This year’s Super Bowl scene won’t be stuffed with celebrity parties or big corporate shindigs. But still, Tampa Bay is a pretty great place to visit, especially if you are coming in from the cold.
Here’s a guide to some local favorites for those who want to take in the scenery while keeping their distance.
Quick warning: You might get confused when you hear “Tampa Bay” used interchangeably as a place and a body of water. It’s both. The crescent-shaped body of water known as Tampa Bay is the centerpiece of a region ringed by beaches of powder-soft white sand, historic towns, diverse neighborhoods and trails and kayak outposts that beckon visitors to its sun-soaked shores.
St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Tampa are the three biggest cities that make up the Tampa Bay region, and each has a distinct vibe and flavor, not unlike the Cuban sandwich that was first introduced in the cigar factories of Tampa.
The peninsula of Pinellas County, home to 35 miles of sugar-sand beaches and 11 barrier islands, offers outside excursions for both the nature lover and those who love the bustle of a beach town. And Tampa has created some man-made beaches that can offer a spot to cool off without the drive to the coast.
Fort De Soto Park: If camping, cycling and communing with nature is what you’re after, then Fort De Soto State Park is a good match. The huge park also has excellent beaches, as well as loads of nature trails that are home to more than 320 species of birds. There’s more than seven miles of paved trails for skating or a stroll. Two fishing piers are open 24 hours a day, and kayaks and canoes are readily available for rent. Parking is $5 per car. 3500 Pinellas Bayway S, Tierra Verde.
Treasure Island: With one of the area’s widest stretches of beach, Treasure Island is the perfect spot to go fly a kite on nearly four miles. For a nice walk, check out the one-mile beach walk, with built-in benches, illuminated at night by turtle-friendly LED lights — and it’s a good spot for shell hunting. 10400 Gulf Blvd.
Clearwater Beach: Considered party central during spring break, parking at Clearwater Beach can be tricky at on-street spots and city parking lots along the beach strip. Many visitors opt to pay for the private garages and restaurant valets. There’s a nightly sunset party at Pier 60 with vendors and buskers performing everything from magic to fire eating (at a distance these days). Head to Clearwater Beach by way of the Courtney Campbell Causeway, State Road 60.
Sand Key Park: Escape the crowds at Clearwater Beach at the nearby Sand Key Park and you’ll find both a beach and a nature park with grills, restrooms, a playground and salt march with some of the area’s best birding. For divers, this park is the base of operations for the county’s artificial reef program. 1060 Gulf Blvd., Clearwater.
Honeymoon Island: Like its name suggests, this state park is a great place for a romantic nighttime walk across the Dunedin Causeway bridge to Honeymoon Island State Park at the west end. The lights of Clearwater reflect on the water to make gorgeous views for the 2-mile stroll. While it can be a busy place midday, the crowds at this beach thin considerably as you walk north on the beach to find a comfortably distanced spot.
Gandy Beach: If you don’t want to stray too far from Tampa, the strip along the Gandy Bridge is called the Redneck Riviera because of its well-earned reputation for parties. More man-made beaches in the Tampa area include Davis Islands Sea Plane Basin (864 Severn Ave.) and Ben T. Davis Beach (the Tampa side of the Courtney Campbell Causeway).
If the beach crowds make you nervous you can still get outside and keep your distance at nature parks and with other outdoor activities.
Coast Bike Share: Rent a bicycle from Coast Bike Share to explore downtown St. Petersburg or Tampa. There are hundreds of bicycles at dozens of stations along the waterfront in both downtowns. Even better, you can rent from one station and return to any other. Get the app at coastbikeshare.com.
Kayaks rentals: You can explore the nature park and canoe trails at Weedon Island in north St. Petersburg where Sweetwater Kayaks is open for canoe rentals and private tours. Call 727-570-4844 to make arrangements before visits. Other options for kayaking local waterways include Tampa Bay SUP and WhatSUP Paddle Sports which both also rent tandem kayaks.
The Cross-Bay Ferry: Take a 50-minute cruise across the bay between downtown St. Petersburg and Tampa. For the Super Bowl, its Tampa dock has been moved to Sparkman Wharf, 615 Channelside Drive at the end of the Garrison Street cul-de-sac. For $10 each way, with discounted rates for seniors, military, students and kids, you can take a scenic cruise Wednesdays through Sundays. Passengers are allowed to bring along two-wheeled bicycles and some pets. Reservations can be made online at thecrossbayferry.com.
Ziplines: For a bit of adrenaline, Empower Adventures Tampa Bay in Oldsmar offers five ziplines of varying length to sail over the treetops for a view of the surrounding water and wilderness. The guided tours begin from a 60-foot start tower and feature a 200-foot suspension bridge. 813-448-5635. zipontampabay.com.
Electric scooters: Like many cities across the country, St. Petersburg and Tampa have added the popular electric scooter rental option, with hundreds of stalls put in around the area that use the companies’ respective phone apps. Tampa has four vendors: Bird, Lime, Jump and Spin. And St. Petersburg uses Razor and Veo. Just be sure to not ride on sidewalks, and lock them back into charging stations when done.
Charter fishing: Schedule a trip to go snorkeling, watch dolphins or go sport fishing. Dolphins Landing Charter Boat Center (dolphinlandings.com) and Island Boat Adventures (islandboatadventures.com) depart from St. Pete Beach locations and know where to find dolphins or catch some fish. The historic Merry Pier in Pass-A-Grille has a fish market, tackle supplies and bait, and you can also sign up for boat excursions, sunset cruises and fishing charters at merrypier.com. Hubbard’s Marina in John’s Pass Village & Boardwalk on Madeira Beach fishing trips, private charters, dolphin cruises, snorkeling expeditions and kayak and paddleboard rentals. hubbardsmarina.com.
Seaside Seabird Sanctuary: The bird rescue center in Indian Shores invites visitors to stroll its 1.5-mile beachfront trail to see more than 100 shorebirds birds treated there. Catch the daily demonstrations when sanctuary staff hand-feed the resident Eastern brown pelicans. 18328 Gulf Blvd. Indian Shores. 727-391-6211.