Many thousands of holidaymakers jet off to the Sunshine State every year, with fun-loving families making up a habitually large contingent; and for good reason(s). Florida has a deserved reputation for accommodating the touristic needs of anyone and everyone, thanks to a notably expansive selection of things to do, see and throw yourselves head long into, with oodles of action and adventure served up in equal measure. Acknowledged as Florida’s third-largest conurbation, Tampa hasn’t always been held in the same holidaymaking esteem as its more glamorous and instantly recognisable counterparts, yet all that has changed in recent years as the diverse city now finds itself gaining plaudits left, right and centre for its range of visitor attractions, tourist facilities and all round appeal. In (a significant) part thanks to the state’s North Gulf Coast beaches, which offer those looking to escape the throng of the region’s sprawling metropolises the perfect escape clause. So now really is as good a time as any to discover just what all the fuss is about, and why Tampa is the Floridian name on everyone’s lips this summer 2019.
In terms of the what, where, which, when, why and how, let us give you the low-down on some of Tampa’s stand-out attractions which should all figure prominently on the tourist’s checklist. For a start there’s the city’s aquarium and the animal-tastic Lowry Park Zoo, for those who love to take a walk on the wild side while enjoying their hols. Staying on the topic of stretching your legs, were you aware that Tampa was home to what its proud denizens claim to be the world’s longest sidewalk!? (pavement, for those of you without an American-to-English dictionary to hand ) Yup, Tampa’s Bayshore Boulevard – we know, very French sounding – is the strip of sidewalk in question here, where you’ll also find (at least, in easy striking distance) that other hugely popular fairweather sport, er, ice-skating. Believe it or not, ice rinks are big business in Tampa, and there’s a number of examples within driving distance including the Tampa Bay Skating Academy in the Oldsmar district. Oh, and have we mentioned Busch Gardens yet? No? Then you best carry on reading.
Steak and seafood (although not necessarily at the same time) figure highly on most Tampa holiday menus; the latter hardly surprising on account of the general geographical location tourists find themselves in here on the USA’s west coast. But don’t think for a minute that the imagination only stretches this far, as elsewhere visitors can freely enjoy a wide and varied selection of Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Indian and Spanish dishes. With regards to the fine dining option, those in the know suggest Eddie V’s Prime Seafood, Wright’s Gourmet House, La Terrazza, The Columbia, Ocean Prime, Bern’s Steak House and Charley’s Steak House if we were to randomly name-drop a few eateries. And which yes, do err on a more seafood-y and steak side of culinary life. But hey, when in Rome, etc.
As we hinted at the top, a Tampa holiday will create both instant and enduring memories for families of all ages, such is the choice of exciting days out you can enjoy in the area. Be it enthralling and interactive museum experiences and engaging galleries to attention-grabbing zoos and thrill-a-minute theme parks, Tampa really does have the full package for kids (and adult-sized kids too!). Chief among the almost limitless tractions which Tampa has to offer is the Lowry Park Zoo; noted as being one of America’s finest, and featuring a manatee hospital in its midst. And then there’s the Busch Gardens which we know many of you will have been waiting to read about. Justifiably billed as the ‘ultimate family adventure’, this theme park combines world-class thrill rides, live entertainment and, yes, you guessed it; another 12,000 exhibit-containing zoo. And don’t start us on the dolphin show which Busch Gardens is famous for as we’ll never get back on track.
Kids will also want to beat a path to MOSI (or the Museum of Science and Industry to afford it its full title). Which is described as ‘the largest science centre in the Southeast’, and is home to some 450 interactive science exhibits and a colossal IMAX dome cinema with an 82-foot hemispherical movie screen to boot! And then there’s the Glazer Children’s Museum, which itself houses over 170 interactive activities which help to explain many cultural applications from understanding the role of commerce to how to fly a plane amongst other educationally-beneficial aspects. But if all that sounds a little bit too much like school when you’re on your hols, then fear not, as immediate relief comes in the shape and form of Dinosaur World. A place where visitors can travel back in time and witness upwards of 200 life-size Jurassics and actively involve themselves in a fossil dig to name but a couple of adventures to be had then and there.
You take the bull by the horns on the water rather than dry land when you’re looking for the more adrenalin-charged tampa holiday, largely because the visitor to this part of Florida is surrounded by plenty of the wet stuff. Outdoor recreation (including deep-sea fishing and more latterly, eco-tourism) is the name of the leisure game in these here parts, with fishing, kayaking, paddleboard and water bike charters cropping up all over the (tourist-primed) shop. For those land-lubbers however, don’t worry, as you’re catered for by way of Alderman’s Ford to name but one place. A boardwalk and pedestrian/bicycle trail which interconnect picnic areas on the Alafia River, and as a 1,141-acre park is also a popular canoe site. Back to the water though, and if fishing, tour or adventure charters float your boat, then wet/dry suit yourself up and prepare to be entertained! Courtesy of kayak, urban kai stand-up, water bike and paddleboard tours - iTrekkers providing many variations on a water touring theme – which aim to connect you to the amazing outdoors for as long or short a time as you wish.
After LA’s Venice Beach and Santa Monica’s muscle beach, you might think that the west coast of America had it pretty much sewn up for sandy places to be seen. But you’d be wrong, as those heading for a Tampa holiday anytime soon will discover for themselves. Only therein is the positive rub. Less is always more, and once again if you’re wanting to distance yourselves from the more posturing hordes, then Tampa’s surrounding beaches could just be the answer. Although Tampa itself doesn’t actually have any of its own beaches per se (and admittedly even the alternatives get busy), that being said a short journey in a couple of directions will land you in a number of other sandy destinations. Like for example the seemingly endless and stunningly beautiful stretch found at nearby Clearwater (45 mins away). Or perhaps the beach USA Today recently crowned ‘Best Family Beach’, namely Fort De Soto Park. Likewise, Caladesi Island State Park boasts a three-mile beach (albeit via a short ferry ride) which forms part and parcel of a pristine barrier island, which itself was awarded the accolade of ‘America’s Number 1 Beach’ back in 2008.
Culture-meets-contemporary party vibes in the Ybor City district of Tampa, where the more youthful of today rub shoulders with sticklers for architectural tradition in an area which received a commercial revamp in the 1990s; at least in the form of inanimate object that is. Tampa holidays can be cranked up a notch or three by paying a nocturnal visit to the city’s largest bar and nightclub neighbourhood, where visitors will be offered a congenial welcome to a host of popular nightspots, together with the renowned Tampa Bay Brewing Company. Word to the wise/on the street though; avoid venturing too far to the east or west of this area as it’s ill-advised after midnight. Sure to put a massive smile on holidaymakers’ faces though, is an evening (and then some) spent with company at Orpheum, where loud music and good times are guaranteed. Other options worth a mention include The Hyde Park Café, Whiskey North, The Castle, Bad Monkey and Club Prana. Meanwhile, Amalie Arena is situated in downtown Tampa – and also home to the Tampa Bay Lightning by the by – and stages in excess of 150 events and gigs annually.
Couples will be attracted to Tampa holidays for any number of reasons, but we’d hazard a guess that away from the more obvious cultural, retail, beach and nightlife choices, the opportunity to indulge themselves in a range of ‘me/us time’ at spas would play a pivotal role in selling it to them. If not, then read on to have your mind changed. Evangeline, Safety Harbor Resort and Spa and Saddlebrook Resort are just three reasons why you might suddenly experience a change of heart, as you discover the levels of pampering and general R & R you’ll quickly be privy to at any of the aforementioned spa venues in and around Tampa. Once you’re suitably chilled you may wish to try out a tour or two, which seeing as Tampa’s coastal-based may well include canoes, an array of boats and even pirate ships. Or perhaps a ghost tour of Tampa may be more your thing? And what about sampling the delights of The Brew Bus (yup, a local craft beer brewery’s version of – liquid – meals on wheels)??
Sarasota is the place to be if you’re craving some a boost of local culture, as it’s where the Tampa holidaymaker will find museums and galleries belonging to West Central Florida’s widely regarded cultural centre. A little further afield and the Ybor City walking tour is hotly recommended, as is the Ybor City State Museum and Cigar Museum, while the Tampa Museum of Art will appeal to anyone with a love of the more creative elements of life. And don’t forget to check out the Tampa Theatre, which was recently recognized by The Motion Picture Association of America as among the 10 best movie theatres not just in America, but the world!