A Saturday In Tampa Slightly Off The Beaten Path
If you’re ever in downtown Tampa on a business trip and have the better part of a half day free, there are some interesting attractions very close by and certainly worth a visit.
While Busch Gardens, Rays baseball and International Mall attract the throngs, if you stray off the beaten path a bit, there is a lot to see.
I recommend a visit to be the beautifully restored Tampa Union Station, served by Amtrak’s New York to Miami route. Built in 1912 and renovated in 1998, the Italian Renaissance edifice sees two trains daily and is the third busies station in Florida. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places and is beautiful inside and out.
A fairly short walk east down Twiggs Street brings you the Port Authority Station of the TECO Tampa Trolley, a real-live streetcar that runs every 15 minutes between the hotels, convention center and amenities of the tony Channelside area and Ybor City The all day fare is only $5.00 (good also on local city buses) and it runs until 2:00 am on Fridays and Saturdays. (If you are staying at Channelside, you can catch the trolley there and walk to and from Union Station.)
We hopped the trolley to historic Ybor City, the historic home of Tampa’s Cuban immigrant cigar makers It was founded in the 1880s by Vicente Martinez-Ybor as a cigar-manufacturing center, and was home to thousands of immigrants, mainly from Spain, Cuba, and Italy.
Although it fell on hard times in the middle of the 20th century, today it has been gentrified and has become a lively entertainment and food district. The Columbia Restaurant is justly famous (try the white Sangria) and Spanish, Cuban, Italian, Greek and French restaurants are available on La Setima, the main drag of the Historic District. Cigars are still hand rolled there and the cafe con leche is as good as that found in Miami or Havana. One of only two National Historic Landmark Districts in Florida, Ybor City is a must-visit.
Another place worth a visit lies just south of downtown. Old Hyde Park is accessible by cab or local HART bus route 30 which runs about every half hour. Built in the 1920’s, it is an area of beautiful old homes and what used to be a very tony shopping district. Many shops and restaurants remain, although tony shopping has moved to prestigious International Mall in Tampa. It’s a good place to shop, have a glass of wine and take in the sights of one of Tampa’s interesting neighborhoods.
Summer gave us a sneak peek on the Gulf Coast this week. The mercury climbed into the high 80’s and the humidity ramped up a bit from where it was during our cooler-than-usual spring. It will probably cool off again now and then before summer heat settles here in earnest in a few weeks but I am one of those Floridians who love summer.
Yes, I know that many Floridians are “snow birds,” our affectionate term for those who winter in Florida (usually for six months and one day to establish Florida residency and save a bundle on state income taxes which don’t exist in Florida). But I’m not one of them. I live here year-round and love it during all of our real but subtle seasons.
Summer is particularly nice in Sarasota, a tourist mecca, because we get steady ocean breezes and actually experience less heal and humidity than most cities in the midwest and northeast endure. Have you ever experienced summer in St. Louis, or Memphis or Philadelphia? It’s H-O-T and S-T-I-C-K-Y and you can’t count on the cooling zephyrs coming in from the Gulf.
Summer traffic is a less intense. As famed Florida columnist and novelist (“Bad Monkey”, “Sick Puppy” and others) Carl Hiaasen observes, you can tell it’s summer in Florida by looking at the license plates. The majority are actually from Florida in the summertime. It’s seems like it’s the reserve between Thanksgiving and Easter.
Summer also brings us warm water and uncrowded beaches. Ah, the beach. Florida has many of the finest on the planet.
Floridians enjoy the beach year-round but we in the over 50 set especially like to have a glass of wine and nibble on hors d’oeuvres as we watch the spectacular sunsets over the Gulf. It truly is one of the most moving shows nature provides.
Another joy of Florida summer is al fresco dining. Whether you’re overlooking an inland pond, the Gulf, the Intracoastal Waterway or just passing traffic, more and more Florida restaurants have outdoor seating to enjoy. And enjoy we do.
So, Porgy and Bess were right when they sang about Summertime and its Easy Livin’. If they had lived near Siesta Key public Beach, they would have had to weave the word ‘paradise’ into their song.