Tampa Bay Area, Florida
By Sandy Katz
Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater and their adjoining communities have a great deal to offer visitors.
Stretching for almost 35 miles from Crystal Beach south to Fort De Soto Park are Gulf Coast’s broad, graceful, white-sand beaches.
With varied cultural offerings, water recreation opportunities and savory Spanish-and-Cuban influenced cuisine; Tampa Bay is a wonderful vacation destination.
Tampa has also maintained a developmental edge. By 1890, The Ybor City cigar industry was booming. Railroads stimulated tourist trade, and the area attracted wealthy Northern vacationers.
The exclusive Tampa Bay Hotel, now part of the University of Tampa was built by Henry B. Plant in an effort to outdo railroad rival Henry Flagler, who was developing a string of luxury properties southward down Florida’s coast. The Tampa Bay Hotel in 1891 opening was attended by royalty, financial bigwigs and luminaries.
Cigars are still produced, but the area business community has diversified.
Tourism has the biggest economic impact. Tampa is the foremost port of Florida’s west coast and one of busiest in nation. Many cruise ships use the Tampa port on a regular basis. Cruise visitors add immensely to economy, since Tampa is a great shopping haven.
The Tampa Bay areas blend of big time industry and leisure pursuits proves to be a combination that works.
THE HENRY B. PLANT MUSEUM is housed in the south wing of Plant Hall at University of Tampa. The museum is known for its minarets that pierce Tampa’s modern skyline. Once the Tampa Bay Hotel, the museum displays the Moorish Revival-style building’s original collection of decorative arts and furnishings. Exhibits re-create the first-class accommodation and activities of 1891. A video presentation highlights Tampa’s Victorian-era lifestyle and tourism, and a live stage performance features character vignettes of the hotel’s staff and guests. The Tampa Bay Hotel was the Victorian Resort that defined the elegant frontier.
YBOR CITY was once called “Cigar capital of the World.” Tampa’s Latin Quarter today attracts visitors with its red brick-lined streets, globe lampposts, buildings adorned with lacy iron balconies, entertainment, shops, out-door cafes and restaurants in old cigar factories.
CENTRO YBOR MUSEM is located within Tampa’s historic cigar manufacturing district. The museum features cigar trade exhibits and a 7-minute videotape tracing the area’s transformation from quiet swampland to bustling city. Live cigar rolling demonstrations are held on Friday, Saturday and Sunday 9:30am to 1 pm. The building also houses the Ybor City Visitor information Center.
THE CIGAR WORKER’S HOUSE AND CASITAS is a restored cottage originally built for cigar workers families in 1895. Daily guided tours show visitors firsthand how cigar workers really lived – in simple, cedar-shingled homes with a lack of indoor plumbing.
Museum store is located in the east Garden Casitas. The store offers items such as fine hand-rolled cigars, cigar art and memorabilia, books and more.
TAMPA MUSEUM OF ART located along the scenic Hillsborough River in downtown Tampa provides a broad range of art-related experiences for visitors of all ages. It displays permanent and major traveling art exhibitions. Permanent collection includes Greek and Roman antiquities as well as contemporary art,
THE FLORIDA AQUARIUM on the downtown waterfront is a 200,000-square-foot aquarium that features more than 10,000 aquatic plants from Florida and around the world. Exhibits highlight wetlands, bays, beaches and coral reefs and feature ocean predators, sharks, rays, playful river otters and rare Australian leafy sea dragons.
Behind-the-scene tours, close-up animal encounters, dive shows, touch tanks and opportunities to swim in a 500,000-gallon coral reef tank are available. Wild Dolphin Eco-tours of the Bay take passengers aboard a catamaran in search of manatees and bottle nose dolphins.
BUSCH GARDENS TAMPA BAY is a 335-acre African-themed park featuring more than 2,700 animals as well as wild rides, live shows, shopping and dining.
SheiKra, one of seven heart-pounding roller coasters is a dive coaster that sends riders 200 feet up, then 90 degrees down at 70 mph. The Edge of Africa offers a safari experience with hippos, hyenas, meerkats, vultures, Nile crocodiles and baboons living in naturalistic habitats, remote encampments and African villages.
The Serengeti Safari Tour takes riders through herds of free-roaming giraffes, zebras and ostriches. There are also tropical birds, The Great Ape Domain and Rhino Rally, where you will see a white rhino.
The show KaTonga: Musical Tales from the Jungle tells animal fables through music, dance and costumes. Pirate’s 4-D combines the latest 4-D special-effects technology with multi-sensory theater effects.
FLORIDA HOLOCAUST MUSEUM in St. Petersburg is one of the largest Holocaust Museums in the Southeast. Eleven eternal flames, symbolizing the 11 million victims of the Nazis, are part of the three-story building façade. The 12 sections of the permanent exhibit trace the Holocaust’s beginnings in Medieval Eastern Europe to its implications in modern times. The Museum takes visitors on a journey from the flourishing pre-war life in Eastern Europe through the events of the Holocaust, concentration camps and ultimately the birth of the State of Israel.
The Museum’s centerpiece, BOXCAR #1130695-5 is one of the few original railroad boxcars used to transport prisoners to Auschwitz.
Changing exhibits feature art, photography and artifacts related to the Holocaust and human rights. An audiotape tour is included in admission.
SALVADOR DALI MUSEUM next to the University of South Florida Bayboro Campus, houses a comprehensive collection of the eccentric Spanish artist’s works. Dating from 1914-80, Dali’s paintings range from small impressionistic works to gigantic surrealistic montages. This unique collection includes 95 original oil paintings, over 100 watercolors and drawings, nearly 1,300 graphics and objects d’art spanning his four artistic periods. Sculptures and other objects illustrate Dali’s artistic diversity. Guided tours conducted regularly.
TAMPA BAY PERFORMING ART CENTER offers world-class entertainment, five theaters, upscale restaurants, Patel Conservatory and largest performing arts center: home to drama, dance, comedy, Broadway, opera, concerts and more. Information and tickets: 813-272-2217
THE YACHT STARSHIP is Tampa’s premier dining yacht and America’s first 3 Diamond rated dining yacht by AAA. They offer live entertainment and four-star cuisine. It’s Florida’s largest dining yacht and has quickly become one of the most popular dining attractions in Tampa. You can experience out-of-this-world views of the Tampa skyline only possible from the water during a narrated tour of historical Tampa sites.
THE PELAGIA TRATTORIA at Renaissance Hotel is critically acclaimed for its fresh flavors of Italy with a Mediterranean twist. The look is contemporary, the service crisp and each meal a consummate culinary experience.
MAESTRO’s is conveniently located above the Jaeb Theatre, overlooking the Downtown Tampa skyline. It features a unique menu for each show.
THE COLUMBIA RESTAURANT is a gem of Spanish restaurants founded in 1905 by Cuban immigrant Casimiro Hernandez, Sr., when Ybor City was becoming home to Cuban immigrants looking for a new homeland. In honor of his new homeland, he named his restaurant Columbia- like the words to the American ballad he heard so many times “Columbia the Gem of the Ocean.” The Columbia restaurant has been recognized with some of the highest awards in restaurant history: Fine Dining Hall of Fame, Golden Spoon Hall of Fame, One Of the 50 best Hispanic Restaurants in North America to mention a few.
BERN’S STEAK HOUSE highlights specially aged US Prime Beef, a 65-page dessert menu, organic vegetables grown on their own local farm and one of the largest wine lists in the world and a kitchen so spotless guests are welcome in for a tour.
MISE EN PLACE is located across from University of Tampa. They feature New American cuisine with fresh ingredients. Zagat survey says, “Kudos abound for this superb, cutting edge new American bistro in downtown Tampa where chef Marty Blitz creates dishes that are inventive yet homey, turning each plate into art.”
IF YOU GO
Renaissance Tampa Hotel International Plaza was a comfortable hotel with many special features including coffee maker and tea service. There was a heated out-door pool, whirlpool, exercise room and gold/tennis/beach nearby. The location is wonderful with a shopping and entertainment complex close at hand. Tel: (813) 877-9200 1-800-HOTELS-1 www.renaissancetampa.com
Tampa Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau: www.visittampabay.com 1-800-44TAMPA
Henry B. Plant Museum: www.plantmuseum.com 813-254-1891
Salvador Dali Museum: www.salvadordali.org 727-823-3767 800-442-3254
Historic Ybor City: www.centroybor.com 813-241-8838
Tampa Museum of Art: www.tampagov.net/dept_museum 813-274-8130
The Florida Aquarium: www.flaquarium.org 813-273-4000
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay: www.buschgardens.com 888-800-5447
Florida Holocaust Museum: www.flholocaustmuseum.org 727-820-0100 800-960-7448
Yacht Starship: www.starshipdining.com 877-744-7999 813-223-7999
Pelagia Trattoria: www.pelagiatrattoria.com 813-313-3235
Columbia Restaurant: www.columbiarestaurant.com 813-248-4961
Bern’s Steak House: www.bernsteakhouse.com
Mise En Place: www.miseonline.com