Saying that Tampa is having a moment is a bit like maintaining our city has a minor thing for its hometown teams and pirates. In recent years, Tampa’s treasures–and the quality of life we treasure here, too–have come into the national and global spotlight in a major way that transcends a mere moment. And there’s no sign of the city’s momentum taking a breather any time soon.
Last year, Money magazine ranked Tampa among the top ten “Best Places to Live in the U.S.” And 2023 has only seen the city go from strength to strength, with Forbes Advisor naming Tampa the number one place to live in Florida and TIME magazine ranking the city among the “World’s Greatest Places” alongside cities like Kyoto, Barcelona and Vancouver.
And did we mention our shiny new Michelin stars?
For all the obvious quality-of-life perks—sunny skies, nonstop entertainment options and liquid assets everywhere, for starters—part of what makes Tampa so singular for those of us who live here comes down to the intangible.
Ask a dozen people what delights them most about the city, and chances are you’ll get as many different answers. We checked in with three transplants to Tampa from around the country, Caribbean and Europe about what brought them here to pursue their passions—and what keeps their home fires burning for their adopted city, too.
A “Goldilocks” City That’s Great For Raising Kids
WFLA Daytime host Maggie Rodriguez, a nationally-recognized anchor who moved to Tampa six years ago with her husband and their two kids, took the “Goldilocks route” to the city after a successful career as a broadcast journalist in Los Angeles (too far), New York (too fast) and Miami (too crowded), as she puts it.
When her son was born and she was ready to step back from her busy work life to raise her young kids, Rodriguez, who is from Miami, says Tampa felt “just right,” mixing the charm of a small town with the excitement of a big city.
She returned to work as Daytime’s host once her children, now 13 and 18, were older and now enjoys a work schedule that lets her see them off to school in the mornings and welcome them back home, too.
“Downtown is close to home yet feels like a world away,” says Rodriguez, who lives in South Tampa.
“I remember standing outside The Tampa EDITION recently, looking down Water Street and thinking, ‘I feel like I’m back in Manhattan,’” she says. “It’s incredible to live in a place where I can shift into a New York state of mind just five miles from my suburban oasis.”
The city’s waterways beckon her family for long summer days relaxing under a canopy on Pass-a-Grille Beach or boating with friends at Shell Key Preserve, says Rodriguez.
“On many given Sundays, I have found myself standing waist-deep in clear, blue water on a sandbar offshore, chatting with friends and marveling, ‘Can you believe we live here?’” she says.
And when friends come to visit her in Tampa, Rodriguez says they’re always surprised by how much there is to do.
“I can tell they feel like I did when I moved here, as if they’ve stumbled upon the best-kept secret in the country,” she says.
If you were to focus on just one quality-of-life niche that’s grown by leaps and bounds in Tampa of late, it might be the increasingly nuanced and diverse dining scene, which finally earned the city some coveted Michelin Guide recognition earlier this year.
“The culinary scene has evolved in Florida, and particularly in Tampa, which we often see in the second-year selection in a destination,” says the Michelin Guide’s chief inspector for North America, who remains anonymous.
“Tampa has taken a big step forward, as our inspection team was very impressed with not only the newly Michelin-starred establishments,” they say, referring to Koya, Lilac and ROCCA, “but also two new Bib Gourmands: Gorkhali Kitchen and Psomi.”
For Chef Ebbe Vollmer of newcomer downtown restaurant EBBE, with its innovative seasonal tasting menus, the quality of Tampa’s local ingredients and talent has impressed him.
“It’s always exciting to cook in new regions,” says Vollmer, who moved to Tampa from Sweden with his family in 2022 and has worked at Michelin-rated restaurants in Europe and Singapore over a long and illustrious kitchen career.
“There are a lot of good farmers and small family farms producing high-end stuff around Tampa,” he says–and that also makes his job easier as a father of two in the home kitchen.
“It goes well when I cook for my family at home here,” Vollmer says. “It’s just easier with fresh ingredients.”
Vollmer says Tampa feels like a “big small city” and that he and his wife have been impressed with the great schools where they live in Westchase as well as Tampa’s beaches and bike trails.
On a day off, you’ll likely find him enjoying some great food and the great outdoors, he says, most likely at the beach at Honeymoon Island with his family or tucking into some barbecue at Mighty Quinn’s Barbeque on Dale Mabry Highway.
“The barbecue food is fantastic here,” Vollmer raves, hinting that several chefs he knows will be opening new restaurant concepts around Tampa in the coming months.
“Everyone wants to open a 400-seater and be a chain, but I hope I inspire them to be a chef and stay being a chef–because that’s what’s driving things further in Tampa.”
An Artistic Evolution
Other Florida cities might hit heavier on the international art scene, but Tampa’s ship is sailing in.
For Trinidad-born contemporary artist Nneka Jones, who sews thread and yarn onto canvas to create incredibly life-like portraits, moving to Tampa in 2016 set her art on a new course.
The 2020 University of Tampa graduate whose art has graced the cover of TIME magazine as well as the Tampa Museum of Art and mural projects in St. Petersburg and Boston says she’s found a strong artist’s style and voice here that allows her to be an artist full time.
“The art scene, art community and art buzz is definitely picking up in Tampa,” Jones says. “I’ve built a community from going to art events around town, seeing artists from around the U.S. and other countries and seeing so many different art styles.”
Moving to Tampa during her college years helped the 26-year-old hone her artistic voice, she says.
“Tampa gave me the space I needed to grow.”