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  1. Best Restaurants

Best places to see the sunset in Tampa Bay

Where to eat while taking in some of Tampa Bay’s best views.

360 Rooftop Lounge

The view from the top deck at Hotel Zamora. [LUKE JOHNSON | Times]

Hotel Zamora underwent some major changes in 2018. It was deflagged by the Kimpton Hotels group in August (that’s when a hotel owner becomes independent of their brand franchiser) and brought management back in house, proceeding with executive chef Louis Scaramuzzi and bringing on seriously pedigreed pastry chef Amy Samples (most recently the executive pastry chef at Olives and at Prime Steakhouse at the Bellagio in Las Vegas). Castile is the big-guns restaurant with its own lovely terrace and a menu that broadly traverses Spain and the rest of the Mediterranean. But 360, with its cabanas, ocean views and shareable tapas menu (crispy cauliflower, pork belly mussels), is where to go when the sun is strutting its sherbet-hued stuff.

Address: Hotel Zamora, 3701 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach

Phone: (727) 456-8900

Price: $$$

Paul’s Landing

Grilled whole fish is one of the Florida-inspired dishes on the locally sourced menu at Paul's Landing. The restaurant provides sweeping views of the Vinoy Basin and the Downtown St. Pete skyline. [CHERIE DIEZ | Times]

One of the most convivial openings of 2018 was part of the $50 million renovation of the Vinoy hotel in St. Petersburg. Far from the gracious hotel lobby and fancy Marchand’s restaurant, Paul’s Landing debuted in February on the pool deck level with drop-dead views of the boats in Vinoy Marina. It’s casual, fitted into a big white glassed-in box flanked by rows of fuchsia beach recliners.

The patio area at Paul's Landing. [CHERIE DIEZ | Times]

Named after William Paul, who helped build a U.S. Navy depot on the site in the 1800s, the restaurant’s culinary focus is on casual, affordable citrus-wood-grilled and smoked items (both the smoked wings and fish spread are noteworthy), as well as raw bar delectables and a nice lineup of local beers like the excellent Paul’s Landing orange wheat made by 3 Daughters Brewing.

Address: Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club, 501 Fifth Ave. NE, St. Petersburg

Phone: (727) 824-8007

Price: $$

Level 11 Rooftop Lounge

Level 11 in St. Pete Beach is an artisan bistro bar and rooftop lounge located on the 11th floor of the Grand Plaza Hotel. They serve a variety of local beers, specialty house cocktails and a gorgeous view. [WILL VRAGOVIC | Times]

The Grand Plaza has always had Spinners, a rotating restaurant on the 12th floor that’s a kitschy-yet-actually-romantic spot with a menu that recalls continental restaurants of an earlier era. (Pro tip: If you go to the restroom, anticipate the room’s rotation and don’t seek your date exactly where you left him or her.) They’ve got Bongos Beach Bar on the ground level, a feet-in-the-sand fun time where cocktails like Alabama Slammers don’t feel injudicious. But the 11th floor recently got a makeover, the result a mostly outdoor small-plates restaurant essentially girdling Spinners, with umbrellas around the building’s perimeter for when it’s sunny, space heaters for when it’s cool and a covered bar area for when it’s rainy. We huddled there one blustery storm-season night and snarfed our way through a dozen buttery escargots and the Big Dipper, a quartet of dips that included tarragon crab dip, salmon dill dip, fish dip and port wine cheese dip, scooped with baguette and crackers. The hotel recently changed hands; no word on what that might mean for the lounge. Grand Plaza Hotel, 5250 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach. (727) 360-1811. $$

The Canopy

The Canopy rooftop bar at the Birchwood Inn. [CHERIE DIEZ | Times]

When the Spanish Mission-style Birchwood opened in 2013 - the tony Birch & Vine at the bottom and the Canopy up top - it seemed to cement Beach Drive as the “it” place for visitors to perambulate. Hotel owner Chuck Prather has another major project on the horizon, a three-story tiki bar-restaurant-cafe as an anchor for the 26-acre, $76 million Pier District project.

The Cucumber Honeydew Freeze at the Canopy. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]

The Canopy will look out at its rooftop tiki bar called Pier Teaki, while it looks back at the Canopy, a kind of closed loop of rooftop bars, nearly the only ones in downtown St. Petersburg. In the kitchen at the Birchwood, Lee Aquino, who previously had a long stint at the Tampa Yacht and Country Club, was appointed executive chef in April. The Birch & Vine menu has undergone some changes that to my mind make it a little more workhorse than the Jason Cline launch menu, but the Canopy still offers a fun lineup of bar snacks, from cheesy tots to Southern fried pickles.

Address: The Birchwood, 340 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg

Phone: (727) 896-1080

Price: $$


SandBar at Opal Sands Resort [courtesy of Diamond Public Relations]

Opal Sands is a recent addition to Clearwater Beach’s fancy hotel lineup, its top dining offering called Seaguini. (I get it, seafood plus linguini, but there’s something kind of Disney-villain about that name.) It took me a while to get around to checking out this more casual offering, Sandbar. It’s a big chickee protecting an inviting square bar, a phalanx of wooden tables and casual chairs assembled to one side in the sand (plus rocking chairs). You can’t enter the water from right here; there’s a low wall and a rocky little dropoff. But it’s a prime place from which to view the sunset. Based on social media, it is imperative to raise a slushy drink, preferably neon-hued, to sit squarely on the horizon line in the photo. Because the hotel sits at the elbow before it bends toward Shephard’s Beach Resort, the view south is pretty Sand Key Park; west is all blue water. The menu feels just right, with peel-and-eat shrimp, a solid New England clam chowder, fish tacos and a fried grouper basket. For drinks, it’s rum runners and mai tais. (I do wish the drink menu listed the prices.)

Address: Opal Sands Resort, 430 S Gulfview Blvd., Clearwater Beach

Phone: (727) 450-0380

Price: $$