Food and Drink in Tampa
Columbia Restaurant (2117 E. Seventh Ave., Ybor City) opened in 1905, and this Ybor City place is one of Florida's oldest restaurants. Filled to the nines with kitsch and history, this huge eatery also has great food. If you find yourself here in the evening, get a table near the dance floor for up-close view of the colorful flamenco dancers. Monday - Saturday from 11 a.m., Sunday from noon.
Fourth Street Shrimp Store (1006 Fourth Ave. N, St. Petersburg) is a don't-miss beloved eatery in St. Petersburg. Boiled, fried, scampied -- doesn't matter. It's all good. So are the oysters. Daily from 11 a.m.
Mise En Place (442 W Kennedy Blvd.) serves up excellent New American cuisine that Zagat raves about. Lunch served Tuesday to Friday 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Skyway Jack's (2795 34th St. South, St. Petersburg), a St. Pete's institution, has a huge menu featuring yummy orange pecan French toast, their signature creamed chipped beef on toast and the freshest just-squeezed orange juice. Daily 5 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Hall on Franklin (1701 N. Franklin Street) is a luxe dining space located in Tampa Heights with a number of trendy eateries like Bake'n Babes and Heights Melt Shoppe. Open morning to late night.
Beaches in Tampa
Best Beach for a Half-Day Visit: Indian Rocks Beach, along Gulf Boulevard, is convenient (and there are plenty of restaurants nearby).
Best Beaches for Watersports: There are two: Clearwater Beach is a gorgeous swath of sugar-fine white sand that offers everything from swimming to volleyball. At St. Pete Beach you can rent waverunners, or go scuba diving, parasailing or fishing.
Most Peaceful Beach: Caladesi Island State Park Beach is on one of Florida's last undeveloped barrier islands (you take a ferry to the three-mile beach from Honeymoon Island).
Don't Miss in Tampa
Busch Gardens: It might not be Disney World, but Tampa's top thrill park is a worthy alternative. It's got it all: exciting coaster rides, great entertainment and food, and the state's largest zoo, where you can see lots of animals roaming freely. Take a monorail through the Serengeti Plain, sign up for an African Safari or head for the Great Ape Domain. The Rhino Rally -- a 10-minute off-road safari -- is one of the newest animal attractions. If you love TV's "Survivor," you're gonna be all over this. At the end of the Land Rover ride, there's actually a competition among the co-spectators. For extremists, there's the Montu -- the largest and fastest inverted steel roller coaster in the Southeast. For channeling your inner zookeeper, there's the six-hour zookeeper-for-a-day program, which is played out in the Serengeti Plain. You'll need a reservation (800-372-1797, ext. 7). Daily 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. (hours extended in the summer). (Busch Blvd. and 40th St.)
Florida Aquarium: With more than 5,000 aquatic animals and plants to choose from, you might get lucky finding Nemo at the state aquarium, located directly next to the cruise port. There's also the new Dive with the Sharks, which lets certified scuba divers swim with sharks for 30 minutes. Daily 9:30am - 5pm. (701 Channelside Dr.)
Henry B. Plant Museum: Located inside the old Tampa Bay Hotel, this virtual Victorian palace offers up stunning European furnishings and art. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday noon to 4 p.m. (401 W. Kennedy Blvd.)
Tampa Museum of Art: You'll find everything here from contemporary art to an outstanding world-class collection of Greek and Roman Classical artifacts. Open Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (120 W. Gasparilla Plaza)
Spring training: See who's up at bat during this sneak preview for baseball-lovers. Some of the best teams call this part of the world home from October through March. The Devil Rays and Phillies are home-based in Clearwater and the indomitable Yankees have set up shop in Tampa.
Ybor City State Museum: This museum offers one-hour tours of the Cigar Worker's House Museum (La Casita) as well as a walking tour of the district on Saturdays at 10:15 a.m. No reservations are taken. The museum complex includes the amazing Ferlita Bakery building, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and there is a lovely ornamental garden, too. Daily 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. (1818 Ninth Ave.)
Kick back on its award-winning three-mile stretch of beach or try these Clearwater favorites:
Pier 60 Park: A wonderful family complex, the park offers not just the expansive beach, but also covered playgrounds, fishing, live music and a glorious Gulf of Mexico sunset any day of the year. In fact, you'll enjoy the sunset amid artists, magicians, jugglers and musicians during the free, daily (weather permitting) festival.
Captain Memo's Pirate Cruise: This adventure sets out from the Clearwater Marina for two-hour sails; kids don pirate hats and go out on a treasure hunt while moms and dads relax with complimentary wine, beer and such. Daily 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. (727-446-2587)
Moccasin Lake Nature Park: Walk the trails and boardwalks inside a 51-acre preserve. It offers bird-watching tours, workshops and guided group hikes. Open Tuesday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (2750 Park Trail Lane; 727-793-2976)
Johns Pass: For leisure strollers, nothing beats this turn-of-the-century fishing village between Clearwater and St. Petersburg. Old tin-roofed wood shacks offer up art galleries, cute shops, beach bars and yummy restaurants.
Hubbard's Marina: For those desperate to speak to their inner deep-sea fishermen, there are the party-central boats at Johns Pass on Madeira Beach.
For antique buffs, it's a must to wander the aisles of the more than 100 antique shops along a five-block stretch of Central Avenue in St. Petersburg.
Haslam's: For lovers of old books and first editions, we recommend stopping at this book shop, which has been in business since 1933. Open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. (2025 Central Avenue; 727-822-8616)
The Pier: Visit the inverted pyramid that juts out a half-mile into Tampa Bay. It's filled with shops, galleries, restaurants, a small aquarium, surrey bike rentals and a chance to sign up for dolphin-spotting cruises.
Sunken Gardens: Stroll through the bloom-filled gardens to see an exotic collection of more than 50,000 tropical flowers and plants. Don't miss the butterfly garden. Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m; Sunday from noon to 4:30 p.m. (1825 Fourth St. N, St.; 727-551-3106)
Salvador Dali Museum: Lovers of anything Dali will delight in the world's most comprehensive and incredible collection of works by the famous Spanish master. Oen Monday through Wednesday and Friday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Thursday through Sunday from noon to 5:30 p.m. (1 Dali Blvd.; 727-823-3767)
St. Petersburg Museum of History: Inside the museum, a 1929 Model A pickup truck outfitted for bootlegging and a gorgeous beaded flapper dress are just two of the amazing items you'll see. Open Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (335 Second St. NE; 727-894-1052)
Florida Holocaust Museum : One of the largest Holocaust museums in the country, it opened its doors in 1992 as the Holocaust Center. Renamed in 1999, the museum played a critical role in shaping legislation that made Florida the nation's first state to mandate Holocaust education in public schools. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (55 Fifth Street S; 727-820-0100)
Canoe Escape: For all things nature, this wildlife preserve is just 25 minutes from Tampa and close to Busch Gardens. Take the two-hour or full-day trip down the Hillsborough River through all 16,000 acres. You'll paddle down "alligator alley," where dozens of gators, including some 11-footers, sunbathe on logs and dive into the river from the river's banks. Tour guides also point out snakes, turtles, river otters, fish and birds of prey as they relax in their natural habitat. Open weekends from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. (9335 E Fowler Ave., Thonotosassa; 813-986-2067)