Fun facts about Tampa Bay

The Tampa Bay region is most well known for its’ beautiful Gulf Coast beaches, world-class theme parks, 3 professional sports teams, and year-round hot, humid weather which includes plenty of intense summer thunderstorms. Although Tampa often gets passed over in favor of “theme park capital of the world Orlando,” the many touristy attractions & close proximity to the Gulf actually make Tampa a pretty nice vacation destination in and of itself. After visiting Tampa just once, you will find that the area offers a never ending supply of opportunities to enjoy fun-in-the-sun.

Indian Rocks Beach in Florida
Gorgeous Indian Rocks Beach – one of the hidden treasures of Tampa Bay.

The Tampa Bay region shines as a premier vacation destination with gorgeous nature preserves, renowned cultural attractions & museums, fantastic local restaurants & breweries, amazing coffee shops, diverse waterfront activities, and so much more. Here are 19 fun facts (you may not have know) about the Tampa Bay area!

1. Tampa is home to the world’s longest continuous sidewalk

Bayshore Blvd in Tampa, Florida - the world's longest continuous sidewalk

Downtown Tampa’s Bayshore Blvd, at 4.5 miles long, earns the title of “the world’s longest continuous sidewalk.” This gorgeous recreational path, used by cyclists, joggers, and walkers alike, is lined with palm trees and features never ending views of the bay. Beautiful views of the Tampa skyline and lovely historic mansions lining the street give your eyes even more to look at. To add to the excitement, dolphin and manatee sightings are a common occurrence during the early morning hours! Bayshore Blvd. is a picturesque place for any type of workout. If you want to challenge yourself even further, you can test out your strength & agility on the fitness stations located along the course.

2. Tampa’s temperature has never exceeded 99 degrees

Swimming in the Gulf is a must during the hot & humid summer season! Be aware - the water will feel quite warm!

Despite the area’s scorching heat and humidity and seemingly endless days of oppressive heat, the temperature has actually never reached 100 degrees! The record is actually 99 degrees, although that is not to say that the temp feels well over 100 with the heat index on an almost constant basis during the brutal summer season. On the other hand, the record high in nearby St. Pete reached 100 degrees back in 1995.

3. Tampa is home to Florida’s oldest restaurant (as well as the world’s largest Spanish restaurant)

Cuban black beans at Columbia Restaurant in Florida

The amazing Columbia restaurant (Ybor City location) is Florida’s oldest restaurant & the world’s largest Spanish restaurant. The Ybor City location in Tampa opened in 1905, and 110 years later 4th and 5th generation members of the the Hernandez/Gonzmart still own the restaurant. On an interesting side note, Columbia was Florida’s first restaurant to feature air conditioning! 

While there are now several locations, Ybor City is the place to visit as this location features gorgeous decor, historical charm, and nightly Flamenco dancing (every day except Sunday). On the other hand, the Sand Key cafe features a gorgeous waterfront patio and is rated one of the most scenic restaurants in the country. As for the food, Columbia serves some of the best Spanish and Cuban cuisine in the country. After trying it out on several occasions, I can attest that this is true! You cannot leave without trying the Cuban Black Beans!

4. Ybor City is one of the most haunted places in the world

Historic Ybor City in Tampa, Florida

Ybor City, a historic neighborhood in downtown Tampa was founded in the late 1800’s by cigar manufacturers. As the “cigar capital of the world,” it has been nicknamed “Cigar City.” Today, the neighborhood is a National Historic Landmark District. Asides from its’ cigar history, the area has a long history of strange paranormal happenings. In fact, many sources claim it is one of America’s most haunted cities.

Tampa was once referred to as the “damnedest town this side of Hell.’ Not surprisingly, there are a number of interesting ghost tours, including one frequently rated amongst the best in the country. The Travel Channel voted Ybor’s Cuban Club “One of the Top 10 Most Haunted Places in the U.S.” A tour is must anytime of the year, and of course, even more fun around Halloween!

5. Tampa is home to Florida’s largest port

Starship dinner cruise in downtown Tampa

Port Tampa Bay is the largest port in Florida. It’s the closest full service port to the Panama Canal. It also happens to be one of the top cruise ports in the US with 5 cruise lines homeporting here including Carnival Cruise Lines, International, Holland America, Royal Caribbean International and Norwegian Cruise Line.

6. Tampa Bay is the lightning capital of the world

Minutes before a major storm rolled into Siesta Key Beach
Minutes before a major storm rolled into Siesta Key Beach

If you have ever visited the Tampa region during the summer season, it should come as no surprise that the city is the lighting capital of the world. These storms can get pretty intense and can come on with no advance warning. One minute you are sitting at a beach enjoying the sunny skies, only to have to pack up all your stuff and run to your car before the torrential downpour starts. I have had this happen to me so many times I cannot count – both at beaches and preserves. On the bright side, these storms provide a much needed cool down from the blazing heat.

Florida averages more than 10 deaths per year from lightning strikes. On an interesting note, only 10% of those struck by lightning die and men account for 80% of all lightning deaths. Lightning Alley”, an interesting nickname given to the region between Tampa and Orlando, sees more than 50 strikes per square mile – more than anywhere else in the country. Be safe and prepared for a thunderstorm possibility every day in the summer.

7. There is much more to the region than simply beaches & theme parks

Lush boardwalk trail at John Chestnut Park in Palm Harbor, Florida
Walking along the mangrove swamps at John Chestnut Park in Palm Harbor.

The Tampa Bay area really offers a bit of everything – a top ranked family zoo, a wide range of interesting museums (the Chihuly in St. Pete is gorgeous), the Tampa Theater (one of the top rated theaters in the world), gorgeous nature preserves everywhere you turn (check out Weedon Island & John Chestnut for starters), and on and on.

Additionally, the area is home to fantastic local restaurants and coffee shops, despite the perception as it being a chain only destination…this is simply not true! Also, the city ranks as one of the best for fitness and nature lovers, and after a visit it will not be hard to see why. Check out my list of 50 fun things to do in Tampa for a full guide to the city’s diverse attractions.

8. Birdwatching is a popular past time

Bird watching at Weedon Island Preserve in St. Petersburg, Florida

The natural landscapes of Florida make it home to a diverse range of bird species. The Great Florida Birding Trail is a network of over 500 birding sites designed to protect Florida’s natural bird habitat. Pinellas County is a favorite spot for birdwatchers due to the mild climate, diverse ecosystems, and variety of trails and parks scattered all around the region. Some of the top include John Chestnut Park in Palm Harbor, Boyd Hill Nature Center in St. Petersburg, Brooker Creek Preserve in Tarpon Springs, Lettuce Lake Park in Tampa, and Honeymoon Island State Park in Dunedin.

Birding is becoming more and more popular with both locals & tourists, and fortunately, there are many, many parks in the region for everyone to enjoy this fun past time without overcrowding.

9. A massive pirate festival has been taking place for over 100 years!

Gasparilla pirate ship in downtown Tampa

The Gasparilla Pirate Festival, a large festival celebrating the legend of pirate Jose Gaspar, dates back over 100 years. The festive pirate themed lineup features the Gasparilla Invasion (arrival of the Gasparilla ship downtown), pre invasion live entertainment, a special brunch, and the 3rd largest parade in the country.

10. Tampa ranks as one of the best cities for coffee lovers

Coffee and Americano at Cork and Beans in Dunedin, Florida

Looking to skip the standard chain coffee shops like Starbucks and Dunkin’? You are in luck as Tampa is home to so many eclectic coffee shops. Most associate Tampa with endless chains, however, many independent shops lurk in each and every city throughout the metro. In fact, Tampa ranks amongst the best cities for coffee lovers! Tampa is home to so many wonderful laid-back shops, each offering their own unique vibe, that it would be difficult to pick amongst the bunch. For a few great options, check out my list of the best coffee shops in Tampa Bay!

11. Lots of popular movies filmed in the area

Magic Mike filmed at Fred Howard Park in Tarpon Springs, FL
Scenes from Magic Mike were filmed on a sandbar near Fred Howard Park

It seems just about every major city has had its’ share of famous movie glory, and Tampa is no exception. Here are a few of the big names that have shot in the area.

Magic Mike – Did you know that Magic Mike is loosely based on Channing Tatum’s actual experiences of being a stripper in the Tampa area? The movie filmed throughout the Tampa Bay area including notable locations such as The Bricks of Ybor, Fred Howard Park, and Caddy’s on the Beach in Treasure Island.

Edward Scissorhands – Tim Burton’s eccentric 90’s classic featuring Johnny Depp was filmed in a cookie cutter looking subdivision in Land O’Lakes called Carpenters Run.

Edward Scissorhands house in Lutz, Florida

Dolphin Tale – Both Dolphin Tale movies, inspired by the true story of Winter, filmed on location at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Not surprisingly, thousands of tourists flock to the city each year to meet the star of the film.

My Girl – The 90’s tearjerker filmed in Sanford, Florida. The Stanford Inn in Bartow Florida was used as the Sultenfuss funeral parlor. Today it operates as a bed and breakfast.

The Parent Trap II – The made-for-TV sequel was filmed throughout the Tampa region. Exteriors of Robert E. Lee Elementary and interiors of Mitchell Elementary were used to represent the summer school. All of us 90’s kids can remember seeing this movie again and again on the Disney channel!

Goodfellas – A scene from the gangster classic filmed at Lowry Park Zoo (now Zoo Tampa). Note – it was referred to as the Tampa City Zoo in the film.

12. The Scientology Spiritual headquarters is located in downtown Clearwater

The Clearwater Scientology Building
Not the best pic, but a view of the Clearwater Scientology building from a boat ride.

Did you know that the Scientology Spirituality Headquarters is in Clearwater, Florida? What do Tom Cruise, Kelly Preston, John Travolta, and Kirstie Alley all have in common? They are all Scientology members who own land in or near the Clearwater Scientology Headquarters. If you take any cruise in the area, your guide will point out the massive building as well as notable celeb houses.

Whether or not you are interested in learning more about Clearwater’s strong Scientology background, a cruise is a fantastic opportunity to enjoy the scenery! And of course, Clearwater Beach with its’ white sands and crystal clear water always rates amongst the best beach towns in the country. Most tourists simply come for the beaches and the aquarium (where the popular film Dolphin Tale filmed), without ever stepping foot in the downtown area. Note – there are a number of great restaurants in the area too!

13. Babe Ruth hit his longest home run in Tampa

Interesting tid bit of history – The Great Bambino’s hit his longest home run at the old Plant Field baseball stadium in downtown Tampa. In April 1919, during a spring training game of the Red Sox vs. the NY Giants, the baseball legend hit a record breaking 587 foot homer.

14. Tarpon Springs is home to the highest percentage of Greek Americans of any US city

A view of downtown Tarpon Springs, Florida
Tarpon Springs offers a pretty little downtown area to stroll around, or hop on the gorgeous Pinellas Trail, a 40+ mile path which goes all the way to St. Petersburg!

This small coastal town is known for its’ gorgeous parks and beaches, as well as its’ historic sponge decks. It also happens to be home to the highest percentages of Greeks in any American city. If you are looking to try out some great Greek food in the Tampa area, Tarpon Springs is definitely the place to be. The Greektown historic District is a lovely little place to take a stroll. Excellent choices include Hella’s, Mr. Souvlaki, and Bread and Butter Gourmet Deli. While you are here, also treat yourself to a relaxing dolphin cruise.

15. The healing mineral waters of Safety Harbor were once thought to be the Fountain of Youth

One of the mineral rich pools at Safety Harbor Resort and Spa
Mineral rich water is used to fill the pools and spa at Safety Harbor

Safety Harbor Resort and Spa, the state’s only natural mineral spa resort, is referred to as the place where “healing waters flow.” Since opening in 1925, visitors claim that soaking in the waters have healed various ailments and diseases. Joint and muscle related problems often ease up due to the rich mineral content which includes silica. In 1539 Hernando Desoto discovered these natural mineral waters. He believed them to be the fountain of youth missed by Ponce De Leon. He named these springs “Espiritu Santo Springs” which translates to “Springs of the Holy Spirit.”

Although the proposed youth & beauty benefits of the springs only justify a visit, the gorgeous location on 22 acres of of Western Tampa Bay, a great restaurant, a nice spa, and plenty of on-site recreational opportunities, are just more reasons to plan a relaxing getaway to Safety Harbor. Oh, and they offer a wonderful weekend brunch buffet!

16. You can walk through one of the one of the few remaining virgin slash pine forests in South Florida

Virgin slash pine forest at Honeymoon Island State Park in Dunedin Florida

Beautiful Honeymoon Island is home to one of the last remaining virgin slash pine forests in Southern Florida. While Honeymoon Island is most known for gorgeous beaches, not taking a stroll along the gorgeous nature trails would truly be a shame. Nature lovers and bird watchers will love the Osprey Trail, which features endless wildlife & bird watching opportunities. Keep your eyes peeled for Osprey nests, armadillos, and gopher tortoises! A busy place, but well worth the hassle!

17. Venice, Florida is the shark tooth capital of the world

Beach goers seeking shark teeth at Casperan Beach in Venice, Florida
Notice all the beach goers using their shovels to find the coveted shark teeth? You can find one at any local shop or through a site like Amazon.

If you visit any beaches in the Sarasota area, you will likely notice beach goers using a weird looking shovel, attempting to dig for something, although it is not your typical seashell. Venice, Florida is “the shark tooth capital of the world.” Millions of years ago, Florida was submerged with water, and although most of the sharks disappeared, the fossilized teeth remain! Casperan Beach is one of your best bets for finding these prehistoric treasures – visiting early in the morning or after a storm is the best time.

18. You can gator watch aboard the world’s largest airboat at Myakka River State Park

Gator sighting at Myakka River State Park in Sarasota, Florida
One of many gator sightings aboard the Gator Gal airboat at Myakka.

Myakka River State Park in beautiful Sarasota is one of Florida’s oldest parks. It is definitely one to add to your Gulf Coast bucket list as you can do just about anything here, from hiking leafy trails, taking a narrated gator cruise, enjoying a leisurely bike stroll, or taking a walk along the treetops via the 76 foot tall canopy walkway (the 1st in Florida). A cruise aboard the Gator Gal is a must – not only is it the largest airboat in the world, but the tour guides are super knowledgeable and entertaining. And, it is one of your best bets if you want to see a gator (safely) during your vacation. Not to mention – the views of Upper Myakka Lake are amazing.

Update: Pontoon boat rides now offered as of 2023.

19. Siesta Key Beach is home to the whitest sand in the world

The beautiful white sands of Siesta Key Beach in Sarasota, Florida

The sand at Siesta Key Beach is 99% pure quartz. It is the softest and whitest sand you will ever step foot on. Siesta is the ultimate getaway for anyone seeking a relaxing day on the Gulf  – it doesn’t get much better than this. And better yet, it is one of the widest stretches of sand in the area so you actually have room to spread out a bit. Other fun activities to enjoy at Siesta and nearby Sarasota area beaches include dolphin sightings, paddleboarding, snorkeling, swimming, and beach volleyball. Bonus – there is lots of parking and it is free!