Tampa used to be known as just a way to get to the rest of Florida, a good point for the incoming flights, but redevelopment, mixed with a new attitude under the eye of Mayor Bob Buckhorn, is giving Tampa its own personality and putting it firmly on the map of places to go in Florida beyond the usual theme parks.
The aim of the redevelopment was to rejuvenate the area and create something for the people who live there, not just the tourists. Now locals can live and work in town rather than in the suburbs, bringing a new lease of life to the city.
All this has led to a more diverse and culturally interesting Tampa that’s worth visiting for a day or two, whether you plan to go on a road trip around Florida, explore the nearby theme parks, or have some other business in the state.
Here are a few things you can do there…
1. Alligators on the Riverwalk
The newly developed Riverwalk has encouraged visitors and locals to explore the waterfront at any time of day – alligators, boats, beautiful sunsets and all. There are so many museums here – Tampa Bay History Center, the Tampa Children’s Museum, the Tampa Museum of Art and the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts – that in my short day I only managed to fit in the Tampa Bay History Center.
2. Go on a bike ride
Renting bikes is the best way to get around here, the citywide public bike scheme is easy for tourists to use and the wide roads and special cycle friendly lanes make it the perfect speed for exploring. I unfortunately suggested we go to ‘CVS Photo’ to see if they had a charger lead for my camera, but after 30 minutes on the bike, we found the ‘photo section’ was about a metre by a metre, selling disposable cameras and photo frames. At least we got a look around the city though!
3. Chill at the waterfront
This is where a few of the museums are, and where any events will take place. When I was there, in December, they were setting up the stage for Jazzy Jeff to perform to the crowd just in front of where I took this photo.
4. Breakfast at The Oxford Exchange
I had breakfast at the legendary and super cool Oxford Exchange – I’d definitely recommend it. In fact I’ve written a whole review about it here.
5. Lunch at U Le Le
Part of Tampa’s renovation and rejuvenation is the ‘place to be’ U Le Le. Parties, celebrations, lunches, brunches and dinners are all catered for here, so long as you book early because this place is popular. We just managed to get in…
If you’re going, you might as well go, we had a selection of starters – crocodile hush puppies (first time I tried it, wouldn’t be bothered if it was the last), oysters, and salted peppers, both delicious.
For mains I had the chicken salad, and then for dessert, candied duck bacon maple fried ice cream, to share, oh god it was good. Not sure if I got all those flavours coming through, but either way, yum.
6. Dinner at the Blue Anchor Inn
We arrived in Tampa slightly wired from the flight so at 9pm didn’t want to go sleep, but didn’t want to drive anywhere until daylight. We went for a wander and found the Blue Anchor Inn where the barman decided to give us an impromptu beer tasting of the local crafts. Brilliant.
Like in the UK the whole craft beer scene is pretty big in the US right now and it was great to have someone take us through them all. I ordered a side of chicken tenders and for my few dollars got a bucket of the stuff, why is food so big in the US?!
7. Where to stay
There are some huge hotels in Tampa, well located for the airport. We stayed at Aloft Downtown Tampa, well located and just the right amount of cool and comfy. I loved the pixelated pillows, and the big shower area in the bathroom. It was right on the waterfront, so if we’d have known about the waterfront the night before, we definitely would’ve given it a wander.
8. Go to the drive thru cash point
Also, finally, they have drive thru ATMs in Tampa. I used it, it made me happy. The end.
9. Eat at The Oxford Exchange
It’s one of those super trendy spots – an old converted mill that’s now the place to be in Florida’s third biggest city by population.
The Oxford Exchange is a co working space, design studio, restaurant, lifestyle gift store and event venue all in one. Best of all, the whole place is a treasure trove for breakfast lovers, with different sections depending on how much time and money you want to invest in your morning munchies.
My friend Joe and I sat in the ‘ladies who lunch’ area, as I thought accurately described it, although of course this time it was brunch and there aren’t many ladies in the photo above. There were loads when we left.
The white wash brick walls and dark wood elegant tables gave the whole event a sense of occasion, and we could look out the front and see the people go by through the huge tinted windows – a necessity in super-hot Tampa.
We could’ve sat in the conservatory – which at the time was drenched in the 25’C sun of an average December day in Tampa. Black and white tiled floors and a forest of plants gave an al fresco feel, but the welcome air conditioning told you differently.
Or we could’ve sat at the bar stools and tables in what could be called ‘the grand hall’. This is where the quickie breakfast brigade dined. Strangers shared tables and the food came from a coffee shop like bar. The coffee was supplied by local gem Buddy Brew. If you didn’t want a cup of the strong stuff there was a whole stall selling teas of every variety, you could even do a tea tasting.
I went for the green smoothie, sweet potato hash with chorizo and fried egg and an Americano coffee, to get the full hit. I needed the injection of goodness from the smoothie after the long flight and a touch of jetlag. The food was great – huge, obviously, seeing we were in America, but every piece of that chorizo definitely made it down the hatch before the sweet potato defeated me.
Joe had cinnamon pancakes, which looked and tasted absolutely incredible. Again, a huge portion that sadly went half uneaten, but undeniably delicious. And those little chocolate brownies on top, aar yes.
In fact I’d have happily eaten all the food that came out of the kitchen – the plates were distracting me from our conversation.
I was in Florida as a guest of VISIT FLORIDA and Hertz.co.uk. Visit Florida have a whole January of activity in London – check out their ‘Moments of Sunshine‘ here. And to find out more about Tampa, check out visittampabay.com.