When thinking of Tampa, Florida, my mind always conjured up images of spring training baseball, old people, and strip clubs. While these images may not be totally incorrect, I feel like I got to know the place having spent the last week there. It’s a bit of an unremarkable place, but it’s also one that I grew quite fond of.
In general, Tampa feels like one of those towns that exists solely to host conferences – alas, I was in fact there for a conference. There’s a ton of hotels, but there’s generally no one and nothing going on downtown. Sure, there’s a few skyscrapers, but there’s an abundant lack of restaurants, bars, people… quite bizarre. I came to learn that these things do exist in Tampa, just not downtown.
The water in the picture above is not Tampa Bay, and yes, it is abnormally green (it was dyed this way for St. Patrick’s day). Tampa Bay, as I’ve always known the city, has fallen out of favor – in the name of the town’s baseball team (formerly the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, now the Tampa Rays) and in general use. Tampa Bay is in fact a part of the city, the swanky wealthy part in fact, but it doesn’t accurately capture the rest of the city. OK then, Tampa it is.
So aside from the obvious (the weather), what’s there to love about Tampa? First and foremost, let’s talk sports. This place ain’t Boston, but it’s definitely a town of sports fanatics – love it. The Buccaneers, the Lighting, and the Rays are, in order, where the town’s sporting faith lies. I think it’s awesome that it’s such an avid hockey city, given its southern location. That said, for everything I think of the Rays and the whole spring training baseball ordeal (home of the Yanks), I was disappointed to see the Rays in 3rd place in the hearts and minds of Tampians… er, Tampa citizens.
Aside from professional sports, Tampa is home to both the University of South Florida (USF!) and The University of Tampa. I was staying directly across the street from The University of Tampa, which was described to me countless times as a small private school of snobby rich kids (but they have a great baseball team)! The University of South Florida, on the other hand, has made me a fan. Everyone I met from this school was super nice, super fun, and willing to chat it up with a couple of presumed Boston assholes. They also love their USF sports, and I was sad to see them lose out to Ohio in this year’s NCAA tourney.
As for other things to get excited about, I stumbled across a few solid restaurants:
Hattricks – The shake and bake wings are a can’t miss.
Jackson’s Bistro – I had carmelized diver scallops and red snapper, black jasmine rice, and red thai curry. It made me happy.
For bars (and St. Patrick’s day festivities), South Howard Ave (SOHO) is where it’s at. The Dubliner or MacDinton’s are both great, and even better is the fact that you can get cabbed around Tampa for $3 per person rather than having the cabbie run the meter.
All in all, Tampa was a much smaller city with a lot less going on than I expected – it makes Boston feel huge. But it’s a great sports town filled with super nice people, great weather, and just enough to do. I’ll be back next year for a spring training trip, and I can’t wait.