Fort Desoto Park,
Really more in the St. Pete area, but only about a 30 minute drive from downtown Tampa. This is the absolute jewel of all the beaches along Flroidas west coast. The best part, it's FREE!
Fondest memory: First time I vacationed here about 30 years ago from New Jersey. The difference, ecpecialy during the winter months is fantastic. Warm winds, great sunsets, good food and fishing. A great place for adults as well as children. Free piers, swimming areas, playgrounds, camping area, so many barbeque areas you can always find one. Skateing paths, mangroves. Just a great place to spend a full day.
From downtown Tampa, the big beach towns of Clearwater Beach, Indian Rocks Beach, Indian Shores, Bellaire Beach, Reddington Shores, Fort Desoto Park, and others. Fort DeSoto Park beach was named America's best beach in Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman's annual rankings.
Another nearby favorite is Caladesi Island State Park, in the Gulf just off Clearwater. This island beach also made Leatherman's list as America's 4th best beach.
The closest beaches to Tampa are about 30-45 minutes away depending on traffic, while others like Caladesi Island are accessible only by boat, so require some additional planning.
Fondest memory: I had a blast with my friends hanging out on Clearwater Beach our second day of GWIT...and Dino was the sole man who braved going with us 6 girls...will always remember the long walk, deep convos, and of course our little friend who came and played with us.
The main reasons to visit the Tampa area are obvious: year-round warm weather and nearby beautiful beaches.
But, to be honest, there isn't that much else.
If you're visiting, you've gotta go to Busch Gardens (get there early!), then check out some of the places mentioned below. After that, scoot across the bay and follow the setting sun to the beach.
Fondest memory: Being born. :)
Favorite thing: This is a great way to spend the day at the beach looking for seashells.