A pink, early morning sky gives joggers on the Tampa Riverwalk just enough light to take in their surroundings. On one side, a placid river shimmers. On the other, museums, shops, restaurants and parks are silent before the day begins to bustle. A morning yoga class silently salutes the rising sun in the park.
As the sun traverses the sky east to west, the Riverwalk serves as a hub for art, leisurely lunches, performances, fitness and more. By nightfall, music plays and couples walk hand-in-hand under that same sky, which has given way to a canopy of stars.
The 2.4-mile Tampa Riverwalk is a walkable, bikable, Segway-able path connecting culture and entertainment. However you travel it or whenever you arrive, fun awaits.
Start exploring Tampa Bay at the Tampa Riverwalk’s south end. The South Plaza marks the beginning of the mile marker system and is home to the Riverwall, a collage of more than 550 photographs by artist Bruce Marsh. Stop to admire the many images of the waterfront on display before trekking the real thing.
Not far is one of the Riverwalk’s most popular attractions: The Florida Aquarium. You can’t miss it—enclosed in aqua-hued glass, the wave-shaped building looks as if it’s about to spill over the waterfront. Step inside. A lush, tropical environment combines with interactive programs, educational camps and tens of thousands of fish. In the Coral Reef exhibit, sleek sand tiger sharks swim alongside Flip, the endangered green sea turtle, and snorkelers experience the Swim With the Fishes program.
“The wave-shaped building looks as if it’s about to spill over the waterfront”
After a trip under the sea, walk past Port Tampa Bay cruise ship terminal, bustling Channelside Bay Plaza and toward the Tampa Bay History Center, a museum where local heritage includes…sandwiches? Yup. Before you explore 12,000 years of Tampa Bay history, grab a Cuban sandwich at the museum’s Columbia Café. The café is a branch of Ybor City’s famed Columbia Restaurant, Florida’s oldest restaurant. A waterfront view, bay breezes and the Original Cuban Sandwich make it a two-thumbs-up choice for lunch. Then you can walk off your full belly in the museum, following Tampa Bay’s colorful history of Spanish conquistadors, Seminole tribes and Cuban cigar rollers. Go from Spanish explorer Panfilo de Narváez’s 1528 landing to cracker cattle ranchers, who raise cows descended from Spanish cattle brought to Florida in the 1500s, to the explosion of the cigar industry that employed thousands of Cuban immigrants.
As you continue north back on the Riverwalk , you’ll see water bikers and e-boaters returning to the dock at Sail Pavilion for a relaxing drink and snack in Tampa Bay’s only 360-degree open-air waterfront bar. What are water bikes? Think stationary bikes mounted on kayaks. Tampa Bay Water Bike Company’s human-powered watercrafts are difficult to tip over, so families pedaling past Tampa Bay’s scenic skyline are a common sight.
At Mile Marker 1.3, Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park proves the Riverwalk’s outdoor scene welcomes all—even those on four legs. A dog park means fun for Fido and there are plenty of cool spots to kick back and people-watch—or river-watch—in the shade. You’ll likely see stand-up paddleboarders and kayakers gliding alongside the Pirate Water Taxi on the Hillsborough River.
Next door stand the Tampa Museum of Art and Glazer Children’s Museum. Find modern and contemporary pieces at the Tampa Museum of Art—traveling exhibitions have included works from Norman Rockwell and Andy Warhol. Take your time in here—the building itself is worthy of admiration. As the sun sets, the building’s rectangular façade itself becomes of work of art, known as Sky (Tampa)—tens of thousands of lights illuminate in shifting pinks, purples, blues and reds.
“Spending hours at the glazer children’s museum is easy for kids little and big.”
Spending hours at the Glazer Children’s Museum is easy for kids little and big. Children can put on firefighter gear and “drive” a fire truck through Tampa Bay’s streets, help stuffed animals in need at the Vet Clinic and film their own weather forecast. Learning has never been livelier.
If you start to pick up on the palpable energy surrounding this area when you exit, it’s probably because you’re nearing the hub of Tampa Riverwalk’s performing-arts scene: the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, the largest performing arts center in the Southeast. Plays, concerts, ballets—you’ll find them all right here at Mile Marker 1.6.
Before you know it, you’re at the north end of the Riverwalk, which is ideal for feeding the appetite you’ve worked up after two miles of exploration. At Mile Marker 2.4, Ulele—a favorite and notable restaurant that’s named after a legendary Florida Indian princess—is located in the historic Tampa Heights Water Works building, which was built in 1903. Outdoor tables let you enjoy alligator hush puppies, craft beer and looking to the sky as stars appear.
“Ulele, a favorite and notable restaurant”
From beginning to end, the Tampa Riverwalk provides a unique way to experience the best of what Tampa Bay has to offer, from art and culture to entertainment and outdoor adventures. Whether your idea of a perfect day is experiencing museums, fine arts and concerts; getting your heart pumping with sports and outdoors activities; or feeding your soul with fantastic Florida food, you’ll find it all on the Tampa Riverwalk.