Go Where the Locals Go: Tampa, Florida

For your next trip to Tampa, Florida, go beyond the beaches by using this local’s guide to what to see and do in the city, from the historic Tampa Theatre to the Big Cat Rescue.

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With its gentle bay breezes and spectacular sunsets over calm Gulf Coast beaches, Tampa is fast becoming one of the most popular vacation destinations in Florida for families and couples. There’s so much to do in Tampa, from sampling ethnic cuisine to watching top-notch sports teams and learning about endangered wildlife, that it may be hard to choose what to do when you visit. Take a page from the local’s guidebook, and explore much more than the family-friendly beaches.

An Ybor City arched sign sits beneath a blue sky in Tampa, Florida during the day.

Why Not Ybor?

A quick five-minute drive (in light traffic) northeast of downtown along Interstate 4 takes you to the famous Ybor City, which dates back to 1880 when it was founded by immigrants of Cuba, Spain, and Italy. This National Historic Landmark is centered along 7th Avenue, where you can also stop for a meal at Columbia Restaurant. This local favorite focuses on authentic Spanish cuisine and fiery flamenco dancers. Reservations are a good idea to make sure you get a seat.

Cheer for the Home Team

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers may be a dominating force in the NFL (not a debatable point with locals), but the city also boasts many other fantastic sports teams and events. The Tampa Bay Lightning team is part of the National Hockey League, while the Tampa Bay Rays is the team for Major League Baseball fans. If you’re in Tampa in the spring, be sure to take in a “Grapefruit League” training game for one of the six national teams that train in the city while it’s too chilly up north.

An orange and pink sunset kisses the sky over the docks of Tampa Bay, Florida.

Stroll at Sunset

As the longest continuous sidewalk in the United States, Bayshore Boulevard is the place to go in Tampa for an unfiltered view of the sunset. Lace up your running shoes or simply walk along the clean stretch of pavement that’s also popular with skaters and bicyclists. If you’re in the area in late January, plan to attend the annual Gasparilla Festival, a pirate-themed, shenanigan-filled party that takes place on the Boulevard.

Go See a Show

Take a trip back in time to the Roaring 1920s, when the Tampa Theatre was in its heyday. Managed by the nonprofit Tampa Theatre Foundation, this movie house is on the National Register of Historic Places and offers some of the area’s most creative documentaries and arthouse presentations. It’s undergoing a 12-million-dollar restoration effort due to be completed soon. You even have the opportunity to support the work by paying for your name on one of the seats.

A tired panther at the Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida yawns after taking a daytime nap on a log.

Before Your Cat Nap

As one of the largest safe havens for exotic cats, the Big Cat Rescue is one of the few places you can see lions, tigers, bobcats, cougars, servals, caracals, and other striking felines. Go on a guided tour through this nonprofit facility to learn about the rescue efforts that saved these beautiful cats from becoming fur coats and sideshow entertainment.

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