Tampa Bay Essentials
Explore the area's favorite local eateries, shops and places to hang with the manatees.
Food and Drink Essentials: Best Places to...
Chain Stores. The major chains in this part of Florida are Publix, SweetBay and Winn-Dixie. The Publix store in Citrus Park, north of downtown Tampa, offers an Apron's cooking school, and a steady parade of celebrity chefs turns up here to flash knives and show you how to cook like, well, a celebrity chef. The Publix in FishHawk Ranch, a huge master-planned community south of Tampa, recently started its own version of those "make-it-and-take-it" food assembly lines that let home cooks put together a number of meals to stock the freezer. No time even for that? They'll make it, you take it and bake it.
- Whole Foods
1548 N. Dale Mabry Highway, Tampa
You know what to expect: piles of gorgeous produce, museum-quality meats and fish, wide variety of cheeses and breads, eat-in and takeout food.
- Fresh Market
13147 N. Dale Mabry, 813-964-8001, Tampa
3722 Henderson Blvd., 813-875-7400, Tampa
15961 U.S. 19 N, Clearwater, 727-669-6111
Fresh Market offers more natural and organic offerings, from bread and cheese to meat and fish to fruits and vegetables.
2909 22nd Ave. N, St. Petersburg, 727-321-2400
The old Italian neighborhood is alive and well, and people drive from miles around to stock up here on what they can't get elsewhere. Pizzas and huge crusty loaves of bread bake in a brick oven. Sip a shot of inky espresso at the coffee bar (they roast their own beans), then go ladle up bulk olives from the barrels. Take a number and stand in line with the regulars for lunchtime sandwiches piled high with the cold cuts and cheeses you remember. (Take your order out to the covered piazza and relax at a table.)
Choose something to take home for dinner: lasagna, chicken or eggpplant parm, caprese stacks of rosy tomatoes and quivering mozzarella, fusilli salad with chicken livers and mushrooms. Did we mention the fresh pasta? (Can you resist the lobster cannelloni?) Step into the butcher shop at the back and weep over ruby-red Ahi tuna, red-white-and-green braciole, espresso-rubbed steaks and homemade sausage. Oh, and the wine room. And the cheese counter. Saturdays are packed; there are often wine tastings and samplings, but be warned: Mazzarro's closes at 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and is closed Sundays.
BUY FRESH BREAD
- Bread Artisans
4442 Park Blvd., Pinellas Park, 727-548-1400
Massimo Maviglia, a native of Avezzano, Italy, lets his dough rise up to 36 hours using a natural starter. He makes natural sourdough, rosemary, olive, sun-dried tomato, roasted garlic and pane integrale -- that's Italian for whole wheat.
- Pane Rustica
3225 S. MacDill Ave., Tampa, 813-902-8828
Stop by for crisp loaves and other baked goods. This is also a restaurant serving lunch and dinner in a big, noisy, slick setting that attracts a chic South Tampa clientele.
BUY ASIAN INGREDIENTS
- Oceanic Market
1609 N. Tampa St., 813-228-8110
A large, full-service market with great produce, seafood and a butcher shop, and ready-cooked barbecued duck and pork. Can't wait to take it all home to cook? Eat at the adjacent T.C. Choy's Asian Bistro.
BUY A BOTTLE OF WINE
- B21 Fine Wine Superstore
43380 U.S. 19 N, Tarpon Springs, 727-937-5047
Some say this is the best liquor store south of Atlanta, and it's hard to argue. Not much to look at from the outside, but inside, thousands of bottles, with both familiar and unfamiliar labels. This is the place to find that obscure wine you enjoyed on your last European trip. Terrific prices. Extremely knowledgeable staff who drink the wines, visit the vineyards, know the makers and obviously love what they do. The wine is well-cellared and stored. Wine accessories and hard liquor as well. The store's name reflects the fact that buyers must "B-21 or begone."
- The Saturday Morning Market
Downtown St. Petersburg in the parking lot of Al Lang Field
Runs from October through May from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. It attracts a crowd of families and foodies (and their dogs) eager for organic produce, freshly squeezed juice, fresh flowers (including orchid leis) and plants, herbs and spices, samples of honey and salsa, fish, pasta, soup, locally made chocolate, and swoon-worthy breads and pastries.
But wait, there's more! The barbecued-turkey-leg man is here today, and so are the breakfast vendors and the coffee wagons. Vendors remember their customers and know what you like. Cruise the stalls and buy breakfast or lunch, then sit down at the tables and listen to the live music. Sometimes St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker shows up with his guitar. Often you'll get good buys around 2 p.m. as the market is closing up, and the vendors are happy to make a deal.
- Sweetwater Organic Community Farm
6942 W. Comanche, 813-887-4066
Spread over six acres of urban Tampa, Sweetwater Organic also farms an additional four acres exclusively for Bern's, the legendary steak house, and its hip sibling, SideBern's. November through May, shop from noon to 4 p.m. Sundays at its farmers market. Or become a member and pick up weekly or biweekly shares of fresh produce during growing season. The weekly market is family friendly, and there's music.
HAVE A LATTE OR TEA
Starbucks abounds on nearly every corner, but why drink the same coffee you can get anywhere?
- El Molino Gourmet Coffee Shop
2012 E. Seventh Ave., Tampa, 813-248-2521
This family-owned coffee-roasting business dates back to 1921. Smell the coffee being roasted. Watch it being packed. Sit down and sip something, and then buy more to take home. El Molino is in the heart of Ybor City, Tampa's original Latin neighborhood, established by Cubans, Spaniards and Italians.
- Bean There
3202 W. Bay-to-Bay Boulevard, Tampa, 813-837-7022
Breakfast all day and surprisingly gourmet lunches, too. It's the heavy yuppie coffee scene in Tampa, especially early in the morning.
475 Second St. N, St. Petersburg, 727-823-4700
Slick-looking Euro-style coffee bar and roastery on the ground floor of a slick-looking, modern low-rise condo. The French-American Business Council of West Florida holds its monthly networking breakfast here, but at midafternoon the laptop set is hard at work, too. Saturday mornings you may have negotiate a tangle of strollers and dogs to get a table outside.
- Hooker Tea Co.
300 Beach Drive, St. Petersburg, 727-894-4832
Does it have to be coffee? Hooker Tea offers more than 100 varieties of loose tea. Sip inside among 20-somethings staring at their laptop screens, or at outside tables beside families lapping up the treats they bought at the gelateria next door.
Entertainment Essentials: Best Places to...
WATCH MANATEES FOR FREE
- Cockroach Bay Aquatic Preserve
At the Tampa Electric power plant at Big Bend, just south of Tampa
Between Nov. 1 and April 15, watch for these huge, ungainly, so-ugly-they're-cute sea creatures. They prefer warm water in winter, and they particularly like the temperatures in the discharge canal of the power plant. As many as 300 manatees have been spotted from the observation platform when the temperature of Tampa Bay falls below 68 degrees.
SEE ART FOR FREE
- Second Saturday Gallery Walk
Downtown St. Petersburg
Art lovers are welcome to the art galleries along Central Avenue and side streets. They stay open until 9 p.m., and some serve refreshments. Bars and clubs in the area are also open.
- The Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary
18328 Gulf Blvd., Indian Shores
The sanctuary claims to be the largest wild bird hospital and rehab center in the country, treating up to 10,000 birds a year. Sick and injured birds are nursed back to health here. You may see up to 600 birds during your visit, up close and personal. A favorite for kids.
SEE A FREE SOFTBALL GAME
- North Shore Park
Eighth Avenue NE at North Shore Drive, St. Petersburg
Members of "Kids and Kubs" are a minimum of 74 years old. They play at 10 and 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, November through March.
TAKE IN THE FRESH AIR
- Bayshore Boulevard
Walk, jog, skate, push a stroller, exercise the dog or bike along the boulevard. At 4.5 miles, it's said to be the world's longest continuous sidewalk. Enjoy the dramatic views of Tampa across Hillsborough Bay. Bayshore is a busy commuter street, so stay alert if you're crossing. Early morning and after 5 p.m. it's a linear health club.
SHOP A FUNKY LOCAL BUSINESS
- House of Ska
401 First Ave. N, 727-822-7752
Fashion-forward, one-of-a-kind designs by Ivanka Ska, a Polish designer who also runs a modeling agency. If you need a T-shirt that says "Free Hugs," or a bustier made of black sequins and red silk roses, this is the place.
- Florida Craftsman Gallery
501 Central Ave., St. Petersburg, (727) 821-7391
Fine crafts in a variety of media by Floridians. Your gift-giving troubles are over. Hang on to your credit card when you come in around the holidays; the gift items and ornaments are tremendously appealing.
- Inkwood Books
216 S Armenia Ave., Tampa, 813-253-2638
A lovingly attended independent bookstore in a 1920s bungalow. A terrific selection of books you want and books you didn't know you wanted. The store has reading groups for kids, keeps the local book clubs supplied and maintains a busy schedule of author readings and signings.
SEE BIG MUSICAL ACTS
- St. Pete Times Forum, downtown Tampa, 813-301-2500
- Ford Amphitheatre, U.S. 301 next to the State Fairgrounds, 813-740-2446
- Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater, 727-791-7400
- Mahaffey Theater, downtown St. Petersburg, 727-892-5798
ENJOY REGIONAL THEATER
- American Stage, 211 Third St. S, St. Petersburg, 727-823-7529
- Gorilla Theatre, 4419 N Hubert, Tampa, 813-879-2914
- Jobsite Theater, the resident theatre company at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, 2020 N MacInnes Place, Tampa, 813-229-7827
Nightlife Essentials: Best Places to...
- Gulfport Casino
5500 Shoe Blvd. S, Gulfport, 727-893-1070
Swing dancing, including the lindy and the Charleston, live on Wednesday nights at the waterfront Gulfport Casino. Free lessons from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., then cut a rug the rest of the evening. Singles welcome.
- Club Prana Ybor
1619 E. Seventh Ave., Ybor City, Tampa, 813-241-4139
Five floors, four DJs, one live band and a glamorous clientele.
- The Venue
2675 Ulmerton Road, St. Petersburg, 727-571-2222
Two restaurants, one of them dedicated to sushi; eight themed venues in 27,000 square feet under one roof. Surely you can find somebody to flirt with, drink with, dance with in this glittering environment.
GET A BEER
- World of Beer
9524 W. Linebaugh Ave., Tampa, 813-852-2337
The 17-page beer menu lists 500 bottled brands from around the world. The draft menu offers 30 choices that come from the Czech Republic to Colorado and every place in between. Wine and cigars also; music.
- Four Green Fields
205 Platt St., Tampa, 813-254-4444
Thatch-roofed cottage (yes, really!), Irish music, food and drinks (yes, Guinness).
- Oldsmar Tap House
300 State St. E, Oldsmar, 813-855-2337
Thirty-five beers on tap, 75 from around the world. Where else ya gonna find Saint Somewhere Lectio Divina? Sandwiches, sausage and cheese plates, music.
- Dunedin Brewery
937 Douglas Ave., Dunedin, 727-736-0606
Local brewery offers nine ales year round, five seasonal specialties. Drink and eat in its Snug Pub.
- The Independent
29 Third St. N, St. Petersburg, 727-820-9514
This bar in downtown St. Petersburg may be smoky inside, so sit at the sidewalk tables and enjoy craft and import beers. The staff from other downtown night spots often stops here for a cold one on the way home.
GRAB A LATE-NIGHT BITE
- Village Inn
215 N. Dale Mabry, Tampa, (813) 877-2617
No kidding. This chain eatery is a legendary Tampa gathering spot for crowds who want to cap off the night with breakfast, or a wedge of pie and coffee. It's also a popular spot for morning power breakfasts. (Many other locations around the area.)
- La Teresita
3248 W. Columbus Drive, Tampa, 813-879-4909
Authentic West Tampa Cuban diner. Huge portions of black beans and rice, pork, ropa vieja, garlic chicken. Open 24 hours Friday and Saturday nights.
- Fly Bar and Restaurant
1202 N. Franklin St., Tampa, 813-275-5000
This is a hip addition to the North Franklin Street Historic District, and part of a continuing effort to give people a reason to hang around downtown Tampa after work. Local art, nightly live music and a great view of downtown from the roof deck of a turn-of-the-century building are reasons enough to check it out. So is the upscale "early bird special," the Swing Menu served from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. and again from 11 p.m. until 3 a.m. Try the Kobe beef sliders, roasted garlic frites, fish tacos. Wash it all down with microbrews, signature cocktails and a wine list that's interesting but not inexpensive.
- Rick's on the River
2305 N. Willow, Tampa, 813-251-0369
Open until 3 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. A marina, bar and restaurant with music nightly, an oyster bar, wings, sandwiches, salads, burgers, grouper, and great views of the Hillsborough River and the bridges leading to downtown.
160 10th Ave., Treasure Island, 727-363-3699
Open until midnight Fridays and Saturdays. Foxy's serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, but at heart it's a friendly local bar with the TV on. When it's late and only beer and a pile of wings will satisfy, you'll be here. Ditto pizza. And you can do your wash in the coin laundry next door while you eat.
- Harvey's Fourth Street Grill
3121 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg, 727-821-6516
Open until 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday. It's the local "Cheers," where everybody knows your name and the grouper sandwiches and the breakfast potatoes at Sunday brunch (which is always packed) haven't changed in years, and that's a good thing. Some of the flooring and tables are made from the maple floorboards of the ballroom of the old Vinoy Park Hotel, now the glamorous four-star Renaissance Vinoy downtown. Seafood, steaks, pasta, full bar, kids welcome.
Outdoor Essentials: Best Places to...Duh, this is Florida! You have to hit the beach. Best choices are the barrier islands along the Gulf of Mexico, from Pass-a-Grille on the south to Honeymoon Island on the north. Bring lots of quarters for parking meters.
SPEND A DAY AT THE BEACH
- "Dr. Beach" on Caladesi Island State Park
This undeveloped barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico is just off the coast of Dunedin, and was named the No. 1 beach in North America by researcher Stephen Leatherman. Accessible only by private boat or ferry, the island offers swimming, fishing, kayaking and canoeing and nature trails. There are a marina, picnic pavilions and a concession stand. Caladesi was named the nation's No. 2 beach in 2006 and 2007 and finally took top honors in 2008. The Caladesi Connection ferry (727-469-1502) leaves hourly starting at 10 a.m. from Honeymoon Island State Park.
Other beach favorites:
See a Romantic Sunset on the Beach: Pass-a-Grille
Bond with the Family: Treasure Island or Fort DeSoto Park, a county park off the Pinellas Bayway in Tierra Verde
See Bikinis and Beach Volleyball: Clearwater Beach. Yes, we get spring break crowds, but not so numerous nor so rowdy as Fort Lauderdale on the Atlantic Coast. Along the beaches, look for concessionaires renting wave runners, jet skis and kayaks, or offering parasail rides.
Let those furry boys and girls run off the leash! For a list of dog parks around Tampa Bay, go to www.dogparkusa.com/florida/tampa. The Irish terrier in charge of these things at our house likes these dog parks particularly:
- Paw Playground at Fort DeSoto Park
3500 Pinellas Bayway, Tierra Verde
Surf's up! This county park offers a dedicated dog beach, where the pets can swim, pound up and down the sand and poke around at shells and seaweed on the beach. There's also a big fenced grassy area.
- Old Northeast Dog Park
North Shore Drive at Seventh Avenue NE, St. Petersburg
This park is on the waterfront just north of downtown St. Petersburg, next to North Shore Pool, and the baseball field where the Kids and Kubs -- players are a minimum of 74 years old -- step up to the plate.
- Happy Tails Dog Park
Louis A. Vanech Recreation Complex, 3051 Garrison Road, Dunedin
Let Buster work through the doggie agility course, including a tire jump, window jump, A-frame ramp and a vinyl tunnel.
GO FOR A BIKE RIDE
- The Pinellas Trail
This 34-mile bicycling/skating/walking trail on former railroad right-of-way stretches the length of Pinellas County, from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs. About 90,000 people use it each month. The trail travels through parks, coastal areas, and city neighborhoods.
- Suncoast Trail
On the east side of Tampa Bay, 41 miles of paved trail parallel the Suncoast Parkway through Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties, through suburban, agricultural and natural settings.
ENJOY GREAT VIEWS
... of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge
- East beach at Fort DeSoto Park
From I-275 southbound in St. Petersburg, follow the Pinellas Bayway (toll road) to Fort DeSoto, a county park, then follow signs to the east beach. (Also great swimming beaches here.)
... of St. Petersburg
- The Pier
From an inverted-pyramid-shaped structure at the end of the quarter-mile pier approach at the end of Second Avenue NE in downtown St. Petersburg. Walk from the parking lots or hop the free trolley. From the ground level, or from the top floor observation deck outside Cha Cha Coconuts bar, look east to see the Tampa skyline, south for the Sunshine Skyway Bridge or west for the St. Petersburg skyline.
... of Tampa
- The Westin Tampa Harbour Island
725 S Harbour Island Blvd., Tampa, (813) 229-5000
Great views at night of a glittery skyline. But also check out the view from the roof deck of Fly Bar (see "Nightlife Essentials") and from Bayshore Boulevard (see "Entertainment Essentials").
Friends & Family Essentials: Best Places to...
MEET NEW PEOPLE
- The Studio @ 620
620 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg, 727-895-6620
This funky performance space hosts a full schedule of edgy and diverse events: art, music, drama, open mike/spoken word, film, dance, a holiday bazaar of handmade items by local crafters. Drop by from noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday for free coffee and conversation in the gallery. The space exists "to bring together people from various cultural backgrounds and experiences as artists, audience members and volunteers," say artistic directors David Ellis and Bob Devin Jones.
- Tampa Theatre
711 N Franklin St., Tampa, 813-274-8982
This glorious wedding cake of a theater, built in 1926, still houses its original mighty Wurlitzer, which is played before most films. This is where locals go for film classics and first-run specialty films, i.e., the indies the big chains won't book. It's also where everyone turns out for the singalong versions of Grease and The Little Mermaid. The theater books concerts, too, including Phoebe Snow, Arlo Guthrie and Randy Newman. "Balcony to backstage" tours are offered several times a month ($5), which include a demonstration of the organ and an insider's look at classic movie palace architecture.
Pick your passion -- from politics to pets -- and there's a charitable organization that will put you to work. Pound nails for a Habitat for Humanity house. Pack Thanksgiving dinners for Metropolitan Ministries in Tampa or the St. Petersburg Free Clinic. Read to kids or vision-impaired adults. Care for the animals at a shelter. Join in the annual coastal cleanup sponsored by Tampa Bay Watch.
- Stroll Through an Art Festival
Gasparilla Festival of the Arts in Tampa
Franklin Street and Lykes Gaslight Park, 813-876-1747
Held the first weekend in March. Three hundred artists exhibit their work in a wide variety of media; food, music, kids' activities, great outdoor scene.
- Mainsail Arts Festival in St. Petersburg
Vinoy Park, Bayshore Drive and Seventh Avenue NE in downtown St. Petersburg
Held in mid-April. Be one of 100,000 visitors who stroll the tents of 200-plus artists. Food, music, kids' activities.
What the locals know about both shows: There's good art to be had here, and prices range from moderate to very expensive. The exhibitors are professional artists; this isn't an amateur crafts show. Go early in the day, before it gets too hot; wear a hat and sunscreen and bring water. No pets allowed at either show.
HAVE FUN WITH A LOVED ONE
- Pier in St. Petersburg
Book a horsedrawn carriage ride at 800 Second Ave. NE, 727-821-6164. Or stop at the Museum of History on the St. Petersburg Pier approach (335 Second Ave. NE) and take a Segway tour (727-896-3640; gyroglides.com).
- Weedon Island Preserve in St. Petersburg or Hillsborough River State Park in Tampa
Hike trails or boardwalks, rent a canoe or kayak, and explore the water and the parts of Florida you'll never see from the road. Weedon Island (1500 Weedon Island Drive) offers a four-mile water trail where you may spot dolphins, manatees or exotic birds. Or climb the tower and get a view over the city and across the bay toward Tampa. At Hillsborough River State Park (on U.S. 301, 12 miles north of Tampa, 813-987-6771), you can canoe, ride a bike, hike a seven-mile trail, picnic or swim. You'll be closer than you think to some of the area's most built-up suburbs, but it feels miles away.
Take a romantic sunset walk on the beach at the southern tip of St. Pete Beach. Bring lots of quarters for the parking meters. Pretty beach, good shelling and when the idea of food or drink distracts you, there are plenty of possibilities just across the street.
TAKE THE KIDS
- Florida Aquarium
701 Channelside Drive, downtown Tampa, 813-273-4000
A million-gallon fish tank. More than 20,000 aquatic animals and plants. Penguin promenades several times a day. "Explore-a-shore" water park. Swimming in a coral reef tank for kids 6 and older. Certified SCUBA divers older than 15 can swim with the sharks. Daily eco-tours on open water to look for dolphins.
- Lowry Park Zoo
1101 W Sligh Ave., Tampa, 813-935-8552
Child magazine named this the No. 1 family-friendly zoo in the United States. More than 2,000 animals and birds, from antelope to zebras, live in nine habitats scattered over 24 acres: Asian gardens, safari Africa, a free-flight aviary, manatee and aquatic center, Florida boardwalk, penguin beach, primate world, birds of prey and the Wallaroo Station, home to wallabies and kangaroos. Ride a camel, get wet in a flume ride, swing over the treetops of Safari Africa in a skyride. Local parents advise: Buy a membership so you'll feel free to drop in for an hour or so when the kids are cranky and need distracting.
- Great Explorations
1925 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg, 727-821-8992
Sharing a city block with Sunken Gardens, one of Florida's original tourist attractions, Great Explorations is all about hands-on activity and experiment. Kids can work on a construction site, run a grocery or a pizza restaurant, or operate a veterinarian's office. They can play music on PVC pipes or on a laser harp; take a lie detector test; race a remote car around a track and lots more. In the Great Splash Area, they can listen to fish and other animals, study the water of the Tampa Bay estuary or learn how much water we use every day and how to conserve. The museum offers kids' nights out one Friday a month and occasional sleepovers.
- Busch Gardens
10001 McKinley Drive, Tampa, 888-800-5447
The kids aren't the only ones who enjoy Busch Gardens. This African-themed adventure park on 335 acres not far from downtown Tampa offers several natural settings where jungle animals roam. Scream-inducing roller coaster rides include SheiKra, the floorless coaster that rises 200 feet and drops at a 90-degree angle at 70 mph; and Gwazi, the South's largest and fastest double wooden roller coaster. If you like to get wet, board the Stanley Falls Log Flume or the Tanganyika Tidal Wave. In the Congo-themed Jungala area, kids can fly on a zip line through the treetops or go face-to-face with a tiger. Music, entertainment, food, fireworks, special seasonal events ... and don't forget the Clydesdales. Next door is a sister attraction, Adventure Island, a 30-acre water park with slides, corkscrews, waterfalls and a wave pool.
- Boyd Hill Nature Park
1101 Country Club Way S, St. Petersburg, 727-893-7326
Florida isn't all theme parks and beaches. At this 245-acre city park, kids can blow off steam on three miles of trails and boardwalks that wind through five habitats: hardwood hammocks, sand pine scrub, pine flatwoods, willow marsh and lakeshore. There, on Lake Maggiore (pronounced "ma-GORE-ee"), look closely: You're sure to spot alligators cruising in the water or basking in the sun on the shore. The park is home to a wide variety of birds, butterflies and wildflowers, as well as tortoises, snakes and other wildlife. There's also an aviary showcasing birds of prey. Guided tours are offered (try the early-morning or evening tours to see the park in a different light), and local kids clamor to sign up for day camp here.
TAKE THE KIDS FOR A WEEKEND
- Walt Disney World and Universal Studios
Here's what Florida kids know: Visits to the big theme parks, both less than two hours away in Orlando, aren't once-in-a-lifetime trips, as they are for kids who live elsewhere. Kids who live in Florida will probably drop in a couple of times a year. Save money and get specials and discounts with a Florida resident pass to either park.