Tampa is an "outdoor city", it's got a great young cultural buzz and it has a super interesting and multicultural history that's worth learning more about. It's very dynamic. If you like sunshine, speciality coffee, good food and cigars (!), all set within a youthful liberal buzz Tampa could be the place for you. Read on to find out more and I hope I can help you to plan part of your own Tampa experience.
THINGS TO DO AND SEE IN TAMPA
Gasparilla Festival:- Once a year Tampa host the United States third biggest street parade; Gasparilla. This is a celebration of the legend of Jose Gaspar a mythical Spanish pirate who supposedly operated in Southwest Florida in the early 1800's. To say it was a wild affair would probably be an understatement. Dressed in themed attire and armed with a few cocktails I felt lucky to experience such a unique yet huge event.
Museums:- Before I headed to Tampa I did not know so much about the art scene here so it was a pleasure to come across the fantastic Tampa Museum of Art. This building is beautifully lit in the evening and sits next to creatively multi-coloured palm trees.... so it's well worth checking out this area by night.
We also took the short ferry (with dolphins jumping elegantly beside us) over to the stunning Dali Museum, already getting a decent reputation for its great curation (that's an unintentional tongue twister!), and then popped next door to see the Chihuly Collection. It's worth going to the former for the architecture alone!
Historical Ybor City and Guided Tour:- Start the day by taking the yellow tram to Ybor City if you want to start the visit to Ybor in a vintage, leisurely and classy style.
Ybor City is fascinating. Founded in the 1880s by Vicente Martinez-Ybor and other cigar manufacturers and was populated by thousands of immigrants, mainly from Cuba, Spain, and Italy. For the next 50 years, workers in Ybor City's cigar factories rolled hundreds of millions of cigars annually. Make sure to pop your head into one of the cigar making stores, it smells amazing and is rather mesmerising to watch.
Whilst here we went to the Ybor City Museum and met up with the super adorable and knowledgeable local historian, Wally Reyes. Even if you thought tours were not your thing please do get in touch with the museum just to see if Wally is available. I am certainly gutted I didn't get a video or portrait of him so you'd get an idea of how charming he is!
Kayaking within nature:- I drove to the outskirts of Tampa to immerse myself into some backwaters by canoe. I was accompanied by a very lovely and knowledgeable guide at Canoe Escape. Abundant wildlife, including crocodiles and sunbathing turtles, led me to attempt some nature shots, such as the below, whilst ambling along and enjoying moving at a little slower pace and enjoying the fresh air.
Skydiving and an exciting new Golf concept:- Just a short drive along the highway one evening I took a super thrilling indoor skydiving class at iFly and had a great laugh playing the novel new kind of driving range style golf at Top Golf - both on the same site. Top Golf is a new craze taking over America where you hit electronically tagged balls into lit targets on a driving range field. Super unique. The food and beer here was on par with a decent American diner.
Beaches, Sunset and Picnic Spots:- This is Florida. This is the Sunshine State. The super Sunshine State! So I guess like me you're going to want to know a little about the beaches and spots to get beautiful sunset photos. The great thing with Tampa is that you get the benefits of city life but within 15 or so minutes you can take yourself to stunning spots to relax and watch the sunset.
First up I recommend Ben Davies Beach, just by Whiskey Joes (a great place to watch the sunset and have a cocktail). This is the location of the well "Instagrammed" three clustered palm tree spot too, so you can walk away with a photo that is bound to get a good response from your friends back home!
The most secluded spot, and well worth the small drive south, is called Picnic Point Park. There is also Cypress Point Park if you wanted somewhere more on the north side, and closer to the highways, part of Tampa.
If you are a sunrise fanatic like me, you need to head to Ballast Point Park. Here you can get a view of the whole of Downtown Tampa. If the season is right (around summertime) the sun will rise directly behind the impressive sky rises across the water.
Florida Aquarium. The last tip for things do to would be to check out the Florida Aquarium when you're looking to escape the sunshine. There is an interesting array of local fish and birds and there are affordable options to swim in the huge shark tanks - if you wanted to be extra daring!
EATING IN TAMPA.
The Oxford Exchange is a restaurant, bookstore, lifestyle gift store, co-working space, design studio and event venue in Tampa, Florida. Its simply stunning. I couldn't get enough of this place. I ate here for brunch and went back twice for coffee and twice to visit the Warby Parker store to choose some glasses and each time I swung by Aesop, just to take in some smells. I said to my American host how Aesop had taken over London and Berlin and that setting up shop in the Oxford Exchange speaks volumes for the type of cool (read: uber hipster!) this place must be.
Ulele was the early food highlight for me. The food was exquisite and the interior space and busy and upbeat atmosphere made it my top tip for the downtown Tampa area. The restaurant and brewery serves native-inspired food and spirits from a rich variety of multicultural influences, so you are bound to find something unique here.
For starters you simply have to try the Alligator Hush Puppies. You. Will. Not. Regret. This! I am not joking but I popped in to get these for take-away on a second day. The sauces are mouth watering!
Columbia Restaurant is something different but a long standing classic (it's been owned and operated by 5 generations over 110 years!) and you sit within what feels like a grand Cuban hotel from the 1960's. The queue, even mid-week was long, and that simply showed how popular and worth a visit it was.
If I could give you one tip it would be to try the Columbia Original "1905" Salad to go along with your choice of mains.
Elevage. Just take a look at this menu! We had Lobster Gnocchi and BBQ Oysters to start. These both totally blew my mind. The flavours were out of this world. This place is worth the treat.
For mains we had Blackened Grouper with Crispy Brussel Sprouts and Grits for sides. The dinner for two options come highly recommend.
Bern's Steak House. Opposite the Epicurean and Elevate is one of the most famous steak houses in the USA, Bern's Steak House. It may be pricey and busy but it will be a once in a lifetime type steak experience. If you come to Tampa do consider to check this place out and book ahead if you want to go!
Mini Doughnut Factory. I have focused a lot on dinners here but one morning we ate something of a new trend - "mini-doughnuts" from Mini Doughnut Factory. These may be small but they were voted Tampa's tastiest doughnuts and the benefit of mini doughnuts is that you will get to try at least... four flavours! ;)
Alternatively you could try out Dough for normal sized doughnuts. I didnt go here but this place is highly rated on Foursquare and Facebook.
DRINKING IN TAMPA
Beer, Beer, Beer!
Taste multiple beers with Brew Bus "the ultimate craft beer experience". For me Sunday was the best time to make the most of this opportunity as locals and tourists alike will keep the atmosphere lively but take a look at the different tour options here to see whats right for you.
Coffee, Coffee, Coffee!
I'm a bit of a coffee addict, maybe you could call me a snob! Tampa has a thriving coffee scene and during my time there I've been to and can recommend Buddy Brew (there are three! but the Hyde Park branch was favourite and if the seats outside are free in the morning I'd go for them as they're facing the morning sun), Foundation, Caffeine and The Lab. I didn't get the chance to try this one, due to the name, which would probably suit me most; Ginger Beard Coffee. I'm listing all these as I did a fair bit of research and digging to discover them - hopefully saving you some time but giving you faith that you can go to Tampa and have a high standard third-wave coffee! All, mostly, served by friendly and chatty baristas. This hospitality in the service industry is a reason why I love travelling to the States.
Epicurean was the standout place and coolest and most hip spot for me. An upscale boutique hotel especially good for the foodies out there. There is a culinary theater, restaurant, wine shop, patisserie, spa and lovely rooftop bar all within the locations.