Sunday, May 15, 2016

10+ Artsy & Cool Reasons To Visit Tampa, Florida

By Jacquelin Carnegie
(photo: VisitTampaBay)

You may have arrived in Tampa on your way to St. Pete Beach or to get on a cruise, but it's worth adding a few days to experience the cool, cultural activities and the very-friendly locals:
MARCH ENTERTAINMENT MADNESS
All year long, Tampa has an amazing array of festivals. But, in March, culture is showcased--the arts, music, and film: 

(artist: Lissa Hatcher)
Gasparilla Festival of the Arts - gasparillaarts.com
Art lovers will bliss out at this terrific weekend festival featuring every kind of artwork imaginable: paintings, drawings, sculpture, photography, prints, glass art, and jewelry. Curtis Hixon Park, in front of the Tampa Museum of Art, becomes a wonderland of talent with work by some 250 artists on display. In the adjoining Kiley Garden, work by 15+ emerging artists is highlighted. Even spray-paint artists get to show off their vibrant style in the "Carmada" section. And, if you feel talented, pick up a brush to add some flourish to an old van. Another highpoint of the festival is The Art Collectors in Training program. Without the influence of adults, kids are encouraged to view and purchase a selection of festival artwork (for under $10) in a kids-only gallery.
Gasparilla Music Festival - gasparillamusic.com 
Hiss Golden Messenger
This cool, progressive music festival showcases talented local musicians, great popular bands, and headlining acts. The fest takes place in Curtis Hixon Park and Kiley Gardens, with the Hillsborough River as a backdrop. In addition to great music, there's lots of family-friendly fun and local food vendors. Money raised from the festival supports music education in the Tampa community and helps provide scholarships for music students.
Gasparilla Film Festival - gasparillafilmfestival.com
This annual festival presents around 115 films, including premieres of international and regional features, documentaries, and short films. In addition to screening blockbuster movies with top-name actors, the festival highlights independent films made in Florida. There are also special tributes, master classes, panel discussions with film-industry bigwigs, and an impressive gathering of celebrities.
ARTSY PURSUITS
Tampa Museum of Art
120 W. Gasparilla Plaza; Tel: 813/421-8380; tampamuseum.org
This is such a lovely museum with collections dating from
Laura with Bun, Plensa,
Tampa Mus of Art
ancient to modern, augmented by terrific special exhibitions. Admire Greek vases and outdoor sculpture by such luminaries as Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, then have a bite at the museum’s riverside Sono Café. At night, the shimmering colors of “Sky (Tampa)” by artist Leo Villareal light up the museum's facade, creating another work of art.
Florida Museum of Photographic Arts
400 N. Ashley Dr; Tel: 813/221-2222; fmopa.org
Hidden away in The Cube, part of the Rivergate Tower, it would be a shame to miss the fantastic photographic efforts on exhibit here. The museum features work by internationally-acclaimed photographers (recent shows: Sandra Gottlieb and Gohar Dashti).
University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum
3821 USF Holly Dr; Tel: 813-974-4133; http://bit.ly/24TYHTG
The collection features contemporary graphics, works on paper, sculpture, and photography.
Fourth Friday  (Year round, 4pm-9pm) Free with wristband.
Downtown Tampa's arts and culture venues stay open late with free admission or discounts, and special programming. There's live music, restaurants offer special deals, and you can take refreshing beverages in Sip & Stroll cups with you on walks along the Tampa Riverwalk. Pirate Water Taxi provides complimentary rides. (For sports fans, visit the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team in MacDill Park and the Tampa Bay Lighting ice hockey team in Cotanchobee Park.)
GREAT ENTERTAINMENT
Straz Center for the Performing Arts
1010 N. Macinnes Pl; Tel: 813/229-7827; www.strazcenter.org
This amazing performing arts complex offers a little, quality something for everyone: a Broadway series, Opera, Comedy, Dance, and the Florida Orchestra, doing both wonderful classical and Pops concerts.
Tampa Theatre
Tampa Thr (photo: Amy Martz)
711 N. Franklin St; Tel: 813/274-8981; tampatheatre.org
Opened in 1926, the theatre is pure kitsch--a faux, Mediterranean palace covered by a night "sky" of twinkling stars. It's a glorious reminder of the lavish movie houses of yore and the perfect spot to see a film, concert, or special event. You can also take a Balcony-to-Backstage tour.
UNIQUE TO TAMPA
Here are Five Things You Didn't Know You Could Do in Tampa, plus:
Riverwalk

Tampa Riverwalk - Extends along the waterfront for 2.5 miles and is a great place to stroll, bike (Coast Bike Share rents from hubs along the way), or just relax by the river. Exit points lead to museums, historical monuments, hotels, and restaurants. At night, Riverwalk becomes a work of art, lit up with changing colors.  
                                                    H.B. Plant Museum
401 W. Kennedy Blvd; www.plantmuseum.com
Railroad baron Henry Plant made Tampa Bay the commercial hub of Florida’s west coast in the late 1880s. The museum is housed in what was once the glamorous Tampa Bay Hotel, now a National Historic Landmark. The original, opulent, Victorian-era furnishings and artifacts provide a glimpse into Florida’s burgeoning tourist industry. 

Ybor City National Historic Landmark District www.yborcityonline.com 
In the late 1880s, Cuban, Spanish, Italian, and German immigrants came here to work in the thriving cigar factories, most of which closed by the 1960s. Today, with many of the historic structures renovated and restored, Ybor City has become a tourist attraction for its cafés, restaurants, and nightlife.
You can still see cigars made by hand in some of the small cigar shops along 7th Avenue. Take a tour to learn more about the history.
José Martí Park (1303 E. Eight Ave; open, 8am-1:30pm) - Set foot on Cuban soil without a passport; since 1956, this little park has been Cuban territory.

Columbia Restaurant (2025 E. Seventh Ave; Tel: 813/248-4961; www.columbiarestaurant.com) - Founded in 1905 by Cuban immigrants, Florida’s oldest restaurant serves traditional Cuban and Spanish specialties, then dishes up a fantastic Flamenco show.
Dine in Style: Tampa's creative food scene is gaining recognition. Try these cool spots for a meal: 
The Refinery
The Refinery (5137 N. Florida Ave; thetamparefinery.com) - Ranked among the Top 10 locavore restaurants in the U.S.
Anise Global Gastrobar (777 N. Ashley Dr; www.aniseglobal.com) - Famous for its "stinky" buns.
Oxford Exchange (420 West Kennedy Blvd; oxfordexchange.com) - Great for breakfasts, brunch & lunch.
Be sure to taste test the many local Tampa brews such as "Florida Cracker" or "Reef Donkey."
Making Your Visit Easier:
While most people drive, there are transportation options, including some fun ones: 
Gasparilla Pirate Fest (photo: Bruce Meyer)
Pirate Water Taxi (Tel: 813/223-7999; www.piratewatertaxi.com) - This hop-on-hop-off water taxi makes 14+ stops. Visit the aquarium, museums, restaurants and parks, and learn a little Tampa history while onboard.
TECO Historic Streetcar - Ride the streetcar from Downtown, to Channelside (where the cruise lines dock; there's lots of shops & activities), and on to Ybor City.
Tampa CityPass - If you're travelling with kids, the Pass gets you into the zoo, two aquariums, Busch Gardens, and the science museum.
Tampa Bay has an amazing array of activities for the whole family and sports fans will be in seventh-heaven.
Where To Stay: Plenty of choice accommodations such as:
Aloft Tampa Downtown (100 W. Kennedy Blvd; Tel: 813/898-8000; www.alofttampadowntown.com) - A hip hotel for twentysomethings; if you don't care about service, it's a very convenient location.
Horizontal#20, Sandra Gottlieb, FMoPA

Le Méridien (601 N. Florida Ave; Tel: 813/221-9555; lemeridientampa.com) - If you do care about good service, this is a lovely spot in a renovated, former Beaux Arts-style courthouse.
Epicurean Hotel (1207 S. Howard Ave; Tel: 813/999-8700; epicureanhotel.com) - A great spot for "foodies" in the trendy Hyde Park district.
Augment your visit to Tampa with time at St. Pete Beach at the Don CeSar or TradeWinds. Or, extend your stay before or after a cruise. Port Tampa Bay homeports the cruise lines: Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Holland America, and Norwegian America.
Getting There: Delta and JetBlue offer frequent, convenient flights into Tampa.

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