Drive about 10 miles southeast of the airport to downtown Tampa and the Riverwalk, which hosts food and drink festivals throughout the year, including the Gasparilla Music Festival in March. Speaking of food and drink, Ulele right on the river serves alligator (and more traditional fare) as well as craft beers, several of which are brewed on-site. At Armature Works, a historic warehouse-like building, dine on ramen at Ichicoro Imoto or steak frites at Cru Cellars.
For stylish neighborhood shopping and still more dining, drive 2 miles farther south to the bricked walkways of Hyde Park Village. Park at one of the complimentary garages or surface lots and explore the area on foot, stopping to admire the minimalist accessory designs at Albisia Jewelry and grab a sweet treat at the Cupcake ATM at Sprinkles.
Loop back west toward the airport and stay the night at Sailport Waterfront Suites on Tampa’s Rocky Point island, where all the rooms have bay views perfect for catching a sunset, and rest up for the next day’s activities.
Before you leave the region, drive about 20 miles south on Interstate 275, crossing the Howard Frankland Bridge over Old Tampa Bay, into neighboring St. Petersburg. If your timing is right, check out the Saturday Morning Market (open 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. from October to May) for food, live music and performance artists. From there, drive 9 miles west to the famous white sands of Saint Pete Beach and, 3 miles south, to the cozy Gulf-front hamlet of Pass-a-Grille Beach; get a waterfront table at Sea Critters Cafe and order the “fresh catch” fish sandwich. There is metered parking all around town, and some free spots available.