If you live in Tampa, you’ve probably strolled through Hyde Park’s Sunday farmer’s market and sipped your way through countless happy hours Downtown.
It’s likely that you’ve romped around the charming streets of Ybor and have curiously made your way to hipster haven in Seminole Heights. And it (almost) goes without saying that you’ve met friends for brunch in the heart of South Tampa, too.
However, there’s one vibrant neighborhood you may have accidentally neglected. It also happens to be one of Tampa’s best kept secrets.
Allow us to re-introduce you to Channelside. Or what some people like to call the Channel District of Tampa Bay.
It’s a common misconception that this gem of a neighborhood is reserved for tourists and its residents, but as you’ll soon learn, it actually has something for everyone. Even more so, if you have a four-legged friend who refuses to leave your side.
You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the best things to do in Channelside! Now, let’s get to it.
Located just outside of waterfront eatery, Sparkman Wharf, there’s a giant Tampa sign Instagrammers can’t seem to get enough of. And we can’t blame them. Its red letters watch over Channelside drive, serving as an unforgettable reminder of how lucky we are to live in Tampa Bay. Our favorite part about the sign is its occasional outfit changes.
The city decorates the word in festive attire depending on the season. TAMPA rocked reindeer antlers for Christmas, a pirate ship mast for Gasparilla and one massive birthday candle in celebration of Sparkman Wharf’s first birthday. Who knows what it’ll be wearing next. Whatever it is, we bet they’ll make it #FASHUN.
Aside from offering a killer assortment of local eats, Sparkman Wharf is the epitome of a photo opp. The entire park is covered in art, commissioned by the talented Pep Rally team. Pep Rally transformed each shipping container into colorful, winding murals, making Sparkman Wharf the perfect place for doing it for the ‘gram. While you’re there, make sure you check out the park’s newest Peace & Love mural. Local artist, Adam Fu, spray painted the symbols in neon pink and blue, and each one playfully drips into the pavement. Ask any Instagram influencer and they’ll tell you, this is one of the best things to do in Channelside. Speaking of, don’t forget to tag @stufftodointampabay in your post!
The only thing that’s more fun than being on vacation is pretending you are. And it’s an easy box to check when you live in a city everyone else escapes to. Every week multiple cruise ships dock at Port Tampa Bay. Although their primary purpose is obviously to deliver people to faraway destinations, cruise ships also serve as an A+ Instagram backdrop. If you’re planning a shoot, check out their schedule before setting a date with your photographer. Whether that’s your mom, your co-worker or a professional, step one is making sure the boat’s there. Of course, getting on the actual cruise ship for a multi-city vacay is Instagrammable in itself. But when you’re on a budget… duty calls.
Is there anything more luxurious than being on a yacht? Go ahead, we’ll wait. If they’re cool enough for Rick Ross and French Montana to film a music video on, something tells us they’ll add a little glitz and glamour to your Instagram page too. As a guest on the Yacht Starship, you can choose from a variety of cruises and meals to indulge in. Our go-to is their Sunday brunch voyage. For $49.85 per person, you’ll graze on a full brunch buffet and get access to the best views of downtown Tampa. So, grab a mimosa and strike all the poses you want. You’ll have two hours to nail the perfect shot. Just don’t pull a Rose while you’re on the top deck – this is not the Titanic.
Craft Beers + Bars
Spiced ground beef with peas and carrots, topped with a buttery, cheesy layer of homemade mashed potatoes. That’s what makes up the infamous Shepherd’s Pie at Maloney’s Irish Pub. It’s also an excellent meal to pair with a tall, creamy Guinness. This pub is one of three locations and sits at the base of Grand Central, one of Channelside’s tallest residential buildings! If your ideal night out consists of live music and tipping a few back in a casual setting, you’re going to love Maloney’s. Not to mention, their Irish fare is straight from the motherland. Check out the menu here.
Pac Man, old school Skee Ball, weekly karaoke and neon nostalgia everywhere you look. Park & Rec is the place to go when you feel like refusing to grow up. Peter Pan style, but with more arcade games and less pixie dust. With a full liquor bar, huge menu and closing time of 3 AM, you can basically tap into your inner child whenever you have the urge. Some might even say, it’s one of the best things to do in Channelside. We recommend snagging street parking on South 12th Street or East Cumberland Avenue. You can also park in the Channelside Garage, but it’s more expensive.
When you’re ready to leave…. Don’t call an Uber. Skip over to Sparkman Wharf’s Fermented Reality Biergarten for a brew under the sun. A little fresh air will do you good!
When you’re walking down Channelside’s 12th street, you’ll be tempted to explore a handful of establishments. District Tavern is one of them. This no-frills gastropub is where locals retreat to eat wings on game day, and sip on all-you-can-drink wine every Wednesday. Personally, we love District Tavern for its Sunday Funday brunch. For $20, you can drink bottomless mimosas and sangria with whatever brunch item you fancy. The Shrimp Benedict has our heart. In fact, that English muffin topped with pancetta, poached eggs and shrimp hollandaise is sounding pretty tasty right now. The bar is open daily from 11 AM – 3 AM. What are you waiting for?
Nestled beneath Channelside’s Grand Central building, Pour House is a mecca for local beer lovers. They recently partnered with Late Start Brewing to exclusively serve locally brewed and batched beers like Hillsborough Red Ale and 3 Play Neapolitan Sweet Stout. Don’t worry ladies, they also pour a decent variety of wines and ciders.
Pour House is a laid-back option for late night drinks or a casual happy hour in the courtyard. One of our favorite parts about it? Your dog can sit outside with you while you relax with a much-deserved beverage. Cheers to dry January being over. *clink*
Date Night Restaurants
We’re about to make a huge statement here, so prepare yourself: Cena is one of our top three favorite Italian restaurants in Tampa Bay. As their guest, you’ll be put into a culinary trance with plates like Black Truffle Risotto and their deconstructed cannoli, accompanied by a solid Italiano wine list.
Dining at this beautiful establishment is one of the best things to do in Channelside, especially if you’re trying to impress a first date. Extra brownie points if you have an impeccable spoon-twirling pasta technique. There’s nothing more attractive than sophistication with a side of rustic bolognese. Make a reservation before you go, just in case.
*When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore. When the world seems to shine like you’ve had too much wine, that’s amore.*
Is it just us, or is it nearly impossible not to sing in your head while reading those lyrics?! It also just occurred to us that the song “That’s Amore” is all about falling in love at a pizza shop. And that pizza shop could be Fabrica, if you’re spending the day in Channelside. Fabrica is our number one date night spot for pizza and an adult beverage in the district. With its fast-casual service, wine on tap and cozy atmosphere, it’s a cute place to cuddle up over a slice of Margherita pizza. They have a generous selection of salads, small bites and desserts, too (eh, em Nutella Pizza). Check out the full menu here.
Located inside of the Tampa Bay History Center, The Columbia Cafe is one of the Riverwalk’s hidden gems. It’s everything you would expect from the original historic Ybor City location, but with a gorgeous waterfront patio. Who could ever say no to sharing an iconic 1905 salad and a romantic view? Not us.
For a really fancy night out, arrive with your beau by boat. There’s eight tie-up spaces on the dock at Garrison Channel, just outside of the restaurant. The Columbia Cafe is open Sunday through Thursday from 11 AM – 9 PM and Friday through Saturday from 11 AM – 11 PM. Don’t forget to look at their live music schedule before you go!
Welcome to one of Channelside’s newest additions, La La’s Sangria Bar. We love La La’s for a fun date night over happy hour drinks and small plates. There’s no artificial ingredients or added sugar in their handcrafted creations, so you’re less likely to wake up with a notorious sugar-infused hangover. If you’re having a hard time deciding on a sangria flavor (there’s a lot to choose from!), order a flight and sample three at a time. La La’s also has a full-liquor bar and a handful of beers to sip on. Happy hour is Tuesday through Friday from 5 PM – 7 PM, and will get you $2 off on any drink you want. Cheers, lovers!
P.S. This place is pup-friendly! They even have an entire menu for your fur baby to enjoy on the patio.
Fun for the Family
We adore Sparkman Wharf for three reasons: endless food options, constant waterfront events and the fact that you can bring your entire family there – including your dog. There’s something unique happening at the wharf every single week. From Wellness at the Wharf activities to movies on the lawn and Trivia Night Tuesdays, you could spend every day there with your little ones if you wanted to. They even host occasional playdates with The Mommy Spot. Spoiler alert: the playdates are epic.
Regardless of what brings you to the park, it’s basically an unspoken requirement to order a fried chicken sandwich from Flock and Stock. Their chicken tenders are 100% kid-approved, too. Visit Sparkman Wharf’s Facebook event page for upcoming event details and parking options.
Luxurious bowling lanes, frosty mugs of beer, billiards, and shuffleboard. If you love all of these things, you’ll never strike out at Splitsville. Unless you’re really good at bowling. In which case, a strike is guaranteed. Splitsville sits in the heart of Channelside, amongst Sparkman Wharf and new retail concepts that will soon grace the district with their presence. It’s home to 12 bowling lanes and 27,226 square feet of space to play and eat in.
Aside from bowling with bumpers, your little ones can eat their way a gigantic food menu featuring everything from sushi to hand-tossed pizzas. Don’t fret, parents. There’s a full liquor bar in the alley, too. Ready, set, bowl!
The moment you walk into The Florida Aquarium, you’ll be met with a rush of marine curiosity and the sparkling eyes of children who can’t wait to pet the stingrays. Tampa’s largest aquarium is a two-story experience filled with Florida’s most precious aquatic and terrestrial animals. And it’s just as magical as it sounds.
As a guest at the aquarium, you and your family will learn all about the role of our ecosystem, the importance of animal conservation and of course, the big blue ocean. You’ll also get to make funny faces at a family of lemurs from the other side of the glass (aka one of the best things to do in Channelside).
General admission tickets come with access to all the exhibits, daily shows, their 4-D theater, the outdoor splash pad and the chance to see 9,000 animals! Plan your visit here.
Places to Grab a Quick Bite
Have you ever left the house and instantly remembered you forgot to eat? WE’VE ALL BEEN THERE. Sometimes you don’t have an extra second to grab an RX Bar and the Starbucks line is way too long to fathom. That’s where Duckweed Urban Grocery comes in. It’s a quick-stop specialty grocery store located along 12th Street that has every healthy snack you could ever yearn for. Wine and beer, too!
This grocery is our go-to when we need a quick snack or are hunting for a nice bite to bring to game night. They also have a location in Downtown Tampa, and will be opening up two new stores in Seminole Heights and Westshore Plaza in 2020.
Getting a scoop of ice cream is America’s favorite childhood pastime. But now that we’re all functioning adults, it’s time to graduate to ice cream’s creamier cousin, gelato. Gelato-go is an authentic Italian eating experience boasting a stellar line-up of homemade gelato, pastries, coffees and savory bites. With locations throughout Florida, California and Hong Kong, we’re honored to have them in the Channelside district of Tampa.
Just looking at their Instagram is making us hungry. Should we have Mascarpone Nutella or Pistachio, first? Okay fine, we’ll order both.
Finding a chill coffee shop to have a business meeting or crush your latest school assignment is hard work. Luckily for you, Victory Coffee checks all of the ideal coffee shop boxes. It’s quiet, cozy and comfortable, with tons of natural light filling the space. Their inviting atmosphere is matched through an equally appetizing menu full of Tampa-centric items, like buttery Cuban toast and Cafe Con Leche. We dig the homemade Loxie Bagel, too.
Spend an afternoon at Victory Coffee for a little you-time, or pop in for a quick cappuccino. Either way, we know you’ll enjoy this coffee shop in Channelside. Stay caffeinated, my friends.
If slurping pho noodles is wrong, we don’t want to be right – especially when we’re at Bamboozle. There’s a reason why this Vietnamese restaurant consistently scores certificates of achievement from Trip Advisor. The primary one being that it’s incredibly authentic and delicious. We’re only two months into 2020 and it’s already been named one of Tampa’s best restaurants by Tampa Magazine, as well.
Our forever order at this fast-casual eatery is a huge bowl of Beef Pho, an Ahi Tuna Fresh Roll and a taro milk bubble tea. It’s one of the best things to do in Channelside, and in Downtown Tampa, too. Both locations will satisfy your Bahn Mi cravings.
Hawaiian Poké seems to be popping up everywhere, and it’s finally made its debut in Channelside. The Poké Company is a quick-service stop for health-conscious poké bowls, filled to the brim with fresh veggies, rice and whatever raw fish you fancy. All of the bowls are “build your own,” making it a great option for even the pickiest of eaters. We all have one in our friend group.
For a handheld option, try one of their Poké Burritos. They’re just as filling and dare we say… highly instagrammable. Tag us at @stufftodointampabay for the chance to be reposted! Our 40,000 followers would love to partake in your poké adventure.
Museums + Entertainment
The Tampa History Center is a chronicled Floridian journey every Tampa Bay resident should experience, at least once. The museum features three floors of rich history, including their newest gallery, Treasure Seekers! It’s an entire exhibit that honors pirates, shipwrecks and conquistadors. For our friends who already miss Gasparilla, you can relive it here everyday from 10 AM to 5 PM. As a guest, you’ll also get to learn about Florida’s First People and how Tampa became what it is today.
When you’re done exploring, grab a Cuban sandwich at The Columbia Cafe. The waterfront patio view is stunning. Valet parking is available on-site for $10, but you can also grab a spot at the Channelside or Pam Iorio Parking Garages. The most cost-effective option is to park downtown and hop on the free streetcar. It runs every 15 minutes!
All aboard! It’s time for you and your crew to set sail for the American Victory Ship and Museum. This world-class maritime museum is located inside of one of only 4 fully-operational WWII ships in the country, making it one of the most unique museums in the United States. And certainly, one of the best things to do in Channelside.
Created to honor the “unsung heroes” of the armed forces and merchant marines alike, the American Victory Ship floats with purpose and pride. As a guest, you’ll explore the cavernous depths of the ship and have serious facetime with rare artifacts, documents and photographs. The ship only ventures out to sea twice a year, but you’re free to tour the vessel any day of the week, from 12 PM – 5 PM. Learn more here.
Famed musician, John Butler once said, “Art changes people and people change the world.” That quote captures the spirit of the talented thespians at Stageworks, effortlessly.
What began as a small drama group has evolved into Tampa’s longest running professional theatre company. Since 1983, Stageworks has been producing independent shows, partnering with local theatre departments and touring internationally. Today, you can add them to your list of the best things to do in Channelside. Check out their 2020 season schedule to catch a show!
Girl’s Day Out
Every woman has their favorite local boutique. This one happens to be ours. Don Me Now is a contemporary shopping experience that comes with a full champagne bar. Yep, you heard that correctly. A FULL BUBBLY BAR FOR YOU AND YOUR LADY CREW.
Aside from a unique, champs-infused shopping trip, we appreciate this boutique’s commitment to fashion-forward styles. It’s the kind of shop you walk into and mentally say to yourself, “wow, they get me.” Next time you need a day out with your girls, take a trip to Don Me Now. Something tells us you won’t be disappointed.
Local vendors, indie makers, food trucks, games, scavenger hunts. The list of what Maven Market has to offer could go on forever. The beauty of this market is in its variety. Every month, 40-60 vendors are hand-selected by the event organizers to ensure that your experience is always fresh and eclectic. In addition to being one of the best things to do in Channelside, it’s a great way to support your community.
After zig-zagging through all of the vendor booths, you won’t be surprised that Maven Market has been named one of the top 10 markets in all of Florida! Follow along on Facebook for updates regarding their next pop-up.
Pure elegance. Two words that describe the guest experience you’ll indulge in at The Minimalist Salon. Upon walking through the salon’s doors, it’ll become apparent that this establishment differs from standard nail salons. Not only in services offered, but in its modern, chic design.
As the name implies, the company’s philosophy celebrates a minimalist approach to the traditional nail experience. In other words, they don’t offer any artificial nail services and you won’t be breathing in toxic chemicals during your visit (if you’re an avid acrylic nail wearer, this salon isn’t for you). We admire their tenacity to stay true to the art of nail care in its purest form… and creating a ridiculously beautiful place to hangout while doing it. Call your girls and make your next appointment!
Places for Your Pups
Compared to other neighborhoods, there’s one obvious area Channelside reigns supreme in: their love for dogs. In addition to copious amounts of dog-friendly restaurants and bars, the district has two parks you’re going to fall in puppy-love with.
The first is Washington Street Park. It’s a half-acre, nautical themed park with a lofty play area and dedicated dog run! There’s also a place for humans to hang out, when you’re tired of throwing the tennis ball. The second is Deputy Kotfila Memorial Dog Park, a shaded park located under the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway. Dedicated to late Deputy John Robert Kotfila, this park is a little slice of heaven for your dogs, with no expense spared on top of the line turf. When playtime is over, bring your fur babies to City Dog Cantina for a drink in the courtyard!
Are you in the market for a new groomer? How about a doggie nutrition plan? Whatever you need for your pup, The Modern Paws has you covered. It’s a boutique natural pet market and spa, located on the outskirts of the Channel District.
In addition to offering an impressive array of services and holistic foods, you can also make arrangements to adopt a pet there. If you can’t make it there in person, be sure to browse through their online store. Local deliveries over $35 are free!