Tampa Bay, one of the world's great secluded harbors, is a vast body of water separated from the Gulf of Mexico by a peninsula that stretches from Clearwater on the north to St. Petersburg on the south. In the center of the huge bay is a peninsula with MacDill Air Force Base at its southern tip. North of that is the city of Tampa, which got its name from a Native American word meaning "sticks of fire," a reference to the region as a campsite.
Tampa/Clearwater/St.Pete are often grouped together as a single local because of their proximity and all that there is to do in these areas. Sunny skies and beautiful beaches make this a year round vacation destination. Many northerners also call the area home during the winter months due to the typically warm winters.
There is never a shortage of things to do in Tampa and the warm climate makes it possible to enjoy outdoor activities year round. Whether it's beach life, professional sports, cultural events, or shopping, Tampa delivers. In the spring, a short drive north, south, or east, will take sports enthusiasts to any of several training camps, including that of the New York Yankees. Tampa is also home to the Florida State Fair with twelve full days of rides, games, shows, and of course...fair food!
Many come to the area for the beaches and for good reason. Some of the country's top rated beaches are nearby including Clearwater Beach and Fort DeSoto State Park. The white powder sand and emerald waters never fail to please. Water sports of all kinds are popular with fishing, boating, snorkeling, and jet skiing rentals available in several locations.
Besides the many outdoor entertainment options, Tampa also offers arts and cultural options. The David A. Straz, Jr. Center for Performing Arts is one of the biggest centers of its kind in the country, bringing famous Broadway shows to the area as well as operas, concerts, and children's educational programming. The 1-800-Ask-Gary Amphitheater is an outdoor concert arena where live music can be enjoyed on warm summer nights. Don't forget to stop in and spend an afternoon at one of the area's several museums. Once the sun sets, the nightlife in Channelside, Ybor City, or on the beach will keep the good times rolling. Clubs and bars offer dancing, bands, and drinks of every kind.
Centered in the middle of the state, it's only a half of day in either direction whether it's Miami Beach or Pensacola - it's attainable with only a few hours in the car. Orlando's many amusement and water parks are about an hour away from the area so there are endless chances to please everyone's taste, no matter what the age. Rain or shine, indoor or out, there are many ways to spend the days and nights in Tampa.
The award-winning Tampa International Airport sits on the city's west side, in the Airport/Westshore region. With a passenger volume of about 14 million annually, Tampa International Airport ranks among the top 10 airports in the nation for on-time departures. Here you will find some of the city's most impressive hotels, like the Embassy Suites Tampa, as well as the WestShore Plaza shopping area and the Raymond James Stadium.
Travel north on I-275 and visit the Lowry Park Zoo, a family-friendly zoo with animal encounters, kiddie rides, and the chance to cool down in the interactive fountains. Voted #1 zoo by Parents Magazine, this is a sure win for children and adults.
Busch Gardens/University of South Florida
A major north-south interstate highway, I-75, streaks up the east side of the bay, while I-275 branches off from I-75 north of Sarasota and travels through St. Petersburg, crossing the Howard Frankland and heading north from downtown. Those two interstate highways meet just north of town and create a triangle known as the Busch Gardens/University of South Florida region.
This is where you will find Tampa's famed Busch Gardens. With thrilling roller coaster rides, animal attractions, and live shows, each visit will find something new to discover at this beautifully manicured park. Other attractions in the vicinity include the Tampa Greyhound Track, the Museum of Science & Industry, Adventure Island water park and the D. G. Yuengling Brewery.
Tampa's Hillsborough River winds its way through the Busch Gardens/University of South Florida section of the city and through downtown Tampa, bisecting the city as it makes its way to the sea. On the east side of the river, you will find a number of attractive hotels in the city's downtown core, such as the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina.
Points of interest in this part of town include the Tampa Museum of Art, the Florida Aquarium and the Tampa Performing Arts Center. Channelside is an array of restaurants and bars that form a circle around an outdoor courtyard overlooking the cruise ship harbor.
On the southern edge of downtown Tampa lies tiny Ybor City, the center of the cigar industry; cigarmakers moved here after a fire destroyed the industry in Key West. There are only 10 streets in either direction, but the area carries a wealth of history.
Solid brick warehouses that once served as cigar factories now house offices and shops. Thanks to a strong restoration effort, Ybor City is the liveliest spot in town on weekends. Restaurants like the Columbia, dance clubs like Prana, The Impov comedy club, cigar stores and specialty shops line Ybor City's narrow streets. Exhibits in the Ybor City Museum chronicle the city's colorful history.
Traveling east of Tampa on I-4, built to connect Tampa to Daytona through Orlando, will bring you to Plant City, a farming community renowned for its annual Strawberry Festival and an variety of related special events. During late winter and early spring, the sweetest strawberries can be found on nearly every major intersection in the area with farmers selling the freshest berries straight from the fields.