Tampa

Overview

Think of Florida’s Tampa Bay area, which includes the cities of Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater, as a crescent moon-shaped stretch of land connected by a web of coastal bridges. Serene shorelines and rustic fishermen’s shacks and restaurants coexist alongside slick art museums and funky boutiques. From sandy beaches to swanky bistros, it’s all here within a short drive.

Tampa is the “big city” here, and because it covers a wide area, it can be difficult to find its heart. Near downtown, you find million-dollar homes overlooking the bay. From the waterside sidewalks, you can shade your eyes to look for stingrays, manatees and the occasional hammerhead shark offshore.

The cosmopolitan city of St. Petersburg sits to the southwest, facing Tampa Bay. Grassy waterfront parks, cafes and museums are all within walking distance. Feeling more bohemian? Check in with St. Petersburg’s crazy next-door neighbour, the happy hippie waterfront city of Gulfport. Used bookstores, art walks, drum circles and tie-dye T-shirts can all be found here. 

West of the mainland lies a 40-km stretch of beaches spread out over 10 barrier islands. From Clearwater Beach’s see-and-be-seen vibe in the north to the undiscovered country of St. Pete’s Pass-a-Grille Beach in the south, there’s a beach to suit any mood.

Some of the beaches, like Shell Key State Park and Caladesi Island State Park, require a boat to access and can provide complete seclusion.

Fishing piers, golf courses, endless hiking trails and bike paths sprinkled between the beaches ensure there’s plenty to do on dry ground, as well. Along the way, you can find 100 fun reasons to stop the car and stretchmom-and-pop ice cream shops, seashell stores, shacks offering smoked fish and boardwalk piers offering lookout points for spotting dolphins.

Plus there’s Cuban food, traditional fishing helmets used by sea-sponge divers and Philadelphia cheese-steak sandwiches from cold-weather refugees stateside. People from all over have brought the best of their former homes and transplanted it here.

After spending some time around Tampa Bay, you’ll realize what long-time residents already knowyou can’t go wrong when every road leads to a place that’s right.

Tampa is a fantastic destination for:

  • golf
  • beaches
  • outdoor adventure

Airport served by: TPA

Destination basics

With afternoon temperatures averaging 32 C, summers can be downright hot. However, they are easily manageable, if you think like a local. Save your jogs and more active pursuits for the cooler hours of the morning.

In the afternoon, stay close to a body of water (not hard to find here), and take frequent dips to cool off. Stock up on juice and bottled water to stay hydrated in the heat. Slather on the sunscreen, especially between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sunlight is most intense.

Or spend the hottest parts of the day browsing the malls, or catching a matinee.

By evening, the temperature drops, so you can enjoy dinner and drinks on an outdoor patio.

July and August are known for the daily four o’clock storm showers. The storms churn for half an hour, then the sun returns. It’s very rare for storms to last all day, regardless of the season.

In winter, lows average around 11 C. Come prepared with a warm jacket or sweatshirt for those rare chilly days.

Average monthly temperature and average monthly rainfall diagrams for Tampa

Two waves of immigrants made Tampa Bay the tropical crossroads of culture it is today. The first wave came in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and was made up of Cuban, Italian, Spanish and Greek migrants.

The second wave came from elsewhere within the U.S. after the Second World Warnortherners from Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and the like, looking to escape the cold.

Old-time Florida natives (people who go back four or five generations in Florida) are rare. They’re more often found in the farm country, away from the coast.

The beaches here are mostly barrier islands, and locals take the island attitude to heart. Sandals or flip-flips are standard issue. T-shirts are fine in all but the priciest of restaurants.

With so many bays, rivers and miles of coastline, and with so many warm weather days to enjoy it, it seems every resident either boats or has a friend who does. Weekends and holidays are spent fishing or cruising on the bay or in the gulf.

The Ybor City neighbourhood of Tampa remains the old homestead of Hispanic and Italian labourers who manned the tobacco factories of what was dubbed “Cigar City” early in the last century. They pioneered the Cuban sandwich found throughout the Bay area. The traditional version begins with baguette-style Cuban bread. Thin layers of ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickles are stacked on top. Then the whole thing is toasted in a sandwich press. Tampa’s sandwiches, owing to the influence of Italian immigrants, also use Genoa salami.

Driving through Clearwater, and especially further north, you start to see three- and four-syllable Greek names on businesses and restaurants. This is en route to Tarpon Springs, a community with the highest percentage of Greek citizens of any U.S. city. It has been populated since 1890 when Greek immigrants came to harvest sea sponges from the Gulf of Mexico.

Along the docks, the smells of grilled lamb and the ocean, mingled with the languages spoken by the shopkeepers, feels wonderfully exotic.

The Greeks have their own strong coffee, thick as oil and sickly sweet. But more often than not locals start their day Cuban-style, with day-old Cuban bread buttered and dunked into steaming mugs of café con leche. Heavy on the milk and sugar, it’s a bit like having a buttery mocha dessert for breakfast. Try it. You will find it’s easy to get used to.

When visiting Tampa, you’ll want to have some U.S. funds for general expenses and transit. For entertainment and shopping, your credit card will give you the exchange rate at the time of purchase. There are also numerous ATMs inside banks and public spaces where you can withdraw funds at your convenience. Just be aware that transaction fees vary by ATM.

Tampa’s geography can be summed up in one word: flat. In fact, the biggest hill within 100 km is the approach span to the Sunshine Skyway Bridge leading south from St. Petersburg. East of Tampa you’ll find mostly farmland, namely huge fields of strawberries and blueberries.

Water is another defining feature of the Tampa Bay area. With the Gulf of Mexico on one side and the half-moon shape of the bay on the other, it seems like anywhere you go there’s a bridge to cross.

The beaches are all sand, with very few rocks. Besides the beaches, Tampa Bay itself is ringed with saltwater mangrove trees and mud flats. The calm waters invite nesting shorebirds, manatees and kayakers who want to see it all up close.

The Hillsborough River runs 87 km, from the swamp forests in the east, through downtown Tampa and into the bay. Along the upper portions of the river you may see gopher tortoises, Eastern Indigo snakes, Florida scrub jays or sometimes a bald eagle.

Closer to the coast, the wildlife becomes much more apparent pelicans, ospreys and Great Blue herons are everywhere.

With Tampa’s wide spread of tourist attractions, many visitors to this city choose to rent a car for the duration of their stay. If you opt to rent a car and drive yourself, try to avoid heavy traffic times, from about 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. If you can’t avoid driving during the workday commute, be sure to allow extra time to get where you’re going.

If renting a car is not in your plan, Tampa also offers a variety of public transit options to help you make the most of your trip.

Tampa’s Got HART

Tampa’s Hillsborough Area Regional Transit or HART serves the county, with buses running regularly on both “local” and “Commuter Express” routes. Local routes have numerous stops along the way, while Commuter Express lines have fewer stops and provide service from downtown to the suburbs and back. Either option is great when travelling with kids, since the buses here rarely fill up. Fare is US$1.75 for local routes and US$2.75 for Commuter Express lines. Those over 65 and under 17 years of age ride for half-price.

Take a Ride on Tampa’s Streetcar

Tampa also offers a streetcar line called TECO, which runs from Dick Greco Plaza (downtown) to Centennial Park in Ybor City. With only 10 stops, the streetcar is a valuable resource for tourists looking to travel between attractions. Stops along the line include St. Pete Times Forum, the Florida Aquarium and many great restaurants and shopping destinations. As an added bonus, there are ticket vending machines conveniently located at each stop.

This streetcar line is also a great way to show the kids a historical transportation method, along with many historical locations along the way (no walking needed). A single streetcar fare is US$2.50. Or you can pick up a day pass with unlimited rides on both streetcars and trolleys for only US$5. Route times vary by season and day of the week, so be sure to check with your hotel concierge before heading out.

Or Take Tampa’s Trolley

Tampa is also home to a two-line trolley system that runs during higher-traffic commute times. The lines run beside Tampa’s Central Business District and transfers are available for travel between streetcar and trolley lines.

Prefer to take a taxi or limo? Tampa has many local cab companies who can conveniently pick you up and drop you off at your hotel, at whatever time you choose.

Arrival

When travelling to the United States, you’ll pass through U.S. Customs right at your home airport and then be on your way. Once you land at Tampa International Airport, head over to the baggage claim area to get your bags. In just a few short steps, you’ll be outside and able to catch a shuttle or taxi to your hotel.

Travel requirements cont'd

Departure

Smiling WestJetters will greet you at the international check-in counters and will help you prepare to board your flight home. You can also check in and select your seat online using WestJet’s simple Web check-in service.

Saltwater and sunshine is what has put Tampa Bay on the map. But it’s when you see the true depth of Tampa and what the city has to offer that you’ll get really hooked.

There’s so much varied terrain, so many cool neighbourhoods and little hidden towns here – you can do exactly what you want, every day you’re here.

It’s hard to find sandy beaches anywhere north of Tampa on Florida’s Gulf Coast. It’s all mangroves and oyster shells. Make good use of the 40 km of Tampa Bay beaches and dig your toes into the golden sand. Try Fort Desoto’s secluded East Beach with its winning views of the 58-metre-high Sunshine Skyway Bridgethe world’s longest cable-stayed concrete bridge.

Then slip on your sandals and peruse the coastal art galleries in St. Pete Beach, hire a charter boat from Hubbard’s Marina in John’s Pass or cast off from any of the 30-plus public fishing piers throughout the Bay area.

Once the saltwater air works up your thirst, head north to Dunedin. This Scottish community is known for its brewery and the annual Highland Games. These include log throwing, hammer throwing and other events.

Ready for some refinement? Try the Tampa Museum of Art. It sits on the Hillsborough River by the bay. Ivy-league rowing crews regularly train on the river because it’s so calm. Each season, the crews paint a portion of the seawall in their school colours.

Nearby, the Tampa Theatre offers avant-garde films and new hits in its restored 1920s movie palace. Across the bay, the newest crown jewel is St. Petersburg’s Dali Museum. It contains Salvador Dali’s Masterworks paintings, weighing more than 450 kilograms each.

In St. Petersburg, you can visit the Holocaust Museum and the Great Explorations Children’s Museum, among others. Pack a picnic and wander through the lush grassy parks next to the downtown yacht basin.

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ˆTotal price one-way per guest. See terms and conditions. *Prices are per guest, based on double occupancy and are limited; may not reflect real-time pricing or availability. See terms and conditions.

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