Travel back in time and explore the rich history and hidden gems of Tampa Bay, Florida.
If you’re a history buff like me, you’ll enjoy visiting these landmarks of a time when pioneers, rough riders and industrialists settled here. From its early days as a fishing village to its transformation as a hub for cigar-making, social clubs and architecture, Tampa Bay has the most fascinating attractions preserving the area's cultural heritage. Here are the top spots to visit for your dose of nostalgia.
Start the day with a visit to the Tampa Bay Hotel, located on the west side of the Hillsborough River, home to the Henry B. Plant Museum in addition to the downtown campus of the University of Florida. A National Historic Landmark, the Tampa Bay Hotel is not only a stunning example of Moorish and Turkish architecture, but it also served as the headquarters for the Army during the Spanish-American War.
Constructed between 1888 and 1891 by Henry B. Plant to draw tourists to Florida, this premier hotel is symbolic as the first pioneering effort in the state's resort business. Check out the music room and drawing room and admire the ornate furnishings and artworks collected by the Plants from their globetrotting trips. Stop in at the gift shop for a one-of-a-kind souvenir or memento. Enjoy free admission and jazz music on the veranda, the first Friday of the month through May 6, 2016, otherwise adult admission is $10, $7 for seniors and students, and $5 for children 4-12 (Jan.-Nov.); and, $15 for adults, $13 for seniors and students, and $9 for children 4-12 during December.
In the surrounding area of the museum, you'll find a good selection of restaurants from fast food to casual spots and fine dining. A perfect place to grab a mouthwatering meal is at Mise en Place. Located in one of the most sought-after neighborhoods in all of Tampa—Hyde Park—this restaurant is not far from downtown Tampa.
It offers Modern American cuisine in an upscale environment. If you are an adventurous foodie, then you’ll enjoy this local favorite. Try the sous vide lobster, oxtail poutine, cornmeal crusted fried quail or one of the artisanal cheese platters. More casual eateries in Hyde Park include a gastropub called Edison: Food + Drink Lab, Petra, a Middle Eastern restaurant and a farm-to-table concept in a former 1928 gas station, Boca Kitchen Bar Market.
Now that you’ve been nourished, it's time to head to the historic Tampa Theatre and the Floridan Palace Hotel, both built in 1926. The opulent Tampa Theatre is a treat for the eyes and the crown jewel among Tampa’s cultural attractions. Considered one of the world’s most spectacular theaters by CNN, this movie palace is an active venue for concerts, movie classics and comedy shows.
A few blocks away from the Tampa Theatre and about a mile and a half away from the Florida Aquarium, you’ll find the Floridan Palace Hotel, a 19-story hotel restored back to its original grandeur in 2012. In its heyday, many celebrities stayed here including Jimmy Stewart and Elvis Presley. The Floridan is one of the few hotels in Tampa Bay to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Besides the architecture, the hotel has several restaurants and lounges ready to serve you their signature martini. A spa and a hair salon are planned for its future expansion.
For a dose of American history, located directly behind the Florida Aquarium, is the American Victory Ship Mariners Museum. Climb aboard one of only four fully operational World War II ships in the United States. It's a perfect sight to see if you have an hour to spare. Visit the engine room, mess hall, flying bridge and the crew cabins and see the historic photographs, medals and uniforms, of this unique period in American history. The warship might be difficult to maneuver with those traveling with small children and those requiring special accommodations especially the elderly, because of the tight quarters.
End the night at Tampa's historic Ybor City, just northeast of the downtown area. You can take the TECO Line streetcar or drive and park in the several parking lots and garages available. Founded in the 1880s by cigar manufacturers, Ybor City drew many immigrants to the area mainly from Cuba, Spain, Germany and Italy. Visit the Ybor City Wine Bar, Crowbar or Gaspar’s Grotto to experience the vibrant nightlife.