SD › Best Places to Stay in Tampa
Updated: May 3, 2021
The Best Areas to Stay in Tampa
The Tampa Area covers a vast portion of Florida’s beach-smothered Gulf coast, comprising Tampa itself, St. Petersburg, Clearwater, and a long string of coastal communities from Pass-a-Grille Beach to Tarpon Springs.
The primary tourist attractions tend to be concentrated in Downtown Tampa and Downtown St. Petersburg, though some of the best accommodation lies along the coast. We’ve covered our favorite neighborhoods below.
While it’s relatively easy to explore the Downtown areas on foot, a car is the most convenient way to zip between the different areas of Tampa (taxis/Uber can be expensive over long distances). In Tampa itself, the handy TECO Streetcar links Downtown with Ybor City – it’s free. There’s also no charge for the similarly useful Looper Trolley in downtown St. Pete.
Best Places to Stay in Tampa
- Best Luxury Hotels in Tampa
JW Marriott Tampa Water Street • Epicurean Hotel • The Birchwood • Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort • The Don CeSar • Opal Sands Resort
- Best Boutique Hotels in Tampa
Hotel Haya • West Wing Hotel • The Current Hotel • Avalon Hotel St. Petersburg/Downtown • Fenway Hotel
- Best 3-Star/4-Star Hotels in Tampa
Aloft Tampa Downtown • Hotel Alba Tampa • Bon-Aire Resort • Long Key Beach Resort Motel
- Best Cheap Hotels in Tampa
Gram’s Place Hostel • The Inn On Third • Gulf Beach Resort • Sun Island Motel • Palm Court Motel
- Best Bed & Breakfast in Tampa
1910 Inn • Beyond The Wall Bed and Breakfast • Laughing Lizard B&B • Meranova Bed & Breakfast
Best Neighborhoods in Tampa for…
- Best Neighborhood for Art & Culture: Downtown St. Petersburg
St. Petersburg is a small city, but it packs a huge artistic punch. Downtown boasts the exceptional Chihuly Collection of glasswork, the Dalí, with the largest collection of Salvador Dalí’s work outside of Spain, the Imagine Museum’s collection of contemporary glass, and the relatively new James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art. There’s also the Museum of Fine Arts and the Florida CraftArt Gallery.
- Most Romantic Neighborhood: Hyde Park/SoHo
Just west of Downtown Tampa, upscale Hyde Park Village and the leafy streets nearby make for a romantic getaway. CMX CinéBistro is a luxury movie theater that serves cocktails and excellent food, while the adjacent SoHo strip (“south Howard”) features some of the region’s best restaurants and bars; fancy spots like Bern’s Steak House and Ciro’s Tampa cocktail bar. Also in SoHo, one of the most elegant boutique inns in the city, the Epicurean Hotel, with it’s own spread of elegant eateries. It’s not far from here to the Hillsborough Bay waterfront, where a 4.5-mile sidewalk trail runs along Bayshore Boulevard.
- Best Neighborhood for Nightlife: Ybor City
Tampa’s historic Latin Quarter, Ybor City began life as a cigar-manufacturing hub in the early 20th century, with an especially strong Cuban influence. Though it’s the home of excellent museums and famous Cuban restaurants such as Columbia, it’s equally known for its nightlife today, especially along 7th Avenue. Columbia itself hosts flamenco dance shows most nights, while GameTime is a sports bar crammed with arcade games, and Improv Comedy Theater is Tampa’s live comedy hub. Also there are major dance clubs like Prana and Czar, hip live venue Orpheum, college student haunts like Gaspar’s Grotto, and a thriving LGBT scene (see the Honey Pot). Ybor City lies just a mile or so northeast of Downtown Tampa and there are only a handful of hotels in the neighborhood – the three best (within stumbling distance of the bars) are Hampton Inn & Suites Tampa/Ybor City/Downtown; Hilton Garden Inn Tampa Ybor Historic District; and Hotel Haya.
- Best Neighborhood for Food and Restaurants: Dunedin
There’s good eating all over the Tampa area, but Dunedin is an especially enticing, convenient option for foodies. Some five miles north of Clearwater (and 25 miles west of Downtown Tampa), Dunedin is crammed with highly-rated restaurants. Within walking distance of local hotels (and each other) are fine dining hotspot Black Pearl of Dunedin, family-friendly Cafe Alfresco, brewpub Dunedin Brewery, seafood specialist Lucky Lobster Co, and no-frills spots like Eli’s Bar-B-Que and Hot Dogs on Main.
- Best Neighborhoods for Shopping: Madeira Beach; Hyde Park; Westshore
This is a tough call, but our favorite neighborhoods include Hyde Park Village and Downtown St. Petersburg for upscale shopping, John’s Pass Village at Madeira Beach for a laid-back, family-friendly experience at the seaside, or Westshore for the biggest malls (International Plaza and Bay Street; and WestShore Plaza). There’s plenty of accommodation in Downtown St. Pete’s, Madeira Beach and Westshore (see below), but not much choice in Hyde Park (see above).
- Best (non-beach) Neighborhood for families: North Tampa
The Tampa region’s fine beaches tend to attract the most attention from families for obvious reasons, but using North Tampa as a base for at least some of the time makes sense. Busch Gardens, the state’s premier theme park outside of Orlando, will take up at least a full day, while neighboring waterpark Adventure Island is a big hit in the summer. Kids also love the Museum of Science and Industry (and its IMAX theater), Big Cat Rescue and ZooTampa at Lowry Park; and there’s a huge amount of choice when it comes to hotel and motel accommodation (a car is essential here).
- Best Neighborhood for mom-and-pop accommodations: Treasure Island
One of Tampa’s most enticing beach communities – with a huge swathe of white sand and low-lying dunes – is also refreshingly free of the major chain hotels that line much of Florida’s coastline. Most of the beach hotels and resorts here are independent, family-owned, like the Beachside Resort Motel – one of our favorites and a great deal.
- Best Neighborhood for Local Vibe: Gulfport
Gulfport is a little off the main tourist trail, lining the bay midway between St. Pete Beach (4 miles) and Downtown St. Petersburg (5 miles), but it’s an artsy, quirky community full of character. Best known for its annual GeckoFest in the fall (with street performers, arts and crafts stalls, and a parade), it also hosts weekly Art Walks and a farmers’ market, as well as several laid-back bars and restaurants. Our favorites include Salty’s Gulfport Bar, Low Tide Kava Bar, and Little Tommies Tiki Bar & Grill. There’s not much choice when it comes to accommodation, however; the best options are the Historic Peninsula Inn and Sea Breeze Manor Inn. For a taste of Old Florida, it’s also worth checking out Pass-a-Grille Beach (see below).
- Best Neighborhood for beach holidays: Clearwater Beach
The Tampa area boasts some of the best beaches in Florida, but for overall seaside family fun it’s hard to top Clearwater Beach. It’s a gorgeous strip of bone-white sand home to all sorts of activities, from volleyball and rollerblading to parasailing and stand-up paddleboarding, while Pier 60 hosts a nightly sunset celebration with craft stalls and performers. To the south, Sand Key Park offers a less commercialized beach, while Clearwater Marine Aquarium is the home of Winter (the star of the movie Dolphin Tale).
- Unsafe Areas of Tampa
Most areas of Tampa are generally quite safe, though the usual precautions should be taken at night, especially in Ybor City. The most dangerous neighborhoods lie north and east of Downtown Tampa (areas like Live Oaks Square, Highland Pines, and Woodland Terrace), plus sections of inland Largo and Clearwater (Wyatt Street) – but these are all easily avoided.
The 10 Best Neighborhoods in Tampa for Tourists
Downtown Tampa and the adjacent Channel District anchor the whole Tampa area, serving as its premier business district, as well as containing the Tampa Convention Center, the Amalie Arena (home to Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team), and several theaters. Major tourist attractions include the Tampa Museum of Art, Glazer Children’s Museum, Florida Aquarium, Tampa Bay History Center, and the American Victory Ship & Museum. University of Tampa’s Henry B. Plant Museum lies just across the Hillsborough River. Downtown lies some 25 miles east of Clearwater Beach (around 40 minutes by car).
- Best Hotels: Aloft Tampa Downtown • Courtyard by Marriott Tampa Downtown • Embassy Suites by Hilton Tampa Downtown Convention Center • Hampton Inn Tampa Downtown Channel District • Hilton Tampa Downtown • JW Marriott Tampa Water Street • Le Méridien Tampa • Westin Tampa Waterside
2. North Tampa
Roughly covering the section of Tampa north of the Hillsborough River (for the purposes of this survey), North Tampa is primarily residential, though it also encompasses the vast University of South Florida campus and several major family-friendly attractions: the Busch Gardens theme park, Adventure Island waterpark, the Museum of Science and Industry, and ZooTampa at Lowry Park. Attractions and restaurants are spread out here along the main avenues, so a car is essential. Note that it’s around a one-hour drive from here to the Gulf beaches.
- Best Hotels: Embassy Suites by Hilton Tampa USF • Hampton Inn & Suites Tampa Busch Gardens Area • Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Tampa North • Hyatt Place Tampa/Busch Gardens • La Quinta Inn & Suites by Wyndham USF • West Wing Hotel
A few miles west of Downtown Tampa, Westshore is a generally sleepy residential neighborhood, primarily of interest to travelers because of Tampa International Airport, a couple of major shopping malls, and a cluster of affordable hotels, restaurants, and motels. Easy access to I-275 means it’s convenient for drivers heading west to St. Petersburg and the beaches, as well as Downtown Tampa and the airport. The two malls – International Plaza and Bay Street and Westshore Plaza – are just 1.5 miles apart. Also nearby, the George M. Steinbrenner Field baseball stadium, the Spring Training base of the New York Yankees. Another highlight for craft beer fans: lauded Cigar City Brewing Co has its main brewery and tasting room here.
- Best Hotels: The Current Hotel • Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Tampa Westshore/Airport • Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay • Hampton Inn & Suites Tampa Airport Avion Park Westshore • Hilton Garden Inn Tampa Airport Westshore • Hotel Alba Tampa • Renaissance Tampa International Plaza Hotel • The Westin Tampa Bay • The Westshore Grand
Some 23 miles southwest of Downtown Tampa, on the other side of the bay, Downtown St. Petersburg is the region’s artistic and cultural heart, with a lineup of world-class museums and galleries. Topping the list are the Dalí, the Museum of Fine Arts and Chihuly Collection, but St. Pete has also hosts the newish James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art and the Imagine Museum of glass. Central Avenue is lined with indie galleries, posh boutiques, restaurants, and bars. The heartrending Florida Holocaust Museum is also here, as well as the recently rebuilt St. Pete Pier, the hub of a lively waterfront dining, shopping, and entertainment district.
- Best Hotels: Avalon Hotel St. Petersburg/Downtown • The Birchwood • Cordova Inn • Hampton Inn & Suites St. Petersburg/Downtown • Hollander Hotel St. Petersburg / Downtown • Hyatt Place St. Petersburg/Downtown • Mansion House Inn • The Inn On Third • The Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort
Some nine miles west of Downtown St. Petersburg, St. Pete Beach boasts a fabulous stretch of white sand on the Gulf, plus a blend of mom and pop businesses with more upscale resorts; the all-pink Don CeSar is one of the most iconic hotels in the region. Corey Avenue is at the heart of the neighborhood, lined with indie stores, galleries, and seafood restaurants. There’s not much in the way of sights – the beach and the laid-back small-town atmosphere is the main allure here.
- Best Hotels: Bon-Aire Resort • The Don CeSar • Gulf Beach Resort • Long Key Beach Resort Motel • Pasa Tiempo Waterfront Resort • Sun Island Motel • TradeWinds Island Grand Resort
Just north of St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island is an old-fashioned seaside community best known for its independent mom-and-pop motels right on the beachfront – offering great value and access to a very wide, fantastic chalk-white beach. The section known as “Sunshine Beach” offers the additional attraction of grassy dunes and beach walkovers.
- Best Hotels: Beachside Resort Motel • Blue Waters Treasure Island • The Bungalows • The Delacado On Sunset Beach • Page Terrace Beachfront Hotel • Provident Oceana Beachfront Suites • Treasure Island Beach Resort
Clearwater Beach, some 25 miles west of Downtown Tampa, is the region’s most lively seaside community. In addition to a wide range of accommodation, there’s volleyball, parasailing, and jet-skiing, as well as the nightly Pier 60 sunset celebration. For all-round entertainment – and a beautiful white-sand beach – it’s hard to beat. Just to the south, Sand Key Park offers a less developed seaside experience, while Clearwater Marine Aquarium is noted especially for its dolphin program (featuring Winter, star of a Dolphin’s Tale).
- Best Hotels: Bamboo Beach Club • Barefoot Bay Resort • Blue Wave Motel Suites • Club Wyndham Clearwater Beach • East Shore Resort • Frenchy’s Oasis Motel • Opal Sands Resort
The small community of Dunedin lies on the Gulf Coast, some 25 miles west of Downtown Tampa. It’s known for its beaches (especially on nearby Honeymoon Island State Park), but also its culinary scene – quality restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and craft breweries are concentrated here like nowhere else in the Tampa area. It’s also a good base to explore the Pinellas Trail (a multi-use biking/cycling trail running from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs), as well as the mangroves of Caladesi Island State Park (preferably by kayak). Dunedin (which comes from the Scottish Gaelic name for “Edinburgh”) boasts Scottish heritage, best appreciated at the Celtic Shop of Dunedin or at the annual Highland Games and Military Tattoo. Dunedin is also the location of TD Ballpark, home to the Toronto Blue Jays Spring Training baseball games.
- Best Hotels: Beso Del Sol Resort • Beyond The Wall Bed and Breakfast • Fenway Hotel • Holiday Inn Express & Suites Clearwater North/Dunedin • Meranova Bed & Breakfast • Palm Court Motel
“Mad Beach” – five miles north of St. Pete Beach and 14 miles south of Clearwater Beach – is one of our favorite Gulf Coast communities in the Tampa area. Low-key and relaxed, the motels and hotels here are good value, and there’s always a friendly local clientele frequenting the beach bars and restaurants along Gulf Boulevard. The beach, as always, is the main attraction, but there’s also Johns Pass Village and Boardwalk at the southern end, a family-friendly collection of shops and restaurants overlooking the water. From here fishing charters depart from the “Grouper Capital of the World”.
- Best Hotels: 6 West Beach Cottages • Cambria Hotel St. Petersburg-Madeira Beach Marina • Cottages at Madeira Beach • Shoreline Island Resort
The far southern end of St. Pete Beach is known as Pass-a-Grille Beach, a sleepy, colorful Old Florida neighborhood known for its historic Cracker cottages, dune-lined beachfront, and laid-back restaurant and bar scene. Other than the Gulf Beaches Historical Museum there’s not much in the way of sights – the undeveloped seafront (and boat trips to Shell Key) provides the allure. The tiny main drag is 8th Avenue, home to a cluster of galleries, bars, and restaurants.
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