Explosive energy, liquid libations and infectious personalities await you in Tampa Bay, Florida. Challenged by my 48-hour assignment to uncover the sparkle of this southern city placed me in a dubious position. Let’s just say I will be returning!
Often overshadowed by the mammoth appeal of Miami nightlife and Orlando’s thriving amusement parks, Tampa Bay can be overlooked by travelers. Make no mistake, consider this an affectionate reminder that Tampa holds a unique history and a wealth of welcoming human interaction that will ensure your return.
Simply intoxicating, the golden sunshine and whispering breezes will relax you while you cruise in the Pirate water taxi along the Hillsboro River. Literally, you can grab a beer, digest the city history, and inhale the splendid views.
Tampa Bay with a twist? Well, the discerning traveler will soon come to understand this Floridian gem has bay-crafted cocktails rooted in a culture of celebration and a dance craze footprint established by the “The Twist.” Feeling the excitement of Tampeños teenagers Hank Ballard and The Midnighters who created the chart-topping song to accompany the twisting teen dancers provides a bit of travel trivia and historical nostalgia. There is an undeniable festive spirit here that will spark your fascination to unlock more of Tampa Bay.
Make Perry Harvey Sr. Park your destination for the perfect selfie for marking your presence in the heart of Tampa Bay’s epicenter of African-American culture, known as “The Scrub.” Feel the spirit of Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Charles, who all served as entertainment catalysts of change, enhancing the city’s richness in culture, style and food.
A port city and railroad hub in years past made Tampa Bay a hotbed for commerce. The brilliance and intellect of Spanish entrepreneur Vincente Martinez Ybor created explosive growth of this waterfront city. Ybor capitalized, monetized and thrived, ultimately creating opportunities for his employees to live the American Dream. Descendants of Cuban, Spanish, German and Italian immigrants contributed to the former glory of this Cigar Capital, producing over 700 million cigars a year at its height of production.
Today, the city is experiencing a lightning fast resurrection due to the forward thinking of new entrepreneurs like Jeffrey N. Vinik, owner of the city’s NHL hockey team, the Tampa Bay Lightning. Conscious growth of the city based on sustaining the heritage and culture is paramount to the locals.
Here is a quick guide to EAT, STAY & PLAY while absorbing the zeal that is Tampa.
There is absolutely no way to eat all of the delicious foods in this melting pot of diversity. However, I did my best to devour as much as I could without causing discomfort. I will admit, at times it was a challenge. I made three memorable stops during this trip. My first stop for bites and conversation landed me at Chef Felicia LaCalle’s Hemingway’s. Felicia pours soulful Cuban influence into every bite. The Hemingway Cuban is the best self-gift treat for lunch.
My second stop landed me in front of the ever-evolving menu at Edison Food + Drink Lab. While the sesame tempura cauliflower with black garlic ponzu was an appetizer, I found it to be my main course, and you likely will too, as it is absolutely divine. Don’t try to dictate the experience at the lab—allow the skillfully talented wait staff to take you on a memorable gastrological journey.
My third and final food destination was Columbia Restaurant. This fifth-generation family owned business grabs you with the predinner bread made fresh daily. Coupled with the fact that this establishment boasts the largest private collection of Spanish wines in the world, you won’t want to leave. Beyond that, the 1905 salad and martini are mainstays. The excitement continued with live flamenco dancing as proof of why this is not just fine dining but a community staple that is not to be missed.
If the Tampa Museum of Art would take a reservation for an overnight stay, consider it booked. Artistic expression enlightens and tells the journey of a community in silence. Quietly spending a half day observing the work of Purvis Young and countless other artisans made for a phenomenal experience. However, crashing at Le Méridien Tampa was officially chic and legally sound. Following a multi-million-dollar renovation, this former Beaux Arts-style federal courthouse is perfectly situated for you to wander about Tampa with ease.
Experience the social club legacy and beautiful architecture firsthand with phenomenal insight by tour guide Lonnie Hermann. Ybor City is a designated historical landmark that preserves the area’s richness. Prepare to spend a minimum of five hours in La France vintage boutique. This store is a shopper’s paradise, with immaculate undisturbed frocks that will have you clamoring to figure how you can ship garments home. Save some energy after walking all day in direct sunlight for the evening when Ybor City transforms into a daily Mardi Gras-style celebration of life with pedestrian traffic, unending liquid libations and nonstop dancing. Come ready to play hard—Tampa will greet you with open arms!