Tampa Bay: Like No Place Else

Our hometown isn't just our home; it's a popular vacation destination.
By: Judy Stark
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Incredible Hulk Coaster at Universal Orlando Resort

Incredible Hulk Coaster at Universal Orlando Resort

Tampa is located just two hours from two world-famous theme parks: Universal Studios (pictured) and Walt Disney World.

Photo by: 2013 Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved.

2013 Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved.

Tampa is located just two hours from two world-famous theme parks: Universal Studios (pictured) and Walt Disney World.

The cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg anchor the Tampa Bay area, which wraps around Tampa Bay and stretches west to the Gulf of Mexico. Insider tip: The best time for spectacular sunsets over the Gulf occurs in January and February. 

We work in the office towers you see as you fly into Tampa International Airport, and we live in the neighborhoods you pass as you drive west to the beach towns along the gulf.

Wise About Weather

For starters, here on the West Coast of Florida we live and die by the weather. On Christmas Day, we stand on the beach in shorts and T-shirts, posing for camera phone pictures we send to our friends and families shivering back up North.

But from June 1 through Nov. 30, we live in Hurricane Alley, and we know only too well not to mess with those storms. Live here and you’ll learn to pack your hurricane kit (batteries, portable radio, flashlights, bottled water, tuna, peanut butter and jelly, snack cakes) and how to protect your windows against flying debris: plywood or shutters or impact-resistant glass. We know which evacuation zone we're in, where to go if we're ordered to leave and where the pet-friendly shelters are. And we know the language of hurricanes, tossing around terms like “cone of probability” and “Category 5.”

Fun Seekers

On a happier note, we’re less than two hours from those world-famous theme parks in Orlando: Universal Studios, SeaWorld and Walt Disney World. Tip: The best time to visit is just before the tourists descend. Early December, for example, the parks are lightly visited, so that's when we go. We enjoy the holiday decorations and entertainment and ride the rides without standing in long lines.

Speaking of the winter holidays, we go nuts around here for Christmas lights. One of the local legends: the Oakdale Christmas House at 2719 Oakdale St. in St. Petersburg, which boasts more than 600,000 lights on a half-acre with 700 moving and animated objects, a 150-piece manger scene, a singing Christmas tree, and, well, words fail. 

Every year, the boys of summer spend their springtimes with us at spring training. The New York Yankees play at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. The Philadelphia Phillies are at Bright House Field in Clearwater.

The Toronto Blue Jays play at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin, where they sing “O Canada” along with “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the start of every game. If there is a better place to be on a spring afternoon than in an outdoor stadium with a hot dog and a beer, we don't know where it could be.

Tabloid Fodder

All of the “only in Florida” stories you read in the supermarket tabloids are true. There are alligators that eat dogs (after humans feed the 'gators bread or marshmallows) or stop traffic by strolling across a busy highway. It’s true a pelican pierced a woman’s cheek when they collided as she waded off Treasure Island. (The damage: 26 stitches to the woman; no report on the pelican.)

There’s the hanging-chad nightmare of the 2000 presidential election and the image of the Virgin Mary that magically appeared in the window of an office building in Clearwater. In an area that Hulk Hogan and Derek Jeter call home, and John Travolta often visits, nothing is a surprise.

Uniquely Tampa

We know this: No beverage is sweeter than the juice you squeeze from your own backyard citrus tree right before breakfast. No strawberries are tastier than the ones you pick yourself, buy at a roadside stand in February or eat embellished with whipped cream at the Strawberry Festival every spring in Plant City.

And no day of the year is happier than the one in mid-October when silence descends over the Tampa Bay area as air conditioners everywhere are turned off and windows that have been tightly closed since May are opened. The temperature has dropped. The humidity has fallen. We've survived another steamy summer, and it's time to get out and enjoy all the things that make Tampa Bay like nowhere else.

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