The Tampa Bay area is currently experiencing a post-pandemic tourism boom and continues to see record numbers of visitors pouring in. Behind these numbers are Tampa’s many points of interest and tourist attractions. With so many fun activities available, there is sure to be something of interest for everyone. We reached out to some local Wavve Boaters for some of their favorite locations and top tips. Keep in mind that knowing where to go is only part of a boating experience. Having the right navigation will make sure you’re set to explore all the bay area has to offer. Check out how to choose a marine gps app if you’re just getting started.
Scalloping is a fun, family-friendly activity that everyone can enjoy. For the unfamiliar, it involves snorkeling while searching seagrass for fresh scallops (which are mollusks that can swim). They are sweet and delicious, a real local treat. After you snorkel you can shuck and cook your bounty for a meal.
Close up of scallops in shells
Another classic Florida activity is shelling (a.k.a combing the beaches for shells). The islands near Tampa Bay are known for having beautiful beaches with a variety of unique shells. Honeymoon Island and Caladesi State Park are particularly noted for their shells and sand dollars. If you love walking the beach and relaxing to the sound of ocean waves, check out The Top Islands Near Tampa. You’ll be amazed.
Sea shells and starfish on a sandy beach.
Just north of Anclote Island, in the heart of some of the best scalloping areas, is a really unique Tampa Bay boating destination…the New Port Richey stilt houses. These houses were built by fishermen in the area between 1916 and 1918 and have become historic reminders of the area’s origins. These houses sit between four and six feet above the water with stilts extending into the sandy bottom.
There were originally more than twenty of these houses, but many were taken by a hurricane in the mid-twentieth century. Today there are nine remaining, including No. 8, which boasts an iconic mural of the US flag.
These houses are popular destinations, especially for boaters, as they represent the area’s rich history of boating and fishing…which eventually gave way to the area as it is today. Many of the stilt homes operate as fish camps. These houses are privately owned and can only be reached by boat.
BONUS TIP: Fish love to gather in the shaded water under the stilt homes. All these fish attract local fishermen, but they’re also known to attract dolphins…which make for some great photo opportunities!
Stilt House with a large American flag mural.
The Tampa Bay area is the only place in North America where you can swim with manatees in their natural habitat. Specifically, the best place to encounter manatees is the Crystal River and Homosassa Springs areas.
The best time of the year to see the manatees is from November to March, during the colder months of the year. However, even on colder days, the water remains a pleasant 72 degrees. That’s because the headwaters of Crystal River (known as King’s Bay) keep a fresh flow of water directly from the spring. This year-round supply of warm water is what attracts over 400 manatees to the river areas each season.
Manatees are a special species and are listed as protected animals. There are strict rules about what you can and can’t do around them. As a rule of thumb, you can passively observe them, but you really shouldn’t approach them. Manatees are very curious and it’s common for them to approach you for a ‘sniff’. When they do, don’t be afraid, you are allowed to touch the manatees with one hand along their back or belly. Most of the time, they’re looking for seagrass (or lettuce).
You can also have up-close manatee encounters from land at the Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Center at Apollo Beach. This manatee sanctuary is near a power plant, and the warm water generated by the plant draws in many manatees, especially on cold days.
No matter how you choose to do it, getting acquainted with some local manatees is a must-do Tampa attraction!
A Manatee submerged underwater in Florida.
One of the most popular ways to explore Tampa Bay is via boat! Boating on the Tampa river through downtown is a great way to see the city. Before you set sail, save yourself some worry and plan ahead with the Wavve Boating App.
Nature provides some amazing activities, but Tampa is also a great place for living an active lifestyle on the water. If you like watersports, such as water-skiing, tubing, and wakeboarding, Riviera Bay is the place to go. This area has a plethora of activities to offer, whether you already have the necessary equipment or not.
If a quiet day fishing is more your speed, check out the more secluded Bishops Harper Road in the Terra Ceia Preserve State Park. Not only is it a great fishing spot, but it’s popular for its hiking and kayaking trails as well. Looking for additional boater-friendly outdoor destinations? Check out the top Water-front Parks to visit in Tampa.
If you’re a freshwater fishing enthusiast, you may be interested in visiting Lake Tarpon, a few miles east of the Tarpon Springs area. Lake Tarpon is great for year-round bass fishing. One of the local Wavve Boaters we spoke to said that the most important thing you’ll need to bring with you bass fishing…is a little patience!
In search of a relaxed vibe, with cold drinks and fresh eats for the entire family? Take a look at 22 Tampa restaurants with boat access.
Wakeboarding action shot in Florida.
Kayaking Hot Spots
Whether you have been kayaking for years or are brand new to this activity, the Tampa Bay area has some beautiful kayaking locations. The clear waters allow you to see dolphins, fish, rays, and more while on your kayak adventure.
Weedon Island is a popular kayaking spot and includes beautiful mangrove tunnels. This is a great option for beginners.
Another worthwhile kayaking spot to check out is Weeki Wachee Springs. The waters are a perfect 70 degrees all year round, and it is only a 5.5-mile paddle down to Rogers Park.
Kayaking in the Florida Keys.
Plan Your Trip Now
You spoke, we listened! Now that we’ve shared some of the Wavve Community’s favorite boating activities near Tampa Bay, it’s time to start planning your trip!
You can quickly connect with all the great destinations in this article by downloading Wavve Boating for routes, reviews, and live tides (available on the Apple Store and Google Play ). Wavve Boating allows you to connect, share, and explore our beautiful waterways. Together, we’re leading the future of marine navigation…all from the comfort of our phones – pretty cool right?