After my three days in the city, I’d felt like I’d been told a secret. Like I knew about a cool place to go that I didn’t want to tell anyone about. You could walk past a door dozens of times, but when someone finally tells you there’s a speakeasy behind the simple black door with no sign, everything changes.
That’s that Tampa was for me.
I’d visited Tampa a handful of times before, mostly to sleep for a night on either end of a cheap, quick Caribbean cruise. I never gave it much of a chance for that reason. It was a stopover, a place to crash. Once I’d stayed at a friend’s grandparents condo and another a random Hotwire find. After I met one of the Visit Tampa Bay representatives at a conference earlier this year, I was excited to give the city another chance, learning more about the neighborhoods beyond the cruise port and highway exits.
I did a little bit of research and found the Epicurean Hotel in another blogger’s post. It seemed like just the kind of place I wanted to cover for This Is My South (stay tuned), a unique property that is representative of its destination. What I didn’t know at the time was that every detail is considered and emphasizes food. This includes the decor of the rooms, the in-house restaurant, the rooftop bar and the spa that uses chocolate treatments. I also loved how they let you borrow bicycles, which I did, and the hotel is within walking distance of many bars and restaurants.
The only other item on my to-do list that I told Visit Tampa Bay about was a visit to CIGAR CITY BREWING, which I, of course, did. But beyond that, I let them make me a list of recommendations. I couldn’t have imagined how much they would get me. Recommendations included eateries in up-and-coming neighborhoods, beer and cocktail bars, speakeasies, hip coffee shops and museums. Everything was something I would want to do, something I would do whether I was writing about my experiences or not. It was like having a friend who lived there and knew what I would like.
I was also surprised at how easy it is to get around Tampa. Apart from a few times, I left my car at the hotel. Tampa has their own bike share program around the city, but I borrowed one from the Epicurean, which came with a basket, cupholder and lock. I was a little rusty with my riding and wasn’t exactly sure if I should be in the street or on the sidewalks, but I alternated between the two on my ride down scenic Bayshore Boulevard to have breakfast at Oxford Exchange, a coffee shop, bookstore, home goods store and restaurant. I immediately fell in love with the place for their eye for design and tasty breakfast scrambles. My dining companion told me that sometimes you can see Derek Jeter there. He has a monstrous compound on the waterfront, so I guess sports stars need to eat too.
After riding my way along the Tampa Riverwalk, stopping at a number of museums and attractions, I got myself cleaned up for a nice dinner out. I didn’t know much about Ulele but was told it was worth a visit. Owned by the same group that owns the iconic Columbia Restaurant, Ulele is a more modern interpretation, set in a historic building on the water. Before sitting down for dinner, I was led around the property by the chef, who told me about the restoration process, the ingredients they use and the beer they brew on site. He showed me the items they repurposed and the natural spring that sits next to the restaurant. You could say I geeked out a bit and it made my dinner that much more delicious.
And no visit to Tampa is complete without a visit to Ybor City, the oldest Cuban settlement in the United States and the former epicenter for all cigar making operations. I could ramble on about Tampa for many more posts (and may still) but for now, I’ll leave you to push through that door to see for yourself.
My Picks for Tampa
Have you ever been to Tampa?
My stay was partially coordinated by Visit Tampa Bay and the Epicurean Hotel, but all raves are my own.