Note: This guide first appeared in our email newsletter series, One Day in Tampa Bay. Subscribe to that newsletter and check out our other offerings at tampabay.com/newsletters.
When you think of South Tampa, you might think of a glitzy place where big spending is almost guaranteed. And sure, there are plenty of top-dollar restaurants where it’s easy to breeze through your bucks. But the area is also home to some of the city of Tampa’s most beautiful outdoor amenities, cheap watering holes and some truly fantastic eateries that won’t break the bank. If you know where to look, you can plan a fun day here on any budget.
For this guide, we are focusing mostly on the South Tampa peninsula, south of Interstate 275 down to MacDill Air Force Base.
Swing, splash or stroll at Ballast Point Park: This waterfront park boasts a splash pad, playground and fishing pier, plus plenty of bench swings where you can soak in the Tampa skyline. If you get hungry, grab a lobster roll at Taste of Boston.
Play disc golf at Picnic Island: This secluded, remote part of town on the west side of the South Tampa peninsula is worth the odd drive through an industrial area. As the name suggests, there are tons of picnic pavilions, sandy stretches along the water, a disc golf course and a dog beach.
Do a wardrobe swap at Avalon Exchange: Get store credit or cash for your used clothes at this store on S MacDill Avenue, then browse the selection of affordable yet curated garments. This is also a great place to buy cheap accessories, from hair clips and sunglasses to bags and belts.
Walk, run or bike Bayshore Boulevard: Admire swanky homes and bayfront views along this 4.5-mile path, one of the longest continuous sidewalks in the country. There’s even a spooky haunted mansion along this stretch.
There isn’t much central parking in this area, though most businesses have their own lots. There are multiple garages in Hyde Park Village if you venture over that way.
Public restrooms are available at Ballast Point Park (in the same building as Taste of Boston) and at Picnic Island.
Driving a car is the easiest way to get around.
Wake up with an affordable meal: Build a solid foundation for the day at Himes Breakfast House with its impressive breakfast spread, featuring everything from country-fried steaks to omelets, Benedicts and blueberry pancakes.
Visit an iconic Tampa bakery: Check out La Segunda Bakery on W Kennedy Boulevard for tasty guava cheese turnovers and Cuban sandwiches, or Wright’s Gourmet House on S Dale Mabry Highway for epic sandwiches and killer carrot cake.
Grab a cone and dog at Dairy Joy: Dipped cones, soft serve, milkshakes, hot dogs and more await at this 1950s-style ice cream joint. Most menu items are well under $10. Swing by the drive-thru, or park and dine on the patio where pastel umbrellas and Elvis statues create a tropical sock-hop vibe.
Hit up a happy hour: Even the ritzier joints in town — including Ava, Bulla Gastrobar, Forbici Modern Italian and Haven plus Willa’s a little farther north — have great happy hour deals. For details, read this roundup.
Grab lunch: Check out South Tampa staple Pane Rustica just off S MacDill Avenue for a great selection of pizzas, pastries, big salads and even bigger sandwiches. It’s truly all about the bread at this joint. Our favorite? The rosemary focaccia. (Get it with the prosciutto, mozzarella and tomato combo and thank us later.)
Get your seafood fix: Another South Tampa favorite, and for good reason: Big Ray’s Fish Camp in the Ballast Point area. It’s the spot for fresh seafood, from smoked fish dip to peel-and-eat shrimp and shrimp rolls served on crispy baguettes.
Snack on modern Filipino fare: Loosely modeled on a Filipino “sari-sari” concept (like a bodega, with food and sundries), the walk-up counter restaurant Lucky Tigre features a small menu of rotating specialties, each one a delightful jumble of bright flavors and textures. It’s right off S Howard Avenue, at the end of a long stretch of restaurants. We love the beef bola dumplings and coconut-ginger braised greens.
Stop by Curry Leaves: Do not be deterred by the gas station next door. This spot on W Kennedy Boulevard has some of the best Indian food in town. Be sure to get the restaurant’s specialty, lamb ularthu, a crazy-delicious combo of savory stewed lamb, onions and curry leaves that packs plenty of spice.
Make a night of it at Bern’s: An absolute must for anyone living in or visiting Tampa, an evening at this lauded steakhouse is an unforgettable experience. Whatever you do, make sure to swing by the Harry Waugh Dessert Room upstairs (but beware, reservations here can be hard to come by).
Splurge while shopping at Hyde Park Village: Get your Lululemon and Madewell fix, grab a treat at hip ice cream shop OddFellows or eat at one of the many great restaurants at the upscale shopping enclave. Our fave? You simply can’t beat a brunch — and that delicious kale salad — at On Swann.
Treat yourself to upscale Vietnamese: Chef and owner BT Nguyen’s long-running homage to Vietnamese cuisine, Restaurant BT, features unique and elevated takes on everything from a seafood bouillabaisse to coq au vin.
Brunch at Counter Culture: There’s so much to love at chef Jeannie Pierola’s excellent South Tampa restaurant, but we’re partial to the fabulous brunch and lunch (served on weekdays and weekends). The warm pimento cheese biscuits with cultured butter and local honey are reason enough to visit.
Wine (and dine) at Cru Cellars: There’s good reason for the hype surrounding this longtime Palma Ceia wine shop. The spot carries one of the area’s best selections of wine, spanning everything from classic picks to lesser-known, small producers. You could grab dinner and a glass at the bar here, but if you’re in a hurry, picking up a couple of bottles to-go is never a bad idea.
Relax and replenish: Kick back at Spa Evangeline inside the “food-focused” Epicurean Hotel, where a 50-minute Swedish massage will run you $110. Looking for something a little more romantic? The spa’s signature Champagne Tub and Table For Two ($350) includes a jacuzzi soak, followed by a couple’s massage with Champagne.
Check out our other local guides
- Pinellas Park guide: Pinellas Park guide: An international food tour, from dim sum to hot pot
- Downtown Tampa guide: How to explore Riverwalk and beyond without a car
- Pinellas County beach guide: Where to eat, drink and relax along the Gulf
- Safety Harbor guide: Plan a day of indulgence, from pizza to public art