Tampa Destination Guide
Sun-kissed Tampa on Florida’s central west coast is blessed with beaches and theme parks. Like Queensland’s Gold Coast, expect mild to hot temperatures throughout the year. Set on Tampa Bay, and with the Gulf of Mexico a short boat ride away, the city is the home port to some of the world’s biggest cruise lines. But if you’re not taking off on a cruise, or a rollercoaster, the city has plenty more to offer … good food, zoos, aquariums, boating, gardens, beaches and lots of water sport.
Tampa is home to several professional sports teams and – depending on when you’re there – you can see the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team, Tampa Bay Buccaneers NFL football team or Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team in action. The famous New York Yankees baseball team also conducts spring training in Tampa each year and tickets are available to the sessions.
The Busch Gardens Tampa Bay theme park consistently rates among the city’s most visited places. Busch Gardens is set in 136 hectares and, apart from the wild rides, it has seriously good animal exhibits and family entertainment shows.
Florida Aquarium, Lowry Park Zoo, Big Cat Rescue and Tampa Theatre are also worth considering, along with island excursions, dolphin-watching tours and sunset cruises (including one on a pirate ship).
If you’re going to Tampa in late January or early February, you’ll be in time for the annual Gasparilla Pirate Festival that started in1904. A flotilla of pirate ships and hundreds of small boats sails across Tampa Bay in a mock pirate invasion, followed by a parade that attracts hundreds of thousands of people.
Eat and Drink
The SoHo neighbourhood is known as restaurant row and is a good place to start. Outdoor dining is popular throughout the city and there are also many waterfront bistros and bars. Or, get your boat shoes on and take a lunch or dinner cruise on a luxury 600-passenger dining yacht.
Be sure to try a Cuban sandwich. This local favourite consists of ham, roast pork, Swiss cheese, pickles and mustard. It originated in Ybor City, a historic neighbourhood of Tampa, with the Cubans who worked there at the start of 19th century. To add some authenticity, get your Cuban at any number of places in trendy Ybor City, among them Gaspar’s Grotto and Columbia Restaurant.
There’s also a lively craft-beer scene in Tampa, with the warm weather a conducive environment for an icy ale, or two. Cigar City Brewing is popular, or look out for the comprehensive calendar of beer fests, from Oktoberfest to Brews by the Bay.
Where to Stay
There is a good choice of five-star properties in the downtown area that have water views and are close to the Tampa Riverwalk. The walk connects to many of the city’s attractions, including restaurants and parks. The Westshore District is Tampa’s main business area with 30-plus hotels, as well as a good offering of restaurants.
The International Plaza and WestShore Plaza shopping centres, considered to be the city’s best, are also located in this district. Look further and you can check into a wide variety of accommodation styles, from a casino hotel to a golf resort, or a quaint bed and breakfast.
Hyde Park Village is the place to go for high-end shopping – and dining – in a setting of brick walkways, shady oak trees and fountains. Another charming area is Ybor City where there are boutiques and sidewalk cafes. Generally, Tampa has a good number of pedestrian malls, markets and plazas.
Tampa Like a Local
The beaches are popular, but less known may be Caladesi Island State Park. Take a 20-minute ferry ride (you may see dolphins) across to the island’s white-sand beaches and unspoilt natural beauty.