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.
|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
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.
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
Tampa’s cost of living has exploded in over the past two years for many reasons. One is that the area’s population boomed with out-of-towners moving in due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Remote work opportunities allowed many people to live in the city that was best for them, and Tampa fit the bill. The area, as has all of Florida, has been particularly affected by the nationwide housing price boom. A once-modestly priced home in Tampa can now stretch into the upper hundred-thousands mark, and even past one million for some neighborhoods.
Still, 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. So, if you’re moving from out of state, you’ll find yourself with a little more spare cash. Here’s how it breaks down in terms of rent and home prices:
|Tampa Cost of Living||Housing Costs|
|1-bedroom apartment median rent||$1,527|
|2-bedroom apartment average rent||$1,993|
|Median sales price for homes||$422,079|
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, and for the seventh consecutive year, the district’s graduation rate rose — now at an all-time high of 89.2%.
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 for all of its residents.
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 you plan on getting to work on time.
Guide to the Best Tampa Suburbs and Neighborhoods
Talk about overwhelm—the Tampa Bay area’s neighborhoods are some of the most coveted not just in Florida but throughout the country. So to find the best places to live in Tampa, you’ll need our guide to help you narrow down which neighborhood features you like best. Don’t worry; too many great neighborhood choices is a problem you’re lucky to have.
What’s on your Tampa Must-Have Checklist? Amazing beaches? Check. Professional sports, dining, and shopping within walking distance? Check. Gorgeous sunshine and lush palm trees on every corner? Check, check. And, the list goes on. There’s something for everyone living in Tampa, especially if you like the heat. Read our guide to the best Tampa neighborhoods below.
Tampa’s explosive real estate market and population
Newcomers are flocking to the best suburbs of Tampa with dreams of buying or renting their piece of Florida paradise. Tampa home prices were up 8.6% in August 2022 and sold for a median price of $380,000. If you’re lucky enough to find an apartment to rent, you can expect to pay $1,915 for rent on average. The city’s enormous influx of people significantly affects everyday real estate transactions thanks to the uneven housing supply and demand.
The city expanded at a rate of 2.58% in 2020, a whopping 23.23% over the past decade, and city and county officials expect to see more of the same. By 2026, Hillsborough County’s population is projected to add 123,950 more residents, totaling more than 1.6 million.
With the 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 the development of once-pristine natural lands.
Q: What is the best area in Tampa to live?
A: This is a tricky question because it depends on why you’re thinking about moving to Tampa. If you’re looking for affordability, consider a suburb like Brandon. If you’re interested in nightlife and lots of things to do, check out Downtown Tampa. Want a family-friendly neighborhood? Parents love Palma Ceia for its community feel.
Where should you live in Tampa?
As you’re exploring the best parts of Tampa searching for a place to call home, consider to 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?
These are a few of Tampa’s best suburbs and neighborhoods.
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.
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
Q: What is the safest neighborhood in Tampa?
A: If you scour Tampa crime and safety stats, you’ll see that according to Money Inc, the Channel District and Harbour Island rank as two of the safest neighborhoods in Tampa.
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 best areas to live in Tampa. 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. Hyde Park is so idyllic that Niche.com named it the best neighborhood in Tampa.
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 lead 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 is about a million and a half.
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.
|MacDill Air Force Base |
Although Tampa is not considered a traditional military town, MacDill Air Force Base is a significant presence in the region thanks to heavy-hitting commands like the Air Mobility Command, United States Central Command, and Special Operations Command. Of course, you also have to factor in the far-reaching economic impact of the Department of Defense in the area. MacDill significantly affects the local and state economies as well as the real estate and job markets.
The base occupies premium real estate on the Southwestern tip of the Interbay Peninsula and is home to 19,900 active duty service members and 34,600 family members. This is in addition to civilian employees and a strong military retiree community who think Tampa is a rather good place to retire. U.S. News & World Reports agrees—it ranks Tampa #6 of the Best Places to Retire.
Quaint and bustling at the same time, Palma Ceia is considered one of the nicest suburbs of Tampa because it has so much to offer its residents. Neighbors love the amenities like the abundance of green space, outdoor cafes and restaurants, boutique shopping, and high-performing public schools.
It’s easy to see why you’ll find a pleasant mix of young professionals, families, and retirees who call Palma Ceia home. The neighborhood has a charming vibe and is characterized by bricked streets similar to those in Ybor City. Palma Ceia is home to Palma Ceia Design District and the posh Palma Ceia Golf Club. It’s also a half-mile stroll to iconic Bayshore Boulevard.
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.
Tampa Heights 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. The neighborhood’s home values continue to climb as urban pioneers continue to discover the neighborhood’s beautiful Victorian fixer-uppers near downtown in need of some TLC.
Like a lot of Tampa neighborhoods, Tampa Heights has undergone significant rejuvenation in the past decade. Today the area, and its neighbor Seminole Heights, are thriving with art galleries, home renovations, new construction, and major developments, including the mixed-use Armature Works and luxury apartment community The Pearl. The resurgence 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.
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.
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.
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 in Tampa with biking and walking trails, golf courses, tennis, and soccer fields, New Tampa is a good fit.
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. Our PODS blog about Brandon neighborhoods has the low down on what you need to know before moving to Brandon.
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.
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.
This PODS blog describes living in Westchase as an adventure in a super-sized planned community that comprises almost 30 “villages” and subsets, plus an upscale country club and golf course. The 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 suburb of Tampa 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.
Moving to Tampa
Moving to Tampa isn’t a hard sell for many wanna-be Floridians, but figuring out exactly how to move there takes some thought. First, decide which moving option sounds best for your relocation.
A full-service moving company could be the answer to your moving prayers. So if just the thought of packing boxes sends you scurrying under the bed covers, consider calling in the pros. They’ll handle all the details, from wrapping and packing to unloading and rebuilding bookcases in your new Tampa home.
But, keep in mind that stress-free moving comes at a high cost. Full-service moving is the most expensive relocation option. And, you’ll need to hire a moving company with plenty of due diligence. Seek multiple referrals to review and insist on a solid contract that describes your fees and services in detail.
DIY Rental Truck
Sometimes, a move calls for a road trip in a rental truck, especially if you want to stick to a budget or want to control the moving details, like your stuff’s condition upon arrival. Choose a rental truck if you prefer to pack and load boxes yourself and don’t mind logging miles. A DIY trip can be budget-friendly, but don’t forget the costs like gas, insurance (read your contract top to bottom), hotels, and food.
PODS Portable Moving Containers
Rarely does a move go off without a few schedule changes, so adding a flexible moving option, like PODS, is a smart decision. First, you can pack, at your own pace, a parked container (three sizes to choose from) in your driveway. Later, you’ll schedule a convenient time to have it driven to Tampa or have it stored in a secure PODS Storage Center for delivery when you need it. You get to customize all the details of your belongings’ safe journey.
Want to learn more about life in the Sunshine State? The PODS blog is filled with helpful tips for moving to the best cities in Florida, from Sarasota to the Space Coast and everywhere in between.
Shannon Jacobs is a Tampa-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to the PODS Blog. She has lived in Atlanta, the Berkshires, and Nashville, but always returns to the warmth of Florida’s Gulf Coast.