Tampa: Recreation


Visitors to Tampa can pursue a wide variety of activities, from the thrills of a day at a popular theme park to the quiet beauty of a leisurely walk along a waterfront boulevard. The city's premier attraction—and the state's second busiest, after Walt Disney World in Orlando—is Busch Gardens, a 335-acre entertainment center, jungle garden, and open zoo in which several thousand animals roam free on a simulated African veldt. Open 365 days a year, the park has rides, live shows (some starring animals and birds), shops, and games, all linked by a nineteenth-century African theme—and all only a few minutes north of downtown. Next to Busch Gardens is Adventure Island, another family-oriented theme park centered around water-related activities, including flumes, a pool that produces five-foot waves, and several giant slides. More than 4,300 plants and animals, representing 550 native species, are on display at the Florida Aquarium. Explore-A-Shore is a 2.2 acre play and discovery zone just for kids.

City-run Lowry Park includes a zoo, shows, rides, and Fairyland Village, which features castles and characters from Mother Goose and other children's stories. In 2004, the first section of the new Safari Africa exhibit opened. Featuring many African animal species and amenities, it is expected to be completed in 2008.

Plant Hall, the administration building of the University of Florida, originally opened in 1891 as the opulent Tampa Bay Hotel. Entrepreneur Henry B. Plant's pet project, the 511-room palatial structure cost $3 million and defied categorization with its eclectic blend of Moorish, Near Eastern, and

The University of Tampa campus is situated on 100 acres of land in downtown Tampa.
The University of Tampa campus is situated on 100 acres of land in downtown Tampa.
Byzantine architectural styles. Never a commercial success, the hotel was deeded to the city in 1904, and for the next twenty-five years, it was the site of various social events. The University of Tampa, in need of room to expand, took over the Tampa Bay Hotel during the 1930s. Today, it is probably the city's most recognized landmark.

More than any other major Florida city, Tampa has retained much of its Latin flavor. Ybor City, Tampa's Latin Quarter, is a National Register Historic District and, as such, is one of the city's most architecturally intact neighborhoods. The area developed around two cigar factories built in the mid-1880s by Cubans forced from their homeland by Spanish oppression. It soon became a center for Cuban revolutionary activity, even serving for a time as a home to Jose Marti, a writer, poet, and patriot considered the George Washington of Cuba. Today, the former Ybor Cigar Factory goes by the name of Ybor Square; it houses shops, boutiques, and restaurants. Other historic buildings in the Ybor City area include the El Pasaje Hotel, formerly a private club for Ybor City notables who hosted visitors such as Teddy Roosevelt and Winston Churchill; the Ritz Theatre; and the Ferlita Bakery, now the home of the Ybor City State Museum.

Some of Tampa's most interesting sights are best explored on foot. From the 4.5-mile sidewalk along Bayshore Boulevard, one of the longest continuous walkways in the world, the casual stroller can marvel at the striking mansions on one side and a sweeping view of the bay and the city's skyline on the other. The residential neighborhoods of Hyde Park (adjacent to Bayshore Boulevard) and Davis Islands are also ideally suited for walking tours.

Bus tours and boat tours of Tampa are especially carefree ways to see the city and its surroundings. Though they originate in St. Petersburg, the Gray Line Bus Tours can be boarded in Tampa at the Greyhound and Trailways terminals.

Arts and Culture

In 1967 the Florida State legislature created the Arts Council of Tampa to coordinate and promote the performing and visual arts in the Tampa region. Today, renamed the Arts Council of Hillsborough County, the council is actively involved in developing and administering school programs in dance, visual arts, music, poetry, creative writing, and theater; providing grants services to individual artists and arts organizations; scheduling events; and operating the Tampa Theatre, an ornate movie palace of the 1920s that has been restored to its former grandeur to serve film buffs, as well as fans of dance, music, and drama.

The Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center is a multipurpose facility located at the northern edge of downtown on a nine-acre riverfront site. It is a joint public-private venture designed to accommodate many different kinds of performances. Its three halls and its rehearsal studio are used by local arts groups, touring drama companies, country music artists, and for the Center's own presentations.

Tampa is home to a variety of performing groups. American Stage, Stageworks, and the Alley Cat Players present seasons of drama, cabaret, classics and comedies. The University of South Florida and the University of Tampa both have theater training programs for actors, directors, and designers. Other local groups include the Carollwood Players community theater, and the Bits 'n Pieces Puppet Theater, which produces children's classics featuring giant puppets, as well as conventional actors. Ballet Folklorico of Ybor specializes in classic dances from Spain, Cuba, Italy, Mexico, and Latin America. The Kuumba Dancers and Drummers teach and perform traditional dances and rhythms of a variety of African cultures. At the University of South Florida, the dance department is housed in a state-of-the-art studio and theater, teaching and performing forms of dance from jazz to ballet to modern. Music is presented by the Florida Orchestra, which is based in the three west coast cities of Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater. It performs 14 masterworks concerts with a pops and daytime series offered in each of the cities during its September-to-April season. Musical entertainment is also provided by the Master Chorale, Tampa Bay Chamber Orchestra, Tampa Oratorio, and myriad smaller community and college groups.

Several museums and galleries are based in Tampa. Among them are the Museum of Science and Industry, which offers hands-on displays and demonstrations of a scientific and technological nature pertaining specifically to Florida's weather, environment, agriculture, and industry. The Tampa Museum of Art features changing art exhibitions from across the country and houses the Southeast's largest and most significant permanent collection of Classical Art of Ancient Greece and Rome. The Henry B. Plant Museum features Victorian furniture and art objects in settings similar to those that would have greeted Tampa Bay Hotel guests in the late 1800s. The Ybor City State Museum provides an overview of the cigar industry and its history in Tampa, as well as information about the area's Latin community. Situated on the campus of the University of South Florida are two of the area's best contemporary art facilities. The Contemporary Art Museum, which has in its collection some of the finest of the world's modern artists, and organizes exhibitions of contemporary art to tour the United States and Europe. Graphicstudio, an experimental printmaking facility, has hosted such notables as Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, Jim Dine, and Miriam Shapiro. Kids City delights youngsters aged two to twelve with indoor, hands-on exhibits set in a realistic outdoor miniature village.

Other Tampa art facilities include the Florida Center for Contemporary Art, the state's only alternative artist's gallery, which highlights new work by emerging and established artists throughout Florida. The Lee Scarfone Gallery, the University of Tampa's fine arts college teaching gallery, exhibits works by students and faculty as well as artists of regional and national renown. Tampa has many fine galleries, and one of the highlights of the gallery season is a special event called Gallery HOP, an evening when all of the galleries are open and buses transport thousands of viewers on tours of the varied display sites around the city.

Arts & Culture Information: Arts Council of Hillsborough County, telephone (813)276-8250.

Festivals and Holidays

The Gasparilla Pirate Fest, on the last Saturday in January and dating back to 1904, is a noisy and colorful Mardi Graslike festival that takes place in the downtown waterfront area. Named in honor of Jose Gaspar, Tampa's legendary "patron pirate," the Gasparilla invasion calls for a group of more than 700 costumed pirates (usually some of the city's most prominent business and social leaders) to sail into Tampa harbor on a three-masted schooner (complete with cannons and flying a Jolly Roger flag), capture the city, and kidnap the mayor. They then parade along Bayshore Boulevard accompanied by lavish floral floats and marching bands. Other activities held during Gasparilla Week include world-class distance runs, a children's parade, and a bicycle race. The festival ends with Fiesta Day in Ybor City, a daylong party of dancing in the streets, free Spanish bean soup, sidewalk artists, and a torchlight parade during which the pirates make their final appearance of the year.

In February, the Florida State Fair opens its annual twelve-day run. The largest fair of its kind south of the Mason-Dixon Line, the Florida State Fair features traditional agricultural exhibits and demonstrations, items for display and for sale, food, rides, auto races, shows, and contests, all spread out on a 301-acre site beside seven lakes.

Other Tampa celebrations include the Gasparilla Festival of the Arts, the Winter Equestrian Festival, the statewide Florida Dance Festival, the outrageous Guavaween Halloween festival, The Greater Hillsborough County Fair, the Tampa-Hillsborough County Storytelling Festival, and a variety of ethnic festivals. First Night, a New Year's Eve festival to celebrate the arts, again rings in the start of the annual cycle of varied arts experiences. One of the city's newest events is the Hot Rod and Street Machine Nationals.

Sports for the Spectator

The Tampa sporting scene has changed drastically in recent years with the addition of new stadiums and teams. The region's major league baseball team, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, play at St. Petersburg's $206 million Tropicana Field. The Bay Area has three other major professional sports teams, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the National Football League (NFL), the Tampa Bay Lightning of the National Hockey League (NHL), and the Tampa Bay Storm of the Arena Football League (AFL). The Buccaneers play at the $168 million, 66,321-seat Raymond James Stadium, the only NFL stadium with a theme-park element—a cannonfiring pirate ship located at one end of the playing field in Buccaneer Cove. The $153 million state-of-the-art St. Pete Times Forum is home to both the Lightning and the Storm.

The New York Yankees' major league team use Legends Field, modeled after the original Yankee Stadium in New York, for spring training. The Yankees' Minor League team plays each year from April through September at Legends Field. The Threshers, a Class A affiliate with the Philadelphia Phillies, play at brand-new Bright House Networks Field.

Horse racing and dog racing are popular spectator sports in the Tampa area. The renovated Tampa Bay Downs and Turf Club (located about fifteen miles west of the city) is the only thoroughbred track on Florida's west coast. It is open from mid-December through early May. The Tampa Greyhound Track, open since 1933, is one of the ten most popular in the United States. Located north of downtown, it is open from June through December. Top professional and amateur golfers compete each year in the Senior Professional Golfer's Association Tour's GTE Suncoast Classic which is played at the Tournament Players Club.

Collegiate athletic events of all kinds are regularly scheduled at the University of South Florida and the University of Tampa. Golf and tennis tournaments, wrestling and boxing matches, equestrian shows, and automobile and boat races are also held on a regular basis in and around the city.

Sports for the Participant

With its warm climate, proximity to the water, and numerous public and private facilities, Tampa is ideal for those who enjoy golf, tennis, swimming, canoeing and boating, fishing, and other sports on a year-round basis. Golf is especially popular. Tampa has dozens of public courses, but several other local semiprivate clubs allow greens fee players. For tennis enthusiasts, the city has more than a thousand public and private tennis courts. The Tampa recreation department also maintains racquetball courts, basketball courts, shuffleboard courts, recreation centers, gym facilities, playgrounds and community centers, a softball complex, and more than a hundred other fields. For those who prefer less strenuous forms of relaxation, the city alone has 141 parks; numerous parks and wilderness areas are located nearby. Just to the northeast of the city is the Hillsborough River State Park, which is ideal for those who enjoy picnicking, camping, canoeing, fishing, and hiking.

Much of the sports activity in Tampa occurs in or on the water. The city maintains eleven swimming pools, including one handicapped facility and one supplied with water from a natural spring; and two beaches, Picnic Island and the Ben T. Davis Municipal Beach. Picnic Island, a park located near where Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders camped during the Spanish-American War, offers swimming, boating, and fishing. Ben T. Davis Municipal Beach, only fifteen minutes from downtown on the Courtney Campbell Causeway, is popular with swimmers as well as with windsurfers and catamaran sailors.

Both saltwater and freshwater fishing are excellent in the Tampa Bay area. A license is required for saltwater fishing. Good spots are everywhere—off bridges and piers and even downtown off Davis Islands or Bayshore Boulevard. Deepsea charters are also readily available for those who would rather venture out into the gulf. Tarpon, cobia, kingfish, sea trout, mackerel, blue-tailed redfish, and bass are among the many varieties in abundance.

Shopping and Dining

A wide variety of retail establishments flourish in and around Tampa, from six large regional malls featuring nationally known stores to small specialty shops promoting goods of a more local nature. Westfield Shoppingtown Citrus Park offers 120 upscale shops and a 20-screen movie theater. Ybor Square caters to those seeking a more unusual shopping experience. Capitalizing on its status as a historic landmark in an ethnic neighborhood, Ybor Square leans more toward antique stores and gift shops with a Latin American focus. Near downtown Tampa is Old Hyde Park Village, which offers more than 60 shops plus restaurants and movie theaters in a historic outdoor setting.

Ranging in type from typical fast food fare to specialties served in elegant or unique settings, Tampa's 1,300-plus restaurants offer diners many choices. Fresh seafood (from the Gulf of Mexico) and Cuban cuisine (including thick, crusty bread and black bean soup) are local favorites.

Visitor Information: Tampa Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau., 400 N. Tampa Street, #2800, Tampa, FL 33602; toll-free (800)826-8358; telephone (813)223-1111