Tampa tends to have perfect sunny weather in late fall and early winter. No too hot, no hurricanes, not icy cold. At most “brisk.” Tampa can be an enigma. It’s a lot of different things to different people. It’s a city, a Latin side tour, a sprawling suburb of completely different neighborhoods, a university town (USF serves 46,000 students), a sports mecca, and a bedroom for the gulf beach towns.
To have an "non-touristy" experience begin your day with a real Cuban breakfast of coffee con leche and Cuban bread with eggs at La Ideal Cafeteria on Tampa Bay Boulevard. Since you are near the stadiums, see if you can score tickets to the Buccaneer football game or, depending on the season to Yankee spring training.
If you aren’t a sports enthusiast, head down to Lowry park Zoo. It’s a nice place to walk with its stream, open air animal enclosures, and park like atmosphere. It’s also considered the number 1 family friendly zoo in the country.
For a different kind of lunch, plan on real gelato at Del Duomo on picturesque Bay Street in International Plaza. If you have had never had the real thing, you will be hooked on this low fat, low calorie creamy concoction made fresh in stainless steel containers. Make sure to sample a few flavors first. You will be addicted.
You may want to stay and walk around the high end mall perusing designer stores, but save that for another time and head downtown to the Performing Arts Building to see what is playing. Walk behind along the beautiful Hillsborough River and spy the shining minarets of the University of Tampa. Perhaps you want to take a Christmas stroll through Plant Museum at University of Tampa.
Next, hop aboard an old fashioned trolley that can take you to Channelside and the Florida Aquarium, then on to historic 7th Avenue in Ybor City which was recently given the title of one of the ten best streets in America by the American Planning Association. The street, with palms on both sides and old fashioned lamp posts feels like a small town from the early cigar making days.
Of course, you can have dinner in the famed Columbia restaurant in Ybor with its beautiful mosaic tiles and interesting history or head back downtown to Mise en Place. After dinner, relax at Tampa Theater. Have coffee and look up and to see the beautifully restored ceiling of stars and balconies. Even the restrooms are fabulous.Now how often do you get to say that!
What and Where:
La Ideal Cafeteria (2924 W Tampa Bay Blvd)
Columbia restaurant (www.columbiarestaurant.com)
Mise en Place (www.miseonline.com; 442 W. Kennedy Blvd; 813-254-5373)
Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo (Sligh Ave)
Tampa Theater (711 Franklin St.; www.tampatheatre.org)
Del Duomo West Shore & Boy Scout Blvd (www.gelateriadelduomo.com)
Florida Aquarium (701 Channelside Dr; 813-273-4000)