Tampa Bay, one of the world's great secluded harbors, is a vast body of water separated from the Gulf of Mexico by a peninsula that stretches from Clearwater on the north to St. Petersburg on the south. In the center of the huge bay is a peninsula with
The award-winning Tampa International Airport sits on the city's west side, in the Airport/Westshore region. With a passenger volume of about 14 million annually, Tampa International Airport ranks among the top 10 airports in the nation for on-time departures. Here you will find some of the city's most impressive hotels, like the
Busch Gardens/University of South Florida
A major north-south interstate highway, I-75, streaks up the east side of the bay, while I-275 branches off from I-75 north of Sarasota and travels through St. Petersburg, crossing the Howard Frankland and heading north from downtown. Those two interstate highways meet just north of town and create a triangle known as the Busch Gardens/University of South Florida region.
This is where you will find Tampa's famed
Tampa's Hillsborough River winds its way through the Busch Gardens/University of South Florida section of the city and through downtown Tampa, bisecting the city as it makes its way to the sea. On the east side of the river, you will find a number of attractive hotels in the city's downtown core, such as the
Points of interest in this part of town include the
On the southern edge of downtown Tampa lies tiny
Solid brick warehouses that once served as cigar factories now house offices and shops. Thanks to a strong restoration effort, Ybor City is the liveliest spot in town on weekends. Restaurants like the
Traveling east of Tampa on I-4, built to connect Tampa to Daytona through Orlando, will bring you to Plant City, a farming community renowned for its annual
Location, attention to detail and an eye for the season—these are the attributes that define the region's hotels, each relying on one or more of these elements to define itself in this split-personality region. Some accommodations pride themselves on their convenience to business connections in downtown Tampa, but everywhere else relies on miles of scenic beaches to lure guests.
Staying next to the airport can be convenient for those in town on business. The Radisson Bay Harbor Hotel and the Tampa Airport Hilton are among the most deluxe options. Enjoy the luxury of having a pool, fitness center, tennis court and whirlpool all on-site. The Intercontinental Hotel Tampa is convenient to many shopping and dining options, and offers comfortable rooms. Guests enjoy the garden at Embassy Suites Tampa, which also offers complimentary breakfasts, an cafe and a lounge. The Quorum Hotel Tampa offers guests the chance to stay in the city in style, with spacious rooms, and even a free airport shuttle to get you at check-in on time.
Busch Gardens/University of South Florida
Just a few blocks from the University of South Florida, you'll find Embassy Suites Tampa-USF, convenient for families looking for extended stay accomodations. There are living rooms in addition to the bedrooms, offering space and comfort. The Bayboro House offers a different type of lodging with a cozy bed and breakfast atomosphere. The refrigerator comes stocked, and the complimentary breakfast will never disappoint. In addition to its large meeting room, the Howard Johnson Hotel has a heated outdoor pool, for those looking to cool off in the evening. The prices at LaQuinta Inn & Suites and Days Inn West of Busch Gardens, both near Busch Gardens, are a bit more reasonable, yet still offer all the comforts of home.
Downtown has many different options to choose from when it comes to accomodation. The Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina offers waterfront views , and is just a few blocks from the Convention Center. The staff at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay is multi-lingual, and strives to make sure your stay is comfortable. Embassy Suites Tampa - Downtown Convention Center and Hyatt Regency Tampa are two luxury hotel options. The Hyatt has tropical decor and a restaurant that specializes in serving healthy, contemporary meals.
Tampa Bay is a land of natural abundance. All manner of fish thrive in the warm waters of the Gulf, and the region's more than 2,500 farms harvest everything from winter vegetables to spring strawberries. You'll find the most dining options near the Airport, in Ybor City and in the area around the University of South Florida.
Bern's Steakhouse is equally celebrated, and is known worldwide for its excellent cuts of beef and extensive wine cellar. Owned and operated by the Laxer family for more than 40 years, Bern's continues to win praise from judges for its stained glass lamps, its U.S. prime beef (aged up to 10 weeks in special lockers), and herbs and vegetables grown just for this restaurant. You will also find a 65-page dessert menu and the comparatively new addition, Sidebern's, designed to accommodate the main restaurant's overflow of diners with a taste of what it calls "One World Cuisine." While those two retain all their justifiable fame in Tampa Bay, they have been joined by a host of competitors offering a wide range of dining opportunities, both elegant and casual.
Donatello features Northern Italian cuisine, served amid glittering crystal by tuxedoed waiters. The restaurant has won numerous awards for its excellence in food and service. Armani's aims toward the pinnacle of Tampa Bay dining, both literally and figuratively—it sits high atop the Hyatt Regency Westshore, overlooking Tampa Bay. It is a local favorite for views and equally popular for its stylish Italian cuisine and a notable wine list. With a view of the Bay that inspired its name, Oystercatchers is tucked into a 35-acre nature preserve and lures diners with seafood plucked straight from the waters and served in a stylish setting.
Busch Gardens/University of South Florida
Tampa Bay likes its beer; it is the site of the state's first brewery, the Florida Brewing Company (est. 1897). Anheuser-Busch brews and dispenses its suds at a special exhibit in its Busch Gardens theme park. The smoked seafood at Skipper's Smokehouse can't be beat, while the cooks at The Cuban Sandwich Shop know how to prepare traditional Cuban fare with a modern twist. Try the Media Noche, their take on ham and cheese. The Mongolian Beef at Fu Wah Chinese Restaurant keeps the dining area packed. Ristorante Francesco is worth a stop if you're in the mood for savory, traditional Italian, while Taj has a wide variety of Indian favorites.
Bistros have broken out all over, turning up by the dozens in Ybor City. Ovo Art Café caters to the chic with a flower-bedecked dining room and soft music. Le Bordeaux turned a bungalow into a bistro, and Mise En Place lives up to its name, situated across from the onion domes of the whimsically magnificent Tampa Bay Hotel.
The region's claims to culinary fame have traditionally rested on two dining mainstays. The sprawling Columbia Restaurant, Florida's oldest dining establishment, has been serving up blue margaritas and Spanish cuisine since 1905, and racking up dozens of awards in the process. Here, you can dine in one of 11 ornately decorated dining rooms that cover an entire city block! Bernini Restaurant features a changing array of delicacies, from beef laced with white truffles to an upmarket Vesuvio Pizza topped with three-chili oil, sun-dried tomatoes, chicken and smoked mozzarella.
While Tampa's business environment takes itself very seriously, its entertainment empire offers a good laugh, great dining, an impressive nightlife and plenty of sports activities tossed in for good measure.
Busch Gardens is the undisputed king of the Tampa entertainment scene. More than 3,000 animals dwell on a Serengeti veldt in this African-themed park. Visitors can observe wildlife in natural habitats on over 300 acres, as well as enjoy a number of amusement rides, animal shows and nature exhibits.
The park is home to five terrifying roller coasters, including the Montu and the Kumba, which were ranked among the top five steel roller coasters in the world by Amusement Today magazine. A third, Gwazi, is the Southeast's largest and fastest dueling wooden roller coaster. Busch Gardens' Adventure Island offers 30 acres of water-themed amusements ranging from a bevy of corkscrew slides to a wave pool, waterfalls and a children's play area.
Two attractions devoted to injured animals make for a heartstring-tugging adventure here. In Tampa, Wildlife on East Street harbors a coterie of lions, tigers and other big cats without a home, and you can even sleep among them in three rustic cabins. The Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary in Indian Rocks Beach offers a close-up look at the care and feeding of injured birds.
Other intriguing amusements in the Tampa Bay region include Lowry Park, an "open" zoo where 1,500 animals are separated from visitors by moats or other natural barriers; The Florida Aquarium, which offers a close-up look at 4,300 salt and fresh water dwellers, including an encounter with some toothy sharks and gentle sting rays; Dinosaur World, where you can go eye-to-ankle with 200 massive dinosaurs, including one 40 feet high and a Brachiosaurus that's 80 feet long, all dwelling in a cypress forest. Fantasy of Flight offers a look at 20 historic aircraft and let's you try your hand at a flight simulator.
Tampa Bay's museums cover a wide range of informative adventures. St. Petersburg's Florida International Museum has welcomed many a notable traveling exhibit in its short history, including the "Treasure of the Czars," "Splendors of Ancient Egypt" and a tribute to former President John F. Kennedy, showcasing the world's largest private collection of Kennedy memorabilia.
Tampa's free-wheeling days of yore are chronicled at the Henry B. Plant Museum in the whimsical Tampa Bay Hotel, once one of the nation's most extravagantly elegant hostelries. The Tampa Bay History Center outlines the geography, history and multicultural influences that have affected Tampa Bay, while the St. Petersburg Museum of History does much the same for that city.
Tampa's Museum of Science & Industry is a playground for budding scientists, offering 450 hands-on activities and a Hurricane Chamber that offers you the dubious thrill of 74 mile-per-hour winds, plus an IMAX theater adventure.
And talk about museums! How many cities can lay claim to a history museum that's 10 blocks long and 10 blocks wide? Antique Ybor City stretches over that much territory and more, its streets lined with antique buildings tied closely to the 200 cigar companies and 12,000 cigarmakers who once rolled the world's stogies here.
Tampa Museum of Art features a permanent collection of Greek and Roman classical pieces as well as contemporary art and sculpture. The University of South Florida's Contemporary Art Museum houses a 3,600-piece permanent collection that includes work by Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg and James Rosenquist, as well as African art. Salvador Dali's Surrealist art is displayed in the largest collection of its kind at St. Petersburg's Salvador Dali Museum.
As for performing arts, the city's Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center claims to be the largest performing arts complex south of Washington, D.C. It has four theaters for opera, cabaret, plays, dance, music, alternative and Broadway theater. The legendary Tampa Theater, established in 1926, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and hosts film series, concerts, special events and backstage tours.
Many clubs throughout the region, particularly in St. Petersburg Beach and the string of islands along the coast, cater to the late-night crowd with music and dance options. Jillian's Bistro & Piano Bar offers live music and exotic food. Jannus Landing hosts a variety of concerts for all ages. The party's always in full swing at Shadracks, and Newk's Café is popular after a hockey game at the Ice Palace.
Tampa Bay loves its sports. From the Tampa Bay Buccaneer football team to professional baseball and hockey teams, the city is strong on sports and always has been—baseball great Babe Ruth hit his longest home run here at Plant Field on April 4, 1919, when he whacked a 587-foot, record-setting homer. Another famous baseball name, Al Lopez—also known as "El Senor," and named to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977—was an Ybor City native.
Tampa Bay's Raymond James Stadium is a nationally acclaimed arena that frequently hosts the Super Bowl. Tampa's Lightning hockey team plays in the city's new Ice Arena. Enthusiastic fans closely follow Tampa Bay's Devil Rays baseball team.
For racing enthusiasts, Tampa Bay has two greyhound racing tracks—Derby Lane in St. Petersburg, billed as the world's oldest continuously operating dog track, and Tampa Greyhound Track in Tampa. In nearby Oldsmar, Tampa Bay Downs thunders with the racing hooves of thoroughbred horses.
Finally, for those who want a scenic walk or jog, Bayshore Boulevard runs alongside Tampa Bay for a serene 4.5 miles of panoramic views and greenery. A favorite with joggers, walkers, skaters and bikers, it's the city's epicenter for fitness fans and was cited by the American Automobile Association as one of the state's "Top Roads." In St. Petersburg, the historic, mile-long pier is a delightful place to stroll the region's historic past, enjoy the present and contemplate the future.