First, I have to say that there is no way I can cover everything there is to tell you about Tampa’s Downtown Riverwalk in just one post, which makes me happy because it gives me an excellent reason to go back again and again. John and I headed out today thinking that we would spend just a few hours at the 2.6-mile-long trail along the Hillsborough River, but we soon found out that there was so much to do and see at the Riverwalk that we would have to make a day of it.
We started at Armature Works, which is a 73,000 square foot historically restored streetcar warehouse. The structure dating back to 1910 was once the repair and storage facility to the original Tampa Electric Streetcar and Railway Company, and it has been authentically restored back to its former glory by using as many of the original materials as possible. Now Armature works houses the Heights Public Market, multiple restaurants, event spaces, bars, and shops.
Choosing where to eat proved difficult as there are many highly recommended restaurants along the Riverwalk, but since we started at Armature Works and we were starving, we decided to choose one there. We ended up choosing Oak and Ola for brunch, and it was absolutely a great choice. The menu is of American-European influence and is spectacularly unique. We started with a European cheese board, which included a sampling of four out of this world delicious cheeses along with roasted raisin-pecan bread, local honeycomb, and apples. If I were more culinary refined I could properly tell you about our main courses in a way that would do them the justice that they deserve; however since my culinary knowledge is lacking, I can only tell you that John had a fancy, to die for, a hamburger made with grass-fed beef, topped with caramelized onion and I had equally delicious chicken hash made with cage-free eggs, kale, potato, and Greek yogurt. Simply delicious is all I can say!!
After doing what John and I seem to do best (overeating), we hit the pavement to walk off the calories. Just outside of Armature Works, the first thing we saw was a green area with a view of the river where one could just sit back, relax and enjoy an adult beverage while watching the boats go by and on the other side of the walkway, a family lounge area with couches and oversized lawn games which also looked very inviting. Of course, just having overeaten and feeling like we were about to go into a food coma, these areas to sit and relax were so very tempting to John and me. We also thought about renting a scooter, as many people must do because they were everywhere, but we opted to overcome our food-induced sluggishness and keep walking.
The next sight on our walking journey was the highly acclaimed restaurant named U-le-le which is housed in the former 1903 Tampa waterworks pumping station and appropriately enough, next to U-le-le is Waterworks Park, a free splash pad and playground area for families to enjoy and beat the summertime heat.
Along Tampa’s Riverwalk, adult beverages are plentiful. One unique place you can get one along the way is an old modified Airstream trailer located by the Straz Center for the performing arts. The Straz Center is the largest performing arts center in the southeast and the only one with an on-site performing arts conservatory.
John and I did partake in an adult beverage, and it was at that point we decided to relax a while and take a water taxi to get a view of the Riverwalk from the river. The Pirate water taxi, as it is called, has 15 stops along the riverwalk, and for $20 per day, you can hop on and hop off all day long.
The Water Taxi took us past the University of Tampa which is also the location of the Henry B. Plant Museum. This beautiful piece of architecture that the University of Tampa now occupies was originally the Tampa Hotel built in 1891 by Henry B Plant, a railroad tycoon and Florida enthusiast.
From the water taxi, we had a great waterside view of Davis and Harbor Islands, which are both neighborhood communities within the Downtown Tampa area. The water taxi has stops at both islands in which you can get off and enjoy great restaurants and shops. Also along the Riverwalk is the Tampa Convention center and the docking area for the Yacht Starship Cruises. A Yacht Starship cruise offers sunset dinner cruises and is also available for private events.
Ahoy Mateys!! We could see the Gasparilla pirate ship used in the yearly festive re-enactment of Tampa’s pirate invasion from the water taxi. The Gasparilla Pirate invasion and parade are held the last Saturday in January and is the 3rd largest parade in the United States, usually at around 300,000 people. (Dates for 2021 have not been confirmed – Due to Covid19)
We got off the water taxi at Sparkman Wharf, where we found outdoor entertainment, even more places to eat, an open-air Biergarten, retail shops, and more. One of the featured establishments at Sparkman Wharf is Splitsville; a bowling alley slash highly acclaimed restaurant slash bar slash a place to have a really great time!!
Nearby Sparkman Wharf is The Florida Aquarium, Amalie Arena, which is home to the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team and the port of Tampa Cruise Ship terminals. If anyone is taking a cruise out of Tampa’s port, I would highly recommend coming in early or staying a couple of days after to enjoy a day or two in Downtown Tampa and Historic Ybor City, another entertainment district just around the corner from Downtown Tampa.
Besides walking it by foot or taking the water taxi there is another mode of transportation you can take that is free of charge and that is the Teco streetcar. The Teco streetcars are replicas of the streetcars used in the area in the early 1900s and while they don’t travel the distance of the entire riverwalk they do service the Ybor City Historic district.
John and I spent around 8 hours enjoying the riverwalk, but we hardly scratched the surface of seeing everything in that time. There is so much more to see and do here, like the Tampa Bay History Museum, The Tampa Museum of Art, The Glazer’s Children’s Museum, and the American Victory ship tour, to just name a few. As I said at the beginning of this post, it gives us a reason to return again and again. So be on the lookout for future posts about The Downtown Tampa Riverwalk and all its attractions.
Hotels on or near Tampa’s Downtown Riverwalk
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