What is it like to live in Tampa, Florida, USA?
Features: Tampa was built on a swamp – flat, covered with trees and scrub, and filled with lakes. From the air, Tampa looks like a wet green sponge with a few buildings poking up through all the green. You won’t find much by way of hills here, and the highest elevation is about fifty feet above sea level. The views are not that interesting unless you are on a lake or on the beach.
Working and Living Here: Florida has no state income tax, so the chief sources of government income are property taxes and tourism. There is a growing amount of tech companies here, with a rising trend in medical-related businesses. Wages are moderate to low. Housing in Tampa starts at over $200,000 for a three-bedroom home, with the pricier areas in places like Seminole Heights and South Tampa, and the cheaper homes in the ‘burbs near Lutz. (UPDATE: Tampa’s housing market has exploded recently (2020), so good luck finding anything reasonable now.) If you find a home for five digits, you’re either looking at a hardcore “fixer-upper,” drug dealers and gunshots are part of the territory, or you’re two hours from work. Speaking of which, find a home as close to your office as possible because…
Traffic: Tampa is one of the most miserable places to drive in the US. Traffic crawls along the interstates and bridges most hours of the day, and one good wreck can turn a bridge (notably the Howard Frankland Bridge) into a parking lot. And there are wrecks every time it rains, which is daily, in the summer, right at afternoon rush hour. Snowbirds (Northerners fleeing the winter), Spring-Breakers and winter tourists compound the problem. Public transportation is useless unless you are downtown.
Tampa is also one of the nation’s deadliest cities for pedestrians and bicyclists, with a fatal hit-and-run reported almost daily. And for some reason, the streets in most Tampa neighborhoods have no sidewalks. Biking on the streets here is taking your life into your own hands.
Schools: The University of South Florida is known for its pre-med program, its College of Engineering, and its College of Fine Arts. If you are talking about public schools, well, the problem is that Tampa started with retirees who didn’t want to spend tax dollars educating children who weren’t theirs. As a result, Tampa public schools don’t have the best reputation. Hillsborough High School was considered an A-rated school and looks like Hogwarts Castle to boot. As for the rest, I haven’t heard great things. Just be aware that outside of universities, education isn’t among Florida’s highest priorities.
Leisure: If you like activities that involve water – jet skiing, fishing, boating, canoeing, kayaking, swimming, scuba diving – this is the town for you. There could be a good fishing lake as close as your own back yard. Enjoy strolls on the beach? Tampa is close to some of the best beaches in the world (avoid the Ben T. Davis beach, though – that one’s nasty). You can even rent one of the timeshare condos on Treasure Island for a low, off-season rate and treat yourself to a very local vacation. Or even a working vacation. The restaurants aren’t bad, with a few Zagat-rated eateries in town, and Downtown Tampa/Centro Ybor are revitalizing themselves with restaurants, bars and clubs. And of course, there are the theme parks. Tampa boasts Busch Gardens and Adventure Island parks, and you’re a 90-minute (barring traffic jams) drive up Interstate 4 to Disney World and Universal. Plus there are tons of kitschy local parks: Gatorland, Weeki-Wachee, Sunken Gardens, etc. Tarpon Springs, with its sponge docks and great Greek food, isn’t far. Tampa and the surrounding areas are a mecca for general aviation pilots, with one of the highest numbers of VFR days per year, plus there’s the Sun n’ Fun Fly-In and air show in Lakeland every spring.