Florida residents like to brag, “I live where you vacation.” These are usually transplants who come from other states. When you grow up in the Sunshine State, you might have other feelings toward the place. Perhaps even feel ill toward it. You start counting down the days until you can finally escape the horrible weather and elderly drivers.
Strangely enough though, when you haven’t been back to a place in so long is the moment you start to appreciate it. Since I no longer live in Florida, I can look back at my home state with my rose-tinted glasses on that a tourist (or those transplants) so often wear.
With my glasses on, I’ve decided to make a list of the nine things I’d tell a visitor to do (that isn’t a theme park) if they were visiting the place I once called home: Tampa Bay, Florida.
1. The Dali Museum
Save yourself a trip to Spain and check out the Salvador Dali Museum. The building, which in itself is worthy of a photo, is located in downtown St. Petersburg along the waterfront. Take as little or long as you want meandering through each of the collections. At the time of writing, general admission is $21 or take advantage of the $10 special the museum offers on Thursdays after 5pm.
Be sure to check out the hedge maze, which is always happy to take a photo for you.
2. Go to a Tampa Bay Rays game at Tropicana Field
If you find yourself visiting during baseball season (late March to late September) and needing to escape the heat for a bit, look no further. Tropicana Field is a unique stadium because it’s fully enclosed–so you won’t have to worry about the infamous Florida sunshine or those thunderstorms.
Prices are reasonable and can range anywhere from $25 to $160, depending on what team the Rays are playing and the seats. If you’ve always wanted to touch some sting rays, you have the opportunity to do so here. The tank is located behind the right-center field fence.
3. Have a craft beer at the Dunedin Brewery
Microbreweries are on the rise in Florida, and the oldest craft brewery in the state just so happens to be in the Tampa Bay Area. North of Clearwater is the city of Dunedin, pronounced “done-eedin,” which has its very own brewery. With 15 different craft beers on tap to choose from, there should be something for everyone.
4. Eat a cuban sandwich in Ybor City
Ybor City, pronounced “e-bore,” is a historical district located in Tampa. Its main drag, 7th Avenue, is adorned with string lights. Ybor City is known for two things: cuban cigars and cuban sandwiches. A cuban sandwich has ham, roast pork, swiss cheese, pickle, and mustard. But the bread is what makes a cuban, a cuban sandwich. There are eight restaurants you’ll find in Ybor City that have its own take on the sandwich. Visit each one and decide which is your favorite.
5. Spend the day and watch the sunset at Fort de Soto Park
I figured if this is a list of things to do in Florida, there had to be a beach on it. By far my favorite beach in the Bay Area, and I don’t even like beaches, is Fort de Soto Park in St. Petersburg. It offers more than just a beach. Other activities include (but not limited to) fishing, bird (and snake) watching, nature trails, camping, and boating. There’s a bit of history at this park and as the name suggests there is a fort with weapons and all. There’s a daily parking fee of $5 per day.
6. The Big Cat Rescue
Zoos can often be depressing, but I wanted to include something for the animal lovers. In Tampa, there is a , a sanctuary dedicated to big cats. Although I’ve never been, it is something I always wish I did before I left.
There are a range of tours–anything from day tours to kids tours to feeding tours. Costs to see the big cats vary depending on the tour you choose, but range from $36 to $125. You will need to reserve tickets in advance.
7. Rent a bicycle and head on the Pinellas Trail.
Bicycling or walking along the Pinellas Trail is another fun thing to do. The trail is 37 miles long and runs from Tarpon Springs to St. Petersburg.
When Daniel visited Florida for the first time, we decided to rent bicycles for the day at a shop nearby the trail. It made for a perfect outing and was a different (and cheaper and environment friendlier) way to see the Bay Area. Do take extra caution when going through urban areas. Unfortunately Tampa Bay ranks second in the nation for most pedestrians and bicyclists hit by a car.
8. Go manatee watching at the TECO Manatee Viewing Center
In the US, there’s a special animal you’d likely only see in the state of Florida. Sometimes known as sea cows, manatees like the shallow, marshy warm water Florida has to offer. Although many manatees are found a bit further north in rivers, like Homosassa, a strange place in Tampa can give you the opportunity to see these big herbivores floating around.
Some manatees call Tampa Electric Company’s (TECO) power plant home. They tend to migrate to the power plant’s warm water outflows. It’s free entry and parking, but donations are always accepted. Just whatever you do: please do not ride the manatees. They are wild animals.
9. Visit Tampa Bay’s very own little Greece
In northern Pinellas County is the city of Tarpon Springs. When arriving in downtown Tarpon Springs you may (or may not) feel like you’ve been transported to Greece. That’s because Tarpon Springs has the largest population of Greek Americans out of any other city in the United States.
Downtown Tarpon Springs is a place to go if you’re craving some proper Greek food, but can’t afford a plane ticket out of the country. With all the restaurants lined up among the dock, the hardest decision will be having to choose which one to go to. After devouring some moussaka and a souvlaki, continue walking along the dock. You’ll see piles of natural sponges that have just been collected from the sea, a perfect souvenir to leave with.
As happy as I am that I no longer call Florida home, it really is a wonderful place to be a tourist (but that’s it).
Have you ever visited Florida? Where and what did you do?
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