If you haven’t been to Tampa in over a few years, I suggest you put it on a Tampa Staycation calendar. It’s a happening place. We’re talking foodie quality eating, craft beers (the craft beer capital of Florida), major performing arts center (the largest one in the Southeast US), visual arts, and unique festivals. That’s in addition to all of the family attractions you’ve probably heard of – from Busch Gardens Tampa Bay and the Florida Aquarium to ZooTampa, and the New York Yankees training exercises. Plus, prices including hotel rates are a lot less than in Miami, even in peak season. Here are things to do, Part 1. Part 2 will be where to stay and eat.
Things to Do:
Indulge your love of art and possibly make a purchase at the Graphicstudio at the University of South Florida. I met a director at INK during Art Basel which was the catalyst for my trip since it’s one of the foremost printing studios in the USA. You can see the leading print making processes in the works and tour works on display from their collection of 900 by 180 artists (like a small art museum). The collection includes prints by their former artists in residence including the likes of Rauschenberg, Rosenquist, Jim Dine, Alex Katz and lots more (click here for more about this).
Be fascinated by Behind the Scenes Tour and Tasting at Cigar City Brewing. You’ll come out an expert on beers and a lover of brews if you weren’t before. The 45 minute tour comes with a memento beer glass. There are two bars on site, and a food truck that I heard serves up mean ribs and BBQ. To come, a restaurant.
Get a tour, enjoy a concert, or several times a year you can enjoy a silent movie accompanied by the Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ at Tampa Theater. Built in 1926, the historic movie palace was designed by John Eberson, the same architect who did the Gusman.
Take one of three fun and informative tours of Ybor City National Historic Landmark District – history, ghost or Mafia tour. Be sure to take one of Lonnie Herman, Ybor City Historic Walking tours .Named for its founder, 19th century cigar magnate E Vicente Martiniez-Ybor, Ybor City was the melting pot for immigrants from Cuba, northern Spain, Sicily, Germany and Eastern Europe. Here millions of cigars were produced each year which you can still see being made. At night it is transformed into an entertainment district. You’ll also check out Jose Marti Park, a pilgrimage site for Cubans since the park has been Cuban territory since 1956, the only Cuban territory outside of the island.
Do some shopping damage at La France vintage store in Ybor City. Unlike any other, this large shop has vintage and retro clothing for men and women, remakes of fashions from the 50’s and 60’s by brands with names like Bettie Page and Retrospec’d. Find bathing suits, flair skirts, evening clothes, jewelry, hats, handbags, the works. It’s great fun, and you can snag a bargain for sure.
Drive along Bayshore Boulevard and see the grand homes dating from 1920’s. Or choose to see the homes by bike on the bayside promenade which is also the longest uninterrupted sidewalk in the world. Water biking too.
Walk the Riverfront and check out the contemporary Tampa Museum of Art which houses one of the largest Greek and Roman antiquities collections in the southeastern US. It has sculpture, photography, painting, new media and more. Upcoming exhibit includes works by Jean-Michele Basquiat.
Festivals and Events: Time your visit to coincide with one of the many festivals including the Gasparilla Pirate Fest, a take on Mardi Gras; beer festival called Brews with Attitude; New York Yankees Spring Training; Gasparilla Festival of the Arts; and Howl-O-Scream at Busch Garden Tampa Bay around Halloween.
For more information, go to www.visittampabay.com and follow on instagram, @visittampabay.