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Tampa is one of the country's busiest seaports. From its modest beginnings as a small port town, Tampa has grown into a center of commerce for West Coast Florida, and this growth is reflected in the diverse attractions located inside the city.
Often grouped with neighboring cities St. Petersburg and Clearwater, it may not have the sophistication of its more glamorous neighbor to the south, Miami, but there is plenty to do and see here. Whether you're looking for high culture, Latin flair or even the local sports teams, Tampa has plenty to offer anyone who is stopping in.
Busch Gardens, at 3000 E. Busch Blvd. (813-987-5283), is your one-stop source for thrills, shows, restaurants and shopping. The zoo here is one the best in the world, with thousands of animals living in as close to a natural habitat as can be duplicated for a theme park. The general feel of the park is African, with a little Egyptian thrown in. Of course, because the park is owned by beer giant Anheuser-Busch, there is plenty of sudsy refreshment available. If you stop by the Hospitality House, and if you're over twenty-one, you can even get some free samples of the product. You will need to allow for an entire day here, but it's worth your while.
Eels, sharks, and rays surround you at the Florida Aquarium, at 701 Channelside Dr. (813/273-4000). The aquarium houses over 20,000 different aquatic animals and plants, not to mention features unique glass architecture.
Neighboring Ybor City, northeast of downtown Tampa, actually sprung to prominence first, thanks to the exploding cigar industry of the late 19th century. This growth is evident even to this day, as 500 million cigars are produced here every single year.You can still see the fine art of cigar rolling being practiced at the Gonzales y Martinez Cigar Factory (813-247-2469). Ybor City is now home to Tampa's Cuban community and has been transformed into a lively dining and nightlife hot spot. A walk down 7th Avenue between 15th and 20th Streets is sure to leave your toes tapping.
In Hyde Park, a visit to Bern's Steak House, at 1208 S. Howard Ave. (813-251-2421), is an absolute must. There are eight different dining rooms, each with its own theme. The meal comes with onion soup, salad, garlic toast and more, but save room for dessert. Upstairs is a separate dessert quarters, complete with a phone to place your order and a television set, where you can hear a pianist provide a romantic backdrop for your after-dinner treats. Reservations are required.
Columbia (813/248-4961) in Ybor City offers an unbelievable atmosphere to complement its delicious entrees. The restaurant dates back to 1905 and takes up an entire block. Check out the flamenco dancing shows while enjoying Spanish bean soup.
On Swann, run by French-trained chef Chris Ponte, offers "thoughtfully sourced" contemporary American cuisine. The New York Times calls it "a casual, vintage-chic American bistro with winning dishes, superior service and a spirited atmosphere."
Like most of Florida, Tampa has humid weather during the summer and is at risk for rain. If you prefer drier weather, it's best to visit Tampa from November to March.
Cruise ships dock at Port Manatee. From there you will be able to find transportation to everywhere you want to go around Tampa.
Buses run between Tampa and the suburbs. For a bus schedule, visit the Tampa Bay Visitor Information Center (813-223-1111). However, like most destinations in Florida, tourist attractions are far apart, and taxis are your most convenient options.
Taxis rarely cruise around Tampa looking for passengers; instead you will find them outside of hotels or other public loading places. Call Yellow Cab (813-253-0121), United Cab (813-253-2424), or Tampa Bay Cab (813-251-5555).
Tipping: A 10% to 15% tip on a restaurant bill is customary. Sometimes a tip is automatically added to your bill; check your credit card slip before adding additional tip.
Safety: Tampa is very safe, but don’t flash cash around and stay in well-lit areas at night.
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Published April 2015