Tampa hasn’t always been at the heart of Florida tourism. Competing with markets like Miami and Orlando, Tampa was left in relative peace as a place where locals could simply enjoy everything the city has to offer without having to fight tourists to get in. More and more people are headed down toward Tampa these days, but the locals only scene still survives, and it’s the key some of Tampa’s biggest and best. If you’re really looking to do Tampa like a local, here are some of best spots off the tourist trail:
Alright, so this one isn’t the most hidden spot in the city, but it’s worth the mention. Why? Because it’s everything barbeque should be. Diners have their choice of chicken, pork, sausage, turkey, beef, or ribs, and a variety of sides from the classic mac and cheese to the why-don’t-they-serve-this-everywhere yellow rice and chicken. These guys know what real barbeque should be. They slow cook their meat in a smoker out front, they dry rub their meats and use a Tennessee-style tomato-based sauce, and they cook absolutely everything fresh. With all apologies to Texas, Memphis, Kansas City, and the Carolinas, this might just be the best barbeque out there.
You’re going to have to go a bit outside of Tampa if you’re looking for a great beach, but if you can manage the 30 mile trip to Tarpon Springs, you’ll find an island connected by causeway that’s nothing but beach and sun. It’s not going to look like an undiscovered beach when you get there, but the crowds are true Floridians, the type that are spoilt for choice when it comes to surf and sun, and still regularly choose to come back. The bulk of the park is beach, with plenty of space for sunbathing and swimming, along with rentals for kayaks and paddleboats. Sunsets here are legendary, and if you’re out in the water long enough, you’re likely to meet some friendly marine life. Seahorses, starfish, and some of Florida’s most unique seabirds all frequent the area.
Every city seems to have an overabundance of craft breweries these days, and Tampa is no exception. Cigar City outshines in two ways. First, they don’t shy away from bold beers. In places like Florida, it’s easy enough to get away with making everything light and fruity. After all, it’s hot and a crisp, cold beer is one of the best remedies out there for endless summers. Cigar City has those, but they also have things like an imperial stout flavored with coconut and berries, and a German-style sour with salt and coriander. Add onto that their brewpub just around the corner, with dishes like yucca fries, shrimp and grits, and ropa vieja, and you get a much better taste of Tampa there than you would at any other brewery in town.
There’s a slight sense of self-denial in Tampa, the kind that has the city looking to seem more like The Keys than another Gulf city, but a Gulf city is what it is, and at Datz, they embrace Southern-inspired soul food that has long been a tradition in the north of the state. Choose from dishes like a chicken and waffles BLT, mac and cheese stuffed meat loaf, and stone cut grits, or go for something more adventurous like a head of buffalo cauliflower. Wash it all down with some apple pie moonshine, and don’t forget some of their famous money bread for dessert.
No matter where you are, it’s hard to beat a good cup of coffee. Jet City Espresso knows that, and they know their coffee, too. This walk up to go coffee counter is the type of place where the Americano is every bit as revered as the flavored specialty drinks, and where you can get a Cuban style café con leche if you’re looking for a real kick. With two locations in the city, you can stop in for your daily fix at Hyde Park, or stay awhile and sip while you enjoy a house baked scone or fresh sandwich in Seminole Heights. Both locations are Paleo and gluten-free friendly, too, if that’s your kind of thing.
There’s no shortage of live music in Tampa, but if you’re looking for a locals-only spot that caters to all tastes, no place beats Crowbar. The venue regularly features a rotating lineup of rock, jazz, hip-hop, reggae, metal, ska, dubstep, and more. It’s tight, it’s crowded, and it’s strung with knickknacks hanging of string lights fastened to the ceiling. The bar selection is better than some places though nothing to write home about, but the service is on point. Most importantly, though, it’s a place to get completely overcome by the music. Take a break on the patio if you must, but don’t shy away from coming back in. Cover is always nominal, and the acts are always excellent.
So, this is another not-technically-Tampa spot, but if you’re looking for a place to stay, take a peak just over Gandy Bridge at this historic St. Petersburg neighborhood. The area is filled with beautiful bungalows that date back to the 1920s, some of which you can rent out on AirBNB to live like a local during your vacation. The neighborhood is also filled with celebrations of the arts, and is an ideal retreat or daytrip for someone looking to do more than just sit in a hotel on their vacation.