Tampa: Emerging and Exciting

Florida has always attracted Northerners, but in recent years it seems as if Tampa—often overshadowed by Miami and Palm Beach—has been the most popular spot to visit in the state. If you’ve been to Tampa in the last few years, you probably think it has become a great restaurant city, even more so than Orlando. Perhaps you are right. These days, especially as the weather gets cooler up in New York, restaurant food mainly consists of pickup or delivery, two sad and usually-less-social ways to eat a meal. But in Tampa, with its beautiful bay views and warm climate, a boom in new openings—Datz, Nash’s Hot Chicken, and Book + Bottle—has actually allowed restaurants to safely serve eager visitors, even during a global pandemic.

The Salvatore Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.

It has also been a fortunate year for Tampa sports fans. The Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup. Tom Brady joined the Buccaneers football franchise, which currently has a 5–2 record, leading the NFC South division. And the Rays are battling the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. Plus, Raymond James Stadium, where the Buccaneers play, is now allowing fans at limited capacity (about 25 percent). 

Every January, the city of Tampa hosts its Gasparilla Pirate Festival, featuring a large parade (“The Jose Gasparilla” boat is pictured here) and a host of community events.

A friend of mine recently attended a conference game where he filled out a “Screening Gameday” form that kept ticket holders from entering the stadium if they’d been in contact with anyone with the coronavirus over the past 14 days. Once approved, you presented the clearance email confirmation at the front gate to gain entry. He said that the event at 25% capacity was a fun and comforting experience, reflecting Tampa’s use of caution while allowing fans to experience a favorite pastime.

The Gasparilla Inn & Club is a classic “old Florida” resort located on Gasparilla Island on the Gulf of Mexico.

In fact, it’s easy—and highly enjoyable—to discover all that Tampa has to offer. You can hop on a bike and explore its historic neighborhoods and experience nature and wildlife within the city limits. (I have spotted dolphins, manatees, and Bald Eagles.) If you like architecture, there are many history tours, which point out the haunted houses and tell wild stories of bootlegging in Ybor (pronounced “EE-bor”) City. Plus, Tampa and St. Pete are filled with great museums, including the beautiful Salvador Dalí Museum. This architectural gem actually houses the largest collection of Dalí’s works outside Europe, located on the downtown St. Petersburg waterfront by 5th Avenue Southeast. 

The Useppa Island Botanical Trail.

A short trip south opens up new places and islands to discover. Boca Grande, for instance, is a quiet residential community on Gasparilla Island with stunning scenery, clear water, and great shopping. Here you’ll find a quaint, Old Florida culture and a casually elegant lifestyle; there are no traffic lights, and most people get around by walking or golf cart. And more good news: The famous Gasparilla Inn & Club has recently reopened, a treat for locals and visitors who enjoy both golf and delicious dining. It’s a must-visit.

A roller-coaster ride at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, a 335-acre African-themed animal theme park.