This US Airport Is Samantha Brown's Favorite In The World

While some people take one or two vacations a year, Samantha Brown spends months at a time traveling the world for her PBS series "Samantha Brown's Places to Love." That translates to a staggering number of flights and trips through airports — according to CNN, the globe-trotter visited a whopping 88 airports in 2019. From her extensive jet-setting, Brown has gotten to know travel hubs all around the globe and narrowed down her favorites, the ones she views as a joy to visit rather than a headache-inducing experience of stressful security lines and crowded gates.

As revealed in an interview with Forbes Travel Guide, Brown's top airport choice can be found in the U.S. "My favorite airport is Tampa [International Airport]," she explained. "It is the best airport in the United States. I've been flying through Tampa for once a month for 15 years, with a slight break for COVID. But it's always been such an easy experience with the flow of traffic, how they've done the architecture in terms of keeping people moving, crowd control and then amenities." The travel expert, who calls Brooklyn home, raved about the Florida airport's punctuality, noting that she always arrives early when returning to New York City. She also has a favorite food spot in the airport: Columbia Café, an award-winning Cuban restaurant in Airside E.

Tampa is considered one of the best airports in the U.S.

Samantha Brown isn't the only traveler who has fallen in love with Tampa International Airport. The Florida hub has landed on numerous "best of" lists, including taking the top spot in the J.D. Power North American Airport Satisfaction Survey in 2023. The study used over 27,000 customer surveys to highlight the best airports across the U.S. and Canada and found that Tampa ranked the highest among large-sized airports.

Condé Nast Traveler conducted a similar survey in 2023 for its Readers' Choice Awards and, using feedback from a stunning 526,518 respondents, determined that Tampa International Airport was the fifth-best in the country. The list noted the airport's recent upgrades, including new shuttles imported from Japan, e-gates, and eye-catching artwork. In 2023, The Wall Street Journal also honored the Gulf Coast airport, naming it the 10th-best midsize airport in America. The publication commended Tampa's efficient security checkpoints, layout, gate seats, and easy access to several non-stop destinations.

How to spend time in Tampa International Airport

If you have a layover in Tampa — or if you're departing from the hub and arrive early for your flight — you'll find numerous shops, restaurants, and amenities to keep yourself busy. Retailers like Swarovski, Mindworks (specializing in children's goods), The Body Shop, Dylan's Candy Bar, and Ron Jon Surf Shop are mixed in with standard souvenir stores and newsstands. Samantha Brown's top pick, Columbia Café, is always a winner for food. However, you'll also find restaurants like Ulele (for oysters and craft beers), Bella's Café (serving brick-oven pizzas), and Starbucks Evenings (a grown-up, boozy version of the coffeeshop chain) scattered throughout the airport.

If you have extra time to kill, snag a seat in one of the airport lounges or, if you're feeling active, follow its walking routes (maps are available on Tampa International Airport's official website) to explore while racking up steps. Be sure to also take a look at the public art on display. Some works blend in seamlessly, like the sculptures hanging from the ceilings, while others are set up in a museum-style exhibit, but they're all equally worth finding. For children, the airport also offers scavenger hunts and self-guided tours to learn more about the facilities and their history.