Tampa Area

By: VISIT FLORIDA staff

ADD TO FAVORITES
The Tampa area has sophistication, culture, family attractions such as the Florida Aquarium, and a rich heritage: evident in the Cuban-influenced district of Ybor City.

More than just a big city with all the sophistication, culture, industry and services that implies, Tampa is also a place for family vacations and encounters of the natural kind. Situated on Florida's largest inlet, Tampa Bay, which separates it from sister city St. Petersburg, Tampa has a lot of shipping history in its past, and in its present. With its strategic position, it began as a Seminole War fort. Later its quick access to the Gulf of Mexico and deep port brought cigar-making and Spanish-American War preparations to town.

The cigar industry, moved here from Key West and Cuba, centered in the district of Ybor City, which is one of three National Historic Landmark Districts. With the factories came immigrant workers from Cuba, Italy, Germany and Spain to flavor the town with the chatter, food and traditions of many cultures. The Cuban influence has stuck most tenaciously and today Cuban restaurants, a redolent coffee-roasting plant, cigar shops and lively Latin festivals persist even though most of the factories are gone. Shopping and entertainment's CENTRO Ybor occupies several of the colorful neighborhood's historic buildings. Ybor City Museum State Park resides in the old bakery. An inn, restaurants and shops line main street Seventh Avenue, home of the original Columbia Restaurant. Progenitor to a line of Spanish restaurant spin-offs throughout Florida, it stands out with its elaborate tiled exterior and flamenco dancing shows.

In downtown Tampa, the focus in recent years has returned to the Bay and the Hillsborough River that runs through town. Cruise ship business has picked up, and a street car transports passengers to Ybor City and other attractions. At the Channelside District, you'll find an entertainment-dining multiplex, along with big-name resorts, professional hockey and the Florida Aquarium, a seashell-shaped glass dome with more than 20,000 aquatic plants and animals inside. Next door, you can tour a WW II-era merchant marine ship.

Inner city, attractions old and new beckon. Railroad builder Henry Plant's fantastical Tampa Bay Hotel now holds university offices and the Henry B. Plant Museum, furnished for the 1890s, when Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders used it as a staging area during the Spanish American War. Bayshore Boulevard winds between the waterfront and its stately homes, known as the world's longest unbroken sidewalk and site of the swashbuckling Gasparilla Pirate Festival, which normally takes place in late January or early February. In historic neighborhoods such as Hyde Park, shopping and dining opportunities excel.

In its northern reaches, Tampa satisfies family urges with Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo, a hands-on kids town, the wondrous Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI), Busch Gardens Tampa Bay and Adventure Island. Begun as a tour of a beer factory, Busch Gardens stands today among Florida's leading theme parks with its unique blend of thrilling rides, one of the country’s premier zoos with more than 2,000 animals, live shows, restaurants, shops and games. Its sidekick water park, Adventure Island, is one of Florida's oldest, biggest and most exhilarating with 30 acres of water-drenched fun in the sun. Nearby Plant City has its Dinosaur World attraction to offer family vacationers, and its annual Florida Strawberry Festival, a celebration of the town's sweet and juicy crop.

Along Tampa's fringes, the Hillsborough River, state parks and other natural kingdoms provide a quiet, bucolic flipside to the city life. The same river that plunges through city center takes canoeists and kayakers on a nature odyssey where alligators, hawks and majestic domes of cypress trees dwell. A 16,000-acre preserve known as Wilderness Park surrounds the river and its branches and was made for paddlers and pedallers. The river also is centerpiece of Hillsborough River State Park, one of Florida's oldest. The park's most unusual natural feature is a series of rapids created by the river as it flows over outcroppings of Suwannee limestone. History buffs can step back in time at Fort Foster Historic Site. And you can camp, picnic or pursue several water-based activities.  

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