Whether you live along the Hillsborough River, drive over it to get to work, fish in it, or just like to admire it for what it's worth, it is a staple in the area for wildlife and humans alike. It sustains this area in many ways including some great eateries and alternative modes of transportation. The Hillsborough River eventually empties into the Tampa Bay at one of the most prominent spots for both locals and tourists.
Here are some of the restaurants with boat slips along the Hillsborough River, but they can be accessed other ways too. Many who live in the area or along the water have their own boats or canoes/kayaks but for those just visiting, and there are many options to rent or charter down by the Tampa Convention Center and The Sail Pavilion.
But some of these options charge by the hour which means you're probably not going to be stopping for a bite to eat, so might I suggest the Pirate Water Taxi? It costs $20 for the day ($10 for children) or $99 for the year. There are also discounts after 6 pm ($15/5) and ($25/12) for two day passes if you plan on spending a few days in the area. The route goes all along the Tampa Riverwalk around Downtown Tampa, and docks at or around all of the locations mentioned below. You can even buy reasonably priced drinks on the boat for your enjoyment while you cruise!
Rick's on the River is a great little dive that'll leave you wanting to jump right in at the end of the docks. You can pull your boat right up for some cold drinks and some great seafood with a view. With both indoor and outdoor seating, it's good for any and all Florida weather. Oysters are their specialty, and you can even rent out the "Oyster Room" for private parties and events. If that wasn't enough, they also often have live music. A wonderful spot the locals love, and great for relaxing a little out of the bustle of the city.
Tampa's newest, trendiest location Armature Works/Heights Public Market is right off the river route now! This place is magical from its beautiful event spaces to the incredible food vendors, and every cocktail and coffee totally Instagram-worthy. Like many similar markets like Ponce Market in Atlanta or Chelsea Market in New York City, people come for the ambiance but stay for the food. With local favorites like Ichicoro Imoto, AVA, and Swami Juice Heights Public Market, there is something for everyone as well as new and exciting additions. The space is currently open and buzzing with excitement, but it's nowhere near finished with more restaurants, shops, and workspaces being added. Be sure to check it out regularly as vendors and menus do rotate.
Ulele has become one of the major attractions of the Tampa Riverwalk for its family-friendly, indoor-outdoor atmosphere. Either grab one of their specially brewed craft beers and toss some bean bags in the lawn games or sip on a carefully crafted Florida-inspired cocktail at the oyster bar. Kids and furry friends welcome for some good, wholesome fun as well. Located with Water Works Park at the beginning of the Riverwalk, it's an ideal spot whether you just finished a bike ride along the river or are just stopping along as you bar hop with friends. If you get lucky, you may even witness some live music or Shakespeare in The Park while you're there. The food is fantastic and the desserts are as artistic as the decor.
Located inside the Tampa Museum of Art, Sono Cafe offers everything from a quick coffee and gelato to wine and full meals including weekend brunch. Sono Cafe is operated by local favorite Mise En Place, and they will even often feature some of their meals to highlight the exhibits. The patio overlooks Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and the University of Tampa on the other for a beautiful view on both sides. Whether you come for the art or come for the food, both are exquisite. This is also a great place to grab a bike with Coast Bike Share and explore the city or the RiverWalk a little further.
Phone 813-421-8379 120 W. Gasparilla Plaza, Tampa FL
Malio's is a great place if you're looking for something a little nicer and fancier for a special occasion or perhaps before a show at Straz Center for the Performing Arts. Specializing in steak and seafood, they also have an incredible wine list to pair with. It is a little harder to get to via boat, but it does have a few stops nearby and is located inside the Rivergate Tower, the cylindrical skyscraper that sticks out along the Tampa skyline. Your meal undoubtedly as unforgettable as the architecture.
Jackson's has something for everyone from sushi and salads to steak and seafood and everything in between. One of their main draws is their Sunday Brunch buffet which includes your usual breakfast staples as well as seafood, sushi, pasta, and a carving station. That runs $26.95 for adults and $10.95 for children and does not include beverages. They even have nightlife on certain evenings and holidays where it turns into more of a club/lounge feel with music and drinks. Again, this is a beautiful location to pull up your boat and enjoy the environment as well as the food. One of the main stops on the Pirate Water Taxi and is perfect for a good sunset.
If you like people watching (or should I say dog watching) this is the place for you. It's basically a small circular bar with seating all around that extends onto a larger patio. They encourage people to bring their pups for what they call "Yappy Hour" where they accommodate with complimentary doggie biscuits, cold water, and the occasional ice cream pup-cup. Their human menu is limited to mostly just snacks and sandwiches but their interesting take on a Cuban sandwich is one of my personal favorites. They also have "Brews and Bites," their food truck rally which brings in some other options the second Friday of the month. The Sail Pavilion is also the aforementioned location where you can rent bikes and water vehicles such as kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, small motorized boats, water bikes, etc. It's also one of the main stops for the Water Taxi and other dinner and dolphin cruises, and a great place to sit and watch all the boats go in and out with a cold beer and a Cuban. It doesn't get more Tampa than that!
Located inside the Tampa Bay History Center is a smaller scale version of the Columbia Restaurant we all know and love so people can enjoy that Ybor feel from along the river. Famous for the 1905 salad, their Tampa take on the Cuban Sandwich, and their signature hot sauce, this location offers most of their menu with a more casual atmosphere. You can even buy some of these signature items while you're there. It is a special little-known secret especially for those who frequent Amalie Arena, although it can get busy during events. They offer eight tie-ups for docking boats or are accessible from once again, the water taxi, so enjoy some tapas in Tampa!