Tampa Bay Essentials
Explore the area's favorite local eateries, shops and places to hang with the manatees.
Food and Drink Essentials: Best Places to...
The major chains in this part of Florida are Publix and Winn-Dixie. The Publix store in Citrus Park, north of downtown Tampa, offers an Apron's cooking school, and a steady parade of celebrity chefs turns up here to flash knives and show you how to cook like, well, a celebrity chef.
1548 N. Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa, 813-348-1200
3802 Northdale Blvd., Tampa (Carrollwood), 813-264-3600
You know what to expect: piles of gorgeous produce, museum-quality meats and fish, wide variety of cheeses and breads, eat-in and takeout food.
13147 N. Dale Mabry, Tampa, 813-964-8001
3722 Henderson Blvd., Tampa, 813-875-7400
25961 U.S. 19 N, Clearwater, 727-669-6111
2900 4th St. N., St. Petersburg, 727-822-4913
Fresh Market offers more natural and organic offerings, from bread and cheese to meat and fish to fruits and vegetables.
Publix GreenWise Market
2403 W. Azeele St., Tampa (Hyde Park), 813-250-0129
This offspring of the successful Publix chain of stores gives consumers a shopping alternative that offers a wider assortment of natural and organic foods and products.
2909 22nd Ave. N, St. Petersburg, 727-321-2400
The old Italian neighborhood is alive and well, and people drive from miles around to stock up here on what they can't get elsewhere. Pizzas and huge crusty loaves of bread bake in a brick oven. Sip a shot of inky espresso at the coffee bar (they roast their own beans), then go ladle up bulk olives from the barrels. Take a number and stand in line with the regulars for lunchtime sandwiches piled high with the cold cuts and cheeses you remember. (Take your order out to the covered piazza and relax at a table.)
Choose something to take home for dinner: lasagna, chicken or eggpplant parm, caprese stacks of rosy tomatoes and quivering mozzarella, fusilli salad with chicken livers and mushrooms. Did we mention the fresh pasta? (Can you resist the lobster cannelloni?) Step into the butcher shop at the back and weep over ruby-red Ahi tuna, red-white-and-green braciole, espresso-rubbed steaks and homemade sausage. Oh, and the wine room. And the cheese counter. Saturdays are packed; there are often wine tastings and samplings, but be warned: Mazzaro's closes at 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and is closed Sundays.
BUY FRESH BREAD
4442 Park Blvd., Pinellas Park, 727-548-1400
Massimo Maviglia, a native of Avezzano, Italy, lets his dough rise up to 36 hours using a natural starter. He makes natural sourdough, rosemary, olive, sun-dried tomato, roasted garlic and pane integrale -- that's Italian for whole wheat.
Pane Rustica Bakery & Cafe
3225 S. MacDill Ave., Tampa, 813-902-8828
Stop by for crisp loaves and other baked goods. This is also a restaurant serving lunch and dinner in a big, noisy, slick setting that attracts a chic South Tampa clientele.
BUY ASIAN INGREDIENTS
1609 N. Tampa St., 813-228-8110
A large, full-service market with great produce, seafood and a butcher shop, and ready-cooked barbecued duck and pork. Can't wait to take it all home to cook? Eat at the adjacent T.C. Choy's Asian Bistro.
BUY A BOTTLE OF WINE
B21 Fine Wine Superstore
43380 U.S. 19 N, Tarpon Springs, 727-937-5049
Some say this is the best liquor store south of Atlanta, and it's hard to argue. Not much to look at from the outside, but inside, thousands of bottles, with both familiar and unfamiliar labels. This is the place to find that obscure wine you enjoyed on your last European trip. Terrific prices. Extremely knowledgeable staff who drink the wines, visit the vineyards, know the makers and obviously love what they do. Guests are also invited to grand tasting events highlighting specific countries of origin held throughout the year. The wine is well-cellared and stored. Wine accessories and hard liquor as well. The store's name reflects the fact that buyers must "B-21 or begone."
The Saturday Morning Market
Downtown St. Petersburg in the parking lot of Al Lang Field, corner of 1st St. and 1st Ave. S.
Runs from early October through late May from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. It attracts a crowd of families and foodies (and their dogs) eager for organic produce, freshly squeezed juice, fresh flowers (including orchid leis) and plants, herbs and spices, samples of honey and salsa, fish, pasta, soup, locally made chocolate, and swoon-worthy breads and pastries.
But wait, there's more! The barbecued-turkey-leg man is here today, and so are the breakfast vendors and the coffee wagons. Vendors remember their customers and know what you like. Cruise the stalls and buy breakfast or lunch, then sit down at the tables and listen to the live music. It's not unusual to see a local entertainer or the mayor of St. Pete strolling through the market. Often you'll get good buys around 2 p.m. as the market is closing up, and the vendors are happy to make a deal.
Sweetwater Organic Community Farm
6942 W. Comanche, 813-887-4066
Spread over six acres of urban Tampa, Sweetwater Organic is open November through May. Visitors can shop from noon to 4 p.m., participate Sundays at its farmers market or become a member and pick up weekly or biweekly shares of fresh produce during growing season. The weekly market is family friendly, and there's music.
HAVE A LATTE OR TEA
Starbucks abounds on nearly every corner, but why drink the same coffee you can get anywhere?
El Molino Gourmet Coffee Shop
2012 E. Seventh Ave., Tampa, 800-531-9587
This family-owned coffee-roasting business dates back to 1921. Smell the coffee being roasted. Watch it being packed. Sit down and sip something, and then buy more to take home. El Molino is in the heart of Ybor City, Tampa's original Latin neighborhood, established by Cubans, Spaniards and Italians.
475 Second St. N, St. Petersburg, 727-823-4700
This slick-looking Euro-style coffee bar and roastery on the ground floor of a sleek, modern low-rise condo is just one of several locations in the Bay area, including three in Tampa and two additional coffee bars in St. Pete. It can be the hub for mommy meet-ups and college study groups early in the day and by midafternoon, the laptop set is hard at work. Saturday mornings you may have to negotiate a tangle of strollers and dogs to get a table outside.
Hooker Tea Company
300 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg, 727-894-4832
Does it have to be coffee? Hooker Tea offers more than 100 varieties of loose tea. Sip inside among 20-somethings staring at their laptop screens, or at outside tables beside families lapping up the treats they bought at the gelateria next door.
Entertainment Essentials: Best Places to...
WATCH MANATEES AND OTHER WILDLIFE FOR FREE
Cockroach Bay Aquatic Preserve
At the Tampa Electric power plant at Big Bend, just south of Tampa
Between Nov. 1 and April 15, watch for these huge, ungainly, so-ugly-they're-cute sea creatures at the Manatee Viewing Center. They prefer warm water in winter, and they particularly like the temperatures in the discharge canal of the power plant. As many as 300 manatees have been spotted from the observation platform when the temperature of Tampa Bay falls below 68 degrees. Throughout Cockroach Bay Aquatic Preserve, you can paddle through winding mangroves and witness birds, fish and other wildlife in their own pristine habitat.
SEE ART FOR FREE
Second Saturday Artwalk
Downtown St. Petersburg
Art lovers are welcome to the art galleries along Central Avenue and side streets. They stay open until 9 p.m., and some serve refreshments. Bars and clubs in the area are also open.
The Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary
18328 Gulf Blvd., Indian Shores
The sanctuary claims to be the largest wild bird hospital and rehab center in the country, treating up to 8,000 birds a year. Sick and injured birds are nursed back to health here. You may see up to 600 birds during your visit, up close and personal. A favorite for kids.
SEE A FREE SOFTBALL GAME
North Shore Park
Eighth Avenue NE at North Shore Drive, St. Petersburg
Members of "Kids and Kubs" are a minimum of 74 years old. They play at 10 and 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, November through March.
TAKE IN THE FRESH AIR
Walk, jog, skate, push a stroller, exercise the dog or bike along the boulevard. At 4.5 miles, it's said to be the world's longest continuous sidewalk. Enjoy the dramatic views of Tampa across Hillsborough Bay. Bayshore is a busy commuter street, so stay alert if you're crossing. Early morning and after 5 p.m. it's a linear health club.
SHOP A FUNKY LOCAL BUSINESS
2030 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-324-3878
This unique shop features a gallery showcasing local artists across a variety of media and a vintage boutique which offers an eclectic mix of classic fashion, jewelry, antique and retro home decor and accessories. ARTpool’s café, open Tuesday through Saturday, invites guests to stop in and eat, drink and be local.
Florida Craftsman Gallery
501 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, 727-821-7391
Fine crafts in a variety of media by Floridians. Your gift-giving troubles are over. Hang on to your credit card when you come in around the holidays; the gift items and ornaments are tremendously appealing.
216 S Armenia Ave., Tampa, 813-253-2638
A lovingly attended independent bookstore in a 1920s bungalow. A terrific selection of books you want and books you didn't know you wanted. The store has reading groups for kids, keeps the local book clubs supplied and maintains a busy schedule of author readings and signings.
SEE BIG MUSICAL ACTS
Tampa Bay Times Forum, downtown Tampa, 813-301-2500
MIDFLORIDA Credit Union Amphitheatre, U.S. 301 next to the State Fairgrounds, 813-740-2446
Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater, 727-791-7400
Mahaffey Theater, downtown St. Petersburg, 727-893-7832
ENJOY REGIONAL THEATER
Straz Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N. WC MacInnes Place, Tampa, 813-229-7827
American Stage, 163 Third St. N., St. Petersburg, 727-823-7529
Gorilla Theatre, Tampa, 813-879-2914
Jobsite Theater, the resident theatre company at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, Tampa, 813-229-7827
Nightlife Essentials: Best Places to...
5500 Shore Blvd. S, Gulfport, 727-893-1070
Swing dancing, including the lindy and the Charleston, live on Wednesday nights at the waterfront Gulfport Casino. Take two free lessons 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. included with admission, then cut a rug the rest of the evening. Singles welcome.
Club Prana Ybor
1619 E. Seventh Ave., Ybor City, Tampa, 813-241-4139
Five floors, four DJs, one live band and a glamorous clientele.
2675 Ulmerton Road, Clearwater, 727-592-1990
Two restaurants, one of them dedicated to sushi; eight themed venues in 25,000 square feet under one roof. Surely you can find somebody to flirt with, drink with, dance with in this glittering environment.
GET A BEER
World of Beer
9524 W. Linebaugh Ave., Tampa, 813-852-2337
With several additional locations now in the Tampa Bay area and surrounding suburbs, this popular after-work meetup in the Westchase community of Tampa Bay features a 17-page beer menu that includes 500 bottled brands from around the world. The draft menu offers 30 choices that come from the Czech Republic to Colorado and every place in between. Wine and cigars also; music.
New World Brewery
1313 8th Ave., Ybor City, 813-248-4969
Home to over 25 beers on draught as well as a large selection of bottled bers, Belgians and bomber sizes, New World is also frequently the hot spot to feature independent musicians, both local and national artists, who visit often to entertain patrons.
Four Green Fields
205 Platt St., Tampa, 813-254-4444
Thatch-roofed cottage (yes, really!), Irish music, food and drinks (yes, Guinness).
Oldsmar Tap House
300 State St. E, Oldsmar, 813-475-5996
Thirty-five beers on tap, 75 from around the world. Where else ya gonna find Saint Somewhere Lectio Divina? Sandwiches, sausage and cheese plates, music.
937 Douglas Ave., Dunedin, 727-736-0606
Touting itself as the oldest microbrewery in Florida, this local meet-up spot offers seven ales year round, six seasonal specialties. Drink and eat in its Snug Pub.
Tampa Bay Brewing Company
1600 E. 8th Ave., Ybor City, 813-247-1422
Featuring handcrafted beers and ales from around the world, this popular Ybor City destination offers nine house beers on tap, a fun eclectic menu and a patio perfect for catching up with friends.
GRAB A LATE-NIGHT BITE
215 N. Dale Mabry, Tampa, 813-877-2617
No kidding. This chain eatery is a legendary Tampa gathering spot for crowds who want to cap off the night with breakfast, or a wedge of pie and coffee. It's also a popular spot for morning power breakfasts. (Many other locations around the area.)
3248 W. Columbus Drive, Tampa, 813-879-9704
Authentic West Tampa Cuban diner. Huge portions of black beans and rice, pork, ropa vieja, garlic chicken. Open 24 hours Friday and Saturday nights.
Fly Bar and Restaurant
1202 N. Franklin St., Tampa, 813-275-5000
This hip neighbor of the North Franklin Street Historic District is part of a continuing effort to give people a reason to hang around downtown Tampa after work. Local art, nightly live music and a great view of downtown from the roof deck of a turn-of-the-century building are reasons enough to check it out. Try the Kobe beef sliders, roasted garlic frites, fish tacos. Wash it all down with microbrews, signature cocktails and a wine list that's interesting but not inexpensive.
Rick's on the River
2305 N. Willow, Tampa, 813-251-0369
Open until 3 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. A marina, bar and restaurant with music nightly, an oyster bar, wings, sandwiches, salads, burgers, grouper, and great views of the Hillsborough River and the bridges leading to downtown.
160 107th Ave., Treasure Island, 727-363-3699
Open until midnight Fridays and Saturdays. Foxy's serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, but at heart it's a friendly local bar with the TV on. When it's late and only beer and a pile of wings will satisfy, you'll be here. Ditto pizza. And you can do your wash in the coin laundry next door while you eat.
Harvey's 4th Street Grill
3121 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg, 727-821-6516
Open until 10:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday (until 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday), it's the local "Cheers," where everybody knows your name and the grouper sandwiches and the breakfast potatoes at Sunday brunch (which is always packed) haven't changed in years, and that's a good thing. Some of the flooring and tables are made from the maple floorboards of the ballroom of the old Vinoy Park Hotel, now the glamorous four-star Vinoy Renaissance downtown. Seafood, steaks, pasta, full bar, kids welcome.
Outdoor Essentials: Best Places to...
Duh, this is Florida! You have to hit the beach. Best choices are the barrier islands along the Gulf of Mexico, from Pass-a-Grille on the south to Honeymoon Island on the north. Have quarters handy for parking meters just in case, but most lots have incorporated use of automated machines that accept credit card payment.
SPEND A DAY AT THE BEACH
Caladesi Island State Park
This undeveloped barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico is just off the coast of Dunedin, and was named the No. 1 beach in North America by researcher Stephen Leatherman. Accessible only by private boat or ferry, the island offers swimming, fishing, kayaking and canoeing and nature trails. There are a marina, picnic pavilions and a concession stand. Frequently named as one of the top beaches in the country, Caladesi Island officially took top honors bestowed by Dr. Beach in 2008. The Caladesi Island ferry (727-734-5263) leaves hourly starting at 10 a.m. from Honeymoon Island State Park (every half hour during the season, mid-February to mid-September).
Other beach favorites:
See a Romantic Sunset on the Beach: Pass-a-Grille
Bond with the Family: Treasure Island or Fort DeSoto Park, a county park off the Pinellas Bayway in Tierra Verde
See Bikinis and Beach Volleyball: Clearwater Beach. Yes, we get spring break crowds, but not so numerous nor so rowdy as Fort Lauderdale on the Atlantic Coast. Along the beaches, look for concessionaires renting wave runners, jet skis and kayaks, or offering parasail rides.
Let those furry boys and girls run off the leash! For a list of dog parks around Tampa Bay, go to www.dogparkusa.com/florida/tampa. The Irish terrier in charge of these things at our house likes these dog parks particularly:
Paw Playground at Fort DeSoto Park
3500 Pinellas Bayway, Tierra Verde
Surf's up! This county park offers a dedicated dog beach, where the pets can swim, pound up and down the sand and poke around at shells and seaweed on the beach. There's also a big fenced grassy area.
North Shore Dog Park
North Shore Drive NE at Seventh Avenue NE, St. Petersburg
This park is on the waterfront just north of downtown St. Petersburg, next to North Shore Pool, and the baseball field where the Kids and Kubs senior softball club step up to the plate.
GO FOR A BIKE RIDE
The Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail
This 37-mile bicycling/skating/walking trail on former railroad right-of-way stretches the length of Pinellas County, from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs. About 90,000 people use it each month. The trail travels through parks, coastal areas, and city neighborhoods.
On the east side of Tampa Bay, 42 miles of paved trail parallel the Suncoast Parkway through Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties, through suburban, agricultural and natural settings.
ENJOY GREAT VIEWS
East beach at Fort DeSoto Park
From I-275 southbound in St. Petersburg, follow the Pinellas Bayway (toll road) to Fort DeSoto, a county park, then follow signs to the east beach. (Also great swimming beaches here.)
The Westin Tampa Harbour Island
725 S Harbour Island Blvd., Tampa, (813) 229-5000
Great views at night of a glittery skyline. But also check out the view from the roof deck of Fly Bar (see "Nightlife Essentials") and from Bayshore Boulevard (see "Entertainment Essentials").
Friends and Family Essentials: Best Places to...
MEET NEW PEOPLE
The Studio @ 620
620 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg, 727-895-6620
This funky performance space hosts a full schedule of edgy and diverse events: art, music, drama, open mike/spoken word, film, dance, a holiday bazaar of handmade items by local crafters. The space exists "to bring together people from various cultural backgrounds and experiences as artists, audience members and volunteers," say artistic directors David Ellis and Bob Devin Jones.
711 N Franklin St., Tampa, 813-274-8982
This glorious wedding cake of a theater, built in 1926, still houses its original mighty Wurlitzer, which is played before most films. This is where locals go for film classics and first-run specialty films, i.e., the indies the big chains won't book. It's also where everyone turns out for the singalong versions of Grease and The Little Mermaid. The theater books concerts, too, including David Byrne, Elvis Costello and Lyle Lovett. "Balcony to backstage" tours are offered several times a month ($7.50), which include a demonstration of the organ and an insider's look at classic movie palace architecture.
Pick your passion -- from politics to pets -- and there's a charitable organization that will put you to work. Pound nails for a Habitat for Humanity house. Pack Thanksgiving dinners for Metropolitan Ministries in Tampa or the St. Petersburg Free Clinic. Read to kids or vision-impaired adults. Care for the animals at a shelter. Join in the annual coastal cleanup sponsored by Tampa Bay Watch.
Stroll Through an Art Festival
Raymond James Gasparilla Festival of the Arts in Tampa
Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, 813-876-1747
Held the first weekend in March. Three hundred artists exhibit their work in a wide variety of media; food, music, kids' activities, great outdoor scene.
Mainsail Art Festival in St. Petersburg
Vinoy Park, Bayshore Drive and Seventh Avenue NE in downtown St. Petersburg
Held in mid-April. Be one of 100,000 visitors who stroll the tents of 250 artists. Food, music, kids' activities.
What the locals know about both shows: There's good art to be had here, and prices range from moderate to very expensive. The exhibitors are professional artists; this isn't an amateur crafts show. Go early in the day, before it gets too hot; wear a hat and sunscreen and bring water. No pets allowed at either show.
HAVE FUN WITH A LOVED ONE
Weedon Island Preserve in St. Petersburg or Hillsborough River State Park in Tampa
Hike trails or boardwalks, rent a canoe or kayak, and explore the water and the parts of Florida you'll never see from the road. Weedon Island (1800 Weedon Island Dr. NE, St. Pete) offers a four-mile water trail where you may spot dolphins, manatees or exotic birds. Or climb the tower and get a view over the city and across the bay toward Tampa. At Hillsborough River State Park (15401 U.S. Hwy. 301, North Thonotasassa, 813-987-6771), you can canoe, ride a bike, hike a seven-mile trail, picnic or swim. You'll be closer than you think to some of the area's most built-up suburbs, but it feels miles away.
Take a romantic sunset walk on the beach at the southern tip of St. Pete Beach. Bring lots of quarters for the parking meters. Pretty beach, good shelling and when the idea of food or drink distracts you, there are plenty of possibilities just across the street.
TAKE THE KIDS
701 Channelside Drive, downtown Tampa, 813-273-4000
A million-gallon fish tank. More than 20,000 aquatic animals and plants. Penguin promenades several times a day. "Explore-a-shore" water park. Swimming in a coral reef tank for kids 6 and older. Certified SCUBA divers older than 15 can swim with the sharks. Daily eco-tours on open water to look for dolphins.
Glazer Children's Museum
110 W. Gasparilla Plaza, Tampa, 813-443-3861
Bring the kids for over 170 fun activities or as the museum calls them “interactivities” in various themed areas throughout the museum. From designing a city to flying an airplane, young minds will get to explore their imaginations and let them soar.
Lowry Park Zoo
1101 W Sligh Ave., Tampa, 813-935-8552
Rated first by Parents magazine in its list of Top 10 family-friendly zoos in the United States, this zoo features more than 1,500 animals and birds, from antelope to zebras, live in eight habitats scattered over 56 acres: Asian gardens, safari Africa, a free-flight aviary, manatee and aquatic center, Florida boardwalk, penguin beach, primate world, birds of prey and the Wallaroo Station, home to wallabies and kangaroos. Ride a camel, get wet in a flume ride, ride the Tasmanian Tiger family coaster, swing over the treetops of Safari Africa in a skyride. Local parents advise: Buy a membership so you'll feel free to drop in for an hour or so when the kids are cranky and need distracting.
Great Explorations Houghton-Wagman Children’s Museum
1925 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg, 727-821-8992
Sharing a city block with Sunken Gardens, one of Florida's original tourist attractions, Great Explorations is all about hands-on activity and experiment. Kids can work on a construction site, run a grocery or a pizza restaurant, or operate a veterinarian's office. They can play music on PVC pipes or on a laser harp; take a lie detector test; race a remote car around a track and lots more. In the Great Splash Area, they can listen to fish and other animals, study the water of the Tampa Bay estuary or learn how much water we use every day and how to conserve. The museum offers kids' nights out one Friday a month and occasional sleepovers.
10165 N. McKinley Dr., Tampa, 888-800-5447
The kids aren't the only ones who enjoy Busch Gardens. This African-themed adventure park on 335 acres not far from downtown Tampa offers several natural settings where jungle animals roam. Scream-inducing roller coaster rides include SheiKra, the floorless coaster that rises 200 feet and drops at a 90-degree angle at 70 mph; Kumba and its three seconds of weightlessness while spiraling 360 degrees; the inverted Montu with its 60-foot vertical loop and zero-g roll; Gwazi, the South's largest and fastest double wooden roller coaster; and Cheetah Hunt, the park’s most recent rollercoaster addition, with a length of 4,400 feet and earning the distinction of being the longest thrill ride attraction in the park. If you like to get wet, board the Stanley Falls Log Flume or the Tanganyika Tidal Wave. In the Congo-themed Jungala area, kids can fly on a zip line through the treetops or go face-to-face with a tiger. Music, entertainment, food, fireworks, special seasonal events ... and don't forget the Clydesdales. Next door is a sister attraction, Adventure Island, a 30-acre water park with slides, corkscrews, waterfalls and a wave pool.
Boyd Hill Nature Preserve
1101 Country Club Way S, St. Petersburg, 727-893-7326
Florida isn't all theme parks and beaches. At this 245-acre city park, kids can blow off steam on three miles of trails and boardwalks that wind through five habitats: hardwood hammocks, sand pine scrub, pine flatwoods, willow marsh and lakeshore. There, on Lake Maggiore (pronounced "ma-GORE-ee"), look closely: You're sure to spot alligators cruising in the water or basking in the sun on the shore. The park is home to a wide variety of birds, butterflies and wildflowers, as well as tortoises, snakes and other wildlife. There's also an aviary showcasing birds of prey. Guided tours are offered (try the early-morning or evening tours to see the park in a different light), and local kids clamor to sign up for day camp here.
Walt Disney World, SeaWorld and Universal Studios
Here's what Florida kids know: Visits to the big theme parks, both less than two hours away in Orlando, aren't once-in-a-lifetime trips, as they are for kids who live elsewhere. Kids who live in Florida will probably drop in a couple of times a year. Save money and get specials and discounts with a Florida resident pass to these favorites.