Tampa is better suited for families with all its family-centered highs, not to mention a festival-ridden calendar. West Palm Beach on the other hand is a true quiet escape, best reserved for the slow-traveling hipster.
Tampa, while not as flashy as Miami, is an underappreciated gem and a Florida legend in its own right. The historic bay city can provide you with festivities all year round. It boasts an interesting history and a diverse cultural blend. Tourists that prefer smaller cities and fewer crowds should visit Tampa.
What Makes Tampa Unique?
One of Tampa’s prized jewels, Ybor City is perhaps the most famous and most happening area in the entire city. Cigar Baron Vicente Martinez Ybor founded the area along with a cigar factory in the 1880s. The factory used to be the largest producer in the world during its heyday, thanks to its 4,000 laborers producing around 900,000 cigars every month.
The unique town was completely populated by immigrants, mostly coming from Cuba, Spain, and Italy. While most of these families work for the cigar factory, some of them also own businesses and work in different industries. Today, Ybor City is hailed as a Historic Landmark signifying its cultural and historical value.
The city is also considered one of Tampa’s most famous institutions and is currently home to a large concentration of Latinos. You can also see its several other features and draws. They showcase its continuous development and cultural revival. Ybor has reinvented itself many times over in the past and continued to do so.
Ybor City can seem like a city within a city because it has everything you could ever look for in a jam-packed area; the best nightlife scenes, the best dining, shopping, and even art galleries. For first-time visitors, Ybor City is the best place to get to know more about Tampa and its history.
Head to the Seventh Avenue, or La Septima, where its most historic pieces are found. You can also find the National Register of Historic Places here. You’ll catch a glimpse of Ybor City’s glorious and often controversial past along this road.
If you’re up for more of a food trip, Ybor City also boasts the best restaurants and cafes. It is basically Tampa’s culinary center. It has easy to sample dishes from different cultures across the world here, such as Italian and Vietnamese. Head to Columbia Restaurant, perhaps the most recommended eat in Tampa. You can experience its coveted Spanish dishes, its aesthetic ambiance, and good music.
Other than its historic value, and gastronomic reputation, Ybor City is also home to Tampa’s nightlife scene. If you’re up for more of a dancing-in-the-club experience, head to Club Prana or The Castle. But, if you prefer chilling in bars serving the best booze, check out Crowbar or The Ritz Ybor.
No riverwalk in the entire US can possibly top Tampa’s iconic riverside charm. The city’s Riverwalk is yet another draw that has become its cultural center. It extends 2.4 miles (3.9 km) along the Hillsborough River, with a variety of features that are speckled along its meandering path.
Traversing through its jam-packed walkway, you can see various quirky features. Check out the public art such as sculptures and art installations. You can even get to the famous Florida Aquarium and Tampa Museum of Art along the way. Both of which are must-visits when you’re in Tampa, by the way.
The Riverwalk’s wide, multipurpose path also has lanes for bikers and runners, so you can expect to have your riverside walk to be eventful. But if you want to do more than just walk when exploring the stretch, you can rent a bike or even a boat. You can easily find many rental shops across the riverwalk offering plenty of choices.
As cosmopolitan and cultural as Tampa, you can also expect to find an interesting dining scene along the banks of Hillsborough. Several restaurants provide the right setting to further flavor your Tampa experience.
But, there’s also a quirky spit in the Armature Works around Sparkman Wharf, south of the river. You’ll find a slew of food spots inside containers, some of which are found inside a renovated industrial building.
A Festival Capital
You can easily assume by now that the Sunshine State does love to celebrate. Other than Miami and Fort Lauderdale, Tampa also has its fair share of festivities. Brimming with culture and rich history, the city has a lot to commemorate.
These festivals take place at different times of the year and in different places across the city. You can expect to be met with some type of celebration no matter what season you’ll visit.
Here are some of the most festivals in Tampa:
Gasparilla Pirate Festival
From Key West to Tampa, Florida has always had a history with pirates. These seafaring marauders’ constant presence has left a mark in many of the Sunshine State’s cities. But in Tampa, a famous commemoration takes place to celebrate this quirk in its history. The Gasparilla Festival is an annual, two-month celebration filled with parades, music, and parties.
Festive, vibrant, and reminiscent of Mardi Gras, the occasion lauds the momentous invasion of the pirate Jose Gaspar in 1904. The parade stages a dramatization of the invasion. It features members of the Krewe of Gasparilla sailing downtown from Hillsborough Bay.
The parade ends when the pirates reach downtown and demand the key to the city from the mayor. After the victory, the pirates then will take the procession to the Riverside Walk and the party starts until the morning of the following day.
Sant’Yago Illuminated Knight Parade
If you’re visiting Tampa during the Gasparilla Festival, well, you’re in for some more fun. The Sant’Yago Knight Parade follows the Gasparilla where you can see a horde of illuminated floats in the historic Ybor City. The festival is a celebration of the city’s civic pride, perfect for families, and curious tourists.
Celebrated yearly since 1974, the Knight Parade is organized by the Krewe of the Knight of Sant’Yago. They are an organization dedicated to preserving the Latin heritage and culture of the city. The parade showcased just how culturally and historically rich Tampa is.
After the Gasparilla Festival in early February, the Knight Parade takes place in the following week, usually on a weekend. The celebration begins on Seventh Avenue in Ybor City. The parade is lined with colorful, brightly-lit floats of various groups, local businesses, and many more.
Parks and Recreation Center
The Sunshine State is the US’ parks capital, thanks to its sheer number of parks that outnumbers all the other states. Southern Florida is perhaps the most packing, complete with different kinds of parks all across. Tampa is no stranger to these, especially as it offers parks that are entertaining and educational. Some are also driven by natural conservation.
You can visit many of these parks speckled inside and around the city. Here are some of the most famous spots:
A 335-acre (136 ha) family-oriented park that offers entertainment and adventures for families. You can also find live music here, variety shows, and many more features. It also houses several exotic animal species placed in spaces that resemble their natural habitats.
You can see these enclosed animals on a safari tour and watch how they behave like they naturally would in the wild. There are other animal interactions in the Busch Gardens as well. You can try animal feeding and the Animal Care Center where you can check out how park employees nurse animal patients back to health.
Perhaps Busch Gardens’ most famous feature is its roller coaster ride. Try out the famous Cheetah Hunt ride for an adrenaline-pumping experience with its ridiculous speeds. However, if you don’t mind the height and getting dropped after, try the Falcon Fury. You’ll be taken up to its 335-foot (102 m) peak and then suddenly dropped with an overwhelming speed.
ZooTampa as its officially called, houses around 2,000 animal species from different parts of the world. From Africa to Australia, you can see animals of different kinds and sizes not normally seen in Florida. You can check out these animals kept in different specified areas, such as primate enclosures and aviaries. These spaces are designed to mimic their natural habitats as well.
Some of the zoo’s most famous residents are African elephants and penguins. You can also see panthers endemic to Florida, as well as Bornean Orangutans. You can take a safari ride through an African wilderness and witness these animals behave.
Among the many other features of the zoo are a mini-train ride and a roller-coaster that is perfect for families. You can also join fitness classes, watch comedy shows, or listen to live talks. There are also several activities perfect for toddlers every Tuesday. A monthly event called “breakfast with the animals” is also held every month for families.
There are also many activities on offer. These include interactions with animals, art classes, baking and cooking classes, and many more.
West Palm Beach
West Palm Beach isn’t like many of Florida’s heavily featured cities. While most of them are dynamic and energetic, West Palm Beach is a true quiet escape. Thanks to its simpler draws and small-town feel, West Palm Beach is best reserved for the true R&R seeker.
What Makes West Palm Beach Unique?
West Palm Beach may be one of Florida’s lowkey cities that is chill, small, and laid-back. But it does have features that scream acceptance and celebration. The city’s general attitude has made it a haven for the LGBTQ community. It is even one of the largest and most respected communities in all of LGBTQ USA.
It already has an interesting roster of cosmopolitan hotspots and a hip urban center. It also boasts a collection of LGBTQ-friendly establishments, and gay-owned businesses as well. You can find restaurants, bars, and even resorts that warmly welcome LGBTQ patrons and tourists. You’ll find that, though not as exciting as Miami or Orlando, the LGBTQ reception in West Palm Beach is just as revolutionary.
History-wise, West Palm Beach has always been a beacon of acceptance. Thanks to progressive laws that have been passed before LGBTQ laws were passed in different states all over the US. Since the 90s, the city created policies that protect its LGBTQ citizens from hate and discrimination.
One of its premier policies was the WPB Equal Opportunity Ordinance in ‘94. The policy outlaws discrimination toward LGBTQ individuals. They are based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, and other public accommodations. This policy has kickstarted the acceptance movement. They also have created a safe space for nonheterosexual individuals.
And its latest LGBTQ-friendly ordinance was geared toward a more inclusive approach. In 2018, the city passed a resolution that further pushes the protection of its LGBTQ community. This approach combats bullying in public facilities and activities.
The Eponymous Downtown West Palm Beach
It may be awash with a small-town feel but West Palm Beach is extremely cosmopolitan. Speckled with urban centers and upscale scenes, the famous Downtown West Palm Beach is a draw in itself. The district is full of notable shopping centers and dining options. Many of the city’s iconic and trendiest spots are found across this gifted area.
Apart from its many draw that a lot of city slickers will surely love, activities and events are always happening right in the downtown area. It is notable for hosting several events and happenings every season. You may catch music festivals or seasonal holiday celebrations. These events tend to happen at different times of the year and they’re typically held downtown.
Nature-Loving Small City
One of the many things that make Southern Florida even more interesting isn’t its beaches and quirky cities. It is speckled with a sheer number of parks and centers that aim toward the conservation of nature and wildlife. And Fort Myers just so happens to be riddled with many of these so-called natural parks and centers.
If you love appreciating nature and have a thing for the outdoors, visit these famous spots:
McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary
McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary is more focused on animal welfare. They are dedicated to tending to animals rather than displaying them for education and entertainment. The sanctuary dedicates itself to taking care of sick, injured, and homeless animals from South Florida.
Should you visit, you can learn more about the facilities, and what the sanctuary is all about, and you can also interact with the animals.
As you take a tour around the center, you will be shown how these animals are rescued and taken care of. You can also see how the wildlife sanctuary is also heavily involved in the rehabilitation of injured animals found in the wild. There will be a tour around the rehabilitation center and a clinic. You can witness how the animals are tended to.
Mounts Botanical Garden
Mounts Botanical Garden is a spectacle in all the green spaces of West Palm Beach it houses droves of various plant species. Enclosed in specific areas, or gardens, these plants are taken from many parts of the world, all from the six continents. The Mounts Botanical Garden boasts a collection of around 2,000 tropical plants, it is also the largest and oldest public garden in the city.
You can find over 20 gardens each with a healthy and beautiful roster of plant species. As you take a tour around the many gardens, you can find signages that give you more information about the plant you’ll find. But you can’t only find flowers and plants around the botanical garden. There is also a butterfly garden and a children’s maze.
Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society
A 23-acre (9.3 ha) zoo is located right inside the downtown area. You can easily visit the most-recommended Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society. The zoo houses over 700 animal species, many of which are taken from different parts of the world. So you can expect to see something exotic. It has several exhibits and enclosures, all within a lush tropical ecosystem.
An educational tour can take you around different sections that separate certain animal species. You can find tiger exhibits, marsupial sections, and even a section for reptiles. The zoo also features interactive exhibits such as a play fountain, a carousel for the kids, and a safari train.
The city may have its upscaled cosmopolitan side and modern attitudes but there is still a particular section in the city where the old is king. The Antique Row south of the Downtown West Palm Beach is one of the most interesting entries in the city. It’s a quaint neighborhood with over 50 charming businesses selling an interesting niche.
Check out antiques, historical collector’s pieces, art, vintage furnishings, and contemporary household things. Many of the items on sale in the area date back from the 17th to 20th centuries. If you’re looking for true historical pieces, Antique Row is the place to go.
Aside from the antiques, this is a lovely location to stroll through. This large selection of fine antique stores, specialized shops, and art galleries, are all within walking distance. These features are further complemented by many award-winning restaurants and bars.
Which Is Better – Tampa or West Palm Beach?
Best for a vacation or holiday full of various experiences, not to mention culture and history, Tampa is the better option. Thanks to its several quirky draws. You can have the jam-packed Riverwalk, interesting Ybor City, and a yearly calendar full of festivals.
Tampa is perfect for both vacationing individuals and families. It offers everything you could ever look for in a vacation city, apart from a solid beach scene, that is.
West Palm Beach is perfect for the quieter type of traveler, those who prefer not to go to the mainstream, bigger cities. Thanks to its small-town vibe, West Palm Beach is perfect for those who are deeply curious about the US’ smaller cities.
How Far Is Tampa From West Palm Beach?
Tampa is approximately 170 miles (274 km) from West Palm Beach, directly.
How to Get From Tampa to West Palm Beach
You can get to West Palm Beach from Tampa via four common ways. While taking the bus or train is the most preferred, you can also drive or flying is two of the best ways as well.
How Far of a Drive Is It From West Palm Beach to Tampa?
If you take the high road, the driving distance would be around 199.7 miles or 321.5 km, and would typically take three to four hours to drive.
Is There a Train From West Palm Beach to Tampa?
You can take a train from Tampa Union Station to West Palm Beach Amtrak Station. One-way tickets can cost around 35 to 50 USD, and the trip usually takes around four hours.
How Far Is Tampa From West Palm Beach by Plane?
The airplane distance between Tampa and West Beach is 170 miles or 274 km.
What Airlines Fly From Tampa to West Palm Beach?
Flying from Tampa, you can book tickets with several US air carriers. You can book with American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines, and Silver Airways to West Palm Beach.