Things to do in Tampa and beyond

By Eloise Barker

Photography by LizardinFla / Getty Images

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April 2017

It’s sunny, it’s relaxed – and it’s on the up. The Gulf Coast makes a lovely holiday destination. Tampa, upmarket Naples and trendy St Pete have pretty beaches, nature parks and rollercoasters. Here’s what to do once you’re there.

Try Floribbean cuisine in Tampa

Yes, Floribbean: a fusion of Floridian and Caribbean food. And Tampa is said to have invented the Cuban Sandwich, too. For traditional dining, visit Ulele restaurant in a former water pump station, which pays tribute to traditional state dishes – including tasty deep-fried okra. Ybor City is the place to head in the evening, for a café con leche and a cigar, or a big Spanish meal at America’s oldest Spanish restaurant, Columbia. For real ale, the local brewery, Cigar City gives you a very generous tour of its taps.

Where to stay: The Epicurean Hotel, Autograph Collection in Tampa lies in trendy South Howard district and is at the forefront of the city’s gastronomic awakening. It’s a food-themed hotel with live demonstrations, wine tastings and, of course, very good dinners.

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The Epicurean Hotel, Autograph Collection in Tampa lies in the trendy South Howard district and is at the forefront of the city’s gastronomic awakening.

Check out the culture in Tampa, Naples and St. Petersburg

Spend some time pounding the city streets and don’t just end up with the usual Floridian souvenirs. Within Tampa, Ybor City is the most vibrant district for vintage shops and for cigars from the former ‘cigar city’ of Florida. For more of your favourite US brands, hit the high-end International Plaza. In St Pete, visit the Dalí Museum and see clocks melt, courtesy of the greatest collection of Salvador Dalí’s surrealist art in the US. In downtown Naples, 5th Avenue South is well worth an evening stroll. Wander the stretch of little shops, boutiques and galleries under the palm trees and you’ll be sure to find something special.

Where to stay: The Inn on Fifth is near to the downtown boutiques in Naples. It’s the perfect base for exploring the city and is only a few blocks from the beach. Enjoy the view from the loungers at the rooftop pool.

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  • Cobra’s Curse® at Busch Gardens®. © 2017 SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

    Riding high

    The young and young at heart will love Cobra’s Curse® ride, where the Snake King reigns supreme. It’s one of Busch Gardens’ multiple roller coasters, alongside Kumba®, Cheetah Hunt® and many more, and it’s one of the best for families.£548 pp

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Go to Busch Gardens – or a nature park

Busch Gardens is an adventure park which is home to some of the world’s rarest animals. It has a bit of a reputation for very fast rollercoasters. Whilst younger kids will love the jungle-themed play areas, speedy rides like Kumba® keep the older cynics quiet (or… screaming). In Fort Myers enjoy the laid-back culture and the State Parks, including relaxing nature walks at Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve. Pronounced ‘sloo’, the park’s guided walks sometimes have guest appearances from otters, wild pigs and herons.

Where to stay: Hyatt Place Tampa Busch Gardens is conveniently situated for Busch Gardens. Use the hotel shuttle to take your family there and back and beat the car park queues.

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  • The Hallucinogenic Toreador, 1969-70, Oil on canvas. © Salvador Dalí. Fundación Gala-Salvador Dalí, (Artist Rights Society), 2017 / Collection of the Salvador Dalí Museum, Inc., St. Petersburg, FL, 2017.

    Secret pictures

    Painted in 1970, this picture from the Dalí Museum’s collection has a double image – the face and torso of a famous bullfighter is hidden in the series of statues, whilst Dalí’s disapproving wife frowns from the top left corner.

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  • Okra fries at Ulele, Ybor City. Photo credit: Ulele


    One of the most popular treats in Floridian fare is okra fries, sometimes known by the less appetising moniker ‘ladyfingers’. Ybor City neighbourhood in Tampa is a treasure trove of traditional restaurants, including Ulele, named after a Native American princess.

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  • Cinema and an old tram streetcar in Ybor City. Photo credit:  incamerastock / Alamy Stock Photo

    Technicolour trams

    The colourful centre of Ybor City makes it a popular stop in any tour of Tampa.

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Explore the beautiful beaches of the Gulf Coast

The beaches on the Gulf Coast are plentiful and plenty pretty. And you never know what treasures you might find there. Stretch out at St Pete Beach or Clearwater Bay where a daily ‘sunset festival’ on Pier 60 makes every sundowner a party. A low-key and much-loved pastime is ‘shelling’ – simply wandering the tide line and looking for sand dollars and shells that have washed up from the Gulf. Try Honeymoon Island, a state park with four miles of wild beaches sprinkled with blushing shells. Sanibel and Captiva islands near Fort Myers are perhaps even better.

Where to stay: If you’re able to tear yourself off its beach, where turtles frequently make an appearance, The Resort at Longboat Key Club also has a 45-hole golf course and moorings for visitors with fancy yachts.

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  • Golf course at the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota. Photo credit: Ritz-Carlton hotels

    Sarasota’s shows

    Sarasota is well known for its arts, culture and beaches. It was once the home of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, billed as ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ when it toured the USA. Though the circus announced its closure in 2017, the golf and beaches mean Sarasota still has plenty of entertainment.£548 pp

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Play golf in Naples and Sarasota

Near Naples, Old Corkscrew Golf Course in Estero is a Jack Nicklaus signature course and one of the highest renowned in Florida. As its playful name suggests, it can be a tricky course for those who need a challenge, with undulating, beautiful greens and thick trees. You’ll find yourself surrounded by nature – even alligators – at each tee. In Sarasota, the Ritz Carlton has a Members Golf Club which guests of the hotel can access.

Where to stay: Ritz Carlton Sarasota’s golf course is sixteen miles away from the hotel. But it’s worth the trip for the 18-hole Tom Fazio-designed championship course. At the hotel proper, enjoy the beach club and impeccable service.

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Enjoy a spa day in Clearwater

If Florida is the sunshine state, then its spas should help you get in a sunshine state of mind. Find treatments that use hero local ingredients like citrus peel, salt scrubs and tropical fruits. Clearwater has some of Florida’s best beaches and the Don CeSar hotel sits in pride of place on one of them. The hotel’s Spa Oceana is 11,000 square feet and provides a myriad of treatments, from the Sea of Life Facial to the Floral Blossom Manicure.

Where to stay: The Don CeSar is known as the ‘Pink Palace’ for its lurid walls and historic grandeur. Ralph Fiennes starred in Forever Mine here, though the hotel’s particular shade resembles another of his films, The Grand Budapest Hotel.

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