Boat owners are always looking for an excuse to “air out” their boats and what better way than heading for a dock attached to a Tampa restaurant with juicy burgers or fresh seafood?
Tampa Bay is blessed by its geography providing a wrap-around shoreline ripe for waterfront restaurants and that also protects the waterways from the wind and sea conditions in the Gulf. The following restaurants have their own docks (in one case, a beach), but there are many other restaurants with public docks within walking distances.
Here are some choices for your boat dining adventures in Tampa. Remember that most of these restaurants don’t have dockmasters, so practice up on your boat handling and docking skills because, don’t forget, those tables full of diners are an audience just waiting for your mishap. Happy sailing and bon appetit!
Tip: The County Sheriff’s Harbor Patrol and the U.S. Coast Guard are both aware that drinking goes on at waterfront restaurants, so be sure to have a designated skipper who sticks to non-alcoholic Jolly Rogers (aka Shirley Temples) for your outing. They are properly humorless about tipsy skippers.
On Garrison Channel at the Tampa Marriott Water Street, this polished restaurant has a 32-slip marina. (Contact marina supervisor Earl Cadoret at (813)-314-1006 for availability.) A full raw bar is a lunch starter that you can follow with a scallop and shrimp cassoulet with poblano emulsion. Or opt for turf with the A&B Burger (add a sunny-side egg for messy) or a shaved beef sandwich on ciabatta with horseradish aioli. Remember the 10-foot Garrison Channel bridge clearances, although a boat as large as a Grady-White 376 easily clears at just 8 feet, 6 inches. (Low bridge, everybody down.)
Used predominantly by homeowners of the Dana Shores, Rocky Point and Pelican Island developments, Bahama Breeze has dockage for smaller boats like the Cypress Cay pontoon boats and Duffy electric boats found in front of these homes. Start with the beef empanadas or firecracker shrimp, then go for the lobster and shrimp linguine.
Located inside the Tampa Bay History Center is a smaller version of the legendary Columbia Restaurant in Ybor. This Cuban-Spanish landmark has an L-shaped pier with dockage practically under the Beneficial Drive bridge separating Garrison Channel from the Ybor Turning Basin. Boats like the Tidewater 320 Center Console can clear the bridge with more than a foot to spare. The original “1905” Salad is healthier than one of their signature Cuban sandwiches, but you’ll also be lured by their Paella a la Valenciana. Save room (and time) to sample all in the leafy atrium restaurant.
On Garrison Channel at the north end of Harbour Island, Café Dufrain has free docks, but remember the bridges on South Harbour Drive and Beneficial Drive have only a 10-foot clearance, so don’t knock off your antennae going through. Even with its water ski tower up, the Cobalt R8 surf only needs 8 feet, 6 inches, while folded down it needs just 5 feet, 3 inches. Once there, Crab Rangoon Nachos combine sweet chili, spicy cream cheese and jalapenos. Want Italian? Go for the Beef Bolognese – ravioli, fresh herbs and asiago cheese.
Just steps away from Café Dufrain on Garrison Channel on Harbour Island, Watervue Grille has seafood fresh from the Gulf and an impressive wine, cider, seltzer and beer list (Harbor Patrol). The Hussar 920 Max, with a 7.6-foot clearance, easily makes it under the 10-foot bridges. Don’t miss the Conch Fritters (in red chili aioli) or the Flash Fried Calamari (also aioli). Not driving? Wash your meal down with house-made sangria.
With offshore floating docks for larger boats on the outside plus smaller boats on the inside, Hula Bay Club is known for its popular Sunday pool parties. The menu is impressive, ranging from sliders to tacos, sushi to a raw bar, but don’t miss the Kick’n Shrimp, a half pound of shrimp sautéed in a barbecue-style butter with garlic and Kona beer, with cheese bread for dipping. The Volcano Sushi is aptly named: you’ve been warned. Of course, the Hula Burger is a legend in the boating crowd, especially as a take-away for the boat. Next door is Duke’s Retired Surfer’s Island Bar, sharing the same dockage and ownership, with an open-air bar, music and bar snacks. Coconut crème brulee, yum. Hula skirts optional.
At the south end of Tampa International Airport as an extension of the Grand Hyatt, there is a long dock for small boats right in front. Follow the channel buoys carefully (birds are standing outside the channel!) and remember the water depth is just 3 feet at low tide, which is no problem for the Chris-Craft Calypso 24 (18-inch draft). The name gives it away for fresh, local seafood but, if you can get past their many oyster offerings, the Gulf Shrimp Cocktail is citrus boiled and ice chilled. Follow up with the Lobster & Crab Bisque and save room for the Wagyu Burger with Applewood smoked bacon.
Located on the Hillsborough River, Rick’s has four main docks and even its own launch ramp for trailer boats like a Boston Whaler Dauntless 22, with end ties that can handle larger boats. Inside dining as well as al fresco tables (with umbrellas) overlook the marina. Locals recommend the blackened dry-rub wings and the popcorn shrimp with remoulade. Be aware: Smoking is allowed on the patio.
Next to the Tampa Convention Center, Sail Plaza has deep-water (7- to 10-foot) dockage shared with boat rental companies, so respect their spaces, and the seawall along the Tampa Riverwalk is commercial only. Even a deep-draft sailboat like the Marlow-Hunter 37 draws just 6 feet, 8 inches. Contact the dockmaster at (813) 444-7728 for availability and assistance. Docks are $3/hour, overnight is $2 per foot. Steps away from the dock are The Sail Pavilion (spiced steamed shrimp) and Big Ray’s Fish Camp (conch fritters with honey mustard and Cuban sandwiches).
On Rattlesnake Point just off the Gandy Bridge in South Tampa is this rustic beach getaway noted for its fresh seafood on a Caribbean-inspired menu. The long floating dock can handle eight or so boats, such as the new Viking Yachts-built Valhalla V-33 center console at Galati Yachts, but with two caveats. This is not a no-wake zone, so use lots of fenders to protect the hull. Second, getting to the space on the inside means cruising close to the breakwater, so be careful. FYI, the Prince Edward mussels in white wine with shallots, oh my. You might also love the calamari rings fried with peppers and sofrito sauce, award-winning mahi fish tacos or coconut curried shrimp.
Last but far from least, if you plan to dine on your boat (a smallish one), don’t overlook this casual eatery whose name gives it away. At Ballast Point Park, it is within steps of a boat launch ramp that has a short pier on which you can drop someone to pick up your called-in feast. A twin-engined boat like the Jeanneau Leader 33 would make the drop-off easy. Lobster rolls with a side of slaw, shrimp tacos, classic fish and chips, and New England clam chowder that your taste buds have been craving (remember, it’s seasonal).
On Gandy Boulevard on the east side of the bridge, this tiki-inspired restaurant has outdoor tables and several docks, as well as a long, deep-water quay for larger yachts like a Prestige 590. This long dock is overlooked by a water’s edge bar facing out (your best boat handling is required!), as well as its own sandy beach. Besides an astounding list of drinks, their jalapeno poppers were featured on the Cooking Channel and the A1A Cheeseburger is a challenge to get your mouth around.
No dock, but this rustic hangout is popular with owners of hot boats like Cigarettes, Yamaha jet skis and SeaRay sterndrives that run right onto the white sand beach and walk up to the tiki bar or into the restaurant. You’ll get your feet wet, but Joe’s Jambalaya at the tiki bar is to die for, while coconut-rum shrimp is equally in demand. Both have a long list of drinks (remember, Harbor Patrol), and you’ll be tempted by chocolate mousse peanut butter cup pie.
Opposite Whiskey Joe’s but with a handful of slips to keep your feet dry, this bistro is on the Godfrey Hotel grounds and especially vibrant on weekends. Live music, a big swimming pool and an eclectic menu from fish tacos to wings, quesadillas to spicy avocado chicken club sandwiches make this worth tiptoeing carefully up a narrow channel. Watch your depth sounder carefully to avoid the shallows on the east side. Something like a Williams 505 jet tender, without propellers, has no worries.
Chris Caswell is an experienced bareboater and the author of Charter Smarter, the “bible of bareboating,” as well as publisher of CharterSavvy, a free online magazine about bareboating. When not bareboating the waters of Thailand, Tahiti or the British Virgin Islands, he and his wife, Rhea, hang their duffel bags in West Palm Beach.
Check out Chris Caswell’s other articles for TAMPA Magazines.