Even though I have spent my whole life, this far, in the northeast of the States, I don't think I will ever get used to these winters. If you are also from the northeast or a colder region, then I'm sure you feel my pain. I know that some people love the cold and the snow, but I'm just not one of them and when winter hits, I just turn into a bear and want to hibernate. Needless to say, take a break from winter is just something that I need sometimes, and more than ever did I need one this past year. Luckily, I have a friend that lives in Tampa that was willing to host me for a weekend! That leads me to my three days in Tampa, Florida. I'll share with you, how I spent my three days, some fun things you can do and see there, and the things that I learned or would do differently so you can make the most of your visit to Tampa, no matter how long it is for.
Getting to Tampa was pretty easy and painless. There were many direct flights from Pittsburgh (where I live currently) and it was easy enough to find one that had times that worked. I ended up flying Southwest, because of the timing and the price was amazing! If you happen to be visiting Orlando and have an extra day or two that you want to get away from the craziness of the theme parks, Tampa's beaches are just a short drive away.
Like I mentioned earlier, I really needed a break from winter and the cold weather. So obviously, I wanted my first day to be at the beach enjoying the sunshine and warm weather. Driving from Tampa to St. Pete beaches really wasn't too bad. There was definitely some traffic, (and Florida drivers are a little crazy), but there was beautiful views and it only took about thirty five minutes to get there. Now it would really depend on which beach exactly you wanted to go to to determine timing, but we went to the closer ones. We ended up going to Treasure Island Beach, found an amazingly good spot with barely anyone around, and set up for a beach day! Starting from around early afternoon to about four, we just hung-out at the beach, tanning, listening to music, drinking some beers, and going in the water occasionally when it became too hot to sit out in the sun any longer. Overall a great first half day!
Now, this is where I tell you to wear sunscreen, and actually reapply it! Or you will be like me and have burnt spots around my body for the rest of your trip. Luckily I wasn't that burnt and with a little aloe for the next few days, my skin would heal fine. But seriously, that sun is strong down there, so be careful and safe!
When you get to the beach areas, there are many little parking lots that have paid parking and if you are super lucky you can find free spots. I would recommend using those, but I also need to warn you that they were all really packed when we passed them, so I'm sure it is slim picking for parking. Make sure you don't park in the businesses or hotels lots, unless you are staying at that hotel, they are looking out for that and there is a very good chance that you will get towed.
The beach at Treasure Island was super nice with soft, white sand and a beautiful teal blue water. The area of the beach we found wasn't crowded at all either. I'm sure other parts of Treasure Island get more crowded by where there was more restaurants, but there is a nice little stretch that was more homes and was very peaceful.
There is a cool restaurant in the area called Caddy's on the Beach, I can't speak to it first hand because we didn't make it there. But if you are looking for a good lunch spot, or a few drinks on the beach, I have heard many great things about the place and the atmosphere of it.
After our relaxing house hanging out at the beach, we head up to Crabby Bills at Indian Rocks Beach for a few drinks. The restaurant was much larger than it looks out the outside, and has parking in the back for customers. We walked straight to the outdoor area where there was some tables, a bar, and a band playing. The place had such a great vibe to it overall. It also had really great drink specials and pricing and the staff was all super cool. While we were there we found out that they have live music just about every night in the outdoor area, which is a nice bonus. There were a lot of what seemed like locals and just a few tourist that were hanging out there too, which overall made the place have a cool atmosphere. The only downside is that is it not on the beach or the innercoastal so you have no nice views, but all in all I would give it a thumbs up!
By this time, it was pretty late in the day and time for dinner, so that was all the exploring that we got into on our first day!
To recap, we went to Treasure Island Beach & Indian Rocks Beach in the St. Pete area!
For my second day, my focus here was animals! I am a serious animal lover and being in a different state, I was really excited to see some different animals, mainly the manatees and alligators. The first stop was to see the manatees! To do so, we drove over to the Electric Plant in Tampa where they have a viewing area. Since the plant's output makes the water in the area warmer, many manatees hangout there because they prefer warmer water. The sad thing is, they close the viewing area at a certain point every year because the ocean water warms up and the manatees migrate around and don't hangout just around the plant until it gets colder again. And as luck would have it, I missed them being open. But if you are in Tampa in the "winter" months where the ocean water is colder, this is supposed to be a really great spot to see manatees pretty close and a lot of them just hanging out in the water. Another pretty cool option are manatee sanctuaries. There are little areas a bit outside of Tampa that you can find inlets that are now sanctuaries to manatees. There are some that you can kayak or paddle-board pretty close to them too! That would of been my backup option if there was time, but three days can be pretty short when you want to have a relaxing vacation.
Next up was to see the alligators and by now I was very determined to see some type of wildlife. I heard about this nice park called Sawgrass Lake Park that is technically in St. Petersburg, but is just a short drive from Tampa. This was told as the place to see some alligators without getting eaten by one. When you get to the park, you simply follow the pathways that are these built up boardwalk like paths over a swamp-like area. The picture shows it better than I can describe -->
The park was beautiful to walk through and was completely flat so it would be easy for anyone to take a stroll around. But we were there to hunt for alligators, which we learned the hard way was the direction towards the overlook tower. The pathway hits a fork and we ended up going to the peaceful walking path side and not the alligator side first. So if you are looking for alligators, go left! That pathway will lead you around a swamp-like area, where you can stop and look down to try to see some alligators or turtles hiding around there, or keep walking.
If you continue down the path you will then reach the overlook tower, which is this two story tower that gives you great views of the lake and the surround area. This is the area where we saw almost all of the animals. In the surround trees there were birds that had nests with babies in them, floating around we saw some turtles, and sitting on some rocks we saw a group of baby alligators.
This photo was the view from the top of the overlook tower of the lake. There were beautiful 360 views that are worth seeing! After taking all of the pictures, we started walking down when we saw another alligator, this time it looked massive. We called her the mom, since we saw some babies earlier it seemed fitting. So the mom alligator just appeared out of the lake and came up close to the overlook tower and went into the swamp area. Sounds a little scary right, but don't worry, there is no way for them to get up to reach people. Unless you are dumb and try to jump in after it or dangle something at it, it probably won't even care that you are there. But she did swim very close which was super cool to see! Those are pictures of her below!
After my alligator spotting dreams were made, it was time to venture off back to the beach! Today we went to Madeira Beach, which is basically in between Treasure Island Beach and Indian Rocks Beach. It was much later in the day at this point so it wasn't much of a tanning day, but it was nice to relax for a little and see the sun make its way low to the ocean horizon. There was a breeze coming from the ocean that was nice to cool you off in the sun, but once the sun fell too low in the sky, it made the air very chilly. At that moment, it felt like it was time to leave and go for dinner.
Even though I didn't get to see any manatees, it was a pretty good and successful day!
To recap, we went to the Electric Plant in Tampa (that was closed but is great for the manatee viewing), Sawgrass Lake Park (to see the alligators and other animals), and Madeira Beach at St. Petersburg.
For the third day, it was all about just hanging fun and relaxing. The main plan this day was actually fishing, which is a little crazy for me because I have no clue about anything related to fishing. But I thought why not try it with my friends and just do something different. So the fishing adventure started at the beach, but that adventure was short-lived because it was so windy it made it very hard to do any fishing there. The next spot was by the pier, where we were informed by someone about this being a good spot. Again, short-lived. It was way too windy for that as well. After all of that craziness and non-fishing, it was time for a drink!
So a drink, or two, was exactly our next move. We found this cool restaurant located on the inner-coastal side in the Redington Shores area called Seabreeze Island Grill. They had a pretty big inside dining area, but also an outside bar area which is where we hung out. Happy hour was definitely enjoyed and it was nice to just relax with a drink and some food. The views there were also really pretty! We even got to see some dolphins swimming around in the inner-coaster right in front of us! It fit in with my desire to see animals, so you could image I was pretty happy and taking fifty million pictures!
And just incase you were wondering how far away some other great places are, there was this fun little sign. Overall, we had great service, great drinks, and great food so what else could you really ask for. It did get a little chilly out there but it was because that day we pretty windy and there were a lot of clouds in the sky that frequently blocked the warm sun. Also, this is where I should mention that I get cold very easily, so it could of just been me too, we will never know. Either way, after happy hour or a few happy hours we were ready to find a good spot for fishing now. It was starting to get a little late so it was looking like fishing turned into night fishing, nothing wrong with that. So we left and head up to around Indian Rocks beach area, but on the inner-coastal side. I wish I could give you some more info on where exactly it was, but my friend knew about this awesome secret spot and was perfect for our night fishing!
As for night fishing, even though I went into it knowing nothing about fishing and I got yelled out a few times to doing things wrong or not doing them at all, I like to think it is successful. We caught way too many catfish, and not even normal sized catfish, baby catfish. This is where I would use the face-palm emoji. But don't worry, it didn't end with just baby catfish, luckily, we also caught a few other fish. Now again, I know just about nothing related to fishing or fish themselves, so I could not even begin to tell you what the other fish were, but they were what us non-fishing people would probably call a normal fish. Between the views of our secret little fishing spot, and watching the sky change color while the sun set behind us, and a semi-successful night fishing (we let all of the fish go, back in the water, fyi) it was a great night!
After all of these fun events and busy yet relaxing days, it was time to head back home to Pittsburgh. I definitely enjoyed the gorgeous weather and honestly just getting away from work and life for a little fit. I love weekend trips because it is so easy to take a break and get away without really disrupting too much of work and life. All in all, I had a great time in the Tampa area for my three days and loved hanging out with my friends that live down there. It is always fun to see a new place and explore what you can of it and have a new and unique experience to that place you are in.
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