Tampa Bay appears in Spanish maps as far back as 1695. The Tampa Bay History Museum - an award-winning Smithsonian affiliated institution – however, explores 1,200 years of Florida history. They do it through hands-on exhibits and emersion theater.
That’s certainly enough time to get a vibe going, but Tampa’s is hard to put your finger on. It has always been a home for Seminole peoples and later by immigrants from Cuba, Spain and Italy, as well as the Yankees who came with the army. A chorus that still audible today.
In the downtown Channel District, it calls out from modern glass skyscrapers from the second largest city in Florida, as well as professional football, baseball, hockey and soccer teams. The Straz Center for the Performing Arts showcases everything from Broadway tours, hot music acts and comedy. And the Henry B. Plant Museum is a masterpiece of Moorish architecture, opulent furnishings and tropical gardens.
Tampa is a patchwork of towns that have been incorporated into the city without losing their original charm. Some, like Ybor City, are as well-known as Tampa itself. In 1885 Vincente Martinez Ybor moved his cigar making factories from Key West to Tampa, building housing for his workers in the neighborhood now called Ybor City. While cigars were the backbone of the city well into the 20th century, today it is so much more.
It is home to a crazy, gonzo invasion of pirates from Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla at an annual pirate festival named Gasparilla. It is street cars, street museums and street food. The iconic Cuban Sandwich was invented here, and that great restaurant tradition extended to the neighborhoods across that city that make up this colorful patchwork: Ybor City, Seminole Heights and South Tampa. Along with great Cuban, Spanish, Italian and Greek restaurants, fleets of food trucks roam the city dishing out all the above and more, including that fusion cuisine peculiar to the area “Floribben.”
It is a city full of tropical green spaces and amusement park attractions, with plenty of water taxis, paddle boating and cruises in pirate ships - Tampa is family fun. Of course, there are also peddle boats that offer self-powered cruises as well.
Areas like Hyde Park and International Plaza & Bay Street offer upscale dining and shopping. Admittedly, that likely not the place you’d want to drag the little ones after a day at the attractions. If you need a couples get-away from a family vacation, then the local Nannies Who Care service works with most major hotels in the area.
So Tampa does have a vibe, impossible to describe and not really like anyplace else: downhome and international, big city and sandy beach town. And pirates, did we mention the pirates?
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