South Florida Tailgate/Visitors' Guide

South Florida Tailgate/Visitors' Guide

Tampa Bay Skyline

This is one of a series of tailgating guides for Big East football schools written by Syracuse fan and tailgate aficionado TexanMark. If you have any feedback or additional information you think belongs in this guide, please drop an email message to Mark by clicking here.

University of South Florida (USF) is the lone geographical misfit of the Big East Football Conference. Most felt USF won the BCS lottery when Boston College bolted for the ACC and left the Big East searching for an eighth member for the 2005 season. Due to the southern location USF is expected to be a favorite destination for mini-vacations for Big East football fans. USF is a young team but I predict it’ll be a great asset to the league within five years.

First Things First: GETTING THERE

Unless you want to drive 900 or so miles (Louisville, Cinci, WVU and Pitt) this trip will be a flying event. The good news most everyone can get a nonstop into either Tampa or close by Orlando (90 miles). Both of these airports have a bevy of cheap flights to northern cities. Note: Orlando offers the most nonstops and generally the cheapest flights. It might be worth your while to fly into Orlando and rent a car and drive to Tampa. Obviously, many visiting fans will plan a four-five day mini-vacation and will visit Orlando anyway. If time is tight you should fly into Tampa. The airport is located about a mile from the stadium. You can easily take a cab to the game. Note: Taxis drop/pickup riders at the Dale Mabry turnaround on the northwest corner of the stadium.

Other Travel Options:

Several ultra discount charter carriers offer scheduled service between some northeastern/midwestern cities and Orlando Sanford Airport (2 hours) and Saint Petersburg/Clearwater Airport (30-45 mins). Note: These airlines often only fly once a day so a missed flight or broken aircraft could be very problematic. If you have a lot of time, Amtrak offers service into Tampa. The fall season is a great time to visit Florida due to discount prices for rooms and other tourist related services. Consider yourself lucky if your team has a November visit scheduled to Tampa and take advantage!

Getting to the Stadium:

Raymond James Stadium

USF (like UConn, Louisville, and Pitt) plays their football games off campus. The campus is located about eight miles northeast. Like Pitt, they share a stadium with an NFL team. Raymond James Stadium (RayJay or RJS) opened in 1998 and is a great venue with many amenities. Note: USF games only use the lower tier of the stadium. Capacity is reduced about 25,000. Listed capacity for USF games is about 44,000. RayJay is located off Dale Mabry Avenue which is a major North/South Artery in Tampa. The stadium is located adjacent (east) to the airport.  Stadium Grounds


From the North:
I-75 S. to I-275 S. to Hillsborough Ave. W. (Exit 30) or Dr. M.L. King Blvd. W. (Exit 29) or Himes Ave. N. (Exit 23-C) or N. Dale Mabry (Exit 23-A)

From the South:
I-75 N. to I-4 W. to I-275 S. to Himes Ave. N. (Exit 23-C) or N. Dale Mabry (Exit 23-A) n Or I-75 N. to I-275 N. to N. Dale Mabry (Exit 23-A)

From the East:
I-4 W. to I-275 S. to Himes Ave. N. (Exit 23-C) or N. Dale Mabry (Exit 23-A) n I-4 W. to Hillsborough Ave. W. (Exit 6) or Dr. M.L. King Blvd. W. (Exit 4)

From the West:
I-275 N. to N. Dale Mabry (Exit 23-A) n Or Hwy. 60 E. to Spruce St. E. to Dale Mabry N.


Map of Parking Near Ray Jay

The easiest thing is to park at RayJay. The lots open three hours before games. Buses and Campers are allowed to park on stadium property for USF games in Lot 8 (located south of the stadium). Note: Campers/RVs park in a different lot for Buc games. Expect general admission parking to be directed to Lots 1, 2, 3, and 4. The website states: "For USF home games Cars and Motorcycles will be charged $7, Buses will be $30, and Limousines and Campers will be $20." Tailgating seems to have few restrictions.

Note: Last year the stadium had very restrictive rules on the size of bags you could bring in the stadium. Definitely err on the conservative side.

However, charcoal grills are okay in the parking lots! Of course, with only three hours to tailgate you better be prepared to get to it. One other parking option is located adjacent to the stadium grounds across the street (west) at Hillsborough Community College.

Note: Just to the east was the old Tampa Bay Center Mall. Recently it was torn down. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are building training facilities there. It is unknown at this time if any parking will be available. A lot of Bull fans have used the free parking at the Mall for several seasons. I will try to update the status of this lot once the season starts.

Finally, if you cruise around you can find several private lots which might accommodate you earlier.

RayJay Stadium:

This place will be awesome when USF starts to consistently draw close to 40,000 fans. The facility is absolute first class and has many amenities. I don’t expect all the concessions to be open but you should still have a good variety.

Buccaneer Cove

Buccaneer Cove is a tremendous landmark and you need to wander over and check it out sometime during the game. You should have great sight lines since the stadium was built for football.


I’ll keep it real simple. Drop your spouse here. The International Plaza shopping complex is located about 1 ½ miles southwest of RayJay stadium.

From the website: "International Plaza, adjacent to Tampa International Airport, is the most distinctive shopping and dining destination of Florida's West Coast. Four fashionable department stores, over 200 specialty shops and Bay Street at the Plaza... an open-air village of fine restaurants and small boutiques." This place has a hotel (Renaissance) there and offers some travel packages. Thirty and over crowd alert: The Bay Street Level (Street Level) has a large collection of upscale drinking and dining establishments. This is a good alternative to the rowdier, younger Ybor City area.


I do know you need to try to eat at a Cuban Restaurant in Tampa. Cuban food is excellent and not too expensive. There is a huge selection in the area around the stadium especially if you drive south of the stadium. I would recommend after the game to head to Bay Street Level of the International Plaza or another option is cruising over to the Port of Tampa area and checking out Channelside.

Map of Channelside Area

Channelside is another retail/dining entertainment area with many great restaurants and bars. If you decide to stay downtown this place should be a must do destination. A trolley is available to take you from Channelside to Ybor—a plus.

Ybor City 7th Avenue on a Saturday Night

Finally, Ybor City has an international reputation for hosting a great party.   The crowd trends a little bit younger than International Plaza and Channelside. Ybor is Tampa’s old Latin community.  Like many other urban areas it has been revitalized. If you really want to let lose and mingle with lots of other like minded people this is the place. The Columbia Restaurant (Ybor City) has been around for a century, specializing in Spanish and Cuban fare. They have the best sangria, and is it is a great spot for lunch or dinner.

USF Fan, JimUSFSig recommends, "Bern's Steakhouse (South Howard Ave) offers the best steak in the Bay area. It's unique decorative style -- part bordello, part renaissance and the world famous dessert room is something to see. $$$$ The Colonnade (Bayshore) offers great seafood and wonderful views of Tampa Bay and downtown Tampa. $$ Castaways (Courtney Campbell Causeway) offers good seafood and is built out over Tampa Bay. $$$ Salt Rock Grill (Indian Rocks Beach) is a great place to have dinner after a day at the beach. $$$ Frenchy's Rockaway Grill (Clearwater Beach) is the best place to grab a quick sandwich when catching rays on a GREAT beach. $ Lee Roy Selmon's (Boy Scout Blvd - near Tampa Stadium) has some GREAT barbeque. $$ Other great barbeque places: Kojaks (Gandy Blvd), Jimbos (Kennedy), and Fred Flemings (multiple locations) $ - $$ CK's (Tampa International Airport Marriott) is a revolving restaurant with a GREAT Sunday Brunch - $$ Another great place for Sunday breakfast: The Brunchery (S MacDill Ave & N Dale Mabry) $"

USF Fan, BullDoug states, "Charley's is great for gourmet steaks & seafood but not unique to Tampa. Charley's can be seen from I-275 just east of West Shore. For tailgate sandwiches, Publix deli & Brocado's on Columbus & 50th are about as good as you are going to get. The bay area's best buffet (arguable) is right down the road on Dale Mabry (were RJS is) known as the Crazy Buffet. It has steaks, seafood, sushi, Japanese, etc. It's pricey at $22 ahead.

For a decent economical steak, try Sam Seltzer's north of RJS on Dale Mabry or the Long Horn south of RJS on Dale Mabry. Sam's is unique to central Florida. For wings, Hooters is north of the stadium on Hillsborough just west of Dale Mabry and the Press Box is south on Dale Mabry. Editors Note: The original Hooter’s is in Clearwater Beach. For Japanese hibachi steak, chicken, & seafood (cooked at the table), try Arigato's Japanese Steak House. It is north on Dale Mabry.

If staying on the beach in St. Pete, for seaford I'd recommend the Hurricane on St. Pete Beach, Crabby Bill's w/several locales on Gulf Blvd., Ted Peters in St. Pete on Pasadena for smoked mullet and I like Leverock's (near the Veteran's Hospital east of Madiera beach) but some folks don't. It's been a while since I've been there. About the Columbia, you got to have the paella. is a good information source for Tampa Bay eats & things to do too."


Lodging is plentiful and comes in all price ranges. If you want to be able to walk to the game a Holiday Express is your best choice. USF fans report a new hotel is going up very close to the stadium. Hopefully, someone can identify the brand name. It is expected to be open soon. A couple others very close to the stadium are the Renaissance Tampa Hotel International Plaza (a Marriott Property, 4 star luxury) and a Mircotel (2 star budget). If you want to be near the airport (Westshore Area), there are a bevy of choices which you can see here. The airport motel area is only about a mile or two from the stadium which means you can avoid a rental car if you are only staying overnight.

Another option to try is the Downtown/Channelside/Ybor area, which is several miles from the stadium. Finally, if you want to stay near the beaches you should try Clearwater or St. Pete areas. Expect you’ll be about 45 minutes from the stadium. The Don Cesar is not to be missed.


World class beaches await you on your trip to Tampa. USF fan, JimUSFSig says: "Sand Key Beach, just south of Clearwater Beach, is usually less crowded and has some of the best sand around. Clearwater Beach is where the tourists head to catch some rays. St. Pete Beach is where the locals go -- check out the Undertow Beach Bar for one of the best beachside bars around."  BullDoug says, "don't forget Fort DeSoto Park.  It was voted the nation's overall best in 2005. It is south of St. Pete Beach just west of the Skyway Bridge. It is about a 50-60 min. trip from (RayJay) and good for a relaxing day to picnic.  Treasure Island is a nice beach too. T.I. is south of John's Pass where there are numerous shopping opportunities and dinner cruises leave from there."


Good and cheap:

East Bay

Located in the heart of Pinellas County, minutes from the Gulf Beaches, Eastbay is an 18 hole, par 72-championship layout. A William Mitchell design, this track features elevated, well-bunkered greens with water in play on 14 of 18 holes. Eastbay has the GPS yardage system on its brand new fleet of carts.  All tees, greens and fairways are overseeded with winter ryegrass for the winter months, ensuring lush, green playing areas.

Babe Zaharias

Babe Zaharias Golf Course is a municipal course that winds through a residential area in North Tampa. It's the shortest of the city courses, but tight fairways and small greens keep it challenging.

Rocky Point

Rocky Point, located near Tampa International Airport, is a scenic course with a mix of tree-lined fairways and open holes. Water comes into play on 12 of the 18 holes.

The Claw at USF

Featuring long, tight fairways lined with oaks, cypress and pines, this attractive course is home to a variety of wildlife, including the occasional alligator. Located just off I-75 near the University of South Florida, the club is home to the university's golf teams and is a par-71 layout with driving range, golf clinics, individual lessons by PGA professionals and a golf shop. Summer golf camps are featured here, and players gather at Rocky's Sports Grill to moan over the score sheets.

Good & not so cheap:



Since opening in the fall of 1992, Westchase Golf Club has established itself as one of Tampa Bay's upscale golf facilities. The 6,710 yard, Par-72 Westchase course was designed by nationally known architect Lloyd Clifton.

Located in northwest Tampa, it is one of the better upscale courses in the Bay area. The natural setting and the well manicured fairways and greens of this course surrounded by natural wetlands, wooden bridges and bulkheads are what set it apart.

The Eagles

This facility features two 18 hole layouts, The Lakes and The Forest:

The Lakes:

An abundance of water inspired the moniker for this course. Water comes into play on virtually every hole. This 18-hole course measures over 7,100 yards and is more like the traditional Florida course with huge greens and generous driving areas.  Both nines of The Lakes start out with unique par-5's that challenge golfers to use their creativity to make a sub-par score. As you play these outstanding layouts, you soon understand why The Eagles Golf Club of Tampa Bay has a hard-won reputation for well-conditioned tees, greens, and fairways. Four sets of tees offer golfers a wide choice of challenges. When the St. Petersburg Times canvassed several dozen Tampa Bay golf courses to put together a Tampa Bay "Dream 18," two holes from The Eagles were selected.

The Forest:


Noted golf course architect, PGA Tour professional and NBC-TV commentator Gary Koch and master architect Rick Robbins are responsible for the front nine of The Forest Course, while noted architect Ron Garl designed the back nine.  Accuracy is a premium on this course, with its highly contoured fairways and well placed, meticulous greens. This course measures 6,700 yards and features the signature island-green, par-3 sixth hole, which rivals the famous 17th hole at the TPC at Sawgrass in Jacksonville.

Belleview Biltmore

Designed by world famous golf architect Donald Ross, the Belleview Biltmore Golf Club opened in 1925.  It is a challenging course that features lush lined fairways and water hazards and is noted for its beauty.

TPC of Tampa Bay

The TPC of Tampa Bay is part of a network of outstanding stadium golf courses across the country owned and operated by the PGA Tour.   Winner of the Golf Digest's four star award for places to play, this course is the home of the Verizon Classic, the area's only Senior PGA Tour event. 
Lastly, check here for a good site on public golf courses in the Tampa Bay area.

I’d like to thank USF fan JimUSFSig and BullDoug for helping me with this guide. I hope this helps.

The opinions expressed in this guide are those of TexanMark.  While every effort has been made to ensure all the information presented is accurate and current, it would be wise to verify things when possible.  Please note that this guide is not endorsed by, its site publishers, administrators and/or moderators.

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