Taking on Tampa Bay (for Less than $50 a Day)

Ybor neighborhood of Tampa at sunset

There are two things that are true about traveling at 25:

  1. You don’t really have money to do it.
  2. You’re often traveling to see friends who scattered after high school and college.

As it turns out, number 2 usually really helps with number 1. My latest trip to Tampa was no exception. Melanie, who I also had the pleasure of visiting in Boston a few years ago, was the perfect Tampa Bay host and tour guide.

We had an amazing long weekend in the sun without spending a lot of money! It was everything I could have asked for to make it through the last few weeks of Buffalo’s never-ending winter.

Day 1: Downtown Tampa

We kicked off our weekend like any girls’ trip should start: with brunch. American Social offers free bottomless mimosas with any brunch entree on Saturdays, which is a deal we couldn’t pass up. The food was delicious and they were served in portions that tided us over until dinner. (And by dinner, I mean ice cream…)

After brunch, we spent our afternoon walking along The Tampa Riverwalk. This is a great way to see a pretty big chunk of downtown – without spending a penny. I wasn’t used to the 85° heat, so we stopped halfway for iced coffees and air conditioning at Kahwa Coffee.

We wandered back to The Riverwalk and made it to the light at the end of the tunnel: the gorgeous food hall, rooftop bar, event space and park that is Armature Works. With zero planning we happened to step into the line for the new rooftop bar M. Bird just as it was forming at 4 pm.

The entrance to Heights Public Market in Tampa's Armature Works

Drink at M. Bird, the rooftop bar in Tampa's Armature Works

This place was an Instagram dream, Florida style. The breezy, open air bar and lounge were paired with quick service, a cool river view and a good list of options from local breweries. After 1 drink the space was beginning to feel crowded – and we were on a budget, after all.

Walking back downstairs, we grabbed a couple of chairs in the shade to chat as families and friends enjoyed the beautiful weather around us.

Tampa happened to be hosting the NCAA Women’s Final Four the weekend I visited, so there was tons of stuff going on. We weren’t as interested in Sunday’s basketball game as we were in the free Gavin DeGraw concert Saturday night.

So, we headed back down The Riverwalk to the stage at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, which is very conveniently right along the river. We even saw a few dolphins playing in the river on our way, which was completely unexpected.

The sunset was beautiful, Gavin was great and I was dead tired after a day of walking in the sun. We headed back to Melanie’s apartment to rest for another busy day in Tampa Bay!

Day 1’s Total Cost: $48

  • Brunch at American Social: $20
  • Coffee at Kahwa Coffee: $5
  • 1 Drink at M. Bird: $7
  • 2 Drinks at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park: $9
  • Ice Cream from The Pineapple Shack Island Creamery: $7

Day 2: St. Petersburg

If a free barre class on the waterfront in the Florida sunshine is your jam, then Sunday morning Wellness at the Wharf is for you. That sounded pretty good to us, so we dragged ourselves down to Sparkman Wharf to get our ex-dancer butts kicked.

We briefly considered smoothies from one of the Wharf’s vendors for breakfast, but they were a little pricey. Instead, we walked just a few blocks to Victory Coffee for bagels and iced coffee.

After much-needed showers, we made the 30 minute drive to downtown St. Petersburg. The low buildings along Central Avenue were cute and compact. We wandered to the water before backtracking to The Mill for a late lunch. We couldn’t quite kick our smoothie craving from the morning, so our next stop was Karma Juice Bar, just a few blocks away.

Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, Florida

Posing in front of a mural in St. Petersburg, Florida

Juice, sunglasses and a book in the sand at St. Pete Beach

We fended off the Sunday scaries with a late-afternoon trip to St. Pete beach. The public beach was busy without being overwhelming, perfect for a couple of hours of reading in the sand as the sun started to set.

My one regret from this short trip (if I had to name one) would be not doing more research about what St. Pete had to offer. There are tons of coffee shops, breweries, museums and waterfront views throughout the city that we didn’t check out, simply because we didn’t really have a plan.

Back in Tampa, we stopped in beautiful Ybor City for takeout pad Thai and people watching before calling it a night.

Day 2’s Total Cost: $46

  • Breakfast at Victory Coffee: $7
  • Lunch at The Mill: $17
  • Juice at Karma Juice Bar: $6
  • Parking at St. Pete Beach: $6
  • Dinner at Asiatic Street Food: $10

Day 3: Pool Day

Melanie headed to work, leaving me to enjoy my last day in Tampa on my own. I took the (very) long way to Ginger Beard Coffee. The incredibly kind co-owner who made my chai tea does, in fact, have a ginger beard.

Chai tea at Ginger Beard Coffee in Tampa

Knowing that I’d be headed back to the cold sooner rather than later, I spent the rest of the afternoon at the pool with a good book. Of course, it was only after I was showered and packed that my flight home was canceled.

The extra 12 hours in Tampa meant Melanie had time to show me one more corner of the city. We dodged raindrops in Hyde Park while waiting for a table at bartaco. A locally-brewed grapefruit IPA and fish tacos took the sting out of waking up for an early flight the next morning.

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to love Tampa Bay for anything more than its well above-freezing temperatures. Both Tampa and St. Pete really surprised me with their cute neighborhoods and delicious food. I couldn’t have asked for a better mix of exploring and relaxing or better weather!

Day 3’s Total Cost: $30

  • Coffee at Ginger Beard Coffee: $5
  • Dinner at bartaco: $25

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