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Tampa To-do List: Annual Events in the Big Guava

Tampa’s Best Spots for Family Fun

Must See Museums and Arts in Tampa

You Have to Experience Tampa's Nightlife to Believe It

Tampa’s Outdoor Activities are Second-to-None

Tampa’s Best Restaurants: Seafood Soiree to Perfect Pizza

Shop Like a Local: Tampa’s Secret Shopping Spots

Tampa To-do List: Annual Events in the Big Guava

Boredom is not an option in a city as delightful and vibrant as Tampa, Florida. Every month of the year, Tampa plays host to fairs, festivals and exhibitions that will only enhance your love of the Cigar City.

We’ve gathered together a small list of some of the major events that Tampa is known for and we promise there’ll be something here for every member of the family.

Walk the Plank at the Gasparilla Pirate Festival

During the first three months of the year the streets of Tampa are flooded with pirate ships. In January, February, and March, it’s not unusual to see a peg-legged man with a parrot on his shoulder, chatting to the locals. Or is he stealing their treasure?

The Gasparilla Pirate Festival is a celebration of the legend of Jose Gaspar. The blackguard, Gasparilla, roamed the seas in Southwest Florida in the 1800s, looting and plundering, until he threw himself into the water to drown when it appeared he’d been caught.

Every year, Gasparilla and his crew sail into the harbor, escorted by some of the locals in smaller boats, and demand Tampa’s Mayor hand over the keys to the city. There’s no tellg how the current Mayor will react to the invasion of the city.

The festival continues with gala’s, music festivals, shows, and parades, both adult and children-themed. There’s something for everyone when the pirates come to town.

Looking for Something Cultural? Visit the Tampa Museum of Art Exhibitions

Tampa’s Museum of Art regularly runs exhibitions, and after the excitement of the Gasparilla Pirate Festival, some quiet culture is usually appreciated.

Past events at the Museum have included, Susanne Bartsch: Art-a-Porter, an exhibition of couture designs worn by Susanne as Queen of the Night and Alex Katz: Black and White, an exhibition of his signature black and white portraits.

In November, the Museum will host its annual Pavilion, for the 32nd year. There won’t be any pirates here as the event is strictly black tie with cocktails, dinner, and dancing. This is a fabulous annual fundraising event.

Taste the Sublime Strawberry Shortcake at the Florida Strawberry Festival

You don’t want to miss this 11-day strawberry harvest celebration that happens every March. There’s free entertainment, rides and amusements, livestock shows, and stalls. We even have Royalty in attendance.

The Junior Royalty party includes the crowning of our Junior Florida Strawberry Festival Queen, Princess, Duchess and Baroness, while the Adult Royalty contingent consists of Florida Strawberry Festival Queen, First Maid, and three court members. Wouldn’t your little Princess love to be included?

What’s Your Poison? Margarita? Martini? Rum? Beer?

What goes well with sun, surf, and sand?

A nice, cold drink.

The people of Tampa don’t just enjoy a drink, they actively celebrate it. In July, we have our annual Martinis for Moffitt event that raises funds for cancer research.

In May, Tampa hosts the Margarita Festival and the September event is the Summer of Rum festival. If all those festivals haven’t turned you into a confirmed tee-totaller, you won’t want to miss the Oktober Beerfest.

Bring in the New Year with Light Up Tampa

Who doesn’t love a New Year’s Party? Light Up Tampa Bay is always the party of the year and the good news is, you don’t need a special invitation. It’s a free event for the local community with fireworks and entertainment. The many restaurants and bars along Channelside offer a truly festive atmosphere that culminates in the ball drop at midnight.

With a sunny climate, friendly locals, and entertainment galore, Tampa is one of the best cities in the world. But don’t tell too many people – we don’t want word getting out.

Tampa’s Best Spots for Family Fun

The kids are bored. They’ve been hounding you to take them out for days now and you’ve managed to clear your calendar for the next two days at least. It’s time for the family fun to begin.

There’s no shortage of activities in Tampa for even the most discerning family member. From bike trails to waterparks to rollercoaster rides, Tampa has it all. Here’s a short list of some of our favorite attractions.

The Kittens are Huge at the Big Cat Rescue

You could easily spend an entire day just working your way around the Big Cat Rescue’s website but you’ll have much more fun if you visit cat sanctuary in person. Big Cat Rescue is devoted to stopping the abuse of big cats and they believe the key to that mission is to educate people about these magnificent creatures.

The sanctuary looks after over 80 lions, tigers, cougars and bobcats that have been abused, rescued, or have been retired from performing acts. You can visit the shop for souvenirs, go on one of the many tours to meet the animals or even get married there if you choose.

It’s All Fun and Games at Adventure Island Water Park

It’s not just the kids that will have a ball at Adventure Island, there’s treats for the adults as well. In a place that has slides with names like the Caribbean Corkscrew and Vanish Point you know there’s going to be some fun to be had.

The kids will happily amuse themselves in Fabian’s Fun Port and Splash Attack. You won’t see them again until they’ve played in every maze, slid down every slide and visited every lagoon. Once they’ve finished their adventuring they’ll be hungry, but you can fix that by heading over to Mango Joe’s for a pizza and salad or to the Surfside Café and Bites for a meal.

Treat the Kids to an Education with Their Vacation

Just don’t tell them it’s schoolwork. Glazer Children’s Museum has lots of fun things for kids to do. They’ll be having so much fun they won’t realize they’re learning. And you might just be surprised by what you learn as well.

The museum’s mission is to help children discover and develop a love of learning that will carry them into their adult years. There are far too many exciting activities to mention but here are a few your kids will love:

  • Camp Imagination – activities include dance, art, Lego builds, and dinosaur study
  • Sunshine Sunday – a day of exploration at the museum for children with special needs and their caregivers
  • Field Trips – for school groups
  • Artsmart – an exhibition of art where children can make their own sculptures

Take Your Mermaid or Pirate to the Florida Aquarium

Open daily, the Florida Aquarium will keep the entire family busy for hours. You’ll be mesmerized by the underwater colors and creatures, and there’s even a waterpark for the kids to play in. You can swim with the fishes and dive with the sharks or explore the beautiful coral reef of Florida.

On a more serious note, you can learn about the endangered species and the conservation efforts of the aquarium. They have camps, field trips and programs for the children and you can rent space for parties and other events.

Tampa Offers Free Family Activities Too!

Who doesn’t like free activities? The Manatee Viewing Center offers free admission and the time you spend there will fly by. The Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park is another venue that you can enjoy at no charge and the Tampa Bay Skating Academy runs free 30-minute trials.

Come on, what are you waiting for?

Must See Museums and Arts in Tampa

Museums and art galleries are always the best places to learn about the history and culture of any city and Tampa has a multitude of venues for you to peruse at leisure.

Return to a Simpler Time at the Cracker Country Living History Museum

You need to keep an eye on their website so you know when they’re open for visitors, but it will be worth the wait. The Cracker Country Living History Museum runs tours for group and schools regularly and is open most public holidays.

Cracker Country is set up to give visitors a realistic look at what life was like in the 1890’s. You can watch a Blacksmith work or tour a caboose and visit the Smith House that was built in 1894. A tour of Cracker Country is a lesson in history and an interactive experience for all the family.

Visit the Elegance of the Victorian Era at the Henry B Plant Museum

The Henry B Plant Museum is now a National Historic Landmark. It was originally the Tampa Bay Hotel when it was built in 1891 and you can bet it has some interesting stories to tell.

The Museum is open to the public most days and there are often exhibitions to view alongside the permanent collection of artifacts from the Victorian era. The Museum exists to showcase the opulence and glamour of the Victorian age and there are often live performances, so you can see how people behaved with your own eyes.

The Theatrical Delights of The Straz Center for the Performing Arts

Formerly known as the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, the Straz Center is the biggest performing arts center in the Southeast.  The huge building is home to Tampa’s most talented opera singers, musicians, dancers and arts teachers.

A visit to the Straz Center for the performing arts can include a meal at the Steamheat Café or the Maestro’s Restaurant. At various times, you’ll see performances of Verdi’s MacBeth, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in concert, or Beautiful – The Carole King Musical.

For the budding performer in the household the Center’s Patel Conservatory holds dance, music and theater classes. The center also organizes regular school field trips so that children can learn about the arts, and perhaps their future careers.

The Florida Museum of Photographic Arts

The first show at the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts was in 2001 and the Museum has grown steadily since then. The Museum hosts several exhibitions over the year, some with intriguing titles like The Family Acid, Magnificent Hurt and Poultry, Raptors, Places of Ritual.

The Florida Museum of Photographic Arts takes pride in giving back to the Tampa community and runs several community outreach programs. Photography workshops for adults and children are held regularly during the year and you can rent space for private parties, work events, or seminars.

Tampa Bay History Center

The Tampa Bay History Center covers 60,000 square feet of Tampa’s Riverwalk and has three floors filled with history, art, and culture. Permanent galleries and exhibitions live next to temporary ones and you’re guaranteed to find something new every time you visit.

The center runs camps, tours and their signature annual fundraising gala in October. The Columbia Café conjures images of Spanish and Cuban Flamenco dancers and the kids will love the Treasure Seekers Gallery.

The Special Mentions Category

But wait…there’s more. The Tampa Firefighters Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, and the American Victory Museum and Ship all have their own fascinating exhibitions and galleries and we would be remiss not to mention them. As you can see, Tampa’s art centers and museums are thriving in a community that supports them well.

You Have to Experience Tampa’s Nightlife to Believe It

Tampa’s nightlife is legendary for inspiring the most romantic proposals and for providing the classiest places to meet that Mr. or Mrs. Right. But not only that, a night out with the girls can quickly become the best night ever, if you spend it in one of our spectacular hotspots.

We’ve put together a short list of the best Tampa’s nightlife has to offer, whether its date night, hanging with friends or meeting that someone special.

Return to the 80’s with Lowry Parcade and Tavern

Got an anniversary coming up? If you’re looking for a way to remind him of your early dating days, the Lowry Parcade and Tavern is where you want to go. If you want to take the kids to show them the good old days, they’re welcome right up until 11 p.m. After that, it’s adult only time. Lowry’s even provides water and treats for the family dog.

The Lowry has classic video games such as Pacman and Donkey Kong so remember to bring your quarters. The also have board games, Pinball, Skee-ball and Bubble Hockey! There’s weekly events, so don’t think this is a venue where you’re going to visit once and then never visit again. Get the girls together for Nerdy Burlesque Night.

Feel the Fire of the Flamenco at the Columbia Restaurant

Second only to the Tango for romance and flair, the Flamenco is performed every night at the Columbia Restaurant. But that’s not the only entertainment you’ll find at the Columbia. Jazz music is played live in the Columbia Café dining room, and there’s also live music in the Tapas and outdoor, waterfront bar.

If the music and dancing isn’t enough to woo her, take her for a leisurely walk through the various rooms at the Columbia and take in your fill of artwork. The Don Quixote room was opened in 1935 and features beautiful tiles from Spain, Cuba, and Mexico. The Patio room showcases a replica of Love and the Dolphin, a statue from the ruins of Pompeii. Fountains, sculptures, stained glass, and tapestries are all displayed with the respect and love they deserve.

Do You Know the Secret Knock for Entry into Ciro’s Speakeasy and Supper Club?

The House rules for Ciro’s Speakeasy are very explicit about the behavior that’s expected from you and your guests at this establishment. Rule number 4 reads, “With regards to your guests: Do not bring anyone to Ciro’s that you wouldn’t bring to your mother’s house for Sunday Dinner.” That shows you that although it was considered an illegal club at one time, this particular speakeasy is not for the goons and dewdroppers.

Ciro’s serves the best cocktails and food including Gin Daisy’s and Black Truffle Popcorn. They also have a private lounge for special occasions and a happy hour every day of the week. Impress your best Dame with entry into the finest Speakeasy in town.

Get on the Guest List at the Hyde Park Café

You can choose which party you want to join at the Hyde Park Café, depending on your mood or the occasion. Your choices are Wally & Bernies, Velociti, the Café Courtyard and the exclusive Cabana Club.

The Hyde Park Café also offers VIP tables in each bar, along with happy hours. The bar staff are highly skilled and cater to your every need.  They’re open six days a week and demand a high standard of dress and behavior (think Black Tie). What more could you want in a nightlife venue?

Is It Time to Party?

It’s always time to party in Tampa! The hardest thing is deciding where to go first.

Tampa’s Outdoor Activities are Second-to-None

You can tell a lot about a city by how well it looks after its parks and gardens; Tampa’s report card in this area cannot be equaled. From scenic parks to lakes and rivers, Tampa will keep you and your family occupied for hours on end.

Check out these venues for experiencing the best outdoor activities that Tampa has to offer.

38.2 Gorgeous Miles of the Pinella’s Trail

The Pinella’s trail runs from North Jasmine Avenue to First Avenue and Bayshore Drive in delightful St. Petersburg. Don’t feel bad if you can’t manage to cover all 38.2 miles in one day – there’s far too many sights and sounds that are going to grab your attention on the way.

There’s plenty of nature to see and the trail also runs through some urban areas in Tampa. The path is well-shaded so you only need one layer of sunscreen and there are several spots where you can veer off along the trail. The Honeymoon Island State Park is at the end of one of these detours which is fabulous for the kids and also has a dog-friendly beach for the canine members of the family.

Stunning Waterfront Views on the Tampa Riverwalk

The Tampa Riverwalk is 2.4 miles of culture, entertainment, and sport. A stroll or bike ride along the riverfront will show you just how stunning the water in Tampa truly is. Along the route you can stop at the Florida Aquarium and introduce the kids to the Tiger Sharks and our Green Sea Turtle, Flip. You can even Swim with the Fishes.

There’s plenty of cafés and restaurants to choose from when those hunger pains hit, and museums for kids of all ages. You can hire an e-boat or water biker, or you can take a ride on the pirate water taxi. There’s parks for the kids – and the dog – and you’ll even come across plays, ballet performances, and other cultural events. Why on earth would you ever stay at home?

Gadsden Park, Your Weekend Go-To

Your dog will have a ball at Gadsden Park as there’s a special part of the park just for him. While the dog’s making new friends the rest of the family can enjoy a picnic by the lake or join up with others on the ball fields.

Did we mention there’s fish in the lake? Gadsden Park is clean, well looked after, and a delightful spot for relaxing in the Florida sunshine.

Let us Show You the Beauty of Lettuce Lake Regional Park

Opened in 1992, Lettuce Lake Regional Park offers 240 acres of hiking trails, birdwatching and bike paths. The park is home to various species of birds, wildlife and even alligators. The park is perfect for nature lovers and hikers as there over 100 acres of forest and swampland.

If water’s more your thing, you can rent a kayak or do some fishing. And if you’re concerned about getting lost, you can always take one of the guided tours (they run on weekends only). Whatever you do, don’t forget to visit the three-story observation tower.

Have a Blast at Ballast Point Park and Pier

An absolute treat for the fishermen in the family, whether they’re beginners or old masters. You can bring your own rods and bait or rent them from the bait shop at the end of the pier.

The rest of the park features a splash park for the children or the young-at-heart and you can catch a meal at The Taste of Boston Restaurant when you need to refuel.

There’s No Excuse for Staying Indoors

Tampa lives up to its reputation as a beautiful city with an abundance of parks and outdoor activities to fulfill your sense of adventure. And once you’ve been to all of the parks and trails, you can visit them all again.

Tampa’s Best Restaurants: Seafood Soiree to Perfect Pizza

It’s 7 p.m., you’ve just got home from work, and the kids are starving. The last thing you feel like doing is cooking and besides it’s your husband’s turn, isn’t it?

That’s when your oldest child, and possibly your hungriest, says “Can we go out for dinner?”

Yes, you can.

In Tampa you have a wide variety of restaurants to choose from with a wide variety of menus. From Mexican to Italian, to Chinese, Tampa has a flavor to suit even the pickiest eater. Here’s a small example of what The Big Guava has to offer.

Oystercatching at the Grand Hyatt

The Oystercatchers Restaurant at the Grand Hyatt hotel is just as luxurious as it sounds. Stunning views of the bay complement the tasteful décor and whether you visit for lunch or dinner, you’re going to experience a culinary masterpiece.

The lunch menu includes Gulf Shrimp Cocktails and Salmon Tartar Tacos. For dinner you can splash out on Oyster Rockefeller or Spicy Chorizo Mussels. There’s far too many delicious meal options to list here but we did want to mention the extensive wine list and salad menu. And, of course, the caviar bar.

Lee’s Grocery: The Grocery Store with Pizza and Craft Beer

Lee’s Grocery isn’t your typical grocery store. Tucked away on Central Avenue in Tampa Heights, Lee’s Grocery serves the best wings and craft beers in Florida. Their pizzas overflow with spicy toppings and their Don’t Stand So Close to Me stone-baked pizza is a favorite among the anti-social.

You won’t know where to start when it comes time to choose a beer to go with your meal and it will take you a while to work your way through all the beer on the list. While you’re there, don’t forget to check out the noticeboard because Lee’s always coming up with theme nights as an excuse to have a party.

Dim Sum’s to Die for at Ho Ho Choy

There’s never a shortage of Chinese restaurants in any major city and Tampa is no different. But if you’re looking for the best Chinese restaurant in Tampa, you’ll want to visit Ho Ho Choy.

Ho Ho Choy is located on Fletcher Avenue, but they also do catering and deliveries. They’re known for their delicious Dim Sum’s and their General Tso’s Chicken. Oh, and you must try their Stir Fried Shredded Pork & Potato with Chili Pepper.

Prefer a Banquet to a Lunch? Visit Iavarone’s Italian Steakhouse

Iavarone’s Italian Steakhouse boasts two styles of menus. Lunch and dinner, and Banquet lunch and dinner. What’s the difference? Although the lunch and dinner menus are more extensive, the banquet room is the best place to be for those very special meals. Iavarone’s also offers Parties to Go specials.

Whichever menu you choose, you have choices galore. Here’s just a small sample of what they offer:

  • Bada Bing Shrimp
  • Sushi Grade Ahi Tuna
  • Filet Mignon
  • Oak Grilled Veal Chop
  • Iav’s Famous Blackened Pittsburgh

You Can Dine Out Every Night of the Week

And you’ll still never be bored with the culinary delights Tampa has to offer. There’s a restaurant in Tampa for every budget, every man, woman and child, and every dietary need. Don’t forget to check out the gluten free options.

Shop Like a Local: Tampa’s Secret Shopping Spots

Tampa has its fair share of shopping malls, just like any other city, but it hides its best shopping for locals and those with a need to know. The Westshore Plaza and University Mall do have their attractions but to find the truly interesting stores, you need to talk to a local.

Here’s just a few of the hidden treasures tucked away in the corners and shaded spots of Tampa’s streets.

Design Your Own Story from Robyn Story Designs

The locals have known about this stunning boutique for 15 years now. Back then they specialized in luxury floral design but now they’ve branched out into gifts, home accents and vintage treasures to die for. They also offer full design services and a complimentary coffee bar.

You’ll see touches of Robyn’s work all over Tampa, in stores, homes, and offices. Her boutique is known for its beautiful silk stem collections and they’re now the original stockists for Chalk Paint Decorative Paint by Annie Sloan. Visit Robyn Story Designs and treat yourself to a visionary experience like no other.

Cleanse Your Body and the Environment with Cleanse Apothecary

Seminole Heights is home to the Cleanse Apothecary and is also home to the Apothecary’s owners, who are on a mission to be the change they want to see. At Cleanse Apothecary there’s a treasure trove of organic delights including soaps, skincare, fragrances, scents and candles.

The delightful duo who run Cleanse Apothecary are creative souls who love putting together custom gift boxes for customers. They’ll work closely with you to make sure they fill your basket with the perfect treasures for your loved one. And they’ll even deliver them with a handwritten note.

Celebrate Your Inner Sea Goddess at Rusty Crickett’s Coastal City Cottage

If you’re not careful, you’ll walk right past this seaside treasure and assume it’s just another pretty cottage. In fact, it’s a gorgeous boutique store filled with homemade crafts, jewelry, and coastal décor gifts.

The cottage is run by Joyce, Terri, Jan, and Cindy, and within seconds of entering the cottage you’ll feel like part of their family. You can while away the next few hours, chatting with the award-winning team and discovering seashell secrets.

Blue Smoke Cigar: The Cigar City’s Best Kept Secret

We couldn’t tell you about the best shopping in Tampa without including at least one cigar bar, now could we? The Blue Smoke Cigar bar isn’t the biggest or the brightest in Tampa. It’s just the best.

The Blue Smoke Cigar Bar offers a relaxed atmosphere and the staff know their stuff. They sell all the major cigar brands and a few you might not have heard of. You can enjoy a glass of beer or port while watching the Huge HDTV or surf the net with the free Wi-Fi.

And if you’re very lucky, and the staff and members at the Blue Smoke Cigar like you, you can join the Blue Club. Membership gives you discounted cigars and access to the VIP lounge and invitations to member’s events.

Old Isn’t Dusty at the Tampa Book Company

You’ll throw away your e-reader within minutes of discovering this wonderful bookstore. Rare collections sit next to out-of-prints in both fiction and non-fiction. David and Ellen have owned their store for nearly 20 years and you’ll have great difficulty finding anyone else that loves books as much as these two.

The Old Tampa Book Company is open 7 days a week and you could spend a whole week in the store and still not see everything. Just make sure you take a big bag with you – you’re going to leave the store with at least six months of reading material.

Make Sure You Wear Sensible Shoes

You’re going to need them. As any local will tell you, the best stores are the ones that are off the beaten path or disguised as ordinary buildings and there’s no shortage of these hidden treasures in Tampa. Just to be clear, we’ve shared this valuable information with you but we are in no way responsible for the condition of your credit card once you’ve visited them.

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