Reasons to visit historic, affordable Tampa
Tampa is rich in history, geography, weather and cuisine, so here are a few of our insider tips to help rental vacationers make the best of their Tampa trip.
1. Tampa’s got history
Best kept secrets in Tampa include the 1891 Tampa Bay Hotel where Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders mustered here before heading to Cuba – Remember the Maine. Tampa’s exotic history may not be obvious to a vacation rental visitor but 150 years ago it was the railhead for cattle shipments to Cuba. This influenced almost every aspect of Tampa life, and today visitors can take a trip on an electric streetcar from Tampa to Ybor City whose architecture reflects the area’s Spanish-Cuban roots, with a style reminiscent of New Orleans’ French Quarter. Beautifully renovated cigar factories make clear the strong links between the two nations.
2. Sandwiches and Coffee
Ybor City was once known as the “Cigar Capital of the World” – it boasted 200 factories with 12,000 cigar-makers who rolled 700 million cigars a year, outproducing Havana. Difficult to believe? Not if you try Tampa’s strong coffee and satisfying pressed sandwiches – both part of our Cuban heritage. Where do you find the best of both? That depends on who you ask, but the family-run Aquila is a great start; fabled for their delectable roast pork. In nearby Seminole Heights Jet City Espresso (5803 N Florida), just half a mile from Erehwon Retreat, is hosted by Jessica Conlan and her cozy bungalow dispenses coffee, espresso, chai latte and her signature Cafe Borgia, a honey-and-orange-infused latte. For pure Cuban coffee, kick it old school at El Molino, a simple café attached to Ybor City’s Naviera Coffee Mills, which has been in business for nearly a century (2012 E. 7th Ave.).
3. Beer city
Recently rated one of “America’s Top Ten Emerging Beer Towns”, Tampa has a bounty of brews to tempt vacationers. Cigar City Brewing (3924 W. Spruce St. an industrial estate near the airport) salutes its hometown by brewing up some very Tampa beers: a bright, fruity Guava season (the city’s nickname is the Big Guava) and the rich Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout -it’s what makes Cigar City famous. For more of the local good stuff, head to Seminole Heights where The Independent was one of the pioneers of the craft beer movement in the Tampa Bay area and continues to offer rare and unique beers and wines from around the world. In the same neighborhood, Angry Chair has a unique tasting room with diverse offerings. Folks love C 1949, a quaint, dog-friendly little hole-in-the-wall beer garden with plenty of seating, live music and rotating food trucks outside. Finally, take in America’s oldest beer-brewer, which has a home right here in Tampa Bay. The Yuengling Brewery, complete with a “biergarten” where you can sample Yuengling’s rich heritage, offers free tours of the facility Monday-Friday.
4. Manatees, the cutest animals on the planet
So, you might not think a giant power plant is the best vacation spot, but the adorable manatees who winter in the warm waters adjacent to the gargantuan Tampa Electric facility (6990 Dickman Rd., Apollo Beach) think it’s just perfect. The utility company has constructed a popular Manatee Viewing Center, with exhibits that teach visitors more about these friendly beasts, surrounded by other delights including butterfly gardens. Winter vacation rentals are the lucky ones because the manatees tend shove off around mid-April, once the weather gets warmer and return by early December.
5. The great food offerings of Seminole Heights
Make tracks for the neighborhood’s Taco Bus, a hipster-junkyard set-up with a very good food truck and outdoor seating; it’s open weekends all year round (913 E. Hillsborough Ave.) For something more elegant dine at the James Beard nominated ‘The Refinery’ (5137 N. Florida Ave.) Finally, drop into Ichicoro, a unique fusion of Asian and Cuban ramen (5229 N. Florida Ave.) or a check out Ella’s Folk Art Cafe on Sundays (they’re known as “Soul Food Sunday”) for chicken, waffles, live music and fun cocktails like the Po-mosa, combining Narragansett beer and Tang (5119 N. Nebraska Ave.).
6. Key Lime Pie
So, it might be a staple of the whole South but it began in the Keys. The key lime tree arrived in Florida in the 1500s and recipes for the pie began appearing as early as the late 1800s, though it became really popular in the 1930s. Some restaurants make it with graham cracker crust, others with pastry. Either way, it’s a must-have several times over and in Seminole Heights we love Trips Diner for this very special confection.
7. The world’s longest continuous sidewalk
Tampa is a record breaker. Bayshore Boulevard, which runs along Tampa Bay through the city’s pleasant Hyde Park neighborhood and on to points south, isn’t just the city’s most scenic street, it’s also a four-and-a-half-mile linear bay-front park favored by local joggers and walkers. It’s a fantastic way to work up an appetite for lunch. On Sunday follow the in-the-know local foodies and make a beeline for lunch at the Wat Mongkolratanaram of Florida (a.k.a. the local Thai Buddhist temple). Here, food vendors set up mid-morning every Sunday, dishing out authentic Thai eats (cash only) to a hungry audience. Stick around to enjoy the riverfront grounds (5306 Palm River Rd.)
8. The kids will totally dig it
With exhibits that combine the educational with the awesome, the Glazer Children’s Museum – a 53,000 square-foot spa which opened its doors in 2010 – has been a hit with the younger set from day one, featuring climbing structures that teach about water, a firehouse with a working pole (and a “fire truck” you can drive), plus many more items that make learning fun. The nearby Florida Aquarium offers exhibits that range to the dramatic (anyone want to swim with sharks?) to the educational. Still got energy? There’s always Busch Gardens, Tampa’s most famous family attraction.
9. Life’s a beach
It certainly is in Florida which might be the third most populated state but still has miles of beach not covered in footprints or fishing lines. One of Florida’s greatest beaches and hiking areas is at Ft. Desoto State Park, with its nearby historic beach community of Pass-A-Grille. Travelers from St. Petersburg and Tampa began visiting Pass- A-Grille as long ago as 1857 and have never stopped. Great beach-combing, quaint shops, sunset dining, it makes for a perfect day. And talking about perfect days – according to the National Weather Service, the sun shines, on average, 361 days a year in Tampa Bay.
10. Perfect vacation rentals
There are 2,000 restored Craftsman and Mediterranean bungalows in Seminole Heights where you can find well reviewed Arts and Craft vacation rentals like Erehwon Retreat (5801 N Suwanee Ave). Proprietor owned vacation rentals give their guests the lowdown on all that’s best in the local area … so your trip is unforgettable and your memories are wonderful.
We have a comprehensive listing of Area Attractions & Events where you can find details, maps, addresses, and links to the area’s entertainment.