Tampa is a slow city with (usually) soft, sexy weather. Pretty, it ain’t, though they're trying, and the bay is nice. Interesting, it is. Still you must scratch hard to find any intellectually ecstatic experiences here. Maybe the hard-core intellectuals, beatniks, poets, artists, actors or writers here are in hiding. But when you find them, Tampa celebrates them. And hey, there’s a Barnes and Noble with good coffee.
Credit: Tampa Bay CVB and Jeff Greenberg
And an Indigo Coffee, drive-thru. Here is the new middle America, with knobs on…. and the endless sprawl of K-Marts, Wal-Marts and Sam’s Clubs to prove it.
But Tampa’s growing fast. With that growth, there is the sense that Tampa is
trying on new duds. Maybe it'll be a pirate. Maybe it'll be good ole boy. Maybe
it'll be a grand dame. Maybe it'll be a button down biz guy. Tampa residents
love the city because "it's a slow and easy place to live in;" "it's growing"
and 'it's full of hidden treasures. That means a better range of goods and
services from hairdressers to human rights groups, more choices, a growing
international mix of people (so the food's getting better), and even - hey, hey
- a couple of art cinemas.
Meanwhile The weather (87° F in early November), and Tampa's bland, easy, sleepy ways seduce new immigrants, bubbas, and mall-loving middle Americans. If you have a laptop and a lot of work to do, this is the spot---because the various and diverse treats can be explored with great fun and much speed.
Oh, there is the Gasparilla
Pirate Festival (average attendance: 400,000). and the fantastic Barbara
Forgione Salon, the only place to get your hair a brilliant cut, color and
condition in all of Florida, and there are concerts and plays---Cher was
here---and don’t forget the twelve-plex movie malls---and the predictable dead
cow restaurants, but mostly it’s the Pizza Huts, Targets and cookouts in the
sunshine that appeal to locals.
And geez, we forgot to mention Busch Gardens. Oh well. But you and I and most of us are tourists and you may not want to sleep in the Busches. For that luxury touch click here. So, for the rest of us, before we go completely out of our minds, here’s our list of.
Credit: Tampa Bay CVB and Jeff Greenberg
"If there is magic
on this planet, it is contained in water."
- Loren Eisley, The Immense Journey, 1957
If you have only one day in Tampa, and you don’t catch this aquarium, you have missed a little piece of paradise. Tampa's Aquarium may be the first and best thing to do and see in town. No thrill ride at Busch Gardens can match the delirious pleasure of seeing your kids (or your date) crawl along the huge glass walls of this turtley, fishy, watery blue world, making kissy-face with Things With Bulging Glassy Eyeballs. Nothing. Not Ybor City. Not even having a drink on the beach. Go to the Aquarium first. That’s not a recommendation – it’s an order.
It isn't the biggest, most famous, best stocked, or even the most noteworthy architecturally, but Tampa’s lovely little Aquarium becomes a must-see for its excellent collection of springy, juicy, beautiful animals you’ll long to take home and pet (or at least take out for dinner and a movie), and for its excellent design, amusing signage, gracious visitor-friendly touches and wide, inviting glass walls that invite face-making, creeping, crawling, sitting, sprawling and playing with the creatures on the other side of the glass. A special spot...
As in . . . a pair of comfy rocking chairs in a quiet blue corner in front of glass walls invite the visitor to slow down, rest, creature-watch and feel like a fish for awhile. Rocking chairs, people. We’ve never seen that anywhere else in the world. Seniors, moms and weary travelers, take note. Many thanks!
.As in . . signs throughout, with well-written, entertaining explanations of exhibits: we haven’t seen such clear, friendly, sparkling writing since visiting Chicago’s Field Museum. Nice one, Tampa!
As in . . .those long, long ledges by the big glass walls that dare you to sit up against the glass and play fish-face with the animals. Your reporter was just beginning to do so when a six-year-old visitor pressed himself up against the floor-to-ceiling glass wall of the shark tank, waggled his flippers and yelped, “Eat me! Eat me!" to a passing shark. We couldn’t have said it better.
The Loren Eisley quote greets you as you reach the top of the stairs (or exit the elevator) and before you enter the Coral Reef exhibit. Prior to entering, however, stop first at a small tank where all sorts of (Pacific Northwest) red or purple waving anemones, and every one unearthly, are waiting for you to touch them. Touch with two fingers only please, gently gently. There’s another touch tank for petting velvety gorgeous Southern and Atlantic stingrays.. Don’t worry, when they’re not in the mood to be cuddled, they swish off tantalizingly out of your reach. Do touch: they’re gorgeous. Next time this reporter is definitely coming back as a fish.
Enter the coral reefs, entire underwater cities bustling with grunt, parrotfish, everybody, and hard-working tiny squishy polyps which do most of the reef building. These coral buildings are alive, though, and noisy. Snapping shrimp make clicks and pops as they chomp. 100 year old sponges in all sorts of colours add to the mystery of undersea life.
Fish sleep with their eyes open, drifting on the gentle currents. Many are nocturnal, and here you’ll see the night shift, squirrelfish and redfish and — sounds like a Dr. Seuss book — and many of our finny friends looks like the characters in one, too. There’s the green queen parrotfish, who sleeps in a big bubble ball of mucus. There are Medusoids, ghostly, gelatinous and gorgeous, drifting, drifting, oh so gently, 94% water. And the dear jellies, with centres that resemble lighted transistors. And stripey cuttlefish, whose big eyes make them look so wise.
But of course we have come to see the octopus. Who isn’t a sucker for these intelligent, sneaky, brave creatures? And we are not disappointed. Mama octo sits and waves a few tentacles over a wall of her tiny milky translucent eggs. her huge purple head watches us watching her. Ooooooooooh....
Who needs creatures from outer space when we’ve got them weirder and wilder and wetter than anything anyone can imagine right here on earth? And who needs a boat show, auto show, or stupid fashion show when there’s a fish show in town?.
The gift shop has a
good range of fish toys, many with googly eyes.
701 Channelside Dr. (Near the downtown Tampa port where the cruise ships leave) 813-273-4000.More information? Swim here.
Credit: Tampa Bay CVB
ght:.3in;margin-bottom: 0in;margin-left:.3in;margin-bottom:.0001pt;text-indent:.5in"> Absolutely number one. It’s gorgeous, well-located, and has a whiz-bang monorail. The flights here can be dirt cheap, like $49 from New York, one-way on Jet Blue. Flights even go overseas from here. There's a massage therapist at the shoeshine stand. Gosh! More details? Click here.
A wonderful bit of architecture here, sort of New Orleans-y, and a pleasure to walk around, especially in the evening where there are music bars and restaurants and weird shops. Weird for Tampa, that is. We’re grateful. And so we click. One amazing shop is The Spitting Gargoyle (1717 E. 7th Ave., 813.247.7877). In business since 1994, it specializes in medievally inspired architectural accents and accessories such as gargoyles, cherubs, pedestals and columns. More info? Clickkkk
The old historic
Ybor City Cuban restaurant serves the best food, including many delights
suitable for vegetarians, in Tampa/Ybor City. Don’t miss this. Of course
it’s a chain now. Thank heavens we’ll have another reliably good meal to
look forward to elsewhere. Click
2117 East 7th Ave (813) 248-4961.
For cheaper (and blander) Cuban eats, there's nearby Carmine's. 1802 East 7th Ave (813) 248-3834
Walking about in
this vast ductile space that looks as if it were designed by Aquarian robots
in love is far more entertaining than the non-stop, belly-churning rides,
rides, rides of the nearby Busch Gardens. The space even includes a small
and good planetarium with shows, and, of course, an IMAX programme. Click
to see what’s cooking at MOSI right now.
4801 East Fowler Avenue, Tampa Tel. 813 987 6300
St. Petersburg, Indian Rocks Beach, Clearwater, Tarpon Springs. Go for a drive. Check ‘em out. Good Greek grub abounds in Tarpon Springs, a charming beach hamlet. Don’t forget to give yourself a Gulf-side loll, drink in hand, on the patio of the Don Cesar Resort in St. Pete.
To get the best
hair color, conditioning, hair treatments and the best haircuts
in Florida, dash to Tampa. That's what you all have to do to maintain a
gorgeous, shining mane in the tropic heat without the frizzies. When you
find a great colorist - and I really mean great - who also has great
in-house hair cutters, that's heaven. I discovered this delightful head
trip for your coconut when I heard one of the local hotel execs rave on
and on about Barbara, Barbara, Barbara...who turns out to be a
spectacularly talented master colorist who decided to make her
home in sultry, sleepy Tampa. It seems that Barbara, a Vidal
Sassoon graduate, trained in Los Angeles (Vidal Sassoon), New Jersey and
New York (with Beth Minardi). She transforms all kinds of hair with the
most brilliant, subtle, gentle hair color we've seen: ask for a
peek at her inspiring "Before and After" book. Movie stars, spies,
TV anchors, ladies who lunch, authors on tour, and fashionable and fussy
locals are Barbara's regulars, as are our fashion-forward fighting women
at nearby McDill Air Force base. And prices are good. If
Barbara's doing your color or treatment and her stylists are doing your
cut, you'll never have to worry. You're safe. Barbara's known as
the go-to girl when your last hair stylist just wrecked your hair ---
she fixes bad hair all the time, with thermal reconditioning, the
Japanese hair relaxing and hair straightening YUKO reconditioning
treatment, that's tout le rage in New York, without big city
prices. It's worth going just for the conversation: world events, music,
fashion, astrology, wazzup in Tampa...she's switched-on and sassy, and
knows what color's all about. Well worth a trip down to Tampa on JetBlue
just to get your hair done. Next time, I think I might. Barbara
Forgione, 4317 El Prado Boulevard in fashionable South Tampa (33619),
between West Shore and Dale Mabry.
To book, call (001 outside the USA) 813 832 1115 best haircuts best cut
Crystal Price (License # 3405) has extremely good strong fingers and healing
hands. She trained not in Tampa, but at the well-known Florida School of Massage
at Gainesville, FL. Sorry travelmelers, her massages are for women only, and
house calls only. Lucky us, Girlfriends. Highly recommended. Hers is the best
massage we've found in Tampa. The day after, no more aches, no more worries. Oh,
Crystal! We'll book another. Hurry. Call ahead to book. 24 hours notice or more
advised. Also available : Neuro-Muscular, Deep Tissue, Pregnancy Massage,
Cell 813 380 6157 and email
$75 one blissful hour. (Cash only until you’re a regular.)
It happens. You're passing through and unchuk-unchuk unchuk. Here's the place to fix your ride. Mazin is a great - and honest Tampa auto mechanic. He'll even tell you what the last crew did wrong. And when it's time to trade in your old Toyoyo. He even knows where the best restaurants are hiding. Call the amazin' Mazin at 813.882.0776 or 813.966.3421. He's ASE certified.
It is big. It is black, and very very shiny: all glass. A dark, mysterious monolith smack in the middle of the chilly corporate concrete canyons of sleepy downtown Tampa (neighbors include Verizon, NBC, the convention center and the Bank of America building).
Welcome to the surprising Hyatt Regency Tampa, the secret treasure of
Downtown Tampa, an official oasis for the business traveler. The
17-story luxury hotel and convention center offers plenty of pampering
and oodles of amenities. Its downtown location (Two Tampa City Center)
gives hotel guests easy access to the sleepy but calm Franklin St.
Pedestrian Mall, University of Tampa, Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center
(TBPAC) and the Convention Center. Also, you’re just minutes away from
Ybor City and Hyde Park.
At 3 o’clock in the afternoon, Mondays through Fridays, the little delis pull their shutters down and Downtown Tampa’s nearly deserted. Yikes. (There is even a local bar called “Stranded Downtown.”)
So what makes this hotel the buzziest one, the one so often chosen by film directors, movie stars and celebrities from Michael Moore to George W. Bush, as the easiest spot to rest, work, live, play and hide away in Tampa? It’s whispered that Jimmy Smits made the Regency his Tampa home while preparing for “Anna In The Tropics." The hotel is famed for its discretion: they won't tell you who's staying here-- or who stayed here. A nice touch, that. Ethical and caring and classy. And that's probably why the famous love to stay here. Comfort and crackerjack service. Lovely pillows. (We've had hoteliers show us the beds where movie stars had their affairs. Quel horreur! We certainly wouldn't stay in a place like that... again.) But the locals will tell you Whitney Houston was 'ere.
not just the suits and stars who come here. Others are drawn by special
TBPAC theater and concert events; sports at local
arenas; expos at the convention center; Busch Gardens; and there's the
Gasparilla festival. (Book very early for this one.) The festival’s two
parades (one for families and one for the grown children of
dysfunctional families — okay, adults) come very very very close to the
hotel. The hotel warns guests who book during the festival that –well,
there will be quite a lot of whoop-de-do going on.
This madly popular and pleasant hotel is over twenty years old, has had one renovation and is preparing for its next makeover.. While the rooms are quite comfortable, expect to see a change of colors, a bit of a redo in the pool area, and an upgrade of the business center.
The Hyatt Regency offers a number of packages for its various special interest guests.
Hyatt Regency Tampa
Two Tampa City Center
In Ybor City, a wonderful treasure of a Northern Italian restaurant. Not surprisingly, the Weekly Planet rated it Tampa Bay’s “Best Italian restaurant” in 2002. (Luigi, the owner, is from Ricione.). In addition to its luscious cooking (primo pesto, and a must-have, ethereal eggplant appetizer), its super-soft ambience, candles and low lights will melt you like mozzarella.. 1727 E. 7th Ave. 813.248-1326 Click here,
Aha. That rare
Florida treasure. A good magazine store with a wide selection of
magazines (including some imports) and newspapers (including some New
York ones). Go on…buy a Florida Lottery ticket. You’ve gotta be in it to
win it, folks. 813-276-1710 604 N. Franklin Street.
They're all raving about
this joint. We haven't checked it out yet, but it's another vegetarian
Southern Indian restaurant in Florida, so why fool around? There's a
lunch buffet Tuesday-Friday, chomp, chomp, chomp.
14422 North Dale Mabry Hwy (813) 962-7300 or click
An alt consciousness refuge for southern hippies, deadheads, free
thinking and even freer dancing sorts. Its centerpiece is an outdoor
theatre that features sharp local players ( a favorite is Bill “the
sauce boss” Wharton gumbo who expertly and exquisitely plays Dixie
rock lines, heavily steeped in Johnny Winters and Allman Brothers. His
popularity stems equally from his sound and from his gumbo. (He cooks it
all night on stage and then serves to the audience. Some quite good
national acts also play Skipper’s. These include Marcia Ball and
Iris Dement and Buckwheat Zydeco.We happened to see Wharton during a
special event that included a costume contest. (Two of Skipper's
regulars are seen left).
910 Skipper Road..813.971-0666 or click
If you’re looking for the throbbing heart of the art/activism axis of Tampa’s creative community, rush directly to Viva La Frida, restaurant and much, much, much, much more. The eccentric, whimsical clientele come here two, three even four times a week for poetry, plays, save-the-world activities or just a good laugh over a pitcher or two of sangria with friends.
As we approached the restaurant's doorway we heard voices. Looking to the right, we saw an outdoor stage (complete with actors) and an audience. It was a performance of David Mamet’s “Sexual Perversity in Chicago.” inside posters and fliers describe opportunities for community activism and significant events.
With so many vegetarian-friendly dishes on the menu, the starving
artist/University student/crunchy Granola crowds feel instantly at home
here. And the sangria’s good. The food's well, Mexicanesque,
as Mexican food is merely the jumping-off point for the eccentric,
generous cook who just can’t resist tweaking everything on the
menu, down to the beans and rice, until it’s something else again.
Big portions, though. (Skip the guacamole, though - was that
cheese in it? Aiye!)
5901 Florida Ave. 813-231-9199 or click aqui
Nobody knows about this place. Nobody but the happy people---mostly Indians
and Pakistanis and knowledgeable Brits --- who pop in and out of this
grocery store garnished with a few picnic tables.
It isn’t even listed in the local hip Weekly Planet newspaper, or anywhere else. But man, can they cook! The owner is rumoured to be a brilliant mathematician...the elegance and complexity of the flavours is definitely a winning formula. This one is worth a special trip. The menu changes daily, and is ‘purely vegetarian’, they will proudly tell you, when you ring up to check the hours. (Happily, they are open 7 days a week.) We paid just five bucks for a surprisingly subtle all you can eat buffet, set up in crockpots on a small picnic table; this included three desserts, millions of papadums, one chapati, a sensationally succulent mango rice, curries, sambars, delicate, succulent, thin crusted samosas and a generous selection of fruits. They also make superb dosas.
in Cacciatore Plaza, on Hanley Road, just off Hillsborough Ave. (between Hillsborough and Waters Ave. Cross Street is Paula.
5522 Hanley Road, Tampa Tel. 813 243 1522
Are we serious? Yes. Vegetarians (and would-be healthy eaters) driving
throughout the South find sanctuary and sanity in this healthy haven of a
chain, the champion of the early-bird specials. The veggies are fresh and
sometimes interesting, with carrot soufflés, many many salads, strawberries
in a goopy red sauce, jalapeno cornbread and hot apple cobblers, pecan pies
and coconut cake. Did we say healthy? Well, there’s broccoli every day,
green beans, okra, corn, mashed or baked potatoes, marshmallow candied yams,
macaroni and cheese and more. When you’ve a car full of kids, the Piccadilly
chain is a godsend. Don’t forget to pick up one of their booklets at the
cash register and pop one in the car. Meanwhile click
Tampa Area Piccadillys
West Shore Plaza
299 West Shore Plaza
11810 Dale Mabry
717 S. Dale Mabry Highway
13702 Bruce B. Downs Boulevard
A few blocks from the hotel, our Indian restaurant detector went into full alert. According to our readings, there were greater than average traces of turmeric in the air. We turned a corner and there was Shalimar and two wonderful surprises: A $7.95 luncheon buffet with diverse vegetarian choices (aloo gobi, chana,horgeous saag paneer with big pieces of paneer) Even better, the food actually tasted good. If Shalimar were in New York, we would not be embarrassed to take friends there. Since we are such snobs, this is high praise. 204 South Morgan St. 813.222.3400
Tampa has two officially charming streetcars lines: the Hartline rubber wheel babies and the two-year-old TECO old-fashioned trolleys. They’re inexpensive rides, and almost, kind of get you from downtown to Ybor City, fun, bit not necessarily convenient . However, we are told that the routes will be expanding.
An attractive official shopping and entertainment site sits next to the aquarium. Stores offer cigars, cigarettes, paintings, food, and moving picture shows. 615 Channelside Dr. For more information, 813-223-4250. or click here
This upscale shopping plaza (don’t call it a mall.) has nearly 200
shops (including Nordstrom’s and a mess of high-stylin’ shops) and
more than a dozen restaurants, uh, eateries. Its food court even has a
food court. One restaurant, The Gallery Eclectic Bistro (813 353 3838)
is rather gorgeous and a good place to relax over drinks. It’s a
circular room with blue lights, peppy wait staff and $12 martinis. The
International Plaza is an in-and-out, all-weather affair, a nice outdoor
consumer village look up…those puffy white clouds are real. But it still
feels like Las Vegas, with the clouds painted on the blue vault above.
To its credit the International Plaza is near that wonderful airport.
those early breakfast places you can’t live without, though you wish you
could, First Watch does help break the $30 hotel breakfast habit, and
it’s open every day (which is big since most of downtown Tampa is closed
down.) The breakfast and brunch menu supports veggie craving diners.
There's a veg-out omelette and an astonishingly dull Eggs Florentine.
Moderate prices ($5.75 and $6.95 respectively) were welcome, and offset
by the $1.60 coffee cost). First Watch is part of a chain which means
there are standards which it will neither miss nor exceed.
First Watch 520 Tampa St. 813-307-9006
Tampa Theatre is one of the nation's preservation success stories and
one of the city's bright gems. Its style can only be described as
Florida Mediterranean (includes touches of Italian Renaissance,
Byzantine, Spanish, Mediterranean, Greek Revival, Baroque, and English
Tudor)" (And perhaps a tad of kitchen sink?) Opened in October, 1926 as
a magnificent “motion picture palace,” the John Eberson-designed venue
went into decline and near extinction by the '70s. Tampa, in partnership
with the community, saved the theatre in 1973. Now it is open throughout
the year with a rich schedule of film, concerts, special events,
corporate events and tours.
813-274-8981. And even if you're not at the mighty Wurlitzer,
Also in the night on the town category is the Tampa Bay Center for the Performing Arts. It has a steady stream of musicals, plays, concerts, dance programs, holiday events and other such stuff. For info and current schedule, click here.