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Tampa Bay City Guide: When, What, Where & How - To Visit
One of the best things about the west coast of Florida is the incredible sunsets. And what better place than Tampa Bay to see the fiery orb dip into the sea? Plunk your chair down on a sandy spot, walk along Pier 60, or pack into a waterfront bar, and enjoy the end of a beach day…and read on.
It’s probably not a coincidence that the word "Tampa" means "sticks of fire" in the language of the Calusa, a Native American tribe that once lived south of today's Tampa Bay area. Sticks of fire could be a reference to the many lightning strikes that the area receives during the summer months. However, other historians claim the name means "the place to gather sticks.”
The city of Tampa is the county seat of Hillsborough County, located on the west central coast of Florida on Tampa Bay. Included in the Tampa Bay area is St. Petersburg, which is a city located on the peninsula between Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Northwest of St. Pete is Clearwater, which is the smallest of the three main cities in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan area - referred to as the Tampa Bay Area.
WHEN TO VISIT
Weather-wise it doesn’t seem like there’s a bad time to visit Tampa Bay. With an average of 361 days a year of sunshine, how can vacationers go wrong? Other than the weather, Tampa Bay’s special events and promotions tend to have the most influence on attraction crowds. The area's beaches tend to be the most crowded during spring break and in the summer, of course.
WHAT TO DO
Not only does Tampa Bay have some of the country’s best beaches, it also has everything from arts and culture to shopping and sports to aquariums and zoos. Outdoor recreational opportunities abound and adventure awaits!
Perhaps the best way to enjoy the waterfront cities is from the water. Every type of cruise you can imagine exists: dinner, sightseeing, sunset and themed cruises, to name a few. For information on Tampa dining yachts, check out Yacht StarShip. Also, Tampa is the home port for the top cruise lines, including Carnival Cruise, Holland America and Royal Caribbean.
If exploring some of Tampa Bay’s top attractions sounds like fun, CityPASS added Tampa Bay to its already robust 10-city program in May 2014. Tampa Bay CityPASS is a booklet of admission tickets to 5 best tourist attractions in Tampa Bay. You save 39% compared to combined regular box office prices.
Included is one-time admission to Busch Gardens Tampa, The Florida Aquarium, Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, Clearwater Marine Aquarium, and a choice between Chihuly Collection or Museum of Science & Industry (MOSI). The whole family benefits from the variety of entertainment included in Tampa Bay CityPASS while saving money at the same time.
In the spring, Tampa Bay becomes a major arts destination, in celebration of Gasparilla Arts Month. It begins the first weekend of March in Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, with a fine arts festival that attracts 250,000 annual visitors. Gasparilla extends throughout the month with an epic music festival drawing national acts and an internationally recognized film festival.
A quieter (yet artistic) option would be to take a tour through Bok Tower Gardens, which has given remarkable experiences to more than 23 million visitors since 1929. The Gardens also has a unique Singing Tower carillon and magnificent 1930s Mediterranean-style mansion.
Take a stroll along the Riverwalk, which is a 2.4-mile long pedestrian pathway on the waterfront in downtown Tampa. It wasn’t too long ago that there wasn’t much to do along the waterfront, but that has changed in recent years. “The Riverwalk connects Tampa's dynamic cultural venues, family oriented parks and the city center's vibrant business community creating connectivity and eclectic synergy,” according the Riverwalk website.
Lastly, the Tampa Bay area is home to many sports teams if you want to catch a game. Tampa Bay Buccaneers play in the National Football League (NFL), the Tampa Bay Lightning play in the National Hockey League (NHL), and the Tampa Bay Rays play in Major League Baseball (MLB). Plus, six MLB teams hold their spring training camps in the area.
WHERE TO EAT
Where to begin… As one can imagine, Tampa has a diverse restaurant scene. Enjoy everything from fresh seafood on the waterfront to regional Cuban and Spanish cuisine to feed your soul. A quick internet search will likely reveal Bern’s Steak House as a Tampa landmark. With the largest wine list in the world and two dozen varieties of caviar, Bern’s has built a solid reputation since 1956. And, of course, Bern’s offers perfectly aged steaks at its world-class establishment.
For more dining options, check out Where Traveler’s content provided on CityPASS’ website: Plan Your Visit to Tampa Bay.
WHERE TO SHOP
Here are a few popular names: Old Hyde Park Village in Tampa, Channelside, Prime Outlets at Ellenton, BayWalk in downtown St. Petersburg, and John’s Pass Village and Boardwalk. The Tampa Bay Times also has a Deals & Shopping section online where they cover everything from the deals at huge department stores to the tiniest boutiques. "Deal Diva" bloggers are always on the hunt for shopping bargains in Tampa Bay. Make sure to check out their Deal of the Day.
WHERE TO STAY
Hotel deals can be found virtually anywhere; Expedia, Kayak, Priceline, to name a few. If you go to VisitTampaBay.com, you can also find a “Deals” tab. Click on it to see offers on hotels. Currently, if you book early and purchase your stay in advance at InterContinental Tampa, you can lock in up to 30% savings through April 2015. Also on their website, find other deals and discounts for your visit to Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay CityPASS is listed on their homepage!
HOW TO GET AROUND
Tampa Bay has two international airports, including top-rated Tampa International Airport. In addition to offering transportation to and from the airport, independent and hotel shuttle services are available to take guests around town, whether it's to grab a bite to eat or explore Tampa Bay. Once you’re in Tampa, transportation options include a comprehensive menu of motor coach, limo & taxi services, streetcar & trolley, shuttle systems and rental cars. Again, Visit Tampa Bay's website has more information.
Hop aboard Tampa's vintage streetcar and feel the charm of the past. The TECO Line Streetcar will take you between downtown Tampa, Channelside and historic Ybor City.
Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority provides buses, trolleys and electric streetcars serving major mall, museums, and most other attractions. For more information call (813) 254-HART or go to the transportation page of Plan Your Visit to Tampa Bay.
Hop aboard the St. Petersburg Trolley Downtown Looper route and find an easy way around downtown. Look for the bright red and yellow trolleys, board for just 50 cents and connect to all the city's major museums and attractions.
Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) is the public transit provider in Pinellas County, Florida, providing more than 14.5 million passenger trips in 2013. Two-hundred buses serve 5,115 bus stops on 40 routes in Pinellas County, including two express routes that travel to Tampa. Call (727) 540-1800.