Our Family Strategy for Avoiding the Crowds and Seeing the Show!

Where to See Fireworks in Tampa Bay – Our Family Strategy

There are fireworks displays at each of Tampa Florida’s attractions and all over the Tampa Bay area for the 4th of July celebrations every year. You may already have your family tradition in place, but a few years ago we stumbled upon the best spot for us, and since our kids are now grown we’re willing to share our strategy.

While you may want to be with enthusiastic crowds while enjoying the fireworks over the water, those hours before hand are not the most pleasant. If you are one of the barbecue or beach set, you just have to get there early enough to stake out your spot, spread out your blanket and wait for the big show. If you’re looking at a more metropolitan setting, you’ve got to make dinner reservations way in advance and try to linger long enough for that 9PM blast off.

Our goal was always to actually just see the fireworks so our spot had to have these specific criteria:

  1. Easy in and out – we looked for a place without bottleneck traffic, because after the fireworks everyone in sight leaves at the same time. If you are headed across the Bay from Tampa to St. Pete, or planning on enjoying the show from a Clearwater Beach restaurant, you’d better prepare for a lot windshield time.
  2. Avoid the heat – July is one of the hottest months in the Tampa Bay area, with enough humidity to make whiling away the hours outside exhausting. We looked for a place that would provide air-conditioned shelter before the event.
  3.  Other Activities – Live music, shopping and a variety of things to do is all part of each of our holiday outings if we can manage it and the 4th is not different.

Now that you know our criteria, here’s where we chose: Channelside Bay Plaza in the Channelside District. Why Channelside?

  1. Location – the Selmon Crosstown Expressway can get you to Channelside from the suburbs of Brandon or up from MacDill AFB within 15 minutes. The off-ramp will put you literally at the doors of your destination. You can exit the same way, or cut through downtown on any one of 3 or 4 East/West streets.
  2. Parking - is plentiful, because Channelside is the home to the St. Pete Times Forum, home of the Tampa Bay Lightning and a popular concert venue and the Cruise Ship Terminal next door. It’s also right on the water, so it’s easy to get a great view of the fireworks shot off from the floating platform just off the dock.
  3. Activities Before and After – Channelside has a great selection of restaurants and bars both inside and outside of its central courtyard. We like spicy, so try Thai Thani, but make sure you make reservations. You can go bowling, head for the bar or just listen to the free live music in the central courtyard before the main event. You don’t even have to start and end at Channelside itself as Ybor City is a quick trolley ride away and Tampa’s Riverwalk and Tampa History museum are right next door.

Our chosen strategy is to head for Channelside early, before the bulk of the crowds get there, and find great parking in the garage right across the street. Then have dinner close by and head for the Channelside Cinemas. We’ve had great luck in picking a fun superhero or Harry Potter film that comes as close to ending at 9PM (fireworks time) as possible. The Cinema is on the up section of the courtyard, so if you time it right you can see a great movie, in the air conditioning, then walk right outside and look up to see the real show! As an option, if you’re on vacation in Tampa Bay and want to do something equally air conditioned but different, the Florida Aquarium is right next door!

If you can’t make it to Channelside Bay Plaza, here are some other spots you might try:

  • Ybor City
  • St. Petersburg Pier
  • Bayfront Park, Sarasota
  • St. Pete Beach