The Best of the Tampa Bay Area
Follow me through this multi-cultured destination as I highlight my favorite areas including the Agricultural East, Ybor City, Tarpon Springs, the vibrant art scene of downtown St. Petersburg, and the sugary sand beaches of Clearwater. The best part is there really is something for everyone here.
The eastern Tampa region has strong roots in agriculture. The Florida State Fair is held in this area and it is one of the state’s largest food festivals.
A few of my suggestions while you are visiting the area include:
- Enjoy a Food Network Famous strawberry shortcake or strawberry milkshake at the Parkesdale Market in Plant City—get here early to beat the crowds.
- Sip on some Blueberry Wine at Keel & Curley Winery in Plant City — I recommend trying a “flight” sampler to get the best experience. My personal favorite is a hard cider named, Strawberry Chocolate. The winery also offers “flights” for beer lovers too.
- Visit the Florida State Fairgrounds, whether you make a trip for the annual state fair or visit any other time of the year; the amphitheater and fairground venues host events almost every weekend. Check their website for the monthly lineup.
- A local favorite in the area is going down to the Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Station and Park in Apollo Beach for a free manatee viewing.
Ybor City (pronounced “Ee-bor”)
Original settlers of Tampa included many Cuban immigrants who brought their influence to the food and culture in the area located near downtown.
This area features fun activities and delicious cuisine for everyone to enjoy.
- Visit the Ybor City State Museum and plan ahead to take a guided tour with a docent to get the best understanding of what life was like for immigrant families.
- Stroll along Seventh Avenue where brick streets and one-of-a-kind stores are found here. Be sure to take a few minutes to watch an authentic Cuban cigar roller at work.
- Dine at the original Columbia Restaurant, now on its fourth generation of management. Not to be missed is their signature 1905 Salad and I recommend pairing it with an authentic Cuban sandwich. Warning: Portions are huge so I recommend sharing it or ordering the half sandwich and half salad combo. Another signature item is the paella, this dish takes about 45 minutes to prepare but is well worth the wait!
Home of one of the largest Greek communities outside of Greece and once the world’s largest producer of sponges, there is plenty to do and see here. The real challenge is to not overdo it on the fabulous food!
- Sponge Diving Tour — experience a diver in action as they use the same sponge harvesting methods that have been used since 1905.
- Go shopping on Dodecanese Boulevard—a rite of passage for anyone coming to Tarpon Springs, this five-block walk offers a wide variety of shops ranging from typical tourist T-shirts to hand-made soaps, cigars and spices. A word to the wise—don’t buy anything at the first shop you walk in to because it’s highly probable that you will find the same item elsewhere and can “negotiate” on price if you like it better.
- Have lunch or dinner at Hellas — there are so many delectable restaurants in this area, it’s not fair to pick just one, but I do favor this one. It is located almost halfway down Dodecanese Boulevard. Even tougher is deciding what to order but you can have a variety with their incredible sampler platter which includes gyro, dolmades, pastitsio, moussaka, rice, and Greek potatoes. For dessert? Baklava – layer upon layer of flaky filo dough with ground walnuts and honey, yum!
Downtown St. Petersburg, Clearwater Beach, and Downtown Tampa
There are many distinct areas within Tampa Bay I encourage you to explore some of these other locations as well. Since there are many seasonal activities, I encourage you to check out the websites below for up-to-date listings of events and exhibits.
- Downtown St. Petersburg – my favorites are the Chihuly Museum which features distinctive glass works that range from bowls and shells to giant flowers and twisting chandeliers to a boat filled with glass balls and a glass garden reminiscent of an underwater landscape; and the Salvador Dali Museum which is the epitome of hidden messages and oversized expression that is best experienced in person.
- Clearwater Beach—Clearwater Marine Aquarium is home of Winter, star of “Dolphin Tale”, an amazing story of a boy who, along with his friends and family, discovers the power of hope while helping an injured dolphin. Enjoy a walk along Pier 60 City Beach where sugar sands beckon and the sounds of seagulls laughing is
- Downtown Tampa and the Tampa Channel District features the Florida Aquarium and Yacht Starship Dinner Cruise, Tampa Children’s Museum and the HB Plant Museum. The Tampa Riverwalk connects it all and is a great way to stroll along the water and explore some fun attractions at the same time.
But wait, there’s more, and more and more! The Tampa Bay area is just that kind of place. Start planning your next vacation to truly experience Tampa Bay for yourself. Happy travels!
To access more information about local restaurants, unique attractions, and special offers in Tampa Bay, visit our Destination Guide, or explore Hilton properties in Tampa Bay below.