The Big Guava. Cigar City. Sticks of Fire. Tampa’s nicknames are as vibrant as the city itself: fresh, flavorful, maybe even a little mysterious — and what’s not to like about a pirate invasion every winter? If your next move is taking you to Tampa, check out our guide for a look at the eclectic neighborhoods Tampeños call home.
What’s it like living in Tampa?
The sun shines on Tampa an average of 246 days a year, and mild winters make the city a dreamland for boaters, bikers, runners, and golfers. Summer is a different story, with high temps averaging 87 to 90 degrees from May through August and humidity at similarly brutal levels.
Luckily, the gleaming beaches along the Gulf of Mexico are just a 30-minute drive from downtown Tampa, and the Hillsborough River, snaking southward through the city, offers lots of opportunities for cooling off.
When it comes to neighborhoods, Tampa is rich with options — from historic districts to resort-style communities, suburban enclaves, and lively urban areas. The old cliche is true: There’s something for everyone.
Pro tip: What’s in a name?
If you’re moving long-distance to Tampa, you’ll want to get clear about what’s what:
- Tampa: Third-largest city in Florida, population 413,000, comprising 176 square miles
- Tampa Bay: 400-square-mile body of water separating Tampa and St. Petersburg
- Tampa Bay area: Metro region of Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater, including Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, and comprising 3.5 million people
Where’s the best Tampa beach?
You’ll find lots of waterfront property on Hillsborough Bay and Tampa Bay, and along the Hillsborough River — but to frolic on the sparkling, sugar-soft, award-winning beaches the Tampa Bay area is known for, you’ll have to follow the sun westward into Pinellas County. Beachfront property, of course, is scarce and super pricey. But if proximity to glorious Gulf of Mexico sunsets is a must-have, check out neighborhoods in St. Petersburg, Largo, Clearwater, Dunedin, and other coastal communities.
Making waves: Tampa Bay’s best beaches
- Clearwater Beach
- Caladesi Island State Park
- Fort DeSoto Park
- Pass-a-Grille Beach
Favorite Things to Do in Tampa: Gasparilla Pirate Fest
According to legend, the 19th-century pirate Jose Gaspar roamed the shores of Tampa Bay for decades before finally surrendering to the mighty U.S. Navy. Tampa civic leaders threw a party a few years later to celebrate — and today, an entire cultural season is built around the victory. The festivities begin with a winter parade that draws half a million people to downtown Tampa, and continues through the spring with the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts, Gasparilla Music Festival, and Gasparilla International Film Festival — all celebratory, but with fewer pirates.
Cost of Living in Tampa, FL
Even with all those beaches, the Tampa Bay area still ranks as one of the more affordable metro areas in the U.S., with a cost of living 5% lower than the national average, according to Payscale. Here’s how it breaks down in terms of rent and home prices:
|Tampa Cost of Living||Housing Costs|
|1-bedroom apartment average rent||$1,271|
|2-bedroom apartment average rent||$1,455|
|Median sales price for homes||$314,900|
What about the schools in Tampa?
More than 220,000 students attend 300 schools in the Hillsborough County district, the third-largest in the state. A robust magnet program from elementary through high school level provides specialized, focused study in areas including International Baccalaureate, performing arts, science, and more. The district also offers school choice, with multiple first-come-first-served options for students — from private and charter schools to home-based learning.
Hillsborough County schools frequently surpass peer districts in performance and graduation rates. This year, the coveted “Best High Schools” list from U.S. News & World Report named seven area schools among its top 10. For the fifth-consecutive year, the district’s graduation rate rose — now at an all-time high of 86.2%.
|Moving to Tampa from Orlando? For moving cost estimates, jump to our Orlando to Tampa section below.|
Tampa traffic and transportation
There are no two ways about it: Tampa is car-dependent. The public transportation system, HART (Hillsborough Area Regional Transit), makes a valiant effort. But its bus lines aren’t frequent enough and don’t extend far enough into the suburbs and exurbs to be a viable option.
Local leaders haven’t found a solution other than adding lanes to the still-clogged interstate system. Bottom line: Be sure to consider commute times from your neighborhood if getting to work on time is important. And vote for candidates who support your views on transportation.
Guide to the Best Tampa Neighborhoods
Growth is the word when you’re talking about Tampa. The city has expanded at a rate of 2.58% in 2020, and a whopping 23.23% over the past decade. With that new population comes new energy in civic life, arts and culture, and economic opportunity — but growing pains are to be expected, as well. Traffic, for example, and development of once-pristine natural lands.
So as you’re exploring the area in search of a place to call home, consider the kind of community you find desirable. Is walkability important? Do you like eclectic architecture or are you drawn to HOA-type tidiness? Want to see the stars from your backyard? Prefer a fixer-upper? And, of course, what’s your budget?
Once a ghost town after dark, Tampa’s urban core is now bustling practically 24/7 after a massive revitalization effort reoriented the focus toward the river. On the now-pristine Hillsborough River, paddle-boarders and kayakers mingle with Pirate Water Taxis that ferry guests to restaurants, museums, and parks dotting the 2.6-mile Tampa Riverwalk. Curtis Hixon Park occupies the heart of the city with a grand green space that hosts festivals, concerts, and family-oriented recreation, all overlooking the river.
Anchored by Skypoint and Element, the first downtown residential towers constructed after the Great Recession, downtown condos and apartments are now flourishing. Young professionals, families, and empty nesters alike are eager to experience the vibrant arts and entertainment scene that’s blossomed in recent years.
Median home value: $323,598
Average rent: $2,074
Commuting: Walk to work!
Tampa Channel District
Just east of downtown, the Channel District, also known as Channelside, has undergone a similar rebirth, from a gritty warehouse zone serving the Port of Tampa to a hip, densely populated neighborhood of converted lofts, luxury apartments, and highrise condos. Sparkman Wharf, perched along Garrison Channel, is a go-to dining-and-cocktail hub, with local-fave restaurants in kiosks serving takeaway that can be enjoyed in the open greenspace or at plentiful picnic-style tables.
In between downtown and the Channel District, Harbour Island reigns as the grand dame of downtown neighborhoods. For decades, imposing mansions have lined the waterfront around the island, with upscale residences and townhouses filling in the midsection. Also home to a handful of hotels, restaurants, and shops, the island is within easy walking distance of Amalie Arena, the 20,500-seat home of the Tampa Bay Lightning and hundreds of concerts a year.
Tampa Channel District
Median home value: $380,734
Average rent: $1,996
Commuting: Mere minutes!
Stretching across the Interbay Peninsula between Hillsborough Bay to the east and Tampa Bay to the west, South Tampa is a collection of more than a dozen distinctive neighborhoods comprising some of the most coveted real estate in the region. A few highlights:
Historic Hyde Park
The centerpiece of Historic Hyde Park is Bayshore Boulevard, which curves gently along Hillsborough Bay for 6 miles from the Ballast Point Pier to downtown Tampa. Its balustrade, wide sidewalk, and sliver of waterfront greenspace are notable as the world’s longest linear park. Behind the stately mansions and condo highrises that line the boulevard, upscale homes are tucked under moss-draped live oaks in one of the most affluent neighborhoods in the region.
About a half-mile from the bay is Hyde Park Village, a mix of boutiques and restaurants, where seasonal farmers markets and art fairs set up shop on weekends. Just a bit south, the entertainment district known as SoHo (South Howard Avenue) attracts a younger weekend crowd, and with it traffic and alcohol-fueled noise. Neighborhood schools are consistently highly rated, crime is low, and the median household income is $161,154.
These two man-made islands, dredged from the bay back in the 1920s, hold just under 3,000 homes, many situated on the waterfront. The neighborhood is family-oriented and prides itself on having zero traffic lights. Cyclists and runners take advantage of the miles of paved path that leads to the Marjorie Park Yacht Basin, with lots of green space for picnics and frisbee games, and the popular dog park and beach where locals take their furry friends for playtime. The village “downtown” features folksy, mid-century-modern-esque shops and restaurants — but island living is pricey, with the average home value around $800,000.
An established neighborhood that’s getting plenty of redevelopment attention, the Port Tampa community lies at the western edge of the Interbay Peninsula, once the end of the line for the Henry B. Plant Railroad. Home values have gone up more than 6% in the past year — but it’s a still-viable option for young families. The neighborhood is an eclectic mix of older ranch-style homes, Florida-style bungalows, and, increasingly, new construction. You’ll find terrific recreation options including Picnic Island Park. If loud noise is an issue for you, though, look elsewhere: MacDill Air Force Base is right around the corner. Commuters have easy access to downtown via the Leroy Selmon Crosstown Expressway.
Median home value: From $278,158 (Port Tampa) to $815,073 (Davis Islands)
Average rent: $1,723 (Port Tampa) to $4,248 (Davis Islands)
Commuting: 20 minutes from Port Tampa; 10 minutes from most other South Tampa neighborhoods
Tampa’s historic district has gone through several transformations since cigar-maker Vincente Martinez-Ybor founded the city in the 1880s. Once a thriving village populated by Cuban, Spanish, and Italian immigrants who worked in the cigar factories, Ybor suffered economic decline after automation took over their livelihoods. In the 1970s and ’80s, the mostly abandoned district became popular with young artists and musicians looking for cheap rent, and the first renaissance began with clubs, art galleries, restaurants, and vintage stores lining Seventh Avenue, the main thoroughfare.
By the 1990s, developers realized Ybor’s potential and built a bustling New Orleans-style entertainment district of bars and nightclubs — and subsequent higher rents pushed out the earlier generation of artists. Today, on the quieter blocks removed from Seventh Avenue, many of the shotgun-style houses where cigar-factory workers once lived have been renovated, and several apartment complexes are popular with young professionals and students. It’s a true party atmosphere around Seventh Avenue, but just a bit east of the entertainment district, residents struggle with poverty and crime.
Median home value: $178,822
Average rent: $1,363
Commuting: 5-10 minutes to downtown
Tampa Heights and Seminole Heights
Like a lot of Tampa neighborhoods, the Heights have undergone significant rejuvenation in the past decade. Today the area is thriving with art galleries, home renovations, and new construction, and major developments including the mixed-use Armature Works and luxury apartment community The Pearl. The resurgence in the Heights began with restaurants about a decade ago — and the dining scene has only burgeoned since then with dozens of innovative spots like Ulele, Rooster & the Till, Ichicoro, Nebraska Mini-Mart, and more.
The area features a mix of family-friendly enclaves and newer development around Armature Works, once a warehouse for Tampa Electric Company streetcars and now home to an upscale food court, event and co-working space, and specialty boutiques. Tampa Heights home values shot up 11% in 2019, as urban pioneers continued to discover the neighborhood’s beautiful Victorian fixer-uppers near downtown in need of some TLC.
In Seminole Heights, stately older bungalows line Central Avenue, once a thriving thoroughfare of Black businesses. Craftsman-style homes are the norm throughout the quieter side streets, now a mix of young professionals and families, and several loft-style apartment buildings have sprung up in recent years to serve the young professionals drawn to the still-artsy essence of the neighborhood.
Tampa Heights and Seminole Heights
Median home value: $240,03
Average rent: $1,500
Commuting: 15 minutes
A few blocks east of the traffic-clogged section of Dale Mabry Highway that cuts through Carrollwood, you’ll find one of Tampa’s original suburbs. Homes built in the ’60s and ’70s line tree-shaded streets that wind around lakes and orange groves, peacefully secluded from the hubbub of sprawl just minutes away. On the west side of Dale Mabry, Carrollwood Village features later-era homes, apartments, and condo complexes. Planned communities are the norm in this area, such as Carrollwood Oaks, Huntington of Carrollwood, and Whispering Oaks. If you’re in the market for a multimillion-dollar waterfront estate, check out the stunners around White Trout Lake.
Median home value: $255,951
Average rent: $1,615
Commuting: 30 minutes
As its name implies, New Tampa was established relatively recently, in 1988, when a development boom began in the Tampa Bay area. Situated just north of the University of South Florida, New Tampa is a 24-square-mile collection of planned communities with varying price points and amenities. Traffic can be a problem, particularly for downtown workers facing the daily commute, and dining and retail offerings are dominated by chains. But for families in search of resort-style living with biking and walking trails, golf courses, tennis, and soccer fields, New Tampa is a good fit.
Median home value: $304,512
Average rent: $1,885
Commuting: 40 minutes or more to downtown
Brandon and Riverview
Only 11 miles east of downtown Tampa, Brandon has become a popular bedroom community in recent years, with affordable homes and relatively easy access to downtown. Plenty of suburban conveniences include the Westfield Brandon, a mall with more than 140 stores and two dozen restaurants, plus the popular TopGolf complex and the TGH Ice Plex, the official training facility for the Tampa Bay Lightning — and a great place for ice skating lessons or a birthday party.
If you’re seeking a more upscale community, the new Hidden Reserve in Brandon features 29 homes in the $500K-$700K range. But if you’re looking for a rural atmosphere, Riverview, just south of Brandon, is a good bet. Situated around the Alafia River, the area is home to the Bell Creek Nature Preserve, a 600-acre park with picnic areas and miles of walking trails, and the Alafia Scrub Nature Preserve, a 60-acre park with beautiful views of the river.
Brandon and Riverview
Median home value: $228,855
Average rent: $1,591
Commuting: 40 minutes
Known as the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World, Plant City is about 30 miles from downtown Tampa — and supplies 75% of midwinter strawberries around the U.S. from its 10,000 acres of local farmland. Every winter, visitors come from all over for the Strawberry Festival, a week-long fair with rides, entertainment, and lots of strawberries.
Plant City is a bit of a hike for commuters, but if you’re looking for a small-town vibe (with just under 40,000 residents) you may think it’s worth the drive. The Downtown Historic Residential District, designated in 1988, has 185 historic buildings, including the Bing Rooming House Museum, a National African-American Landmark. Housing runs the gamut in Plant City from modest Florida-style homes to lovely farms and estates a bit farther from the city center.
Median home value: $215,269
Average rent: $1,499
Commuting: 45 minutes or more
Westchase is a super-sized planned community comprising almost 30 “villages” and subsets, plus an upscale country club and golf course. Its central shopping, restaurant, and entertainment district, West Park Village, is designed in the style of Hyde Park Village, mixing fine dining with casual watering holes and exclusive boutiques.
Miles of walking and biking trails wind through the neighborhoods of Westchase, which include homes, apartments, and condos at multiple price points, from modest to executive and luxury. Nearly 25,000 residents call the communities home, and though families are the largest demographic, younger professionals are also drawn to the area for its active lifestyle and easy access to Tampa International Airport and downtown.
Median home value: $362,301
Average rent: $2,078
Commuting: 30 minutes
Moving to Tampa
People move to the Tampa Bay area from all over the country, so residents are known for being welcoming and friendly. A Orlando-to-Tampa relocation is one of the most popular moves. While it’s important to get multiple estimates based on your specific move, here’s a quick idea of what it might cost to make the move from Orlando to Tampa.
Moving from Orlando to Tampa…
How much does it cost to move from Orlando to Tampa?
Just 84 miles away, it takes about 80 minutes to drive from Orlando to Tampa. Here are some rough cost estimates for relocating a moderately furnished 2- to 3-bedroom household from Orlando to Tampa for the three main moving options:
- Truck rental: If you don’t mind doing all the work and driving a big truck along busy Interstate 4, moving from Orlando to Tampa will run you about $142* to $217*, plus fuel costs
- Traditional movers: If you’d rather let someone else do the driving, loading and unloading, you can opt for full-service movers. But these generally have rigid scheduling and higher prices, from about $1,620 to $3,432 for Orlando to Tampa.
- PODS moving containers: If you don’t want to drive a truck on treacherous Interstate 4, but also want more flexibility, a roomier timeline, and built-in storage, you can opt for a moving container. With PODS, moving from Orlando to Tampa will cost from $819* to $1,099*, including one month of built-in storage, either in your driveway or at a secure Storage Center in either city.
Moving Cost Estimates*: Orlando to Tampa
|Household Size||Full-Service Movers||PODS||Rental Truck|
Whether you’re moving long-distance or locally, we hope this neighborhood guide helps you find a good spot to settle down in Tampa. While you’re looking for your new home, it’s never too soon to start planning your move. These packing tips and detailed moving checklist will help you stay on track for a successful move.
Wendy Malloy is a freelance writer in Tampa who’s lived in Atlanta, the Berkshires, and Nashville, but always returns to the warmth of Florida’s Gulf Coast.