Photo by Holmes Palacios, CC-BY
Across the street from the University of Tampa’s towering minarets sits the Oxford Exchange, where beautiful home goods, stylish gifts, and fresh-roasted coffee lure shoppers and diners inside. With a brick exterior and an interior sheathed in reclaimed white oak, brass fittings, and Italian marble details, the Pinterest-worthy, carefully curated shop/tea bar/bookstore/restaurant is perfect for browsing after brunching on Lobster Benedict with corn fondue and micro cilantro. But be warned: it’ll be hard to walk away without one of the shop’s leather bound collectible editions of beloved classic books like Jane Eyre and Old Man and the Sea, designed in-house.
After shopping and sustenance, head across Kennedy Boulevard for a history lesson at the Henry B. Plant Museum (pictured above). Plant—a railroad magnate—built the Tampa Bay Hotel in the late 1800s, investing over $2.5 million of his own fortune to construct an opulent resort that would attract the likes of Teddy Roosevelt and Babe Ruth. The city of Tampa purchased the hotel in 1905 for $125,000—chump change for such a stunning structure—and began leasing it to the University of Tampa in the 1930s.
Photo by Getty/Joe Raedle
Head to Ybor City for a taste of Tampa’s Latin roots. During the late 1800s, immigrants from Spain, Cuba, and Italy flocked to a sandy patch of scrubland just northeast of Downtown Tampa to take up jobs rolling cigars in Vicente Martinez Ybor’s cigar factory—the largest in the world at the time. Now, Ybor’s a vibrant entertainment district full of shotgun houses, cobblestone streets, and rowdy nightclubs (pictured above). Stroll through tropical gardens and peek into a restored cigar factory worker’s home at the Ybor City Museum State Park; if you’re lucky, a cigar roller will be on hand for a demonstration.
Hungry yet? Stop by Carmine’s Restaurant on historic Seventh Avenue to indulge in meaty devil crab, a uniquely Tampa treat. Deep-fried, football-shaped pockets of dough (made from moistened Cuban bread crumbs) are stuffed with a spicy blue crab mixture studded with red pepper flakes, making them as hot as the devil.
Cool off with some smooth sips at Cigar City Brewing, a short drive west of Ybor. In the tasting room, you’ll find a rotating line up of beers on tap with kitschy names like “Florida Cracker,” a Belgian-style pale ale, and “This Won’t Be Popular in the Tasting Room,” an English dark mild ale. Get there before 5 p.m. to take the brewery tour for a behind-the-scenes look at its brew houses and canning and bottling lines.
Head back to Seventh Avenue for a filling dinner of Spanish favorites in one of the 15 dining rooms of the sprawling Columbia Restaurant. Dubbed “Florida’s oldest restaurant,” the Columbia’s been around since 1905. Slurp up sangria and the restaurant’s signature Spanish bean soup while Flamenco dancers whirl around the dining room dance floor in blood red ruffled dresses.
Fly into Tampa International Airport (TPA), just six miles west of the downtown district. Southwest, Delta, and U.S. Airways dominate here, although you can find flights on United, Jet Blue, Spirit, and others.
At the Epicurean Hotel in Tampa’s trendy SoHo neighborhood, food-themed décor meets outrageously good eats in the in-house bar, restaurant, culinary “theater,” and pastry shop. In keeping with the culinary theme, the hotel spa slathers visitors in liquor-based lotions that smell so good you’ll want to sneak a taste. Rooms start at $139.00/night.
Built in 1926, the Floridan Palace Hotel’s 19 stately stories overlook Tampa’s downtown district. The room décor, with carved wood bed frames and gilt-accented dressers, evokes the Beaux-Arts style. Rooms start at $167/night.
is a freelance writer and Tampa native who writes about travel, food, and culture.