Downtown Tampa guide: How to explore Riverwalk and beyond without a car

From an Alton Brown-approved breakfast sandwich to a historic movie palace, there’s plenty to experience here — with or without wheels.
A yellow Pirate Water Taxi boat floats down the river near the Tampa Riverwalk in Tampa in 2018.
A yellow Pirate Water Taxi boat floats down the river near the Tampa Riverwalk in Tampa in 2018. [ Tampa Bay Times (2018) ]
Published Aug. 10

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Today we’re diving into how to explore downtown Tampa without a car. The 2.6-mile Riverwalk along the Hillsborough River offers scenic views, outdoor activities, museums and plenty of restaurants and bars to keep you fueled throughout the day.

And don’t worry. If you get tired, there are rentable bikes, e-scooters, kayaks and even a water taxi to help out along the way.

Times tip: If you’re coming from St. Petersburg and want to ditch the wheels completely, the Cross Bay Ferry is a great way to get your adventuring started while catching a breeze and views of both the downtown St. Pete and Tampa skylines. There is a plan for the service to become a permanent amenity, but for now it runs on a seasonal basis. Visit the ferry’s website for more information.

Start here

Armature Works, Wednesday, March 16, 2022 in Tampa.
Armature Works, Wednesday, March 16, 2022 in Tampa. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

First stop: Armature Works. The historic Tampa Heights building, once used as a storage and maintenance facility for the city’s streetcars, is now a sprawling entertainment hub that includes a food hall, several restaurants, a rooftop bar and multiple event spaces.

Pop into the bustling Heights Public Market, where you’ve got your pick of anything from salads and poke bowls to ice cream sundaes and Cuban sandwiches. Pick up a coffee and a pastry from Buddy Brew Coffee, then grab a seat on the lawn overlooking the Hillsborough River. Or make your way over to Urban Kai, an outdoors outfitter that rents kayaks and standup paddleboards by the hour.

If you’re not feeling your sea legs just yet, start walking south down the Riverwalk. You’ll come upon Ulele — local restaurateur Richard Gonzmart’s tribute to Old Florida cuisine — and, if you’re lucky, the resident alligator in the pond in front of the restaurant.

Continue your Riverwalk stroll and you’ll pass Water Works Park. For a local history lesson, check out the busts that pepper the Historical Monument Trail. Notable faces from Tampa’s past range from Vicente Martinez-Ybor, the cigar factory mogul who founded Ybor City, to Clara C. Frye, the nurse who founded the first hospital to treat people of color in Tampa.

Times tip: Some portions of the winding trail are shaded by a canopy of palm and oak trees; other portions are not. Wear that floppy hat, bring a bottle of water and don’t forget the sunscreen.

Farther south, you’ll hit the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. It’s right by Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and a plethora of other entertainment options like the Glazer Children’s Museum and the Tampa Museum of Art. You could easily spend an afternoon enjoying these cultural activities, or even just people-watching on the Curtis Hixon lawn.

📍 Map

Click here to see the full map.


Bike and e-scooter rentals, the Pirate Water Taxi, Cross Bay Ferry and more.


Armature Works: There are four lots in the area that are free Monday through Friday before 4 p.m. on nonevent days. Street parking, starting at $1.50 an hour, can be found at W Seventh Avenue, W Palm Avenue, Oak Avenue, Market Street and N Highland Avenue. For those who prefer a garage, the Heights Parking Garage is also available, though prices vary depending on when you visit.

Water Works Park: There’s free parking along the perimeter of the park.


Armature Works, Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and Sparkman Wharf, to name a few.

People sit outside Armature Works and nearby the Tampa Riverwalk on Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023, in Tampa.
People sit outside Armature Works and nearby the Tampa Riverwalk on Sunday, Jan. 22, 2023, in Tampa. [ ANGELICA EDWARDS | Times ]

Lunch break

If you’ve built up an appetite, hang a left after the Straz Center and walk up E Tyler Street. Turn right on N Franklin Street and stroll two blocks before taking a quick left on Polk Street to find Supernatural Food & Wine.

This spot’s crazy-delicious menu of breakfast and lunch fare includes a can’t-miss bacon, egg and cheese breakfast sandwich — famously endorsed by celebrity chef Alton Brown. Grab an iced coffee and a couple of sourdough doughnuts on your way out.

A chicken salad from SuperNatural Food and Wine, Wednesday, March 16, 2022 in Tampa.
A chicken salad from SuperNatural Food and Wine, Wednesday, March 16, 2022 in Tampa. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

If sushi is more your speed and it’s later in the day, nearby Haiku has some of the best rolls and izakaya-style snacks in town. (The restaurant doesn’t open until 4 p.m. most weekdays.) Or you could grab pizza at Eddie & Sam’s and take it down to Curtis Hixon.

Thirsty? Pop in for a quick pint at Four Green Fields, downtown’s resident Irish pub.

You now have the option of heading back to the Riverwalk or grabbing an e-scooter or bike and continuing your tour on wheels. We returned to the Riverwalk and followed the path south.

End the day

Jill Witecki, Director of Marketing, gives a tour the Tampa Theatre on Friday, April 28, 2023, in Tampa.
Jill Witecki, Director of Marketing, gives a tour the Tampa Theatre on Friday, April 28, 2023, in Tampa. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]

When you arrive at the Tampa Convention Center, stop to peruse the many ways to ride the Hillsborough River. Hop aboard a dolphin cruise or the Pirate Water Taxi. Rent a standup paddleboard at Tampa Bay SUP. Or charter the aquatic equivalent of a pedal pub from Kraken CycleBoats.

If you’re skipping the water activities, once you leave the convention center plaza, hang a right and follow the Riverwalk down past Garrison Channel. You’ll find more waterfront delights: luxury yachts, swanky hotels and the Tampa Bay History Center, complete with its own Columbia Cafe location.

Soon enough, you’ll round the bend and end up at your final destination: Sparkman Wharf in the Channel District area. By now, you’ll probably be ready for a snack and a drink — or two.

The large outdoor food court features everything from quesabirria tacos and dumplings to jerk chicken sandwiches, grain bowls and gourmet ice cream. This collection of shipping containers repurposed as restaurants overlooks the Ybor Turning Basin and doubles as a giant outdoor adult playground (that’s still kid-friendly!). It’s anchored by the LightHaus Beer Garden and a stage for live music.

From Sparkman Wharf, cross Channelside Drive and head west just a bit and you’ll find one of the newest additions to this area: the Water Street Tampa development. It features new shops, hotels and plenty of restaurants, many of which opened in early 2023.

If you’re still up for more activities, the Florida Aquarium is a five-minute walk away. Or, feel like catching a movie? Rent an e-scooter and head back to Franklin Street for Tampa Theatre. This historic landmark dates back to 1926 and features showings of independent and classic flicks. The theater also offers a 90-minute “Balcony to Backstage” tour that takes visitors behind the scenes and back in time.

Done for the day? Grab a water taxi back to your car from any of the service’s designated pickup points, which can be found on its website. The yellow-and-black vessels hit each stop once an hour, so plan accordingly.

Taking the Cross Bay Ferry back to St. Pete? Head back toward the convention center, where you can board the ferry for your return trip across the bay.

Related: Southeast St. Petersburg guide: From hidden waterfront gems to Black history

Contact Gabrielle Calise at Follow @gabriellecalise. Contact Helen Freund at Follow @helenfreund.