Everyone say, "Hey, Tampa Bay!"
Got a little British twang to it? No matter, you can still travel like a local. Just check out the expert advice of Tampa resident and guest blogger, Julius Vaugh, below.
Then before you know it, you'll be ready to board Virgin Atlantic's new direct route from London Heathrow to Tampa - launching on 3rd November 2022 - and available right here at Ocean Florida.
The first thing you need to know about Ybor is how to pronounce the name, simply replace the “Y” with an “E”!
Next, head to the center of this lively area where Tampa’s streetcars run through. Hop on and take a ride to explore not only the fascinating Ybor but the other areas downtown Tampa has to offer.
You’ll discover that Ybor has a New Orleans feel
- full of bars, restaurants, live performers, art festivals and a weekend farmer’s market comprised of artisan goods and fresh produce. But best of all, Ybor City is home to the world famous Cuban Sandwich!
If you’re someone who has never heard of a Cuban sandwich, you’re in for a treat. Originally founded by Cuban immigrants in the late 1800s, Ybor blossomed with hand-rolled cigar factories and the smell of coffee in the air. These factory workers created the sandwich as a daily staple for their lunch bags. A little roast pork, some fresh baked Cuban bread - one word: delicious!
A little known fact about Tampa is that it boasts the longest continuous sidewalk in the world.
At 4.5 miles in length, this sidewalk is free of cross streets meaning walkers, runners and cyclists can exercise whilst enjoying spectacular, uninterrupted views of the bay on one side and magnificent mansion homes on the other.
Bayshore Beautiful stretches from downtown Tampa, where you can also enjoy a Segway tour, all the way to scenic Ballast Point, which features an excellent fishing pier with a fantastic seafood restaurant serving fresh catches of the day.
Take some time out on the concrete benches too, which are built into the Spanish inspired, decorative wall that dances along the sidewalk. Many couples enjoy an evening stroll here, listening to the tranquil water. Not to mention the pretty lights of the city in the distance. But hey, the clue was in the name anyway!
Seminole Heights is one of Tampa’s oldest neighborhoods
and still embraces a true sense of southern hospitality. Situated along the Hillsborough River, which runs to Downtown Tampa and out into the bay, Seminole Heights residents live in homes that were built in the early 1900s.
The homes have picturesque wrap around wooden porches, perfect for a swing or a pair of rocking chairs, and yards that are covered in shade provided by hundred year old oak trees draped in Spanish moss.
Even Tampa’s oldest high school, Hillsborough High School, was designed to look more like a cathedral than a school, with stained glass windows and cut granite and marble buttresses. So, this neighborhood is definitely worth exploring...
Sit in a booth at Nicko’s Diner, where Elvis Presley used to enjoy a late night meal, and have your picture taken. Visit the old water tower, reminiscent of the Rapunzel fairy tale, and have lunch while safely viewing alligators sunning themselves along the riverbank.
And be sure to check out the award-winning restaurants and independent brew pubs along Florida Avenue during the evening, you'll feel like you’ve just stepped into the Pacific Northwest.
The University of Tampa
Built alongside the Hillsborough River in downtown Tampa, the University of Tampa, once known as the Tampa Bay Hotel, is a United States Historic National Landmark
Originally opened by railroad tycoon, Henry B. Plant, in the late 1800s, this luxury hotel held over 500 rooms for visiting guests and dignitaries. With architecture heavily influenced by one of Plant’s most cherished spots in the world, Morocco, the top of the building was designed to have gold and silver minarets which shine brightly in the Florida sun.
Today, visitors can schedule minaret walks to see the views of the city, which were once only reserved for the elite. Also, you can peer into the interior structure of the building, which was built with steel railroad beams and ties ensuring it would stand up against hurricanes.
Because of its strength, one of the hotel’s most famous guests, President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, used the building as a headquarters for his Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War. So why not take a tour of the campus and relive the history that thrives within the old hotel’s walls. And who knows? Plan the trip at Halloween and you may even see a ghost or two!
Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and Tampa Riverwalk
The Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and Tampa Riverwalk provide downtown residents and visitors alike the opportunity to take a stroll along the city’s edge
Its park, which is gradually levelled down to the Hillsborough River, hosts live music from local bands, art and vendor sponsored festivals, the Glazer Children’s Museum, a dog park with an obstacle course, and all sorts of delicious food stalls during the weekends.
At the top of the park, children and those who are children at heart can run through an array of dancing fountains. And during the wintertime, the fountains are replaced with a climate controlled ice rink. Once you’re ready to venture out along the river, you can head north up the shaded walk to take in some fine dining at Ulele - one of Tampa’s best eclectic brewpub restaurants.
Or, you can head south down the walk and explore Tampa’s History Center and Amelie Arena, home to the Stanley Cup winning Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team - "Go Bolts!"
SOHO (South Howard Avenue)
Right off of Bayshore Beautiful, the South Howard Avenue section of Tampa - affectionately known as SOHO to its residents - is alive with some of Tampa’s most cherished fine dining and hot spots.
One such spot is Bern’s Steak House, originally established in 1953, and a favorite among locals and visiting celebrities. Despite having eight dining rooms and 350 guest seats, the restaurant still requires a reservation as dining there is in prime demand. But, if you’re in the mood for something sweet instead, you can visit the famous Dessert Room which features 48 private booths and a choice of over 50 desserts and a variety of fine wines.
Though don’t worry if you can’t get a reservation at Bern’s Steak House, there are many restaurants to choose from in SOHO - as well as bars and coffee houses to frequent. And if your visit to SOHO is during the day, you can take a stroll past Bern’s Park towards neighboring Hyde Park to grab lunch, catch a movie or smoke a fine cigar whilst watching shoppers peruse the small boutique stores.
Gasparilla Pirate Fest
Over 100 years old, Gasparilla is Tampa’s version of Mardi Gras or Carnival.
Festivities begin the last week of January, when legendary ship’s captain, Jose Gaspar, and his pirates come into port and invade the city, taking the mayor hostage. All in the name of fun, of course...
The week is full of parties, film fests, art shows and other pirate-themed experiences that culminate in the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates. With over 50 participating crews, visitors to the parade can vie to catch beads, gold and silver coins, bullet casings, candies and other pirate booty that is thrown by the participants walking the parade route, or riding on one of the many multi-colored floats down Bayshore Beautiful.
And, if you happen to be an early bird, eat a hearty breakfast fit for Blackbeard and take a seat along the water to catch the pirate ship flotilla coming into Tampa Bay. Keep in mind that since this festival is akin to Mardi Gras or Carnival that a pirate’s favorite mate, rum, is in abundance. For a more family friendly parade, Tampa throws the Gasparilla Children’s Parade the week prior, where the pirates keep things alcohol free.
Tampa Bay International Dragon Boat Races
Every August, Tampa waterways are host to the International Dragon Boat Races, comprised of over 20 teams of rowers. Each handcrafted dragon boat holds a shouter at the front of the boat yelling “ROW” and a drummer at the rear keeping beat for twenty rowers to make sure their oars are in perfect sync.
Attracting teams Tampa-wide and beyond, they compete for a distance of approximately 440 meters along the Tampa Riverwalk, at Fort Cotanchobee Park. All in the hopes of qualifying for the finals, which are held in China each year.
Consequently, many local Tampa businesses participate in the races to promote team building, group integrity and fitness, staying true to the 2,000-year-old Chinese tradition.
And, if rowing a dragon boat is more of a spectator sport for you - you've also come to the right place. Tampa’s Asia Festival is held in Fort Cotanchobee Park at the same time, where you can view acrobats, shop for art, eat authentic Chinese food and root for your favorite team from the shade of a stationary rickshaw.
The Oxford Exchange
Originally built as a stable in 1891 for the downtown Tampa Bay Hotel (now the University of Tampa) the Oxford Exchange opened its doors in the autumn of 2012. Listed as one of the Top 10 Best Places for Brunch in the United States,
the OE is much more than a restaurant. It is home to a book store, a collectables shop which houses everything from jewellery to furniture, and a center tea and coffee bar.
The décor has been hand-built with pieces from all over the world: chairs from England, a center fountain from Rome and Italian marble accents just to name a few. And as the perfect complement to this eclectic and whimsical atmosphere, the food of the OE is a joy to experience with every mouthful. Not like any other menu that you would find in Tampa, breakfast and lunch goers have options that range from Lobster Benedict, Grilled Brussel Sprouts, and a Black and Blue Burger with Fried Egg.
If you think everything tastes fresh, you would be correct. The Oxford Exchange uses organically grown produce and believes in sustainable farming practices. And if breakfast and lunch aren’t enough, special suppers and social events will keep you busy as well.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Even if you’re not an avid American football fan, taking in a Buccaneers game at Raymond James Stadium is truly an experience to write home about. The open-air stadium boasts ample seating, as well as a true-to-size pirate ship built beneath the main scoreboard.
And yes, the canons are operable, firing confetti loudly into the air every time the home team makes a touchdown and scores some points. Perhaps the best part of “game day” though takes place before the game in the stadium’s parking lot, where fans and spectators tailgate: grilling out hotdogs and hamburgers, drinking an ice-cold beverage and getting to spend time with friends old and new.
Similarly, just across Dale Mabry Highway, baseball fans can take in spring training for the New York Yankees, who call Tampa their home away from home. No matter what your sport, Tampa definitely has you covered.
Find Tampa Hotels Here