Tampa features a host of dining options that offer views of the City’s many waterways. Whether located on the Hillsborough River, downtown’s Garrison Channel, or the open waters of Tampa Bay, these restaurants will feed the belly while lifting the soul. After considerable and pleasurable research, 10 Best has developed a list of the ten best options for waterfront dining in Tampa.
Options run from sophisticated and upscale to flip-flops and finger food, so there is a spot for everyone to enjoy to views. Oystercatchers offers wonderful panoramic views of Tampa Bay, coupled with the best prepared and freshest seafood in town. With a location situated to catch the brilliant sunsets, this is the perfect spot for intimate dinners and celebrations.
On the other end of the spectrum, you’ll find Rick’s on the River. Views feature the lively waters of the Hillsborough River enjoyed from a large and casual outdoor patio. The seafood is still fresh, it’s just more simply prepared and for the most part, deep-fried. A must-try if you like it hot is their “Jacked-up Oysters.” Locals love this spot and it’s very popular with boaters thanks to the adjacent boat ramp and docks.
If you’re looking to experience a taste of Tampa’s ethnic history while enjoying the views, try the Columbia Cafe adjacent to the Tampa Bay History Center. A downtown version of the famous Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City, this restaurant carries on the tradition of serving expertly prepared Spanish and Cuban favorites.
If you want to get off the beaten path, try Rick’s on the River. Located on the Hillsborough River just north of downtown, Rick’s is a popular local hangout catering to the boating and fishing community. The food is pub grub with an emphasis on seafood including oysters, shrimp, clams, and catfish. There are also traditional Tampa specialties to try including the fish spread and the deviled crab. Ample outdoor seating and a large bar area provide great vantage points for enjoying views of the river and downtown skyline. Combine great views, good food, and affordable prices, and you have the perfect recipe for a good time. There is also live entertainment afternoon.
Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: Rick’s on the River is a local’s favorite featuring tasty casual seafood and great views of Tampa’s Hillsborough River.
Skye’s expert tip: If you’re an oyster fan, Rick’s brings them in fresh and local. Try their signature “Jacked-Up” version if you like spicy.
Set slightly away from the downtown bustle, Jackson’s Bistro features a large and sophisticated menu with dishes ranging from hand-rolled sushi to an oak-grilled NY strip steak. They are also known for their extensive wine list. The setting is romantic and upscale, featuring dark mahogany walls and candle-lit tables, but it’s the views of Garrison Channel and the Tampa skyline that steal the show. If the weather is good, take advantage of their large outdoor terrace. Sunday brunch at Jackson’s takes the buffet route, offering a turkey, ham and roast beef carving station, pasta station, sushi station and waffle bar.
Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: Jackson’s offers sophisticated downtown dining featuring beautiful waterfront views in a outdoor romantic setting.
Skye’s expert tip: You can enjoy a more casual experience by heading outside to the Island Bar or finding spots at a high-top in Back Jack’s Lounge.
Quiet, casual, romantic; Café Dufrain represents all the qualities that make Harbour Island seem worlds away from Tampa’s bustling downtown area. Set among high-rise condo and apartment developments, this award-winning restaurant quietly serves up some of the best dishes in town. With a focus on local, organic and sustainable ingredients combined in recipes that are changed seasonally, they have called this approach “new American comfort food cuisine.” Combined with great service and a carefully selected boutique wine and craft beer list, lunch or dinner at Café Dufrain is sure to please even the most discerning. For an added bonus, the views of downtown from the waterside patio leave quite an impression, especially at night.
Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: In addition to great views of Tampa’s downtown waterways, Cafe Dufrain offers modern American comfort food and great wine and beer list.
Skye’s expert tip: Watch for daily specials that are reasonably priced and come paired with a glass of wine or beer.
Yacht Starship sails from Tampa’s Channelside neighborhood and is billed as America’s first three diamond rated dining yacht by AAA. Perfect for an intimate night out or a group celebration, Yacht Starship provides a three-course dinner while cruising the waters of beautiful Tampa Bay. Prepare for a sophisticated night out with spectacular views, private seating, table service and dancing under the stars. The menu changes seasonally, and although limited, takes advantage of many regional flavors and takes into account both gluten-free and vegetarian lifestyles. Public dinner cruises are offered most weekend nights, but there are also lunch cruises, party cruises and special event cruises on their schedule.
Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: Yacht Starship in Tampa offers lunch and dinner cruises featuring a three-course dinner and 360 degrees of ever-changing water views.
Skye’s expert tip: The cruise schedule varies so call or visit their website for up-to-date information.
The Columbia Cafe is a picturesque dining spot located at the Tampa Bay History Center on the downtown waterfront overlooking Garrison Channel and the Riverwalk. The Cafe is part of the Columbia Restaurant Group with the original Columbia Restaurant, which opened in 1905, located in Ybor City. The decor is Spanish-inspired and both indoor and outdoor seating is offered. Menu options include some of the most popular dishes from the Ybor City restaurant including the original “1905 Salad” and a good selection of tapas. The cafe is open for lunch and dinner with live music serving as an extra draw on the weekends. Public boat docks are available if you’re arriving by boat.
Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: This waterside version of Tampa’s famous Columbia Restaurant features the same great Spanish and Cuban cuisine with downtown water views.
Skye’s expert tip: For a refreshing adult beverage, order their signature sangria which is available in both white and red varieties, and is prepared tableside.
Another riff on the food hall concept, Sparkman Wharf offers the culinary stylings of ten of Tampa’s top chefs as they experiment with new concepts. Dubbed a dining garden, visitors sample from specially developed street food menus. The twist is that the restaurants are all working out of renovated shipping containers. Dining options run the gamut from raw oysters to French Vietnamese, to gourmet popsicles. The first finished project of Tampa’s billion-dollar Water Street development, this open-air meeting space features dining options, live music, comfortable seating, lawn games, and of course, a beautiful view of the waterfront.
Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: With views of Garrison Channel, Sparkman’s Wharf offers plenty of outdoor seating and dining concepts from ten of Tampa’s best chefs.
Skye’s expert tip: Long lines can form during peak dining hours. Visit mid-to-late afternoon, especially on the weekend, for a more leisurely dining experience.
Ulele is a popular restaurant located on the northern end of Tampa’s Riverwalk. The menu is inspired by the indigenous people of Florida and brings together fresh and local ingredients in unique flavor combinations. While the menu is changed seasonally, past examples include a deconstructed seafood pot pie, Yellowfin Tuna crusted with pumpkin seeds, and alligator hush puppies. To accompany the delicious dishes is a selection of hand-crafted signature cocktails and house-brewed beers. Housed in the renovated city water-works building, the restaurant could be described as rustic, industrial chic, creating an open and airy dining space. Outside dining options include a patio, beer gardens and rooftop lounge.
Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: Ulele is a popular dining option with gorgeous views of the Hillsborough River serving unique, Indigenous-inspired dishes.
Skye’s expert tip: Ulele is a great place to hang out and enjoy the views with several outdoor bars and terraces and lots of lawn seating.
The first thing you notice as you enter Oystercatchers is the amazing view. This seafood restaurant, nestled among lush, tropical landscaping, takes full advantage of its location at the edge of Tampa Bay. Inside, the decor is bright, simple and modern, serving as the perfect backdrop for both the views and the expertly prepared food. The star of the menu is a selection of locally sourced fish served wood-grilled, blackened or sauteed. Not only are the dishes inventive and fresh, but they are also gathered with conservation in mind. While the food and the view will cost you, the experience cannot be beaten. Part of the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay, Oystercatchers has cemented itself as one of the great restaurant spaces in Tampa.
Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: Oystercatchers features beautiful views of Tampa Bay in a contemporary setting and the finest seafood in town.
Skye’s expert tip: Oystercatchers offers a wildly popular Sunday brunch, perfect for celebrating. Reservations are recommended.
The Heights Public Market is a 22,000 square foot food hall featuring over 15 local and innovative emerging food vendors. Dining options run the gamut from bar-b-que to baked goods suitable for any meal of the day. Beverage options are just as varied from fresh juices to crafted cocktails. The Market is located on the Hillsborough River in a large mixed-use space called the Armature Works that also houses special event venues and co-work spaces. The historic brick building has been re-imagined from a maintenance barn for streetcars into a modern gathering space. There is also a large outdoor lawn with games, plenty of seating and great river views.
Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: The Heights Public Market is an expansive food hall with 15+ innovative dining concepts and views of the Hillsborough River.
Skye’s expert tip: The Heights also has a active calendar of events from live music to yoga on the lawn.
Located in beautifully renovated, historic Armatureworks, Oak and Ola is a stand-alone restaurant featuring the culinary stylings of James Beard Award-Winning Chef Anne Kearney. The menu she has created is at once traditional and modern, evocative of a European bistro, featuring a carefully curated selection of seasonal dishes. Each one is carefully prepared with attention to every detail and features a beautiful balance of flavors. Despite the impressive pedigree, the food here both delicious and accessible, from the satisfying crunch of the perfectly salted Pommes Frites (french fries) to the moist and flaky Gulf fish topped with toasted almonds and served with haricot vert (green beans). The decor is impeccable and perfectly matches the European-inspired cuisine while also fitting in with the industrial, rustic vibe of the historic building. The restaurant overlooks the Hillsborough River through a wall of floor to ceiling glass that can be opened in good weather.
Recommended for Waterfront Dining because: Oak & Ola offers diners the opportunity to sample the award-winning cuisine of Chef Anne Kearney while enjoying gorgeous river and skyline views.
Skye’s expert tip: The cocktail menu features creative combinations and artful presentations, each inspired and named after a famous woman. See if you can identify them all!