The City of Tampa is located on the south west side of the Florida peninsula on Tampa Bay, the Bay connecting to the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a great port side city to visit, with a mix of history, Spanish and American influences, cruise ships, art, food, museums, roller coasters, sport and beaches all here to enjoy.
Tampa International Airport – is located at 4100 George J. Bean Parkway about 6 miles from downtown Tampa, and at the airport there are Rental Cars, limos, taxis and the Super Shuttle vans ( Tel: 800 282 6817 or 727 572 1111) to take you to your hotel, as well as the HART Local bus (Route 30) that heads from the airport to downtown. More than 17 million passengers transit through the airport each year.
Cruise ships – leave from Terminal 2, 3 or 6 and there are around 4000 parking spaces set up for cruise passengers. You need to show a passport if headed to a foreign port, or photo identification if staying in USA waters, and of course your travel documents need to be with you, and not packed in your luggage.
Streetcars – are located downtown with the TECO Historic Streetcar Trolleys taking you from Downtown past 11 stations and a number of the city attractions including Channelside (Tampa Tribune Station – close to Visitor Information Center and the Cruise Terminals) all the way to Ybor City. HART Route 8 buses also travel the same route. You can pay a one way fare, or get an unlimited 1 day pass. You need exact fares to board. (See www.tecolinestreetcar.org for details).
If you can find a hotel facing either the Port or the Hillsborough River, there are great views.
Right beside the harbor Garrison Channel and alongside the Hillsborough River is the Riverwalk – a nice way to see and get a feel for the City and waterways (See www.tampariverwalk.com ). The Riverwalk takes you past Park areas where different festivals and events are held during the year and also the Monument trail – where there are statue/busts of some of the important people who were part of Tampa’s history, along with stories about their lives. The Riverwalk is quite long, but you can either walk all of it, or just a part of it, with sunsets over the Bay maybe an extra bonus.
There are many things to do and see in Tampa – and these are some of them –
THINGS TO DO AND SEE
- Florida Aquarium – see flaquarium.org is located at 701 Channelside Drive Tel: 813 273 4000. This is a very big aquarium with over 20,000 marine plants, fish and animals located near the Cruise Liner Terminals. Also from here, you can take a harbor cruise on the Bay Spirit II – a 90 minute tour that takes you to see the working port with Container ships, Cruise Liners and other vessels in Tampa Port (See www.tampaport.com Tel: 813 905 7678).
- Dinner and Lunch Cruises – 603 Channelside Drive – Hop on-board the Yacht Starship – for a dinner or lunch cruise around Tampa Bay. There is great food on-board (See yachtstarship.com Tel: 813 223 7999).
- SS American Victory Ship – is located at 705 Channelside Drive – a navy ship built in World War II which is now a museum. Tel: 813 228 8766.
- Channelside Bay Plaza - a shopping center is located at 615 Channelside Drive, with a mix of big and small shops, boutiques and food choices.
- Tampa Visitor Center and Gift Shop – is also located at 615 Channelside Drive at Suite 101A.
- Tampa Bay History Center – is located at 801 Old Water Street (see tampabayhistorycenter.org Tel: 813 228 0097). Tampa has such an interesting history and stories of the past – from the Tocobaga and Calusa cultures of old, to the Spanish, French, English, American times, with stories of pirates, including Gasparillo, Seminole Warrior Chief, Coacoochee and cigars adding to the whole learning experience.
- Amalie Arena – is located at 401 Channelside Drive. See amaliearena.com Tel: 813 301 6500. This is a big arena where football, basketball and Ice Hockey games happen during the year, as well as other entertainment events.
- Raymond James Stadium – 4201 North Dale Mabry H’wy. See raymondjamesstadium.com Tel: 813 350 6500. This is where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers NFL play and also the South Florida Bulls football games are played.
- USF Sun Dome – is at 4202 E. Fowler Avenue. See sundomearena.com Tel: 813 974 3111. This is a 10,000 seat arena and attracts many big sporting and entertainment events.
- Tampa Convention Center – is right in downtown at the mouth of the Hillsborough River. There are many exhibitions and conventions happening here during the year. See tampaconventioncenter.com Tel: 813 274 8511.
- Tampa Museum of Art – is located at 120 West Gasparillo Plaza. See tampamuseum.org Tel: 813 274 8130. The Museum has both Greek and Roman antiquities, and also modern changing exhibitions during the year.
- Glazer Children’s Museum – 110 East Gasparilla Plaza. See glazermuseum.org Tel: 813 443 3861. A museum aimed at both entertaining children and educating them too.
- University of Florida Botanic Gardens – 12210 USF Pine Drive. See gardens.usf.edu Tel: 813 974 2329. Over 7 acres of developed gardens and 6 to 9 acres of natural greenbelt.
- Florida Museum of Photographic Arts – located in the Cube building, 400 North Ashley Drive, is dedicated to the art of photography. Tel: 813 221 2222.
- Lowry Park Zoo – 1101 East Sligh Avenue, Tampa. See lowryparkzoo.com Tel: 813 935 8552. The zoo has over 2000 birds, animals and wildlife to see.
- Big Cat Rescue – located at 12802 Easy Street. See bigcatrescue.org Tel: 813 920 4130. This is a sanctuary for ‘big cats’ – lions and others that have been rescued.
- Dinosaur World – 5145 Harvey Tew Rd, Plant City. See dinosaurworld.com Tel: 813 717 9865. A 20 acre park with over 200 life size Dinosaurs to see.
- Old McMikey’s Farm – 9612 Crescent Drive Odessa (North of Tampa) See oldmcmikeys.com Tel: 813 920 1948. This is a farm experience where you can get to see and feel life on a farm.
- Safari Wilderness – 10850 Moore Rd, Lakelands (north of Tampa in East Hillsborough District). See safariwilderness.com Tel: 813 382 2120. This is a working ranch on 260 acres of land, with camels, zebras, lemur, deer, elands and Red Lechwe animals to see.
- Giraffe Ranch – 38650 Mickler Rd, Dade City (about 45 minutes north of Tampa). See girafferanch.com Tel: 813 482 3400. Here you can see lots of giraffes, as well as small Dexter Cattle and Haflinger horses.
- Dakin Dairy Farm – 30771 Betts Rd, Myakka City. See dakindairyfamrs.com Tel: 941 322 2802. A 1000 acre dairy farm, where they produce and bottle their own milk. Great place for kids to see a farm, and lots of good picnic areas.
- TECO Manatee Viewing Center – see below under ‘Must do.’
- Elli Schriller Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park – is located about 75 miles north of Tampa and here you can see Manatee (Sea Cows) grazing on the sea grass in the Springs from a underwater observatory.
- Henry B. Plant Museum – A MUST SEE. Located at 401 West Kennedy Boulevard on the University of Tampa campus. See plantmuseum.org Tel: 813 254 1891. This building and the rooms, furnishing, clocks, sculptures, and décor are all incredible. See history section to read about Henry B. Plant – the railroad magnate.
- Busch Gardens – 10165 North Malcolm McKinley Drive. Cover an area of 335 acres seaworldparks.com/en/buschgardens-tampa Tel: 888 800 5447. ) and is home to some of the biggest roller coaster rides in the USA, including the Drop Tower. It is also home to some 12,000 animals too. This is a massive water park next door www.adventureisland.com with pools, slides and lots of other fun attractions.
- Museum of Science and Technology – 4801 E. Fowler Avenue. See mosi.org Tel: 813 987 6000. The Museum has a IMAX Dome theater, lots of interesting exhibitions and interactive displays, as well as the Saunders Planetarium – where you can see the stars both right now, but also turn back to clock to see them at a point of time in the past.
- David A Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts – 1010 North Macinnes Place. See strazcenter.org Tel: 813 229 7827. This is where you will find music stars and theater events happening throughout the year. Book early to secure a seat.
- Ybor City Museum in the State Park – 1818 E. 18th Street Ybor City. This museum is located in the old Fertila Bakery building and has lots of history from the days when Ybor City was famous for the cigars that were manufactured here. Ybor City is the best place to find Cuban/Spanish Food, with a lot of nightlife along 7th
- Tampa Baseball Museum – is located at 2003 N. 19th Street in Ybor City. See tampabaseballmuseum.org Tel: 813 247 1434.
- Gott Glass – 811 East Knollwood Street. See gottglass.com Tel: 813 237 3473. This is a glass gallery featuring the work of glass artist, Susan Gott. If you love ‘glass art’, this has to be one of the best places to see inspirational work.
- TECO Manatee Viewing Center – 6990 Dickman Rd, Apollo Beach. Tel: 813 228 4289. This was where a Power Station was located and the warm waters attracted ‘Manatee’ (Sea Cow herds) to come here which you can see from the viewing Tower. You can also picnic here and see a Butterfly garden too.
- Fort Foster – 15402 US 301. This is an old fort, first built in 1836 here during the Seminole Wars. Tel: 813 987 6771. The fort is a reproduction of the original, but is worth seeing.
Tampa is around 30 minutes from the Gulf of Mexico coastline, with Island Keys just off the coastline too. There are pristine beaches to be found here, as well as resorts. There are many beaches, but the best known small towns along here are Clearwater, Dunedin, St Petersburg and Largo with the island of Caladesi a short 20 minute ferry ride away from Dunedin. See www.caladesiferry.org Tel: 727 734 5263 located at 1 Causeway Boulevard, Dunedin.
There are also lots to see here too –
In Clearwater –
- #1 attraction is Clearwater Beach.
- Pier 60 Park – a long pier where there are fishermen, and great sunsets to watch over the Gulf.
- Clearwater Marine Aquarium – 249 Windward Passage, where you can see dolphins, turtles, river otters, fish, coral reefs and more.
- Moccasin Lake Nature Park – 2750 Park Trail Lane, where you can see lots of the plants and wildlife native to Florida.
- Theaters – there are a number in Clearwater – see Royalty Theater, 405 Cleveland Street; Ruth Eckerd Hall, 1111 McMullen Booth Rd; Francis Wilson Playhouse, 302 Seminole St; Bill Irle Early Bird Dinner Restaurant, 1310 North Fort Harrison Avenue.
- Pirate Cruise – see captainmemo.com Tel: 727 446 2587 located at 25 Causeway Boulevard.
- Theaters – Mahaffey Theater, 400 1st Avenue; American Stage Company 211 3rd Street South.
- Museum of Fine Arts – 225 Beach Drive North – See the work of the masters – Cezanne, Monet, Renoir, Rodin and more.
- St Petersburg Museum of History – 335 2nd Avenue N.E Traces history of St Petersburg and aviation, with a replica of a Benoist Bi-wing aircraft, from the days in 1914 when the SPT (St Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Company) established the world’s first scheduled airline flight for passengers between Tampa and St Petersburg.
- Salvadore Dali Museum – 1003 3rd A MUST SEE. Probably the best collection of Salvador Dali’s work in the world. The building with its ‘enigma’ glass bubble side, Dali garden, café and gift shop – are all stunning. See www.thedali.org Tel: 727 823 3767.
- Science Center of Pinellas County – 7701 22nd Avenue N. Also a great museum too – with some incredible things to see, including a 16th Century Indian Village, an observatory and interactive exhibits.
- Florida Holocaust Memorial Museum and Educational Center – 55 Fifth Street, South. Here you can see an inspirational collection of art, photos, and documents from around the world.
- Florida International Museum – 100 Second Street, North. This museum also houses a great collection of exhibits covering the Cuban Missile Crisis, artifacts from the Smithsonian institute and changing exhibitions during the year.
- Great Explorations Children’s Museum – 1927 Fourth Street, North – an interactive museum designed for children to explore.
- Sunken Gardens – 1825 4th Street North – 4 acres of gardens to see and enjoy
- Mazzaro Italian Market – 2909 22nd Avenue North – good coffee and atmosphere.
- Jungle Prada Site – this is the site of the ill-fated expedition of the Spanish explorer, Panfilo de Narvaez in 1528 – See the signed plaque on Boca Ciega Bay, corner of Park St. North and 17th Also see the murals at the St Jerome Catholic Church in Largo.
St Petersburg with a population of about 250,000 people has many more interesting places to see – including the Kenwood Historical District – where there are lots of 1920’s bungalow houses located; the Weedon Island Preserve – over 3000 acres of preserve; the St Petersburg Pier – a historic pier that is closed but is due to be re-developed; Passage Key Nature Reserve, historic Fort De Soto Park on Mullet Key, Egmont Key Lighthouse and many other attractions.
- Florida Botanical Gardens – 12175 125th Street, North – A great garden area and wetlands area attracting lots of birds.
- Gulf Coast Museum of Art – 12211 Walsingham Rd – specializing in art that has been created in Florida and the Southern States.
- Heritage Village – 11909 125th Street North– Here you can get a feel for Florida in the early days, with 23 re-constructed barns, houses and other buildings with the village covering around 23 acres.
- Armed Forces History Museum – 2050 34th Way, North – See armedforcesmuseum.org This is definitely a museum to see for all those people interested in Military history – weapons, tanks, uniforms, battles and more.
- Beaches – Look for Sunset Beach and Fred Howard Park.
- Tarpon Springs Cultural Center – 101 South Pinellas Avenue – Celebrating the area’s Greek history. Tarpon Springs is best known for its sea sponges.
- Tarpon Springs Heritage Museum – 100 Beckman Lane – Local History museum.
- Leppa-Rattner Museum of Art – 600 Klosterman Rd – featured the work of the expressionist painter, Abraham Rattner and Allen Leepa.
As you know the days of the Spanish Galleons has long gone, but the stories of Pirates and swash buckling Buccaneers live on in movies and stories.
In Tampa there is the legend of Gasparilla – a Spanish Pirate who is said to have been born in Seville in Spain around 1756.
Gasparilla’s real name was José Gaspar and he began his life of adventure at the age of 12 when he is said to have kidnapped a girl and held her for ransom, before being captured and brought before a court. The Judge found him guilty and gave him a choice of prison or joining the Spanish Naval Academy. He chose the latter and eventually reached the rank of Admiral, before being made the Navy Attaché to the King’s Court. He was just 27 year’s old when given this high rank.
His womanising and romantic d’alliances with the ladies of the Court however saw bitter rivalries take place, and he was accused of trying to steal the Spanish Crown Jewels. Fearing prison and maybe execution he commandeered a ship, the aptly named ‘Floridablanca’ and set sail for Florida, where he became known as the pirate, Garparilla. His lust for gold and treasure became legendary, and he is said to have plundered some 400 ships, taking their treasures and killing all those on-board, only sparing the women and children, some of the women becoming his concubines.
His end came in 1821, when he made the fatal error of attacking what he thought was a British merchant ship, only to find that it was the American Navy warship ‘USS Enterprise’ in disguise. A fierce battle erupted, and the ‘Floridablanca’ was sunk by cannonballs, and as his ship sank Gasparillo is said to have leapt overboard to the cry of “Gasparilla dies by his own hand, not by the enemy’s!”
Where was his treasure? While it is said that the treasure chests full of gold and other plunder are said to be buried somewhere up the Peace River, near a place called Spanish Homestead, the treasure has never been found, or at least they’re not telling, but Gasparilla’s name lives on.
In January each year, Gasparilla and his Mystic Krewe lay siege to the City of Tampa with his ship the newly named ‘Jose Gasparilla’ sailing into Tampa Bay to the cries of despair from all those who sight it.
Pirates come in all sizes and guises – and a great time is said by all as the feasts and merriment goes on well into the night with parades and parties happening all over the City.
Welcome to Tampa. Sit back and enjoy a cigar, rum and put on your pirate gear!