11 days filled with acres and acres of indoor and outdoor exhibits, midway rides, entertainment, competitions, and shows.

Despite the lure of the racing pigs competition, Ferris wheel rides, and those lovely award-winning quilts, the crazy food offerings get all the attention. After all, where else can you eat a Pop Rock Pickle, a Honey Bunny Curd Burger, or Banana Cream Pie Nachos?

Find beach bliss around Tampa

The world-famous Clearwater Beach is one of Tampa's favorite beach destinationsThe world-famous Clearwater Beach is one of Tampa’s favorite beach destinations — Photo courtesy of MargaretW / iStock Via Getty Images

Tampa boasts unparalleled access to more than a dozen white-sand beaches, all within a quick 30-minute drive from downtown. All you need to do is decide what kind of beach you want to experience.

Head to Clearwater Beach for a full-service experience of cabanas, water sports, restaurants, and entertainment. A spring break favorite and a USA TODAY 10Best Readers’ Choice Award winner for Best Beach in the South, the action on Clearwater Beach centers around Pier 60 and the daily sunset festival.

For something more serene, explore the unspoiled shores of Caladesi Island State Park. Absent of high-rises, this untouched haven offers pristine beaches, providing an idyllic setting to reconnect with nature.

Batter up for baseball spring training

George M. Steinbrenner Field has been the home of the New York Yankees spring training since 1996George M. Steinbrenner Field has been the home of the New York Yankees spring training since 1996 — Photo courtesy of Visit Tampa Bay

Step into the time-honored tradition of Florida’s Grapefruit League, a spring training league attracting fans since 1913. Tampa is at the heart of the action with Steinbrenner Field, the state-of-the-art training ground of the New York Yankees, located just north of downtown. Enjoy the game with great sightlines, an intimate atmosphere, tempting treats, and plenty of refreshing drinks.

Tampa’s central location makes it a hub for baseball enthusiasts, offering easy access to other Grapefruit League facilities hosting teams like the Toronto Blue Jays, Detroit Tigers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Atlanta Braves, and Baltimore Orioles.

Visitors can also check out the Tampa Bay Rays spring training location, which varies but includes the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, the Disney complex in Orlando, and Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte.

Visit Busch Gardens and ZooTampa

ZooTampa features a flock of social flamingosZooTampa features a flock of social flamingos — Photo courtesy of Visit Tampa Bay

The best time to visit Tampa’s outdoor attractions, such as Busch Gardens Tampa Bay or ZooTampa, is in the springtime when temperatures are mild, before the scorching sun and daily summer downpours.

Busch Gardens rivals the best theme parks of Orlando at a more budget-friendly price. In addition to animal exhibits, live entertainment, and copious dining options, the big draw is riding some of the thrill rides and gravity-defying roller coasters.

ZooTampa, voted among the best in the 2023 USA TODAY 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards, is home to over a thousand animals like giraffes, rhinos, hippos, lions, tigers, and native alligators and crocodiles. The Tampa zoo also offers one-of-a-kind experiences that connect people to wildlife in a variety of fun and immersive ways.

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