Tampa vs St. Petersburg: Which City Is For You?

St. Petersburg and Tampa are two Florida cities set a little over twenty miles apart, each appealing to thousands of people in many different ways. It's a real challenge to research and present a balanced view of Tampa vs St. Petersburg, as certain aspects will be more important than others to some readers.

Let's dive into both cities to get a feel for what each has to offer. We'll cover the important, no BS, topics to help you decide which city matches your own likes and dislikes.

So, if you're ready, lets begin our journey of the Tampa Bay!

A (Kind Of) Friendly Rivalry

It will come as no surprise that there is a fair amount of rivalry between the residents of St. Petersburg and Tampa. Opinions vary in strength, and though most are light-hearted, some are definitely more scathing in their criticism. This is nothing new; it happens all over. When researching an area, it pays to screen out the more vicious comments - especially those that target particular groups of people, rather than focusing on the actual physical neighborhoods. Paradoxically, it is people that make up these neighborhoods and who are responsible for the history, heritage, and culture that has flourished there. They make the place what it is.

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So, when we read negative reviews about the people of Tampa, written by residents of St. Pete (and vice versa!), it's perhaps best to take this with a grain of salt and move on. Both are great places in their own right and in the interests of balance, there are plenty of folks who get on with their neighbors, whichever side of the bridge they come from!

So, what's so great about Tampa?

Tampa bay, it seems, has always been a desirable place to live. The archaeology from this area proves a continuous settlement stretching back over 2,000 years. It fell into American ownership in 1821 after being purchased from Spain, and Fort Brooke was built by the mouth of the Hillsborough River. In 1849, the village of Tampa was established, with a population of 185 (974, if you include military personnel). Fast forward 170 years or so, and Tampa now has about 400,000 residents and is the 3rd largest city in Florida.

Here are some features you might like to know about:

  • Climate/Weather - One of its nicknames is 'Lightning City', as it has more lightning strikes than most other cities! The area is, obviously, coastal and pretty flat in places. Between June to October, the tropical weather carries a risk of flooding.
  • Best Neighborhoods - Hyde Park; a great place for families. It is known for its parks, restaurants, diversity, and highly-rated schools. Alternatively, Channelside offers the best of city life, with contemporary 'high-rises' and lofts, all within walking distance of local attractions and amenities, as well as those stunning views over the water.
  • Infrastructure - the advice of residents is to live close to where you work. Parking isn't a real problem (there are 22,000 parking spaces as well as metered street parking) but the traffic can be a pain.
  • Sports - home to Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NFL)!
  • Vibe - newer, cleaner, mainstream. The nightlife is good, possibly fueled by the younger population from the nearby universities.
  • Shopping - mostly major chains as you'd expect, but with a few 'hidden gems' if you're prepared to look.
  • Schools/Colleges - generally good, depending on the neighborhood, but with a handful of excellent ones.
  • Best feature - the Tampa Bay Riverwalk - not just for the spectacular walk itself, but because it links many other attractions!
  • Overall picture - modern, generally clean, good job prospects, good nightlife scene, has a 'big-city' feel, though lacks the vibrancy of St. Pete's Downtown. Tampa has more new buildings, but can feel a bit 'cookie-cutter'.

But maybe St. Petersburg is the place for me?

One fact that draws tourists and new settlers to St. Petersburg is suggested by its nickname, 'The Sunshine City'. This is because it has an average of 361 days of sunshine each year! It is smaller than Tampa, with around 272,000 residents.

But what does it offer today?

  • Climate/Weather - as already mentioned, sunshine is a big draw. The climate will clearly be similar to Tampa due to their close proximity, and the summer heat here can be pretty oppressive.
  • Best Neighborhoods - a difficult one! But probably Downtown, as it offers an easy commute and city living combined with a beach vibe. In one square mile, the amount of regeneration here since 2013 is amazing. It is still being developed, which can only increase its appeal in time to come. Old Northeast offers a nostalgic, 'village community' feel, with a lot of social interaction, especially in the holidays. It is close to Downtown and the waterfront while being far enough away to keep its own identity.
  • Infrastructure - public transport isn't as good as it should be. For local travel, walking or biking is fine. But to go further afield can present a problem unless you own a car.
  • Sports - the Tampa Bay Rays (MLB)
  • Vibe - there's a definite sense of the arts and culture here, with a more casual, liberal vibe than Tampa. There's a great selection of museums, galleries, open studios that mixes well with a wide range of locally-owned cafes and eateries. It has a sense of community unusual to most large cities. There is a positive attitude here toward the LGBTQ+ community.
  • Shopping - a good mix of independent boutiques and shops. As with the restaurants, chains do exist but are more towards the fringes.
  • Schools/Colleges - again, ratings and reviews vary by neighborhood, but on the whole, they have good reviews.
  • Best feature - the beaches! The North Shore and Spa Beach are very close by, for relaxing in the sun or enjoying a variety of watersports.
  • Overall picture - a 'diverse and active' community, with plenty of opportunities to join in. Unique, great bars and microbreweries, very laid back, a 'slower' pace of life compared to Tampa, with lots of festivals. A real 'holiday' atmosphere!

In the end, we hope you can see there is a side of the bay for everyone.  No matter what vibe you want, what sports teams you prefer, or the kind of neighborhood you want to live in, Tampa and St. Petersburg have it all. 

Let us know in the comments what city you like best!

And if you'd like to dive in deep to each city and their top neighborhoods, check out our guide to the best Tampa neighborhoods and the best St. Petersburg neighborhoods.

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