Some say it means “sticks of fire” in the language of a Native American tribe called the Calusa; others contend it is a reference to the frequent lightening strikes seen in the region during the summer months. Whatever it stands for, Tampa has scads of parks and beaches to keep nature lovers on their toes, plus a wealth of theme parks, cultural attractions and sporting venues to entertain people of all ages with varying interests. Though the city’s population of 350,000 and counting may not seem like much, it still ranks among the country’s 60 largest cities – hardly a surprise given that it helps anchor the Gulf Coast region, where booming industries such as fishing and tourism are heavily concentrated.
If you’re the outdoorsy type, you’ll no doubt find a home away from home in Tampa, which in 2008 was ranked as the 5th best city for the outdoors by Forbes magazine. You’ll feel immersed in the wilderness as Tampa features an estimated 7.8 million trees and close to 200 verdant parks. Sunbathers will appreciate plenty of sugar white Gulf Coast beach frontage at St. Pete Beach and Indian Rocks Beach, both of which are located roughly an hour away in Pinellas County.
Sports fans rejoice: Tampa is part of the Tampa Bay metropolitan area, home to the aptly-named Tampa Bay Lightening, Tampa Bay Rays, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tampa Bay Derby Darlins, University of South Florida Bulls and University of Tampa Spartans. The city is well-steeped in history, entertainment and the arts, featuring the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, Tampa Museum of Art and Tampa Bay History Center. What’s more, nightlife is alive and well in downtown Tampa, where travelers can find a number of lively clubs and bars. Opened to the public in 1982, the Museum of Science & Industry features one of 250 IMAX Dome theatres found in the world – the only one in Florida to boast a dome screen.
Admirers of wildlife can venture to the Lowry Park Zoo, which features more than 2,000 animals, educational shows and hands-on exhibits. Some of the most daring roller coasters in the world are found nearby at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, where everything from authentic handicrafts to up-close animal encounters create an authentic African experience. Additionally, the annual Gasparilla Pirate Festival takes place along Bayshore Boulevard and runs through downtown Tampa.
In the heart of Tampa Bay lies Sailport Waterfront Suites on Tampa Bay, the gulf coast city’s only all-waterfront, all-suite hotel. The property boasts spacious suites with fully-equipped kitchens and balconies that afford great bay views. In addition, travelers can unwind in the heated swimming pool or practice their volleyball serve in the recreation area. Here’s yet another nice touch: Breakfast, newspapers, shuttle service, covered parking and internet access are all complimentary.
For a dose of history and plenty of tranquility, visit the recently renovated Safety Harbor Resort and Spa. The 2,000-year-old natural mineral springs that run directly beneath the luxury resort, which spans 22 acres of Tampa Bay coastline, were first discovered by explorers in search of the Fountain of Youth. So treasured are these springs that they’re used for spa treatments and pumped into three on-site swimming pools. Rooms are fitted with comfortable furniture, and many bring balconies or patios that offer city views.
Fitness and sports enthusiasts will love Saddlebrook Resort and Spa, which comprises a half-million gallon swimming pool, two 18-hole Arnold Palmer signature golf courses, two volleyball courts, a basketball court, fitness center and sports field. Once it’s time to recharge the batteries, travelers can avail themselves of a 7,000 square-foot Spa, featuring 12 private treatment rooms, a couple’s room with soaking tub, whirlpools, saunas and courtyard terrace.
Whether you’re a theme park junkie, sports fanatic, history buff, or nature lover, Tampa offers something for everyone.