Planning a trip to Florida can either be a lot of fun or completely overwhelming, as it offers infinite travel possibilities.
If you are looking for nightlife fun and beach parties there’s Miami; if you want to enjoy theme parks with the entire family there’s Orlando; and if you love history, you can visit Saint Augustine, the oldest city in the United States.
But if you are looking for a place that offers all of the above and more, you should visit Tampa.
To me, Tampa is not only the most beautiful city in Florida, but is actually one of the most beautiful cities in the entire country.
Since the beaches in Tampa Bay are located on the Gulf of Mexico, expect the water to be very calm and warm; during the summer, the water temperature can reach the 80’s. Heavenly!
The beach sand is white and soft and since you will be on the Gulf Coast of Florida, be sure to enjoy those spectacular sunsets.
The most popular beaches are Clearwater and St. Petersburg, but you should explore hidden gems like Honeymoon Island and Fort De Soto Beach. The latter has been named America’s Top Beach for the last two consecutive years by Trip Advisor.
Although Tampa is about an hour drive to Disney World, you don’t have to leave the city to visit world-class theme parks.
Busch Gardens is not only a great park that offers thrilling roller coaster rides and colorful live entertainment, but it is also a park that educates about the preservation of our planet’s beautiful wildlife.
In addition to viewing incredible animals on a unique African Safari, you’ll have the opportunity to catch a glimpse of rare white tigers, one of the most exotic species in the world.
Florida’s hot tropical weather will make you want to get soaked at a water park and Adventure Island is your best bet!
With all types of thrilling water slides, a giant wave pool, a relaxing river, waterfalls, and more, Adventure Island offers the best water fun in the sun.
Cultural and Sports Events
Without a doubt, the liveliest and most popular of all cultural celebrations in Tampa is Gasparilla.
This annual event, reenacting a pirate invasion of the city, attracts thousands and takes place at the end of January. Expect hundreds of boats, colorful parades, concerts, parties, and loads of fun.
As far as cultural venues, the Performing Arts Center hosts Broadway plays, operas, concerts, and other great performances.
The Tampa Theater is one of my favorite spots in Tampa and a true historical gem. This movie theater opened in 1926 and was chosen by LIFE Magazine as one of America’s 21 Wonders (see photo).
Specializing in independent films and vintage movies, the Tampa Theater is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Oh, and sometimes the Tampa Theater will even play early 20th century silent films with a live organ player. How cool is that!
When it comes to sports, there’s action all year round and Tampa’s teams have very loyal fans.
And if you love soccer, the Tampa Bay Rowdies are back! There’s no doubt Tampa and sports go hand-in-hand.
One of the most surprising museums in Tampa Bay is The Salvador Dalí Museum, located in St. Petersburg. This museum has the largest collection of Salvador Dalí works outside Europe, including 7 of his 18 masterwork paintings. Truly impressive!
Back in downtown Tampa, there are two great museums you won’t want to miss:
The Tampa Bay History Center and the Tampa Museum of Art
The Tampa Bay History Center is a state-of-the-art facility that covers both European and Native-American influences in Florida and their impact on the Tampa Bay area.
It also shows rich exhibits with Tampa’s contemporary history, its main industries, as well as visiting exhibits, including local sports teams and players who became legends.
All the exhibits are remarkably presented in their own artistic way using high-tech theaters, interactive panels, map galleries, scale-models, and hands-on learning for children. And it is precisely this variety that makes it a fun place for the whole family.
The Tampa Museum of Art is located in a modern building right on the Hillsborough River. Their art compilation includes modern paintings, photography, contemporary sculptures and a comprehensive collection of Greek and Roman relics.
Shop ‘Til You Drop
Tampa has great options when it comes to shopping.
International Plaza is an impeccably designed upscale shopping center offering a huge selection of brand name and boutique shops.
For a small-town open-air setting try the shops at Hyde Park Village.
Besides fine stores, both also have great dining options, coffee shops, and gelaterias.
Nightlife & Restaurants
You’ll find the swankiest bars in Hyde Park. And it is also here were you can taste some of the best food Tampa has to offer.
My favorite restaurant is SideBern’s on Morrison Avenue because it has the most creative and elegant international fine dining that I’ve experienced. Their service is phenomenal, the décor is state-of-the-art, and their wine selections come from the largest wine cellar in the world (you’ll find out what I’m talking about below).
SideBern’s recently diversified their already spectacular menu!
They now have complete vegetarian and Mediterranean menus in addition to their regular menu.
My suggestion is to go for the tastings to enjoy a six-course dinner, each dish beautifully presented and paired with an extraordinary wine selection all the way through dessert.
Wine & Wine Bars
Florida is not known for its wines, although there are several wineries in Florida.
I know it’s hard to believe, but it even tops the world-famous Paris restaurant Tour d’Argent, which is Bern’s closest competitor with about 450,000 bottles of wine.
The good thing for wine enthusiasts is you can tour Bern’s wine cellar when you visit the restaurant.
In conclusion, I can only say Tampa is one of the most fascinating cities you’ll ever visit. These were some of the best recommendations I can think of, but you’ll just have to travel there and see for yourself.
You’ll be delighted!