10 Things to Know Before Visiting Tampa, FL

Tampa Skyline at Sunset
Tampa Skyline at Sunset | © John Baker / Flickr
Diann Johnson

There nothing like stepping off a plane in Tampa after flying in from the frozen north. Florida offers an amazing array of subtropical delights, but there are a few things to know before you go. Here are 10 tips to prepare you for your visit.

Expect to have a great time

Florida cities are optimized toward fun and relaxation and Tampa is no exception. There are amusement parks, golf courses, water sports and miles of beaches. Life is geared around the water and great weather and there are downtown areas built around dining, shopping and entertainment. The vegetation is beautifully tropical and feels more like an island than a peninsula. Florida is a world-class vacation destination.

You’ll probably need a rental car or ride sharing service

Unless you plan on staying in downtown and can use the Telo Line Streetcar or walk, you will probably need a rental car to visit other areas of Tampa as well as the amazing St Pete and Clearwater beaches and artsy Sarasota locations. Everything is suburban and spread out in the bay area. Rental car rates tend to be reasonable, but vary according to demand and whether or not it’s tourist season. Driving is different here, people are often retired, from somewhere else or on vacation, so travel times might be a little longer.

Teco Line Streetcar, Ybor City, Tampa.

Passes can save you time and money

Some passes to consider getting are the Tampa City Pass which discounts admission to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, the Florida Aquarium, ZooTampa at Lowry Park, Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Museum of Science & Industry, and the Chihuly Collection. The cost is $107 for adults, and $97 for children. If you plan on doing a lot of highway driving to other cities, Sunpass is the prepaid electronic pass that can make life easier.

Know your Florida seasons

While we don’t have fall and winter here, we do have three seasons: tourist season, hurricane season and holiday season. Tourist season is January-May, hurricane season is June-November and holiday season is November-December. Hotel rates will be the highest in tourist season but there are always more events scheduled this time of year. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t come here afterward, just be aware of short-lived rainy weather and potential hurricanes, but hotel rates are cheaper. Holiday season can be a great time to visit the state with lit up palm trees and colorful boat parades, just expect the temperature to be slightly cooler.

Palm tree at Sunset.

Take the sun seriously

As a subtropical climate closer to the equator, too much sun can be dangerous in Florida. The good news is you can get a tan quickly. The bad new is it’s easy to get torched here just by not planning ahead or wearing sunscreen – particularly if you are out on the water or going for a long walk in the good weather. Always walk inside to check that your tan hasn’t already turned into a burn, cover up and use appropriate sunscreen for your skin type. You may want to go a little higher on the SPF here.

Take lightning seriously too

While other locales might not get many thunderstorms, Florida is the lightning capital of the U.S. (some say the world) and more people are struck by lightning here than anywhere else. Summer is when we see the most of these storms which happen on a daily basis. Even if a storm does not appear to be close to you yet, you can be struck here, so take lightning seriously and get indoors until it blows over.

Lightning at night over city.

Know how to get out of rip currents

A rip current is a strong, fast moving current that moves from the shore out to sea and it may not be visible from the surface. Every year Floridians read the sad stories of tourists who drown due to rip currents. The story usually starts out like this: an adult sees a child struggling in the water and jumps in to save them. They think it’s a simple case of drowning and continuously fight the current to return to shore. They soon tire from these relentless forces and end up dragged out to sea. It could have been prevented by reading up on rip currents and watching the beach and local news for warnings. If you feel yourself being pulled out to sea by a rip current, swim parallel to the shore until you are free from it, then return to shore.

Do not swim in fresh water unless it’s a spring marked safe for swimming and even then be careful

Florida is home to over a million alligators. They live in fresh water throughout the state and often show up in unexpected places like golf course ponds or swimming pools. There are aquifers underground which connect bodies of water so always be careful in water here. Brackish water is fresh water mixed with seawater, so in estuaries and the intracoastal you can encounter both fresh water and salt water inhabitants of all sizes. Still, alligator attacks are extremely rare.

Alligator Submerged in Water.

Don’t leave food out

By now most have heard of the dreaded palmetto bug – a large flying cockroach that makes the uninitiated weak in the knees. Fire ants are another unexpected torment, their bites leaving large welts on the skin. There are bugs of all kinds here, as is to be expected in this climate, so if you don’t want to see any make sure all food is put away, all crumbs are cleaned up and garbage is dumped regularly.

Florida vacation spots attract people from different areas of the country

Florida attracts over 100 million visitors per year from all over the world. While tourists are largely domestic and from the eastern half of the U.S., you will encounter visitors from other areas in different regions. In the Tampa area they will often be from the northeast and the midwestern U.S., in South Florida on the east coast it will be the northeast, Europe, Canada and South America; in Destin it will be tourists from the deep southern states and in Orlando it will be children and families from everywhere. Some people who come here are tourists on vacation, others are seasonal snowbirds from the northeast who spend January-May living in a second home or rental here, before returning home for the summer weather up north. Expect to see license plates from all over during tourist season.

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