The Tampa Riverwalk is beautiful. It's scenic. It's easy to forget you're in bustling downtown Tampa.
"Locals and visitors alike love having that ability to get out on the river and see our city in a whole new way," said Ali Glisson, public affairs director for the city of Tampa.
Connecting the Tampa Bay History Center and Channelside to Ulele and Water Works Park, the Riverwalk serves as a local and national tourist destination. Restaurants, bars, businesses, museums and artwork dot the 2.4-mile stretch and the main walk serves as a backdrop for events like the recent Riverfest.
Forty years and six mayors after the idea of a walk began, the over-the-water segment of the 2.4-mile riverwalk — from MacDill Park to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park — opened in March.
Now people can stroll along the Hillsborough River admiring nature, downtown architecture and the trail of historic monuments. Manatees, dolphins, stingrays and jellyfish are easy to spot.
But it's not just for watching and relaxation. It's a place for exercise.
It has become the spot for early-morning joggers, lunchtime strollers and after-dinner walkers. Segway riders and bike-sharing enthusiasts traverse the walk on land while a variety of activities await those willing to venture out on the water.
Tampa Bay Water Bike Co., owned by Dan and Amanda Fleischbein and docked next to the Tampa Convention Center, sends folks out on water bikes and pedal-powered kayaks.
Various boat tours from sunrise to sunset are also offered by various companies.
Or simply take your dog for a romp at one of the dog parks. Make pit stops at one or all of the six parks anchored along the river and cool down from the excursion with a giant bucket of water dumped on you at Water Works Park.
Dan Fleischbein, co-owner of Tampa Bay Water Bike Co., said riders are drawn to the water bikes because of the "shock value" of seeing a bike meshed with two small pontoons.
"You can take it easy on the bikes; you don't have to go fast," Fleischbein said. "Some people will go out in groups on the bikes and just stop in an area to hang out and talk."
We asked the obvious question, "Will the bikes tip over?"
Fleischbein said it's almost impossible. He was right.
Getting on is the hardest part. After some wet toes and a few seat adjustments, we were off. Our parameters after leaving the safety of the Convention Center docks: down Bayshore Boulevard, up the river just a little past the Brorein Street bridge, through the Harbour Island channel and out to Davis Islands.
We spent an hour cycling and came back with sore behinds. Sitting up so high, we were able to see groups of stingrays and schools of small bell-shaped jellyfish, gliding underneath our bikes.
Cost: $30 per hour
Tampa Bay Water Bikes also offer biyaks. Another hour was spent nestled into the biyaks. We craned our necks to see the Sykes, Regions and Bank of America buildings pass by. The already sky-high structures appeared taller than ever.
Like normal kayaks, we sat low in the biyaks and had seat rests. The position of the pedals forced us to prop up our feet, and pedaling became easier without shoes.
Though Fleischbein said the biyaks are harder to maneuver and require more effort than the bikes, we found them to be comfortable and relaxing. Even while cruising under the Platt Street and Borein Street bridges roaring with traffic, it was quiet for us on the river.
Using the propped-up pedals and rudder to steer gave us the full biyak experience. Devout kayakers can pull a lever to halt the rudder to just use the attached paddle.
The best views are found riding north along the river toward downtown, right before venturing under the Platt Street bridge. If you're feeling adventurous, riders can float up next to the Jose Gasparilla pirate ship and ride along Bayshore Boulevard, or out to Davis Islands.
Cost: $30 per hour.
Docked at the Tampa Convention Center, eBoats (electric boats) let you be captain for a day, or at least a couple hours. The boats hold up to 10 people and anyone 25 years of age or older with a valid driver's license and credit card can pilot one.
"The boats have electric motors with a maximum speed of 7 mph," co-owner Andrea Dohring said. "It does not require a boating license, but as a precaution we do an orientation process to make sure guests are safe and comfortable taking the helm."
Boaters can explore the waters on the western side of Davis Islands, up the Garrison Channel to the Tampa Bay History Center and north along the river into downtown. Dohring said a favorite trip for guests has been "catching a sunset over Bayshore … heading up the river to Rick's (on the River), then back down the river to take in the city lights, lighted minarets of UT and Agua Luces."
Cost: The boat's cost decreases the longer it is rented, starting at $75 for a one-hour ride. Prices increase by $10 on weekends and holidays. The owners will provide their own captain for an additional $30.
Tampa Water Taxi Co. and Dolphin Tour touts a "97 percent success rate with seeing dolphins," owner Larry Salkin said.
Going on eight years of operation, Salkin captains "quickie tours" ($20), famous home tours ($25), a sunset and night-light harbor tour ($25) and taxi services.
The quickie tour is a 45-minute harbor tour snaking through downtown and up the river. A self-proclaimed history buff, Salkin also treats guests to short lessons of how Tampa evolved into the city it is today. Some of the brag-worthy famous homes he shows to riders include Derek Jeter's and other baseball players, hockey players, infomercial pitchmen and former football players-turned-lawyers.
Salkin also loves using his boats to host weddings and is working on a romantic gondola service.
"We just want to enhance the life of living in Tampa," Salkin said.
Riders can call to arrange tours and pickups at Curtis Hixon Waterfreont Park, Tampa Convention Center, in front of the Tampa Bay History Center, Davis Islands or Harbour Island.
Cost: Dolphin tours cost $30 for adults and $18 for children.
Also on the water
Tampa Bay Fun Boat is a 36-foot party boat, fun for families and friends. Day trips, where passengers may see dolphins and the homes of the rich and famous, cost $18 for adults and $12 for children, departing at noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Sunset trips, which depart at 6:30 p.m., cost $25 for adults and $18 for children.
Also near the Convention Center docks is Urban Kai Stand Up Paddleboarding, where rentals are available beginning at $35 for one hour and up to $75 for the full-day. Urban Kai also offers fitness classes, introductory courses and tours. There is a yoga, Kai water fitness course and a Warrior Zen Workout, which takes place on land and in the water. All three range from $15-$30. Kayak, double kayaks and specialty fishing kayaks are also available for rental. Prices are $10 more than a paddleboard rental.
For those who prefer to stay on land, Tampa's bike-sharing program has rental spots along the Riverwalk near the John F. Germany Public Library, Curtis Hixon Waterfont Park, Water Works Park and MacDill Park. Visit coast.socialbicycles.com for information and locations.
Magic Carpet Glide hosts 1 1/2- or 2-hour tours for those looking to see the Riverwalk on wheels.
"We start in Channelside Bay Plaza and go down toward the Riverwalk, up Bayshore Boulevard then backtrack to Harbour Island. From there we go over to the University of Tampa," manager Shannon Morris said.
Along the Segway route, guests spot dolphins and interact with local boat owners docked along the river.
"We watched the military refill jet packs in the water," Morris said.
Visit magiccarpetglide.com for more information.
More to come
The Tampa Heights team is planning an additional .2 mile of public trail, making the Riverwalk 2.6 miles.
"Once that's done, it will run essentially from the History Center to N Boulevard bridge," Glisson said.
Other improvements will be creating a Riverwalk crossing and connection at Cass Street, reshaping the arrival plaza and Riverwalk space for the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts and making Cass and Tyler streets two-way streets.
"The design should be much more appealing to the Riverwalk users," Glisson said.