tampa waterfront

Make your way to the Tampa Riverwalk and enjoy the waterfront sights. (Photo: Getty Images)


‘Take Me to the River’: See Tampa’s Most Vibrant Scenes Along the Waterfront

All cities have moments. But Tampa, on Florida’s Gulf Coast, is in the midst of a major one, thanks to a downtown revitalization that’s making the sparkling riverfront more accessible and inviting than ever.

It’s all happening along Tampa’s centerpiece waterway, the Hillsborough River, and the surrounding area. Set your sights on the pedestrian-friendly Tampa Riverwalk and the nearby Channel District, where the new Water Street Tampa project is reinventing the city’s waterfront.

A stylish food hall that opened inside a former trolley warehouse, a fascinating pirate exhibit, and a cutting-edge urban park and beer garden at the water’s edge are among the attractions to set your sights on down by the river.

Stroll the Tampa Riverwalk

For many years, downtown Tampa seemed to have its back mostly turned to all the watery views surrounding it. But the ongoing evolution of the Tampa Riverwalk — a 2.4-mile-long pedestrian walkway that winds along the Hillsborough River and connects restaurants, museums and downtown’s Amalie Arena — has changed all that.

On any given sunny Florida day, you’ll find people biking (check out City Bike Tampa or Coast Bike Share) and strolling along this waterfront promenade that’s become the heart of downtown.

Cafés and restaurants lining the Riverwalk even provide to-go cups so you can (legally!) take your beverage with you as you walk and enjoy the scenery. And festivals often play out at the Riverwalks’s centerpiece park, Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, where a sloping lawn fronts the river and kids frolic at splash zones and the onsite playground.

Sample Tampa’s Most Stylish Food Hall at Armature Works

tampa waterfront
Eat your heart out at the Heights Public Market. (Photo: Courtesy Armature Works)

A former maintenance warehouse for Tampa’s old city trolleys has been reborn as the city’s most stylish food hall, the Heights Public Market, located inside the Armature Works building.

This industrial-chic hot spot fronts the Riverwalk at the upriver end of the promenade and brings cuisines like modern Cuban, Japanese ramen and street-inspired soul food together at a collection of independent restaurants under one chic roof. There’s lots of open-plan seating where you can gather inside with friends.

But on balmy Tampa nights, people tend to stream outdoors with their food and cocktails, onto a lawn facing the river where outdoor movies and a night market are frequently staged.

A Newly Imagined Waterfront District Takes Off with the Arrival of Sparkman Wharf

The biggest news in downtown Tampa’s ongoing evolution is Water Street Tampa, a $3 billion waterfront development project that’s giving a complete facelift to downtown’s Channel District. While the project isn’t slated for completion until 2027, the first phase finished in late 2018 with the opening of the city’s spectacular new outdoor hangout, Sparkman Wharf.

Here, grab-and-go restaurant concepts from Tampa’s top chefs are housed inside shipping containers, and an open-air beer garden sits at the heart of the waterfront gathering place.

Sparkman Wharf fronts the cruise ship docks along Garrison Channel. When ships aren’t in port (read: most of the time), you can play shuffleboard or cornhole right on the quay with a drink in hand.

And when a cruise ship pulls in, Sparkman Wharf’s huge lawn — scattered with comfy outdoor furniture you can arrange as you wish — is the perfect place to scope the quayside action.

Get Your Culture Fix — with a Pirate Twist — at the Tampa Bay History Center

tampa waterfront
Get “Shipwrecked” in Tampa Bay. (Photo: Courtesy Tampa Bay History Center)

Smack along the Tampa Riverwalk, the Tampa Bay History Center debuted the city’s newest cultural attraction in 2018 with the opening of “Treasure Seekers: Conquistadors, Pirates, and Shipwrecks.”

The exhibit is located within a new, 8,500-square-foot museum expansion and pays playful and educational homage to the city’s pirating past. A 60-foot-long replica of an 18th-century pirate ship is at the center of the space, where a fascinating collection of artifacts includes navigational tools, jewelry and coins recovered off Florida’s coast that date back to the 1600s.

After filling up on pirate lore, break for lunch at Columbia Cafe, an open-air restaurant attached to the museum and fronting the river, where you can enjoy Cuban food dished up with some of downtown Tampa’s finest views.