Car Free Journey

Car Free Journey: Tampa, Florida

Written by Steve Atlas

March, 2015

I’m glad to be back. In September, we moved from Baltimore, Maryland to Merritt Island, Florida (near Cocoa Beach, Melbourne, and the Cape Kennedy Space Center). I want to thank Naomi Grunditz for giving me a few months break. I’m happy to say that we are now basically settled in, and delighted to be in Florida (especially this winter) and resume Car Free Journey. Feel free to e-mail me with any comments or suggestions at

Many visitors who live near the spotlighted destination will choose to drive there and make a day trip. For that reason, beginning with this month’s column, we will include information about Park and Ride lots (or other facilities) where visitors can leave their cars and use public transportation.

In the past, we have focused on areas with good public transportation where it is easy to enjoy a weekend getaway, or up to a week, without needing to drive.

However, at least in the United States, many cities and other destinations are car-oriented, and directions and suggestions for visitors are focused on how to drive there. (This is true for this month’s destination: Tampa, Florida.) Fortunately, walking, public transportation, and sometimes bicycling can provide an alternative—if we instead plan a visit where no driving is required.

Car Free Journey, with the help of local visitor centers, public transportation staff, and (when possible) local residents, will include tips and strategies to help you enjoy a car-free getaway—even in car-oriented destinations where “everyone” believes “you need a car to enjoy a visit there.”

Some attractions may be difficult to reach without driving. Bicycling, taxicabs and car-sharing services (such as Uber and Lyft) can make it possible to reach state parks and other places that are not near public transportation. Fortunately, there is often so much to see and do that is near public transportation or walkable areas that you can have a wonderful visit without needing to drive.

Remember that you are free from high gasoline and parking costs. Traffic delays are something other people have to worry about. Walkers, bikers, and public transit users are often friendlier (with time to talk, instead of waiting for the light to turn green) than other drivers. By walking, biking, and using public transportation whenever possible, each of us is helping to make our world more ecologically friendly—and a good place to build and sustain ecologically healthy cities and other communities.

Now, let’s begin our Car Free Journey. Our March 2014 destination is Tampa, Florida.

 Tampa, Florida: An Undiscovered Treasure

At first glance, Tampa seems an unlikely choice for a vacation—especially one without a car. It is one of the few Florida cities without its own beach (even though St. Petersburg and Clearwater beaches are less than an hour away). Rush hour traffic can be frustrating, and some of the most popular attractions are easiest to reach by driving.

But, you and I can have a totally different experience. Downtown Tampa is very walkable, with a great Riverwalk that includes museums, an aquarium, a nearby supermarket, and several good eating places. My wife Karen and I visited Tampa for two days. The first day, we spent exploring downtown Tampa, followed by a ride on the TECO Line Streetcar System and lunch in historic Ybor City.

Our guide from Visit Tampa Bay, Dave Reynolds delighted in showing us the wealth of walkable areas and attractions. Coast Bike Share has several kiosks throughout downtown Tampa where bikers (who rent from them or join as members) can leave or return their rented bikes.

The second day, we visited two attractions outside downtown Tampa. Both Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo and the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) are easy to reach by local HART buses.

Dave Reynolds told us,

We may not have beaches right in town, but we have nearly anything else you can think of: interesting and walkable neighborhoods, a historic streetcar, a great performing arts center, restaurants, museums, major league sports, and lots to do for the entire family…I could go on and on. And if you come in the summer (admittedly, the weather is hotter and more humid than in winter or fall), rates at hotels are a lot less expensive than the rest of the year.

My wife Karen and I agree with Dave. After strolling along the Riverwalk, visiting the Tampa Museum of Art, Channelside Bay Plaza, the Florida Aquarium, the David A. Straz Center for the Performing Arts, and then riding the TECO Line Streetcar System to Ybor City where we explored 7th Avenue and had lunch in a restored Spanish Social Club, we realized that we had just begun to discover Tampa’s varied delights. Best of all, we were able to walk or take the streetcar nearly anywhere we wanted throughout downtown Tampa and Ybor City.

Join us as we begin our Car Free Journey to Tampa.

Getting Here

By Air: Tampa International Airport is served by both legacy and discount airlines, and is a major regional airport. HART (Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority) Route 30 serves the airport seven days a week: from 4:30 a.m. to midnight on weekdays, and from 6:30 a.m. to midnight on Saturday and Sunday. Route 30 runs from downtown Tampa along Kennedy Boulevard to Westshore and then to the airport, with many stops along the way. From downtown Tampa to Tampa International Airport, it’s only a 40-50 minute ride for just $2 each way, $4 for a one-day unlimited ride pass, or $11.75 for a three-day unlimited ride pass. (For detailed information about schedules, fares, and unlimited-ride passes, visit, or call (813) 254-HART (254-4278 between

6 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

(You can purchase a complete Route and Schedule Book for $2 from HART’s online store.)

By Train: Amtrak’s Silver Star stops at Tampa’s historic Union Station: 601 Nebraska Ave., Tampa 33602 (813) 221-7602.

Southbound trains (from New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington D.C., Richmond VA, Raleigh, NC, Columbia SC, Savannah GA, Jacksonville and Orlando, Florida) arrive at 12:34 p.m. daily.

Northbound trains (from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach) arrive at 5:05 p.m. daily.

HART’s Metrorapid (weekdays only), and Routes 2, 9, and 12 serve Union Station as well as the Greyhound Bus Terminal.

By Bus: Three intercity bus lines serve Tampa.

Greyhound’s terminal, located at 610 Polk St, Tampa 33602 (813) 229-8588, is served by HART routes 2, 9, 12, plus all buses that stop at the Marion Transit Center (two blocks away).

MEGABUS (, or 800/MEGABUS) stops at HART’s Marion Transit Center, located at 1211 North Marion St., Tampa, FL 33602.

MEGABUS provides direct service from Tampa to Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Orlando. If you want to visit the Miami area without a car, take MEGABUS to Fort Lauderdale’s Sheridan Street Station where you can connect with Tri-Rail’s commuter trains. If you can make a reservation a few weeks in advance, MEGABUS fares can be incredibly affordable. (For example, for March 21, one-way fares ranged from $1-$20.)

Red Coach (, or call toll-free (877) 733-0724) stops at Tampa International Airport and the University of South Florida. Red Coach offers direct service to several Florida communities that don’t otherwise have direct service to Tampa: Tallahassee, Gainesville, Ocala, and Fort Pierce. HART’s Route 30 serves the airport. The following HART routes serve the University of South Florida: Metrorapid (weekdays only), and Routes 5, 6, 18. 57, and 21LX (weekday peak hours only).

Welcome to Tampa

Wikipedia has an informative article about Tampa. Here is some information from that article:

Tampa, a city in and the county seat of Hillsborough, is located on the west coast of Florida on Tampa Bay, near the Gulf of Mexico. In 2011, its population was 346,037.

The current location of Tampa was once inhabited by indigenous peoples of the Safety Harbor culture, most notably the Tocobaga and the Pohov, who lived along the shores of Tampa Bay. In the 16th century, Spanish explorers introduced European diseases which wiped, out the original native cultures over the next few decades.

In 1824, the United States Army established a frontier outpost called Fort Brooke at the mouth of the Hillsborough River. The small village was first incorporated as “Tampa” in 1849. The town grew slowly until the 1880s, when railroad links, the discovery of phosphate, and the arrival of the cigar industry jump-started its development, helping it to grow from a quiet village of less than 800 residents in 1880 to a bustling city of over 30,000 by the early 1900s.

Today, Tampa is part of the metropolitan area commonly referred to as the Tampa Bay Area. For U.S. Census purposes, Tampa is part of the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater Florida Metropolitan Statistical Area. The Greater Tampa Bay area has over 4 million residents and generally includes the Tampa and Sarasota metro areas.

In 2008, Tampa was ranked as the 5th best outdoor city in the United States by Forbes magazine. Tampa also ranks as the fifth most popular American city, based on where people want to live, according to a 2009 Pew Research Center study. In 2012, the city hosted the Republican National Convention. In April 2014, it hosted the 15th International Indian Film Academy Awards.

The word “Tampa” may mean “sticks of fire” in the language of the Calusa, a Native American tribe that once lived south of today’s Tampa Bay. This might be a reference to the many lightning strikes that the area receives during the summer months. Other historians claim the name means “the place to gather sticks.” Toponymist George R Stewart writes that the name resulted from a miscommunication between the Spanish and the Indians, the Indian word being “itimpi”, (“near it”).

Ybor’s cigars

In 1885, the Tampa Board of Trade enticed Vicente Martinez Ybor to move his cigar manufacturing operations from Key West to Tampa… Proximity to Cuba made importation of “clear Havana tobacco” easy by sea. Henry B Plant’s railroad made shipment of finished cigars to the rest of the US market easy by land.

Since Tampa was still a small town at the time (population less than 5000), Ybor built hundreds of small houses around his factory to accommodate the immediate influx of mainly Cuban and Spanish cigar workers. Ybor City factories rolled their first cigars in 1886, and many different cigar manufacturers moved their operations to town in ensuing years. Many Italian and a few eastern European Jewish immigrants arrived starting in the late 1880s, opening businesses and shops that catered to cigar workers. By 1900, over 10,000 immigrants had moved here.

Neighborhoods and surrounding municipalities

The city is divided into many neighborhoods, many of which were towns and unincorporated communities annexed by the growing city.

Well-known neighborhoods include Ybor City, Forest Hills, Ballast Point, Sulphur Springs, Seminole Heights, Tampa Heights, Palma Ceia, Hyde Park, Davis Islands, Tampa Palms, College Hill, and non-residential areas of Gary and the Westshore Business District.

The Ybor City District is home to several buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, and has been declared a National Historic Landmark.

Tampa is home to the Bro Bowl: one of the last remaining skate parks built during skateboarding’s “Golden Era” in the 1970s. It opened in 1979 and was constructed by Tampa Parks and Recreation. The Bro Bowl was the first public skate park to be constructed in Florida and the third on the East Coast.

Temperatures are warm to hot from around mid-May through mid-October, which roughly coincides with the rainy season. Summertime weather is very consistent from June through September, with daytime highs near 90 °F (32 °C), lows in the mid-70s °F (23–24 °C), and high humidity. In the winter, average temperatures range from the low to mid 70s Fahrenheit (21-24 degrees Centigrade) during the day to the low to mid 50s F (10-13 degrees C) at night.

Afternoon thunderstorms, usually generated by the interaction of the Gulf and Atlantic breezes, are such a regular occurrence during the summer that the Tampa Bay area is recognized as the “Lightning Capital of North America”. Every year, Florida averages 10 deaths and 30 injuries from lightning strikes, with several of these usually occurring in or around Tampa.[76]

Tampa has a diverse culinary scene from small cafes and bakeries to bistros and farm-to-table restaurants. The food of Tampa has a history of Cuban, Spanish, Floribbean and Italian cuisines. There are also Columbian, Puerto Rican, Vietnamese cuisines and barbeque restaurants. Sea food is popular, and Greek cuisine is well represented.

On the food front, Tampa is most famous for the Cuban sandwich and Deviled crab. Tampa is considered to be where the Cuban sandwich started, although this is disputed by Miami.

Tourism and Recreation

(this is just a small sample of what is available)

Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo has over 2,000 animals, interactive exhibits, rides, and educational shows.

Busch Gardens Tampa is a 335-acre (1.36 km2) Africa-themed park located near the University of South Florida. It features many thrilling roller coasters, for which it is known, including Sheikra, Montu, Gwazi and Kumba. Visitors can also view and interact with a number of African wildlife.

Adventure Island is a 30-acre water park adjacent to Busch Gardens. It features many water rides, dining, and other attractions typical to a water park.

The Florida Aquarium is a 250,000 sq. ft. (23,000 m2) aquarium located in Tampa’s Channel District. It hosts over 20,000 species of aquatic plants and animals. It is known for its unique glass architecture. Adjacent to the Aquarium is the SS American Victory: a

World War II Victory ship, preserved as a museum ship

The Tampa Bay History Center is a museum of Tampa Bay History, located in the Channel District. It boasts over 60,000 square feet of exhibits through 12,000 years.

Professional Sports

The NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers (football) and the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning (hockey) call Tampa home. The Tampa Bay Rays (major league baseball) pay in nearby St. Petersburg.

Historic Streetcar Returns to Tampa

In October, 2002, the TECO Line Streetcar System brought electric streetcar service back to Tampa for the first time in over half a century. The line currently operates from eleven stations along a 2.7-mile (4.3 km) route, connecting Ybor City, the Channel District, the Tampa Convention Center, and downtown Tampa. The TECO Line fleet features varnished wood interiors and other appointments reminiscent of the streetcars that traversed Tampa between the late 19th and mid-20th centuries. The nostalgic design is incorporated with modern functionality, as the cars are both wheelchair accessible and air conditioned.

Where to Stay

Visit Tampa Bay (the visitor center for Tampa and vicinity) suggests the following hotels as good choices for visitors who don’t want to drive:

Downtown Tampa, near Tampa’s Riverwalk:

Aloft Tampa Downtown:

Sheraton Tampa Riverwalk:

Courtyard Tampa Downtown:

Residence Inn Tampa Downtown:

Barrymore Tampa Riverwalk:

Ybor City, Within Walking  Distance of one or more Streetcar Stations:

Hilton Garden Inn Ybor City: dex.html

Hilton Garden Inn Ybor City:

Hampton Inn Tampa Ybor City Downtown:

Don Vicente de Ybor Historic Inn:

Now that you are settled in at your hotel, let’s begin planning for the best way to enjoy your visit.

Getting Around

The Hillsborough Area Rapid Transit Authority (HART) operates public transportation throughout Tampa. For detailed schedule and fare information, visit, or call the HART Information Line (813) 254-HART (254-4278): weekdays from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Eastern Time).

One way cash fares are $2 on the bus, or $2.50 on the TECO Line Streetcar System. Medicare cardholders can show their Medicare card and pay $1. Half price fares are also available to seniors (age 65 and older), persons with disabilities, and young people ages 5-17. However, to get these fares (except for Medicare cardholders), riders must purchase a discount permit in advance from HART. The Marion Transit Center (1211 North Marion Street in downtown Tampa—phone number: 813/384-6301) and University Area Transit Center (13110 North 27th Street—phone number: 813/384-6316) both sell discount permits from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays.

The most economical way for visitors to use HART is by buying either an unlimited ride One-Day pass for $4 (or $5 if you purchase it at a Streetcar station), or a 3-day unlimited ride Visitors Pass for $11.75 (the 3-day fare can only be purchased at the Marion or University Transit Center (or at City Hall between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Mondays and Fridays), or at select hotels. Call the HART Information Line for a list of hotels where you can purchase 3-day Visitor Passes.

You can also purchase passes online at HART’s Transit Store. Go to to buy your tickets online. Be sure to order enough time in advance so HART can mail your tickets to you before you visit. (Good news: the one-day or three day period doesn’t start until the first time you use your pass. Remember that the Visitor’s Pass is for three consecutive days.)

As HART Public Information Officer Sandra Morrison explains, “Riding the bus instead of driving or renting a car is a great way to keep gas prices from pumping extra money out of your wallet. From buses to streetcars, HART offers public transit options for both new visitors and local residents.”

HART has 19 Park and Ride Lots—Leave Your Car FREE and Use HART

Visitors who live nearby may be tempted to drive directly to Tampa.

Fortunately, if you are visiting Tampa during the week, you can eliminate gasoline and parking costs by parking FREE at one of HART’s 19 Park and Ride lots and taking a HART bus that stops at that lot. Add $4 for an all-day unlimited-ride pass is less expensive than even two gallons of gas. Call HART’s Info Line to find out which lot is most convenient to your hotel or other location. (Park and Ride Lot 17: 301 South appears to be only for carpools or vanpools, since no HART bus routes serve that lot.)

The following Park and Ride Lot may also be a good choice for weekend visitors:

Northwest Transfer Center: 9325 West Waters Avenue, Tampa, FL 33615

Serving routes: 16, 30, 34, 39, 61, LX, HART Flex, Townn County, North County Connector (PSTA)

Here is a list of HART’s Park and Ride lots, and what HART routes serve each lot:

  1. Apollo Beach -Winn Dixie: 6188 U S. 41, Apollo beach, FL 33572. Serving routes: 31,47LX
  2. Burnett Park: 11609 Clay Pit Road, Seffner, FL 33584. Serving route: 28x
  3. Carrollwood Baptist church: 5395 Ehrlich Road, Tampa, FL 33625. Serving route: 61LX
  4. Citrus Park: 7502 Gunn Highway, Tampa, FL 33625. Serving route: 61LX
  5. Crossroads Community United Methodist Church: 26211 County line Road Wesley Chapel, FL 33543 . Serving route: 51 X
  6. Culbreath @ Bloomingdale: 3420 Culbreath Road, Valrico, FL 33596. Serving routes: 25 LX, 27 LX
  7. Dover: 102 North Dover Road, Valrico, FL 33584. Serving routes: 46, 22 X
  8. Eddie C. Moore park (Clearwater): 2780 Drew Street, Clearwater, FL 33759 (Pinellas county) Serving route: 200 LX (probably not a good choice for most visitors)
  9. First Baptist Church of Lutz: 18000 US Highway 41, Lutz, FL 33547. Serving routes 24 X, 27 LX
  10. Hidden River: 8790 Hidden River Parkway, Tampa, Florida 33637. Serving routes: Metro Rapid
  11. FishHawk Sports Complex: 16112 Fish Hawk Boulevard, Lithia, FL 33547. Serving routes 24x, 27 LX
  12. J.C. Handley Park: 3007 South Kings Avenue, Brandon, FL 33511. Serving routes: 25 LX, 27 LX
  13. Lowe’s New Tampa: 16907 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., Tampa, FL 33647. Serving well: 51 X
  14. Mr. Zionsville Assembly of God: 3005 Thonotosassa Road, Plant City, FL 33565. Serving route: 28x
  15. Riverview Oaks: 9602 S. U.S. Highway 301, Riverview, FL 33569. Serving routes: 24x, 27 LX, 31
  16. Rogers Field: 212 East Sadie Street, Brandon, FL 33510. Serving routes: 22x
  17.  South 301: 4864 Sun Center Blvd., Wimauma, FL 33598
  18.  Temple Terrace: 113 00 North 56th Street, Temple terrace, FL 33617. Serving route: 21lx
  19. Northwest Transfer Center: 9325 West Waters Avenue, Tampa, FL 33615. Serving routes: 16, 30, 34, 39,61, LX, HART Flex, Town County, North County Connector (PSTA)

Another option for visitors who drive to Tampa and want to leave their cars and save money and hassle by using HART is to park at one of four garages within walking distance of a TECO Line Streetcar System station:

  • Centro Ybor Parking Garage
  • Noriega Parking Garage (8th Avenue and 13th Street, just off Nuccio Parkway)
  • Port Authority Garage (Channelside Station)
  • South Regional Parking Garage (Amalie Arena station)

For more information about the TECO Line Streetcar System, including stops and nearby attractions, visit:

You Don’t Need to Drive to Enjoy Shopping in Tampa

Weekend visitors who don’t want to drive don’t need to choose between sightseeing and shopping. HART serves many nearby shopping malls. Here are some malls that are served by HART:

  • International Plaza: Routes 15, 30
  • University Mall: Routes 12, 45
  • Westfield Brandon: Routes 8, 31, 37, 46, HARTFlex Brandon
  • Westfield Citrus Park: Route 39
  • Westshore Plaza: Routes 15, 30 and 45, HARTFlex South Tampa

USE HART to Visit Tampa Attractions

We were surprised to learn that parking at area attractions is not always free. (At the Museum of Science and Industry, parking for non-members is $5 per day.) When you add the cost and hassle of parking to the cost of gasoline, it makes sense to use HART buses, in-town trolley (weekday peak hours only) and the TECO Line Streetcar System.. Here is a list of Tampa area attractions that are served by HART:

  • Busch Gardens – Routes 5, 18, 39
  • Lowry Park Zoo – Routes 41, 45
  • Florida Aquarium – Route 8, the TECO Line Streetcar
  • Channelside Bay Plaza (Dining, retail, Splitsville) – Route 8, the TECO Line Streetcar
  • Ybor City Historic District (Centro Ybor) – Routes 5, 8, 9, 12, 18, 46, the TECO Line Streetcar
  • International Plaza (Shopping) – Routes 15, 30
  • Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) – Route 6
  • Tampa Bay Times Forum – Routes 4, 8, 19, In-Town Trolley, TECO Line Streetcar
  • David A. Straz Jr. Center – Routes 7, 10, 14, In-Town Trolley
  • Tampa Convention Center – Routes 4, 19, In-Town Trolley, TECO Line Streetcar
  • Tampa Museum of Art – Routes 7, 10, 14, In-Town Trolley
  • Tampa Theatre – Route 4, 6LTD, 8, 19, 30, In-Town Trolley, Metro Rapid
  • Glazer Children’s Museum – Routes 7, 10, 14, In-Town Trolley
  • University of South Florida – Routes 5, 6, 6LTD, 18, 57, Metro Rapid
  • Westshore Plaza (Shopping) – Routes 15, 30, 45, HARTFlex South Tampa
  • Raymond James Stadium (Home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) – Routes 7, 32, 36, 41, 45

Other Ways to Get Around When You Don’t Want to Drive


Visitors have two options: City Bike and Coast Bike Share.

Coast Bike Share has hourly, monthly, yearly and student memberships and multiple kiosks around Tampa where people can rent and return the bikes. For details about rates, membership, and where you can drop off bikes, visits:

City Bike is a full service shop offering sales, repairs and rentals. For more information, visit,

Taxicabs and Ride Sharing Services

The two major cab companies here are: Yellow Cab (813) 253-0121, and United Cab (813) 777-7777.

Uber and Lyft are also available here.


By now, you should have a good overview of Tampa. If you are impatient, you can always visit, get more information about individual attractions, and use the information about HART routes serving major attractions to enjoy your visit. Another idea is to purchase a Tampa City Pass: a special pass that includes discounted admissions to five major attractions. For more details, and to purchase your City Pass before your visit, go to

 In our next column, we will share tips from local residents, visitor centers, ourselves, and other people who know the Tampa area and have useful tips for visitors who don’t want to drive.

For Information about Tampa Attractions and Where to Stay:

The best single resource for visitors is .  When you are here, visit the Tampa Bay Visitor Center & Gift Shop, 615 Channelside Dr., Suite 101A, Tampa, FL 33602.
Or call them at: (813) 226-0293
You can also contact Visit Tampa Bay by mail. Write to:
Visit Tampa Bay, 401 East Jackson Street, Suite 2100, Tampa, FL 33602
Phone: (813) 223-1111 or (800) 44-TAMPA, Fax: (813) 229-6616
For General Questions, send an e-mail to:

For Information about Local Bus and Streetcar Fares and Schedules
The Hillsborough Area Rapid Transit Authority (HART) operates public transportation throughout Tampa.

For detailed schedule and fare information, visit, or call the HART Information Line (813) 254-HART (254-4278): weekdays from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Eastern Time). You can also call or visit the Marion Transit Center or University Transit Center (see under the Getting Around section of this column for the addresses and phone numbers).


Steve Atlas welcomes your comments and suggestions for future columns. E-mail Steve at

About the author

Steve Atlas

Steve Atlas, author of two published books about parenting, has written newspaper columns and magazine articles about travel, career change, home-based business, parenting, and sales skills. Steve's column, “Single Parent Hotline,” was a weekly feature of Gannett News Service for several years. He has also been a contributing editor to Selling Power magazine. Currently Steve’s primary interest is reducing dependency on private automobiles. In addition to being a public transit advocate and author (since 2008) of Car Free Journey, Steve’s e-book: "Car Free at the Beach", and several reports he has written about Car Free Living can be viewed at

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