Tampa Bay Overview
As far as sports are concerned, Tampa Bay has Buccaneers Football in the fall, Lightning Hockey in the winter, Rays Baseball in the summer and let us not forget about spring training. There are six MLB teams in the Grapefruit League who play within an hour drive of downtown Tampa including the Phillies, Tigers, Pirates, Blue Jays, Orioles and the New York Yankees who play right in Tampa. Tampa and St. Petersburg also have a variety of venues offering tickets for your favorite show including including international concerts, theater events and travelling Broadway shows.
Tampa Bay offers great dining and drinking options for the foodie, beer geek, cocktail enthusiast and wine lover. All of Tampa Bay has over 35 breweries. Downtown St. Pete has 10 of these breweries and a variety of restaurants featuring eclectic food menus paired with extensive beer, wine, and cocktail lists. Downtown Tampa has a number of sports bars and beer bars and Ybor City has a wide variety of bars and restaurants amidst the historical cigar culture of Tampa.
Besides having an array of options for food and drink, Tampa Bay also has a culture of art and history equal or better to most other sports destinations in the United States. I was particularly impressed with the art museums in St. Petersburg especially the Dali Museum and Chihuly Collection. Things to do in downtown Tampa include The Florida Aquarium, Florida Museum of Photographic Arts (FMOPA), Tampa Museum of Art, and the Tampa Baseball Museum at the Al Lopez house in Ybor City.
If you’re looking for a winter getaway, Tampa comes highly recommended for NHL hockey, NFL football, and MLB baseball for spring training. We will explore Northwest Tampa for football and spring training baseball, downtown Tampa for hockey, and Ybor City for dining and entertainment.
When booking a hotel in Tampa, consider the sporting events you are attending. If you are coming in for the Buccaneers or a Yankees spring training game, get a hotel near the Tampa Airport (TPA). If you’re catching a Tampa Bay Lightning game, get a hotel in downtown Tampa. When you’re extending your sports vacation beyond one or two nights. consider a couple extra nights in Ybor City or St. Petersburg.
Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Steinbrenner Field, spring home of the New York Yankees are both conveniently located by the Tampa Airport. This is the perfect situation if you’re only coming for the game because many of the airport hotels offer a shuttle which will take you directly to and from the game. The downside is that there isn’t exactly a lot of local concept dining in this area beyond the sports venues themselves, corporate chain restaurants, and hotel bars and restaurants. Check out Cigar City Brewing which is only a mile away from Raymond James Stadium. Also check out the restaurants in the Hyde Park area especially Bern’s Steak House and Ciro’s Speakeasy and Supper Club.
Amalie Arena, home of the Tampa Bay Lightning, is conveniently located near downtown Tampa between the Tampa Convention Center and the Channel District. Major hotels include Westin, Marriott, and Embassy Suites and are priced in the in the $150 to $250 range. There are a couple basic sports bars such as Hooters and Ferg’s Live that are within a stone throw of the arena but they basically serve burgers and wings.
The bars get better and the hotels get cheaper as you go slightly north of Amalie Arena. I recommend starting at Hattricks which is committed to the local hockey tradition. Other dining options more committed to good beer and good food include District Tavern near the York Street TECO station and Yeoman’s Tavern near Hattricks and the Downtown Tampa TECO station. Also, check out my list of Downtown Tampa Bars
The most notable art museum in downtown Tampa is the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts (FMOPA) which has a permanent collection featuring American culture dating back to the 1920s. If you are into oceanography, The Florida Aquarium is a top destination in the United States and conveniently located right next to Amalie Arena. In the evening, it is worth checking out the lighting installation called “Sky (Tampa)” on the building exterior of the Tampa Museum of Art.
Consider staying in Ybor City when traveling to Tampa Bay for Lightning hockey. There is an array of food and culture in Ybor City and the TECO Line Streetcar conveniently runs from Centro Ybor to Amalie Arena in downtown Tampa.
There are 25 plus bars and restaurants along 7th and 8th Avenue in Centro Ybor. For the beer geek, there is a decent selection of breweries and beer bars in Centro Ybor. Tampa Bay Brewing has a full restaurant including outdoor dining and Rock Brothers Brewing combines a concert venue with themed craft beers. For a beer bar with casual dining, check out The Bricks. For dinner, La Terazza is moderately priced Italian food and ranked a top restaurant in Tampa Bay according to Trip Advisor. For more, check out my list of Ybor City Bars
For baseball fans, The Tampa Baseball Museum (opening soon) at the Al Lopez house in Ybor City celebrates “Tampa’s 125 years of baseball heritage” featuring more than 80 professional baseball players from the area.
St. Petersburg, Florida
Since I moved to Southwest Florida, St. Petersburg has easily become my favorite 2 or 3 day getaway. Regardless of whether the Tampa Bay Rays continue to play at Tropicana Field, you must make St. Pete a priority destination if you are anywhere near Tampa Bay.
As far as hotels in St. Pete, I always stay at the Hollander Boutique Hotel which ranges from $99 to $150 and in my opinion offers the best value in downtown St. Petersburg. Amenities include newly renovated guest rooms, a pool with an outdoor bar, free parking, an indoor Tap Room with 21 draft beers ($3 on Tuesdays), a coffee shop, and a local shuttle that will drop you off or pick you up around town. Like many of the boutique hotels in St. Pete, the Hollander is centrally located and offers great customer service without the corporate stuffiness.
In order to experience the renaissance taking place in the 33701 zip code, I approached it from both a geographical and cultural perspective depending on the day and my mood. Geographically, there are three main areas in downtown St. Pete as well as a few places in between. Culturally, I focused on food, beer, cocktails, and art in each of these areas. The three main areas of St. Petersburg are spread over an area roughly 1 mile by ½ mile east to west from the St. Pete Pier to Interstate 275. These areas include Beach Drive, the Central Ave. Block, and the area around Tropicana Field.
I started out in the morning near Beach Drive. The St. Petersburg Museum of History features various temporary and permanent exhibits focusing on St. Pete’s history as well as Shrader’s Little Cooperstown which connects historical events in baseball with the region of Tampa Bay.
After the History Museum, grab the free Downtown Looper trolley to 1st Ave. S & 2nd St. S which is within a block of The Mill Restaurant, one of the the best lunch spots in St. Petersburg. I hopped back onto the trolley and headed to the Dali Museum which includes 96 oil paintings by the Spanish master along with a variety of works done in other mediums.
By 3PM by it was a perfect time to take the trolley to 5th Ave N and Beach Dr., a short block from 400 Beach which has a 3 to 6PM happy hour Monday thru Friday featuring half-off their 24 draft beers along with $6 bar bites. After 400 Beach, checked out Annata Wine Bar just a short stroll down Beach Dr. It happened to be Thursday, the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) is $5 after 5PM and Cassis Brasserie has $5 Sazeracs and Smoked Old Fashioneds till midnight. Cassis Brasserie also has a 4PM-7PM “ultimate” happy hour Monday-Friday and a 40% off Monday industry night.
The Central Ave. Block is located on Central Ave. N and 1st Ave. N between 2nd St. N and 3rd St. N. Central Avenue Block is good for happy hour and late night dining and drinking with about 20 different bars and restaurants.
Among all the bars in St. Petersburg, there are a couple cocktail bars that I have found to be my overall favorites in the burg and I would give these bars 4 ½ out of 5 stars on any given day depending on who’s tending bar and what kind of drink specials they have that day. Mandarin Hide, located on the Central Avenue Block, offer a happy hour, are open until 3AM, and make a mean Old Fashioned.
If you’re looking for a late night snack, I recommend Joey Brooklyn’s for a late night slice of pizza or Burrito Boarder for taqueria type fare. While Joey Brooklyn’s staying open till 3:30AM daily, the Buritto Boarder closes at 10PM during the week and 3:30AM on the weekend.
The next morning I checked out the Chihuly Collection and the Florida Holocaust Museum. These museums are near the 600 block of Central Avenue close to the Hofbrauhaus. If you wish to skip the museums, grab the Central Avenue Trolley (CAT) for 50 cents and head west from any stop west of 4th St. on Central Ave.
All the breweries that are located within a mile east or west of Tropicana field on or near Central Ave.Most of the breweries open at noon on the weekend and 3PM during the week but its best to check their hours before planning your day. With that being said however, you will be safe taking my brewery tour on any day as long as you don’t start before 1PM.
Take the Central Ave. Trolley (CAT) west to 26th St. and you will be dropped right in front of Urban Comfort Restaurant and Brewery, the only full service restaurant and brewery in St. Petersburg. Urban Comfort opens at 11AM during the week for lunch and at 10AM on Saturday and Sunday for brunch. After grabbing lunch, I headed to 3 Daughters Brewing for a Bimini Twist IPA. The next stop on this brewery crawl is Cage Brewery for a Peanut Butter Fudge Brownie Porter. I then took a quick tour of Pinellas Ale Works which is kitty-corner to Cage.
The next two breweries near Tropicana Field are greats spots to grab a beer before the Tampa Bay Rays game. Avid Brew Company which opened in July 2018 comes highly recommended among local beer geeks. I then walked 3 blocks east and cut through the parking lot to get to Green Bench Brewing Company for a Black IPA.
If you’re getting hungry at this point, head to Engine No. 9. which isn’t a brewery but they have a great beer selection and arguably the best burger in St. Petersburg. No. 9 happens to be right next door to The Blue Goose, my favorite cocktail bar in St. Pete.
Just east on 1st Ave N and also opening in the summer of 2018 is Overflow Brewing. Walk another block and half east on 1st Ave and you’ll find Inoculum Ale Works which happens to be next door to St. Pete Brewing and a block north of Cycle Brewing.