Everybody wants to visit Florida during the dead of winter, even the NFL, which has named Tampa as the host city for the Super Bowl five times, including twice in just over a decade. And now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers making history as the first host team to play in the Big Game, locals are even more excited about the national spotlight being on their waterfront corner of the Sunshine State.
I’ve lived in the area now for what will be four of those Super Bowls, and while this year’s Super Bowl on Feb. 7 should look absolutely nothing like it did when it took place here in 2009 (oh, those wild Super Bowl parties!), there still will be thousands of people coming to the city in search of genuine Cuban sandwiches, fresh grouper and good times. And then, of course, there’s the massive television audience that likely will approach 100 million with perhaps a few planning a visit here when the coronavirus pandemic finally ends.
Whether you’re visiting Tampa or just wish to know more about the region, here’s a list of the most famous places to visit in Tampa Bay, which encompasses Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, and major cities such as Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater, compiled by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, which is part of the USA TODAY Network.
We’re spotlighting top spots to eat, drink, play and stay, with an emphasis on restaurants, hotels and attractions (including one of the nation’s top golf courses) that are cherished by locals and tourists alike. Many of these places have rich histories, with one restaurant recognized as the oldest in Florida, and a hotel that counts F. Scott Fitzgerald among its long list of celebrity guests from the 1920s to today. Other places have become famous in the past decade or so, often thanks to national media attention.
Looking for open-air-only entertainment? Check out our story on the most famous places for outdoor fun, which includes information on popular spots like the Tampa Riverwalk and recently opened St. Pete Pier.
Visiting Tampa? Here are 5 well-known places for outdoor fun in the area
Super Bowl prep:Tampa readies for Super Bowl LV fans – albeit fewer of them – amid the pandemic
Facts about Tom Brady:Did you know he was the 199th overall pick in the NFL draft? Now he’s about to play in his 10th Super Bowl
Bern’s Steak House
1208 S. Howard Ave., Tampa; 813-251-2421; bernssteakhouse.com
Open since 1956 and with decor that has drawn comparisons to “Dracula’s bordello,” Bern’s dry-aged cuts of beef and legendarily large wine collection have attracted everyone from Mafiosos to at least one sitting U.S. president. Must-try menu items include the delmonico steak, the French onion soup au gratin, and then be sure to secure a seating upstairs at the cozy Harry Waugh Dessert Room to nosh on a classic such as the banana cheese pie or King Midas carrot cake. Serious steak enthusiasts and oenophiles will want to stay at sister hotel Epicurean located right across the street, while folks looking for one of the better dining deals in Tampa will want to simply belly up to the bar and order the steak sandwich, which is not even listed on the menu and can be enjoyed for under 20 bucks.
10165 McKinley Drive, Tampa; 813-884-4386; buschgardens.com
A beloved Tampa landmark dating back to 1959 when it opened as a brewery offering free tours and tastings, Busch Gardens has grown into an awesome, African-themed amusement and animal park that covers more than 300 acres in the heart of the city and routinely ranks as one of the most popular attractions in the country. Thrill seekers will want to experience rides such as the Cheetah Hunt (a multi-launch steel roller coaster), Tigris (the tallest launch coaster in Florida) and SheiKra (the first “dive coaster” in North America). Guests also will want to hand-feed giraffes on the park’s expansive Serengeti Safari and pay a visit to the Bornean orangutan family including adorable 2-year-old Malu, as well as see Busch Gardens’ herd of white rhinos roaming their 65-acre veldt. Looking for a fun way to relax? Grab a seat for “Let’s Play Together,” a Sesame Street production that’s ideal for the young’uns and the young at heart. Also, be sure to have a bite and perhaps a brew at Serengeti Overlook Restaurant while watching those precious giraffes and perhaps some zebras.
9000 W. Gulf Blvd., Treasure Island; 727-360-4993; caddys.com
During the past five years, the Caddy’s restaurant brand has exploded across the greater Tampa Bay region with its beachy dining and drinking destinations popping up in places like St. Pete Beach, Indian Shores, Gulfport and just south of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge on Bradenton Riverwalk. But none can quite compare to the original Caddy’s, an all open-air two-story restaurant and bar occupying its own private swath of Sunset Beach on the southern end of Treasure Island. Dating back to the 1940s, according to one local media outlet, and purchased by the current owners in 2015, Caddy’s offers hundreds of complimentary chairs and umbrellas, and you even can book your own private cabana with couches. Popular menu items include the mahi tacos, the reuben sandwich and grouper sandwich while the rum buckets containing fresh juice are among the preferred drinks, along with the ubiquitous rum runners, pina coladas and margaritas. Be sure to have drink in hand ahead of the island’s famed Gulf of Mexico sunsets, which are best viewed from Caddy’s second-floor deck.
Cigar City Brewing
3924 W. Spruce St., Tampa; 813-348-6363; cigarcitybrewing.com
Craft beer fans definitely will want to visit Cigar City Brewing on Spruce Street, the place where the original batches of favorites such as Jai Alai, Maduro and Florida Cracker were first brewed more than a decade ago. In addition to 24 beers on tap, there’s also a full-service kitchen featuring fun Tampa Bay food and brew pairings such as the Fritas Queso burger that goes with Jai Alai, the Maduro steak sandwich and the grouper sandwich and Florida Cracker coupling. Ranked the No. 3 best brewery in the world in 2010 by Ratebeer.com and initially financed in part by founder Joey Redner’s father, the notorious Tampa strip club owner Joe Redner, Cigar City Brewing was sold to Oskar Blues Brewery in Colorado in 2016. And, if you must know, Mons Venus, Redner’s “world famous nude strip club,” is about a half mile away from the brewery on Dale Mabry Highway, just a couple miles from where the Super Bowl will be taking place at Raymond James Stadium.
2117 E. Seventh Ave., Tampa; 813-248-4961; columbiarestaurant.com
There are few, if any, things more famous from Tampa than the Cuban sandwich and no better place to enjoy one than at Columbia, which just happens to be recognized as the oldest restaurant in the Sunshine State. Founded in 1905 and recently honored for the best sandwich in Florida by Food & Wine magazine, Columbia’s Cuban contains baked ham, Genoa salami, mojo-marinated roast pork, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard on freshly baked Cuban bread from La Segunda Central Bakery, which was established in 1915. Columbia’s many excellent examples of Cuban and Spanish cuisine (with Italian influences) include the “Original 1905 Salad,” the paella, and the roast pork “a la Cubana.” For beverages, be sure to try the sangria. Better yet, just order a pitcher; there’s probably no better sangria served this side of Spain. After dinner, explore surrounding Ybor City, the historic cigar manufacturing neighborhood that has been home in recent decades to many of Tampa’s top restaurants, bars and nightclubs. Also, consider visiting the Columbia Cafe at the Tampa Bay History Center along Tampa Riverwalk, or, if you’re venturing south of the iconic Sunshine Skyway Bridge, there’s the beautiful, largely open-air Columbia location that opened in 1959 on Sarasota’s famed St. Armands Circle.
The Don CeSar
3400 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach; 727-360-1881; doncesar.com
Few hotels in the region boast as much history as the hotel known as The Legendary Pink Palace. Located on the sugary white sands of St. Pete Beach, The Don CeSar opened in 1928 and has hosted guests ranging from Clarence Darrow and F. Scott Fitzgerald to Mick Jagger and Mariah Carey while serving as the backdrop for films like Sergio Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in America” starring Robert De Niro and Robert Altman’s “Health” starring Carol Burnett. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers even played a rooftop concert at the hotel in 1985 that aired on MTV. While guests will enjoy luxury, newly renovated rooms, pool and the private beach overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, the hotel’s fine-dining restaurant Maritana, the more casual Society Table restaurant, the waterfront Rowe Bar as well as the Lobby Bar are all open to the public.
Frenchy’s Original Cafe
41 Baymont St., Clearwater; 727-446-3607; frenchysonline.com
Back in 1981, Michael “Frenchy” Preston opened his namesake cafe in a little spot close to the hugely popular Clearwater Beach. He specialized in fresh fish, mostly grouper sandwiches, and within a couple of years of opening the restaurant bought his first boat and started Frenchy’s Seafood Company, which has grown into a fleet of commercial fishing boats that now supply Preston’s impressive empire of local Frenchy’s restaurants with fresh grouper, snapper and other fish. Other Frenchy’s locations are much larger and perhaps even prettier, but we’re partial to the cozy original. Order the Original Grouper Sandwich, which comes beer-battered with American cheese. Also be sure to get a side of the highly addictive jalapeno-laced hush puppies and perhaps an order of the equally appealing Frenchy’s Garlic Crab Fries (beer-battered fries tossed in garlic butter and parsley, topped with garlic aioli, Old Bay and snow crab). Wash it all down with a cold beer or one of Frenchy’s signature drinks such as the Island Mojito, made with pineapple rum and garnished with a slice of orange. Feeling adventurous? Try the Cajun grouper sandwich, which comes blackened with romano and parmesan.
Innisbrook Golf Resort
36750 U.S. Highway 19 N., Palm Harbor; 727-942-2000; innisbrookgolfresort.com
Golf enthusiasts planning a trip to Tampa Bay should seriously consider a stay at Innisbrook, which boasts four fabulous courses including Copperhead, home to the PGA Tour’s annual Valspar Championship. The course is known for its pine tree-lined fairways, rolling terrain and being a lengthy challenge at more than 7,200 yards. Copperhead is also home to lots of wildlife including fox squirrels, bald eagles, alligators, blue herons, and, yes, probably a decent population of venomous snakes. In addition to hitting the links, Innisbrook guests will want to dine at the resort’s beautiful Market Salamander Grille and then stop by the Osprey Bar, which overlooks the golf greens and is known as a great spot for taking in the sunsets.
The Original Hooters
2800 Gulf to Bay Blvd., Clearwater; 727-797-4008; originalhooters.com
Sure, there are hundreds of Hooters restaurants across the country, but there’s only one Original Hooters, and it can be found on Gulf to Bay Boulevard connecting Tampa to Clearwater Beach. Opened in 1983, the Original Hooters operated out of a ramshackle wood structure before being almost entirely demolished and rebuilt in 2012. Now, it features a new inside/outside bar area, a merchandise and to-go area, and a museum dedicated to Hooters history. Of course, the main attractions, in addition to the friendly staff in the famed outfits, remain the World Famous Wings. This must-visit Tampa Bay Hooters will go through as many as 20,000 wings on Super Bowl Sunday.
Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino
5223 Orient Road, Tampa; 866-388-4263; seminolehardrocktampa.com
Since opening in 2004, the the Seminole Tribe’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino has been a top spot in Tampa for gambling, dining and just admiring the impressive collection of rock ’n’ roll memorabilia. Serious card players will want to visit the poker room while those seeking high-limit slots should check out the mezzanine-level casino. There’s also a main room filled with thousands of slot machines as well as a newer smoke-free slots area offering hundreds of games. Stay at the Hard Rock’s AAA Four Diamond-rated hotel with its three pools and private cabanas or visit one of the seven restaurants and bars, including the upscale dining destinations Council Oak Steaks & Seafood and The Rez Grill. Feel like pampering yourself? Make a reservation at the Rock Spa & Salon.
Who lives there? 20 celebrities with homes in Sarasota-Manatee
10 historic dining destinations:What are the oldest restaurants in Sarasota?