Just the ticket for Tampa: 11 places to eat, play while in Florida for the Outback Bowl

“100 Things to Do in Tampa Bay Before You Die,” by Kristen Hare
“100 Things to Do in Tampa Bay Before You Die,” by Kristen Hare

When Kristen Hare and her family moved to Tampa in 2012 from Missouri, she thought it would just be for a year, and so she decided to get as much out of the time there as she could.

“My kids were little, and we just decided we were going to live like tourists,” she said. “I just put on my reporter hat and talked to everybody we met.”

Six years later, they’re still there, and Hare has turned her family’s firsthand research into a book, “100 Things to Do in Tampa Bay Before You Die.” The first edition was published in 2014, and Hare just released an updated second edition in October.

A reporter for Poynter and a contributor to the Tampa Bay Times, she said Hawkeye fans heading to Florida for the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1 will find plenty to keep them busy.

“This is a super fun place to live, it’s a wonderful place to visit. I don’t think it’s overstating it to say when Iowans come they will be welcomed,” she said.

She put together a list of 12 recommendations tailored to visiting Hawkeyes, mostly centered on the city itself for those staying near the Raymond James Stadium, along with a few activities for those who want to explore further afield. Find more things to do in her book, available through Amazon and on her Facebook page at

1. Stroll Tampa’s Riverwalk

“Downtown Tampa is very walkable,” Hare said. “On the Riverwalk, you can start at one end and make your way along the river.”

The Riverwalk includes a public art tour, as well as plenty of places to stop, including museums, restaurants and parks. Hare recommends starting at the Tampa Bay History Center, which houses a museum as well as The Columbia Cafe, which features fresh Cuban bread, sangria, a river view and more.


• Tampa Bay History Center and Columbia Cafe, 801 Old Water St., Tampa, (813) 228-0097,

• Tampa Riverwalk,

2. See Tampa by boat on the eBoats

Don’t feel like walking? Take the water; easy-to-drive electric boats are available to rent at eBoats Tampa, in front of the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

• eBoats Tampa, 333 S. Franklin St., Tampa, (813) 767-2245,

3. Visit the Florida Aquarium and see (or swim with) the sharks

Get up close and personal with Florida’s ocean life — the aquarium offers a chance to not just see sharks and other aquatic creatures but to jump in and swim with them.

“I’m from Missouri — a good Midwesterner is probably afraid of sharks,” Hare said. “You can see them and interact with them without having to get in the ocean.”

• Florida Aquarium, 701 Channelside Dr., Tampa, (813) 273-4000,

4. Take the Cross-bay Ferry to St. Petersburg

If you want to get out of downtown Tampa, jump on the Cross-Bay Ferry, which leaves from a dock at the Florida Aquarium and ends in St. Petersburg.

“You can be on the ocean and stroll around the other half of Tampa Bay,” Hare said.

• Cross-Bay Ferry, (727) 273-5932,

5. Take a short drive to Apollo Beach and Big Bend Power Plant to see Rays and manatees

If you have a car, drive to Apollo Beach, where warm water from the Big Bend Power Plant attracts manatees. You can also take the tidal walk to view bird life and stop at the Rays Touch Tank, the offseason home to the mascots of the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team.

• Manatee Viewing Center, 6990 Dickman Rd., Apollo Beach, (813) 228-4289)

6. Watch the sunset at Pass-a-Grille beach

“If you are a beach lover, we have the best beaches in the world, with the softest sand,” Hare said.

She recommends heading to Pass-A-Grille, the southernmost end of St. Pete Beach and stopping for a bite or a sundowner drink at Paradise Grill, which is right on the water and offers great sunset views. Each night they pick a visitor to ring the sunset bell as night falls.


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• Paradise Grille, 900 Gulf Way, St. Pete Beach, (727) 367-1495,

7. Hop on the Brew Bus to sample local beer

“Tampa Bay has a very vibrant and growing beer scene, with lots of microbreweries,” Hare said.

Taste your way through them while letting someone else drive on the Brew Bus, which offers the chance to hop on and off at area breweries.

• The Brew Bus, (888) 945-2739,

8. Get a coffee, a meal or shop at the Oxford Exchange in Tampa

“If you want to get a bit of culture in while you’re in town ... this was the Carriage House of the Tampa Bay Hotel. and it’s just a gorgeous spot,” Hare said.

The building offers a number of shops, including a bookstore, coffee shop and more.

• Oxford Exchange, 420 W. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa, (813) 253-0222,

9. Eat, drink and play at Sparkman Wharf

Complete with a food garden with rotating chefs, Sparkman Wharf is a new destination in Tampa that also features a beer hall, bowling alley, live music and more.

• Sparkman Wharf, 615 Channelside Dr., Tampa, (813) 345-5881,

10. Get out of town: Head to Tarpon Springs

About a 45 minutes drive north of St. Petersburg, Tarpon Springs was settled by Greek immigrants and still offers plenty of Greek cuisine and culture.

“You almost feel like you were transported to Greece,” Hare said.

• Tarpon Springs,

11. Go to Crystal River to swim with manatees

“If you really want to see manatees, they’ll be gathering at Crystal River for it’s warmer water,” Hare said.

Visitors cannot only see these gentle giants, but jump in and swim or kayak with them.

• Crystal River, (800) 587-6667,

There are plenty of Hawkeye events leading up to the Outback Bowl to entertain traveling fans in Tampa.

Clearwater Beach Day

• What: Join Hawkeye football players, the Hawkeye marching band and the Iowa Spirit Squad for a day of live music, food and festivities on the white sandy beaches of Clearwater.

• Where: Clearwater Beach Resort, 400 Mandalay Ave., Clearwater


• When: 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 30

Hawkeye Huddle

• What: Herky, the Iowa Spirit Squad and the Hawkeye marching band will welcome fans to a Hawkeye Huddle. This event is free of charge and includes refreshments for purchase from restaurants and food vendors located within the new Sparkman Wharf waterfront area.

• Where: Sparkman Wharf, 615 Channelside Dr., Tampa

• When: 3 to 5 p.m. Dec. 31

New Year’s Eve Parade and Band Blast

• What: Enjoy a New Year’s Eve parade featuring the Hawkeye marching band, floats and more, followed by a pep rally.

• Where: Centro Ybor, 1600 E. Eighth Ave., Tampa

• When: 5:30 to 8 p.m. Dec. 31

Hawkeye Pregame Tailgate

• What: The Tampa Bay IOWA Club is hosting a pregame tailgate.

• Where: Adjacent to Raymond James Stadium, 4201 N. Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa

• When: 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Jan. 1

• Details and tickets:

• Comments: (319) 398-8339;

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