Millions flock to Tampa every year to spend time in one of Florida’s hottest sun-soaked cities. You already know about attractions like Busch Gardens theme park, the Florida Aquarium, and Lowry Park Zoo. But what about those places and experiences a little off the beaten path that only locals know about? Do Tampa the right way with help of the following guide.
Housed in a building dating back to 1891, the Oxford Exchange is a European-style creative space that’s become the cultural hub of the city. On any given day, you might see locals and tourists alike sipping on lattes in one of the massive wingback chairs, shopping for a novel in the bookstore or trying on glasses at Warby Parker. If nothing else, just stop in and take photos of this inspiring retail and event space to post on social media.
At one point in the 1900s, there were over 200 businesses making hand rolled cigars in Ybor City. Today, there are just a handful. But the tradition is alive and well at La Faraona Cigars where owner Odelma Matos can often be seen practicing the art form. Visitors can also get in on the act and gain a new appreciation for the process if they schedule a cigar rolling class.
Railroad tycoon Henry B. Plant constructed this behemoth of a hotel between 1888 and 1891 for just over $3-million. During its heyday, the 511 room resort played host to the likes of Winston Churchill, Babe Ruth and Teddy Roosevelt. The building was equipped with the first elevator in Florida (which is still operational), the rooms were the first to have electric lights and telephones in the state, and because of all the concrete and steel used in its construction, it was said to be “fireproof.” With its signature onion-shaped domes and lavish interiors, the museum is something you must experience when visiting Tampa.
After a day being flipped upside down on coasters at Busch Gardens, head next door to this iconic Tampa hot dog stand. In business since 1973, this is the only place in town where you can find real Chicago-style hot dogs served on steamed poppy seed buns in an old-fashioned diner atmosphere. You can have your dog just about any way you like, plain with a little mustard or piled high with toppings. What makes this place special is the history and the friendly people who work there. It’s truly one-of-a-kind.
This ship, which briefly saw service in the Pacific Theater during the final days of World War II, is one of only four fully-operational ships of its era still in existence. And the great thing is, for a small admission fee, visitors get to see pretty much the entire ship – cavernous three-level cargo holds, radio and gyro rooms, hospital, galley, weaponry, mess halls, crew cabins, the Captain’s quarters, and more. There are also plenty of artifacts, exhibits, uniforms as well as documents and photographs to explore.
Just off Interstate 75 at Morris Bridge Road you’ll find the delightfully bizarre world of “Hong Kong Willie.” It’s the always evolving home, gallery and studio of Tampa native Joe Brown who specializes in “reuse art.” He takes media that would have naturally been disposed of in landfills and creates unique art pieces you won’t find anywhere else. When you’re in the area, just look for all the fishing boueys. Then prepare to be amazed!
Considered the “flag bridge” of Florida and named one of the top ten bridges in the world by the Travel Channel, Tampa’s Sunshine Skyway Bridge is a structural marvel. Made of steel and concrete and spanning more than a mile over Tampa Bay, it’s one of the most photographed bridges in the country because of its modern design.
Since opening in 2009, Cigar City Brewing has had one mission – to produce world-class beer while celebrating Tampa Bay’s rich and storied history. This company has set the standard for the craft beer movement in Florida and is the best-known brewer in the state. Stop by their West Spruce Street facility for a tour and to try a flight of their top-rated brews.
Looking for a place to relax and get away from it all? This Buddhist Thai temple on the bank of the Palm River is the epitome of peace and serenity. Meditate in the well-manicured gardens or visit on a Sunday morning for authentic Thai food and a flea market with all kinds of neat trinkets. It’s a completely immersive experience in Buddhist culture for the whole family.
Just minutes from downtown, Hyde Park is a residential neighborhood with many historic homes and bungalows as well as a hip retail and entertainment district. It’s home to one of Tampa’s hottest destinations – SoHo or South of Howard Avenue. This strip includes some of the region’s top-rated bars, nightclubs, boutiques, art galleries and eateries.