Tampa Bay’s airport is often filled with families and couples on a getaway trip to sun and fun in Florida. The area also gets a lot of overflow traffic from Orlando, with people heading to the beach after the overstimulation of theme parks and loud chain restaurants. This is a big, spread-out metro area though, so where should you stay in Tampa Bay?
The metro area includes a lot of different towns and neighborhoods, from some of the USA’s best white-sand beaches to urban locations filled with museums, cultural events, and conventions. Bridges connect them over waterways and it can take 45 minutes to get from one area to another, so you want to choose based on your vacation or business plans.
Here’s a rundown on the Tampa Bay lodging options for when you’re feeling overwhelmed by 200+ choices.
Often voted one of America’s best beaches, this three-mile stretch of sand is pedestrian-friendly and kept in pristine condition. The water is warm and calm most of the year and the powdery white sand feels great between the toes. There are a lot of restaurants and bars to choose from here, with a family-friendly atmosphere.
St. Petersburg Beach
More spread-out than Clearwater Beach, the white sands of St. Pete Beach never feel very crowded, even on holiday weekends. You could walk for an hour before having to turn around on this beach and smart zoning practices have meant that hotels are set well back from the tide lines when a hurricane blows through. There’s plenty to choose from for dining and drinking though and a city bus runs to downtown if you don’t have a car.
Downtown St. Petersburg
With a wide, white-sand beach just a few miles away, why would you stay in downtown St. Pete? Ten or fifteen years ago that would have been a hard question to answer, but now this is one of the most attractive urban areas in Florida, with lively nightlife, more than a dozen brewpubs, and great cultural attractions.
The Dali Museum is worth a visit by itself, but you also have a Chihuly Glass Works museum, a highly regarded fine arts museum, and multiple performance halls and music clubs. The Tampa Bay Rays play baseball here and a new pier development just opened in 2020.
Sand Key, Treasure Island, Indian Shores, and Redington Beaches
In between Clearwater Beach and St. Pete Beach are a slew of similar-looking stretches of sand making up the barrier island chain separated by bridges from the mainland. It’s hard to tell when you’ve left one and entered another unless you’re paying close attention to the street signs. So if you’re just looking for a beach with a nice sunset, you’ll do fine on any of them.
City of Tampa
The actual city of Tampa is on the bay, not the gulf, so it was the first area to be settled as a protected port city. It really thrived as “Cigar City” in the early 1900s as Cuban cigar rollers shared the Ybor City port area (below) with immigrants from Spain, Italy, and other parts of the world. Most of the hotels are clustered walking distance to the convention center downtown, by the airport, and on the causeway that leads out to the beach areas. There are also a few budget and mid-range options near the Busch Gardens amusement park. One of the best properties, the Epicurean, is located in South Tampa a few miles from downtown, near lots of restaurants, bars, and shopping.
Ybor City is not an actual city, but rather the oldest neighborhood in Tampa. Near the port, it was where the immigrants moved to upon arrival to work at the docks, brew beer, or roll cigars. The debauchery is not at the level it was back then, but this is still the prime nightlife area, with brewpubs, rock clubs, dance clubs, and a movie multiplex. You can catch a trolley car from here to downtown or rent one of the city bikes and follow the off-street path that takes you all the way to the Riverwalk.