Tampa Bay is one of Florida’s most popular destinations, with up to 15 million visitors arriving every year. While well-known attractions like Busch Gardens Tampa Bay and the Florida Aquarium are still a major draw, the region has a lot more to offer than its zoos and theme parks.
From the heyday of the Ybor City cigar industry in the 1890s to the establishment of the MacDill Air Force Base in 1939, Tampa Bay has been home to many cultures and industries over the years.
Whether you want to beat the crowds or see a side of the city that you haven’t been to before, we’ve found five hidden gems to add to your itinerary. These sites are all within a 30-minute drive of downtown Tampa – and several of them are accessible on the TECO Line Streetcar – making it easy to fit them into your trip.
The Snap House
No Florida vacation is complete without some photos to take home with you, and the Snap House offers 23 stylish photo backdrops all in one place. Described as a “selfie studio” and event space, you’ll find an eclectic mix of sets and props, from a vintage diner to a drum set, as well as Instagram-friendly swings and hammocks.
Located right in Ybor City, the Snap House is open most afternoons and evenings, so you can easily drop by before or after dinner. Tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for children, and you’ll need to buy them online in advance.
You’re welcome to bring props of your own, and you’ll have access to a dressing room and ring lights so you can get the most out of your 1-hour photo session.
Want to bring a pet? Pets are welcome on monthly Pet Days when your dog or cat can have some time in the spotlight too.
Hong Kong Willie’s
Just 20 minutes outside of downtown Tampa on Morris Bridge Road, you’ll find a shack surrounded by nets and driftwood and a tree made out of fishing buoys. Although it may look like a junkyard on the outside, Hong Kong Willie’s is actually an art project and roadside attraction that’s been featured in places like Weird Florida and Atlas Obscura.
The main takeaway of your visit will be that found objects can be turned into art with just a little bit of creativity and inspiration. After browsing the “Art Station”, you may end up returning home with a quirky painting or sculpture for your own collection.
But art isn’t the only thing for sale here: Hong Kong Willie’s is known as the go-to place for earthworms for bait and for composting.
Wat Mongkolratanaram Thai Temple
Many visitors leave Tampa Bay without ever knowing that the city is home to one of the most beautiful Buddhist temples in the country. The Wat Mongkolratanaram Temple is located on the Palm River and has been active since 1981.
The grounds are open to the public from 9 to 6 pm, and you’ll need to follow some basic etiquette such as wearing appropriate clothing and taking off your shoes before entering the temple. You’ll also need to be respectful of the images of Buddha.
If you want to learn more about Buddhism, you can attend religious services on Sunday from 1 to 2 pm or join a chanting or meditation workshop.
Wat Mongkolratanaram also has an outdoor market on Sundays, with vendors serving classic dishes like pad thai, beef noodle soup, and chicken pumpkin curry.
Ulele Fairyland Figures
Tampa is a city that’s constantly reinventing itself, and one great example of this is the Fairyland display outside the Ulele restaurant. These fiberglass figures were part of the Fairyland area near the Lowry Park Zoo. The exhibit opened in 1957 but was closed in the 1990s, and the figures were put into storage.
Rather than let them waste away, they were bought at auction by Richard Gonzmart, owner of the Ulele restaurant on the Tampa Riverwalk. Now, visitors can see classic characters like Humpty Dumpty, Cinderella, and the Three Little Pigs.
The restaurant itself is a story of reinvention too: housed within a historic water plant, Ulele features a fusion menu inspired by local foods and Native American influences. You’ll find everything from alligator hush puppies to crab mac & cheese here.
Moonlight Zipline Canopy Tour
Finally, head 16 miles outside of the city to the Mobbly Bayou Wilderness Preserve for a zipline tour offered by Empower Adventures. No trip to Tampa Bay is complete without seeing the region’s natural beauty, and this tour will give you a birds-eye-view from up to 70 feet above the ground.
Empower Adventures offers daytime, sunset, and moonlight tours that include multiple zip lines and a 200-ft. suspension bridge. You’ll need to plan ahead since reservations are required and moonlight tours are only available several times per month. Prices start at $79 per person, and tours last between 1.5 – 2.5 hours.
These are just a few of the hidden gems you’ll find in the Tampa Bay region. If you don’t have a car, consider one of these 7 other transportation options. With a bike or scooter rental, you can explore Tampa Bay at your own pace.