Having lived in Southwest Florida for 2 years and traveled the area extensively I really enjoyed the Amateur Traveler episode on Tampa, Florida. In combination with that episode and advice I have given to friends traveling there I have created a map (in my opinion the best way to organize any trip) of the best things to do in Southwest Florida. It is one of the most interesting areas in the U.S., laid back and beachy on the edges, diverse and Hispanic in the cities, and warm and friendly on the inside. The lightning capital of the western hemisphere, the sequestered home of many a pirate, known as Cigar City, and the proposed location of the Fountain of Youth, Tampa is different things to different people. To me, it is paradise on Earth.
View Tampa in a larger map
If you are looking for adventure canoe with alligators down a mangrove-lined river, snorkel with manatees in crystal clear waters, mountain bike through the swamp, or kayak to an unoccupied island with one of the highest-rated beaches in the U.S. You can beach your way down the coast looking for sharks teeth, seashell on Sanibel Island while watching dolphins, or just walk through the softest sand you will ever feel with the sunset as your backdrop.
If you get tired of beaching, do something totally different like watch a Spring Training baseball game. Or if you have seen enough alligators (not sure if I could ever get tired of seeing these prehistoric dinosaur-like creatures) visit the old estates of inventors Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. There is culture, with one of the highest populations of Greeks outside of Greece, John Ringling’s exquisite museum on his palatial estate (including a palace) on the ocean, or the largest collection of Salvador Dali paintings outside of Europe at the Dali. Food is excellent with the classic Grouper sandwich, alligator stew at Myakka State Park (where you can also take an airboat ride to see the gators), excellent Cuban cuisine, and good ol’ country barbeque.
And we can’t forget about the kids with the new Legoland (formerly Cypress Gardens) with its kid-friendly rides, beautiful botanical gardens, and waterski show, the highest kid-rated zoo in America at Lowry Park, and the Shell factory.
There really is something for everyone in Tampa. It is a hidden gem next to its more glamorous neighbors of Disneyworld and Miami. But there are things in Tampa you can’t do anywhere else and the collection of them is what makes it truly unique. There really is no other place like it.