48 Hours in Tampa Bay: the Ultimate Outdoor Adventure

| © Gabriel Alcala
Jay Gentile

From pirate ships to treetop ziplines, Tampa Bay is an adventure waiting to happen. Here’s our pick of activities for an unforgettable trip in the west coast corner of Florida.

While Miami and Orlando have long been considered the top destinations if you’re planning a Florida vacation, don’t sleep on Tampa Bay. The fast-growing city is currently being discovered by a new generation of travelers seeking a more ecofriendly take on the classic Sunshine State excursion. From yoga on the water to canoeing through Class II rapids, here’s your blueprint for the ultimate outdoor adventure-packed weekend in the Big Guava.

See downtown’s top attractions along the Tampa Riverwalk

One of the best ways to see the city is to get out of the car and take a walk along the Tampa Riverwalk, a spectacular 2.6mi (4.2km) pedestrian trail hugging the Hillsborough River in downtown Tampa. You’ll pass many of Tampa Bay’s most iconic buildings, including the Amalie Arena, the Tampa Museum of Art and the Tampa Convention Center. You will also be able to admire art en route in the form of murals, photo collages, steel and glass panels, and bronze sculptures.

Take to the water and ride a unique kayak/stationary bike combo known as a waterbike for the ultimate in human-powered transport. Then, stop off to recount the day’s adventure and watch the sunset from one of several bars and restaurants that line the path including Sail Plaza. Some of Tampa Bay’s best hotels including the JW Marriott Tampa Water Street are just steps away.

The Tampa Riverwalk is a scenic pedestrian trail that takes in some of Tampa Bay’s most iconic buildings

Take a laid-back float down the Hillsborough River with Canoe Escape

Fancy a leisurely float down the Hillsborough River? Then dial up Canoe Escape, which offers a number of downstream paddle trips ranging from two hours to a full day outside Tampa Bay. Meandering through the 16,000-acre (6,475ha) Lower Hillsborough Wilderness Preserve, you can view a range of wildlife including songbirds, gators and deer as they make their way across serene sections of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail.

Hillsborough River State Park, just minutes from downtown Tampa, offers a rural escape from the busy city

Canoe through Class II rapids at Hillsborough River State Park

Just half an hour’s drive from downtown Tampa is the Hillsborough River State Park, a popular 3,000-acre (1,214ha) expanse of nature equipped with 7mi (11km) of trails and a 112-site campground. Its claim to fame is the rare Class II rapids that can be found in one section of the river; however, a leisurely stroll draped underneath shady oak trees that will also scratch the nature itch. Check out historic Fort Foster, bike the 2mi (3.2km) loop trail, or drop a line in the river to fish for bass and catfish. Yes, this is Tampa Bay.

Swing from the trees with Empower Adventures Ziplining

A rush of adrenaline awaits you at Empower Adventures Ziplining, which offers a two-hour guided zipline experience overlooking the placid waters of the Mobbly Bayou Wilderness Preserve outside Tampa Bay. Experience more than 3,000ft (914m) of ziplines as well as an aerial obstacle course, a rappelling adventure, and a 200ft (61m) suspension-bridge traverse. The thrill lasts about 2.5 hours, after which is the perfect time to high-tail it over to the nearby CURRENT Hotel for a much-deserved welcome drink in a luxurious setting overlooking the bay on the way back to Tampa.

Strap up and swing from the trees on a ziplining adventure with Empower Adventures Ziplining

Become a pirate for the day aboard the Lost Pearl

It’s no secret that Tampa Bay leans heavily into its pirate past, and nowhere is this more apparent than the Lost Pearl. The iconic pirate ship floating through downtown Tampa is a hit with passengers of all ages, from kids shooting water into the river from on-board toy cannons to adults kicking back with a drink in hand while taking in the scenery. The 1.5-hour tours include narration, dolphin sightings, and “pirate entertainment.” This you gotta see for yourself.

Do yoga on the water with Urban Kai Stand Up Paddle Boarding

Leave the traffic behind and make your way through Tampa Bay with the help of Urban Kai Stand Up Paddle Boarding, which offers everything from yoga on the water to group paddle tours in downtown Tampa. Watch the buildings pass slowly by as you meander down the Hillsborough River past parks, serene open spaces, and the bustling Tampa Riverwalk. You’ll never want to get in a car again.

Make your way through Tampa’s waterways on an expedition with Urban Kai Stand Up Paddle Boarding

Start your own party on the river with Kraken Cycleboat

You know those pedal party bike-powered mobile bars taking over cities across America? Well, they’re not just for rowdy bachelorette parties. Kraken Cycleboat takes the pedal party onto the water with raucous pedal boats tailor made for day drinking under the bright Florida sun. The boats pass all downtown’s main attractions along the river, and they offer night cruises so you can experience the romantically illuminated Riverwalk area in style.

Experience Tampa Bay’s ultimate form of transport with Pirate Water Taxi

Everyone new to Tampa Bay will inevitably inquire about Pirate Water Taxi, a bright yellow floating passenger barge that is easy to spot in the downtown area along the Tampa Riverwalk. But don’t just smile and snap a photo. Hop on board. With 14 stops strategically placed near downtown Tampa’s top attractions, you are free to hop on and off the water taxi wherever you please. Or stick around for the River Route guided tour, which comes with narration and a bar. As long as you’re on the water, you can’t go wrong either way.

Hop on a water taxi for a different perspective of downtown Tampa

Learn more about the interesting history of Tampa Bay and start planning your trip at visittampabay.com

Places to Stay

1. JW Marriott Tampa Water Street


Courtesy of JW Marriott Tampa Water Street / Expedia

If you’re after luxury with a dash of quirkiness, this modern bolthole screams chic and classy while capturing the energy of Tampa Bay throughout. Sip innovative cocktails at the glass lobby bar, or chow down on ocean-to-table plates at the signature restaurant. It really is the ideal spot to come back to after a day of exploring Tampa Bay’s best bits.

2. The Current

Chain Hotel, Hotel, Luxury

Courtesy of The Current Hotel / Expedia

Panoramic views of Tampa Bay? Check. Private beach? Check. Tallest rooftop bar in Tampa? Check. The Current Hotel has it all. Each room comes with views of Tampa’s famous bay, and each is equipped with modern luxuries for optimum comfort. You’re just a few steps from Busch Gardens, a must-visit on any trip to Tampa Bay; that’s if you can drag yourself away from the bayside pool.

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