What to Do in Tampa, Florida

I reside quarter-hour from Tampa, Fla., however I infrequently visited the Gulf Coast metropolis after I moved to close by St. Petersburg in 2019. My mates in St. Pete dismissed the place as a sprawling, sun-baked assortment of strip malls, and the visitors on the Gandy and Howard Frankland bridges connecting the 2 cities was an incentive to remain on “our” facet of the bay. Then the pandemic got here and with it extra time within the space and loads much less visitors.

My preliminary forays to “their” facet of the bay have been aimed toward discovering issues my new hometown lacked, starting with tennis, Turkish meals and tamales. I found Racquet Heads, a beautiful little tennis store hidden beneath a freeway overpass. Then I grew to become hooked on the kebabs and lahmacun (Turkish pizza) at Istanbul Mediterranean Grill & Restaurant close to the Busch Gardens theme park, and the irresistible tamales at Lolis Mexican Cravings, a superb fast-food Mexican restaurant with 5 areas in Tampa.

I wasn’t the one one trying out Tampa. In 2020, Tom Brady got here to city, and it hasn’t simply been the world’s glorious sports activities groups which were on a profitable streak of late. The flood of Northerners looking for sandals-and-shorts winters accelerated in the course of the pandemic. Zillow, the actual property web site, not too long ago forecast that Tampa would be the hottest housing market within the nation this yr, and Forbes named Tampa the primary rising tech metropolis within the nation final summer season. The town’s revitalized downtown will get one other increase with the eco-friendly Water Street Tampa mission, which is able to convey 3,500 new downtown condos, together with retail and lodge developments, together with the soon-to-open EDITION, a placing luxurious lodge, steps from the Hillsborough River.

Lengthy overshadowed by Miami, Orlando and Key West, Tampa is rising as a cool place to reside. However is it actually a spot to spend your trip?

From a tourism perspective, this metropolis of 400,000, tucked right into a metro space of about three million, stays a little bit of a secret, regardless of its latest progress. Many guests nonetheless fly into the Tampa’s award-winning airport and head straight to the seashores in St. Petersburg and Clearwater. However as I’ve present in my latest travels, they could be lacking one thing.

William Drysdale was a peripatetic author who wrote greater than 50 “travel letters” from Florida within the late nineteenth century for The New York Occasions. On his first journey to Tampa Bay in 1884, the yr the railroad magnate Henry Plant launched rail service to Tampa, Drysdale prolonged a one-night keep right into a fortnight. “After visiting practically all the nice and cozy nations frequented by People, Cuba, Mexico, Bermuda, Yucatan, Texas, Louisiana, and lots of the smaller West India islands,” he wrote, “I just like the West Coast of Florida better of all.”

Florida Historic Quarterly credit Drysdale’s Florida dispatches with serving to “create a winter tourism bond between New York and the sunshine state which has remained firmly in place for greater than 100 years.”

Earlier than Plant opened the Tampa Bay Lodge — his lavish, “fireproof,” 511-room, Moorish-style palace — in 1891, Drysdale was given a preview and wrote a gushing dispatch, claiming “its domes and spires … its 150 acres of groves, its 2,000 electrical lights, its brick partitions and metal beams” made it, together with Henry Flagler’s Ponce de Leon lodge in St. Augustine, considered one of “two nice lodge wonders of the world.”

The Tampa Bay Lodge put town on the map, but it surely fell on exhausting occasions inside a decade of Plant’s dying in 1899. In keeping with the guide “Tampa’s Folks with a Function,” the once-grand outdated dame grew to become “a crimson elephant that was at occasions occupied by vagrants who burned a few of (Plant’s costly) furnishings to remain heat.” It closed its doorways in the course of the Nice Melancholy and is now a part of the College of Tampa.

The previous lodge stays Tampa’s most Instagrammable landmark, although many guests go away with out visiting the wonderful Henry B. Plant Museum inside, which supplies a colourful account of the lodge’s early days. (In case you plan to go to different sights alongside town’s Riverwalk, just like the excellent Tampa Bay History Center, the Glazer Children’s Museum, the Florida Aquarium or others, take into account shopping for the brand new Riverwalk attraction pass.)

To get a distinct perspective on the lodge’s iconic domes and Tampa’s skyline, you’ll be able to lease an electrical boat from eBoats Tampa and take a spin on the Hillsborough River, making pit stops at watering holes like Rick’s on the River and gliding by the Davis Island mansion previously owned by Derek Jeter and rented by Tom Brady earlier than it sold final yr for $22.5 million.

I received the electrical boat advice and plenty of others from Steven Hoffstetter, a fifth-generation Floridian and a Tampa native. “We hate St. Pete they usually hate us,” he joked. “Severely, I choose Tampa.”

Mr. Hoffstetter harassed that guests should spend time on the water to grasp the tradition. He recommends taking a constitution tour by way of Tampa Bay Fun Boat to boozy Beer Can Island (a.ok.a. Pine Key) which has a bar (“open when the climate is sweet, the water is calm and the hangover is manageable”), however no everlasting inhabitants.

To grasp Tampa’s watery geography, you will need to be taught the legend of José Gaspar, a Spanish pirate who apparently stole a ship in 1783 and sailed to the Gulf of Mexico, the place he and his crew raided with abandon till 1821, when their ship, the Gasparilla, was sunk by the usS. Enterprise. Gaspar, the legend goes, wrapped himself within the ship’s anchor chain and threw himself out to sea, proclaiming, “Gasparilla dies by his personal hand and never his enemy’s!” Gaspar was largely forgotten till 1904, when Louise Frances Dodge, a society editor on the Tampa Tribune, cooked up the concept for a pirate-themed parade based mostly on his legend.

In case you occur to be right here in late January, you’ll be able to social gathering with 1000’s of revelers, many wearing pirate garb, who prove for the Gasparilla parade alongside Bayshore Boulevard, which is changed into a “moist zone” the place open containers of alcohol are permitted. A whole lot of pirates carry out a ceremonial invasion, through which the mayor palms over the keys to town. However what many guests don’t notice is that the Gasparilla revelry continues after the preliminary invasion with a season value of actions, together with music and humanities festivals and the Sant’Yago Knight Parade. The debaucherous celebrations are only-in-Tampa spectacles value anchoring a visit round.

One other singular Tampa expertise is taking a ship to the Sunday morning Thai market at Wat Mongkolratanaram, a shocking Buddhist temple with boat docks on the Palm River. Come early to beat the crowds who flock to this widespread marketplace for low-cost, selfmade Thai meals and delightful orchids and different flowers.

In a contemporary metropolis, the pure tendency is to seek for one thing outdated. The perfect place to expertise Outdated Tampa is Ybor Metropolis, a neighborhood that was as soon as well-known for producing high quality cigars. Its important drag, East seventh Avenue, is town’s pulsating nightlife hub. Guests hardly ever stray off seventh Avenue, however a number of treasures are hidden across the neighborhood. Begin with the Ybor City Museum, the place you’ll be taught the fascinating story of the neighborhood’s founder, Vincent Martinez Ybor, a Spanish businessman in Havana who ran afoul of Spanish authorities in 1868 for supporting Cuban independence.

Dealing with the prospect of dying by hanging, he escaped to Key West, which lacked enough transportation hyperlinks for his cigar enterprise. He constructed Ybor Metropolis in 1886 as a deliberate industrial group at a time when Tampa had simply 2,735 residents. (The realm’s earliest inhabitants have been the Native American Calusa, and the phrase Tampa comes from the Calusa phrase “Tanpa” which meant sticks of fireplace, a reference to the world’s legendary lightning strikes.)

Tampa got here to be referred to as “Cigar Metropolis” as legions of Cuban, Spanish, Sicilian and Romanian Jewish immigrants streamed into Ybor to toil in its cigar factories. The business drifted right into a gradual decline beginning within the Twenties, however you’ll be able to tour the J.C. Newman Cigar Company, town’s final cigar manufacturing facility, and revel in stogies at many neighborhood institutions.

Across the nook from the museum, the not too long ago opened Tampa Baseball Museum chronicles the area’s baseball historical past within the childhood residence of Al López, Tampa’s first professional ballplayer. Tampa has been the spring coaching residence to seven groups, courting again to 1913 when the Chicago Cubs educated there. In the meantime, the legendary Yankees groups of the Twenties, ’30s and ’50s educated in St. Pete and have been in Tampa since 1996. Groups have been lured to the area to advertise tourism, and spring coaching video games, which run this season till April 6, are nonetheless a giant draw.

A great spot for lunch is Al’s Finger Licking Good Bar-B-Que, the place you’ll be able to sit on the counter and inhale the smoky goodness of pulled pork and ribs, or dine outdoors, the place you’ll hear the neighborhood’s clucking chickens, which have their very own fan membership, the Ybor Chickens Society. One other close by hidden treasure is Barriehaus Beer Company, which has glorious German and Czech-style lagers and a kid- and dog-friendly beer backyard. When you have a candy tooth, cap your Ybor Metropolis tour off on the century-old La Segunda Central Bakery, which is known for its three-foot-long loaves of Cuban bread, Cuban sandwiches and irresistibly buttery treats, however has an off-the-beaten-track location simply north of Ybor Metropolis’s historic district.

The easiest way to navigate Tampa’s sprawl of less-heralded neighborhoods is to eat and drink your manner round city. Inflation is a buzz kill, however fortunately the immigrants who run the West Tampa Sandwich Shop and the Saigon Deli haven’t acquired the raise-your-prices memo. The sandwich store is a hangout for Cuban immigrants, and their $4.50 Cuban sandwich is a cut price, as is the $4 grilled pork banh mi at Saigon Deli (3858 West Waters Avenue), a wondrous, but humble, Vietnamese eatery hidden away in a strip mall alongside a Vietnamese market and cultural heart.

Whereas we’re speaking 4 buck treats in Tampa, put timeless Bo’s Ice Cream (7101 North Florida Avenue), a Seminole Heights establishment run by 4 generations of the Bosanko household since 1954, in your dessert itinerary. Bo’s has glorious custard, and their ($4) “small” scorching fudge sundae with whipped cream and nuts is large and appropriately sinful.

The Seminole Heights, Tampa Heights and Hyde Park neighborhoods are foolish with worthwhile hidden locals’ joints you should strive. Name forward to get a password to enter Ciro’s Tampa, a fantastically appointed speakeasy-style cocktail bar in an outdated hotel-turned-condominium constructing. On a residential avenue in Tampa Heights, you’ll discover maybe town’s greatest pizza and wings at Lee’s Grocery, a pizzeria and bottle store with a dog-friendly patio. And close to the airport, the standard, eight-table One Family Korean restaurant is hidden between a Korean grocery store and a Korean cultural heart on the finish of a strip mall the place you will get superior bulgogi (skinny, marinated slices of beef or pork) and scrumptious Korean barbecued quick ribs as a reward for locating the place.

Tampa can appear to be a sprawling mess if you’re driving round busy six-lane roads looking for hidden $4 sandwich retailers, so make time to decompress in inexperienced areas like Lettuce Lake Park, the place you’ll be able to lease a canoe or kayak ($25 for as much as 4 hours, no reservations), and Hillsborough River State Park ($6 entry per automobile), the place you’ll be able to hike in an Outdated Florida jungle on a simple 2.5-mile loop by way of the Baynard and River Rapids trails.

As I made one rewarding discovery after one other whereas cruising Tampa’s broad avenues, I concluded that town’s hidden charms are unimaginable to catalog in a scientific manner. Make your personal tracks and canopy them nicely. I choose to depart some close by terrain unexplored so I by no means really feel like there’s nothing left to find in my very own yard. However for 2 weeks, I commuted throughout the Bay, residing the lifetime of a Tampeño, all of the whereas feeling a bit like a spy, even perhaps a traitor. I realized that Tampa isn’t the tasteless and forgettable metropolis I used to be informed it was, and I loved each minute of my subversive travels to the opposite facet.

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