Tampa is the largest city on the Gulf Coast of Florida. It is situated on the north side of the huge Tampa Bay with Bradenton to the south and St Petersburg to the west. Visitors may find it hard to navigate around the attractions in this sprawling city and should definitely pick up a map from the local tourism office.
Although Spanish explorers visited the Tampa Bay area in 1528, there was no permanent settlement for another 300 years. In 1824 the US government created a reservation for the Seminole Indians and manned Fort Brooke to protect both the reservation and the natural harbour. Things were slow to progress until 1883 when phosphate was discovered, which in turn led to the railroad being built from Tampa to Jacksonville by Henry B. Plant.
Not content with his achievements, Plant went on to develop the Grand Plant Hotel, promoting Tampa as a warm winter resort destination and eventually the idea took hold with wealthy Americans from the northern states.
One of the most unique areas to the easy of the city is the historic Ybor City, often considered part of downtown. This historic cigar-making area has a strong Cuban influence, great architecture, live music and of course, Cuban cuisine! Lively by day, it is not considered a safe area at night as homeless people hang out between 8th and 9th Ave, just south of the I-4.
The cigar-making business began in 1886 when Vincente Ybor opened his first cigar factory. Spanish, Cuban and Sicilian workers flocked to the area for work. By the turn of the century the Spanish American War had broken out and Tampa then became the main point for deploying troops to Cuba.
The best way to learn about the history of the area is by visiting the Ybor City State Museum to see the unique exhibits. Walking tours take place every Saturday at 10.30am and longer tours can be arranged midweek. There is an ArtWalk on the first Saturday in the month with great arts and crafts on display and on the last Saturday in the month Guavaveeb is a nighttime parade.
Another clearly defined area is West Tampa, a residential area stretching from the Raymond James Stadium and Tampa International Airport up to Pinellas County.
During the 20th century, Tampa became a flourishing and diverse city, particularly since World War II. Nowadays the 335,000 population swells during the winter with the arrival of snowbirds – the non-flying variety, otherwise known as retirees! This means that at peak commuter times the I-75 and other main routes can be at a standstill due to the amount of traffic at commuter times and should definitely be avoided. Tampa also has five cruise lines with winter cruises sailing regularly to the Caribbean and Mexico.
Things to do in Tampa
Tourists find it easy to get around this widespread city using streetcars that run from Ybor City to Dick Greco Plaza. The Florida Aquarium is a popular attraction on Channelside with touch tanks, eco-tours and interactive diving experiences.
The Tampa Museum of Art at Gasparilla Plaza is on the Hillsborough River and offers free admission on Fridays from 4-8pm. The Tampa Theater is a former movie theater and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It continues to have a varied program.
Busch Gardens is one of the best known attractions in Tampa with rides, shows and animal attractions. To get a good look at Florida wildlife, visit the Lowry Park Zoo which is home to everything from lorikeets to Komodo dragons and manatees.
Take a walk through Lettuce Lake Park with boardwalks around the 700-year old cypress trees sheltering birds, alligators and herons.
Tampa is sports-crazy with the Buccaneers playing football, Tampa Bay Lightning playing hockey, the Bay Rays playing baseball and several other minor leagues. Golf, shopping, excellent dining and nightlife are also plentiful in this vibrant city.
This informative book offers details of 20 best beaches and coastal cities in Florida
It is also available to download as an ebook:
20 Best Florida Beaches and Coastal Cities