This year has has been one of the most interesting and challenging years of my life with our move from California to Florida back in February. This month marks the seven month time period of us living on the East Coast, but with evacuating for a few days, travel, and work trips here and there we’ve really been in Tampa Bay for six. So many have asked for a Tampa Bay travel guide plus thoughts on moving from coast to coast. I know most of you come to this blog for beauty-related reviews and insights so it makes me happy to find a lot of you are interested in other parts of my life as well.
We moved from San Diego to Tampa Bay in February of this year. Both Andrew and I had lived in San Diego most of our lives and were ready for a change. We didn’t know exactly where we wanted to live, but we knew it would be somewhere sunny. The timing happened to coincide with the fact that Andrew’s parents found their dream house in Apollo Beach, Florida and decided to buy it for retirement in a year or two. They asked us if we’d consider moving and renting from them so they wouldn’t have to find strangers to rent it and we agreed. We packed up everything we owned from the modern loft we rented into a 16-foot Penske moving truck with our three fur kids and drove across country to Florida in 5 days.
Our plan was to rent their home for a year while we explored Florida to decide where to settle down. We explored things all over the place fell in love with pretty much everything. Each area has it’s own unique charm! Unfortunately things don’t always go according to plan. Long story very short, Andrew’s parents told us they were going to move/retire earlier than they expected. They changed their move date twice and by mid-July we learned they would be in Apollo Beach by August. We had to find a new place in a matter of a couple weeks. To say I had a freak out about the thought of not having a place to live would be an understatement. With pets finding a place to rent or buy isn’t an easy process and for sure isn’t something you can do quickly. Andrew, being the glass half full kind of person that he is, calmed me down and said we should look on the bright side, take advantage of not being tied down, travel month-to-month in a few vacation rentals and do some real exploring to get a sense of the different areas in Florida.
In less than 5 days we packed, found a storage unit, moved most of our belongings there and found a vacation rental that would take 3 pets. We signed up with a parcel delivery service for our mail and packages. We each packed a suitcase and a few bankers moving boxes to bring essentials with us. Finding a monthly vacation rental was easy, but finding one that would take 3 pets with a fenced yard was a bit of a challenge. We looked at Airbnb, HomeAway and VRBO and it took hours of searching. As this post is being published, we are now on Month 3 of living the nomadic life in three different areas of Tampa Bay and it’s been quite an adventure. Stressful for sure, but still we’ve managed to have a lot of fun, explore like tourists and also live like locals. We’ve learned a lot.
Now that I’ve shared my story, here are some thoughts on each place we’ve lived, a list of my top places to see and where to eat in Tampa Bay. We still have a long list of places we want to visit! Florida is such a huge place we’ve barely scratched the surface.
Where we’ve lived:
When people ask me what it’s like to live in Florida, my answer is that it really depends on where you are. Florida is a really big state, we’ve only really explored Tampa Bay which is enormous. The only thing consistent across Tampa Bay is that the weather is warm, it can be hot and humid and it rains frequently. We loved that the weather is so warm you can swim in the ocean without freezing! In the three cities we’ve lived we’ve found so much wildlife – each area has different kinds of animals that gravitate towards those areas. Some that scare me to death like snakes, geckos and lizards and some that are cute like pelicans, cranes, squirrels and dolphins.
Apollo Beach is a city south and east of Tampa. Much of the area was developed to be a waterfront community so there are a lot of man-made canals which is unlike anything I had ever seen before. My in-law’s house is located in one of the gated communities along the water where every house has a boat dock in their backyard. Manatees, dolphins, fish, birds and all kinds of wildlife surface which is really amazing. Andrew and I loved everything about our neighborhood and the house had a lot of charm: two stories, four bedrooms, huge backyard and a pool. The only downside was it was far from everything we were interested in seeing, doing or eating – most places are at least 35 minutes away to an hour drive.
St. Pete Beach is one of the best beach towns I’ve visited. If you’re looking for a great vacation spot this is such a cute area with lots of fun coffee shops, restaurants, cute hotels, beaches with cabana rentals and more. We rented a cute beach house in August, also with a pool and fenced back yard. It was the first time we had used VRBO and we had a great experience. It’s easy to navigate, search, filter (a key for us pet owners) and book. We were a bit worried it would also be too far from Tampa and it is, however there is so much to explore in the area. Treasure Island is a lot fun (they have an amazing salt water taffy store there and I don’t even like taffy, but the ones there are amazing!), Pass-A-Grille has beautiful beaches to relax, and St. Petersburg is only 30 minutes away.
Saint Petersburg was our third Florida destination to live. This area was my favorite for food. In the month we lived in St. Pete Beach we found ourselves constantly driving the 20-30 minutes to Saint Petersburg for coffee, lunch and dinner so we decided to live there for a month. This was our second experience VRBO where we rented a charming cottage.
Places to visit:
We’re still exploring Florida and I’ll most likely create a separate page that I’ll update as we see more. In Florida I think the most frequently suggested place to visit is Orlando because of Disney World and all the other theme parks. I had been to Disneyland in California many times growing up and actually liked that one better. Our favorite places that we visited:
- Clearwater Beach has the best soft white sand out of all the beaches I’ve visited. It’s a great place to stop by for a day visit. Sunsets are just so beautiful! Where we stayed in Clearwater in this post here.
- St. Pete Beach is one of the most fun areas to live and explore. We stayed at the Kimpton Hotel Zamora in December which we would definitely go to again. After we moved the first time we spent a day renting beach chairs and umbrellas at The DonCesar Hotel and had an amazing time. It’s on our list to stay at for stay-cations, the property is beautiful!
- Fort de Soto Park is a unique park and beach area that’s quite spread out so it’s not as dense with people as some other beaches. There is a lot to explore, you can bike, walk, or swim. There is a historic fort there as well.
- Pass-A-Grille is part of St. Pete Beach past The Don Cesar hotel – it’s lined with beaches all the way to the Gulf. It’s really beautiful here. We took several day trips here when we lived at the beach to just sit and relax. You definitely need to bring some beach chairs and umbrellas with you.
- Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is a little over an hour north. It has two main parts, one is Buccaneer Bay which has a mini theme park feel with water slides, mermaid show, restaurants (it closes starting October, check site for when they reopen) and the other part is the kayaking along the Weeki Wachee River which is open 365 days a year (they will shut down if there are thunder/lightening storms). It took us 4 hours to kayak 5 miles and it was the best thing we’ve done in Florida.
- Anna Maria is south close to Sarasota, visiting these beaches on a clear day makes you feel like you’ve found paradise. The water is clear and the brightest blue I’ve ever seen. Something definitely worth seeing.
- Hyde Park Village in Tampa is a cute shopping and restaurant area. They have Sprinkles, Sur la Table, Bartaco, Anthropologie and a cute Blue Mercury store!
- Bayshore Boulevard is a long continuous sidewalk along Tampa Bay, it was unique and interesting for us because the view of the water and houses in the area is just amazing! The entire sidewalk is 4.5 miles long. We watched the fourth of July fireworks from here.
Top places to eat:
Through a process of trial and error we’ve found some really amazing food in Tampa.
- Bodega – best most unique Cuban sandwiches I’ve tried, since eating here I’ve put at least a dozen other places to the test and NOTHING compares.
- Bartaco – love this place for the ambiance, food, service, they have several locations in a few states like Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia – definitely check it out!
- Edison Food Lab – wins for most unique menu, their menu changes every once in a while which makes it interesting.
- Casita Taqueria – in Florida there really isn’t quite anything as good as the Mexican food I’ve grown accustomed to in San Diego, this place is pretty darn good though. I live for their queso!
- Ted Peter’s Famous Smokehouse – they have amazing fresh fish and I’m not really a fish eating person (the only sushi I do is California Roll and I know that’s not real sushi), it’s definitely a unique spot with a very relaxed atmosphere, note that they take cash only.
- Fresh Kitchen – this is a Tampa/Southern version of Chipotle, they have bowls you can mix and match to create your own combination. One of the healthier food options in town.
- Better Byrd – if you like chicken sandwiches or donuts (I love both), this is a way better version of Chick-Fil-A.
- Datz – another place filled with amazing food options, warning though if you are a healthy eater and don’t eat here, everything on the menu is pretty hefty, but it’s unique and I think worth trying at least once.
- 4Rivers Smokehouse – amazing BBQ!
Best coffee and desserts:
- The Hyppo is probably the best dessert place I’ve tried. They have gourmet ice pops that come in the most unique flavors, aren’t overly sweet, and have amazing fruit blends. I think I could live off these alone. They have several locations – this place is a must visit.
- Sweet Brewnette is a cute coffee shop in St Pete Beach (Madiera Beach to be exact) they have really good coffee.
- Kahwa Coffee has multiple locations in Tampa and Saint Petersburg, in my top 5 coffee places of all time.
- La Casa del Pane is a cute Italian Bakery with good patries, foccacia, bread, coffee and desserts.
- Oxford Exchange is a cute restaurant, coffee bar, tea bar and gift shop kind of place. It stocks Aesop and Cire Trudon as well!
I’ve mapped out everything here in case you want to use it as a reference!
I hope you enjoyed this roundup! If you’ve moved cross country before I’d love to hear about it. It’s taken some time for me to adjust but we love the water, beaches, warm weather, food, people. It’s been a wonderful place to explore and my first time living in the South. The only stressful thing has been the constant moving and right now we aren’t sure how much longer we will be doing this. Part of us is ready to pick a place and settle down, other parts of us really love the exploring! We had hoped to be in New York or Miami the month of October but the pet situation has made things a bit tricky. If you travel frequently any tips or tricks on how to get used to it? We’ve moved four times this year and we get better and more efficient each time. I tried to keep this as high level as possible – there’s so much I could write about our experiences! If you have any questions about anything on VRBOs/Airbnb, traveling with pets or want to see more or anything else let me know in the comments!