Downtown Tampa is crowded with skyscrapers, a symbol of the city’s work hard–play hard attitude. This also means that the city’s core doesn’t offer much in the way of sights. Still, there are a handful of locations definitely worth checking out.
The Tampa Theatre (711 N. Franklin St., 813/274-8981, www.tampatheatre.org ) is in its original 1920s home—it was the first “air-cooled” building in Tampa —and from the three-story marquee and the ornate lobby area to the luxurious main room, its historic charm is a striking contrast to the glass-and-steel construction that surrounds it.
It’s now a film and special events center, hosting screenings of art-house and classic movies and occasional concerts. They also host $5 “balcony-to-backstage” tours twice a month, giving insight to the theater’s architecture and history.
Across the river is the University of Tampa, built around the former site of Henry Plant’s Tampa Bay Hotel. Much of the original building is still there, restored by the University for their own purposes and home to the Henry B. Plant Museum (401 W. Kennedy Blvd., 813/254-1891, www.plantmuseum.com , Tues.–Sat. 10 a.m.–4 p.m., Sun. noon–4 p.m., $5 adults, $2 children). You’ll see the towering steel-plated minarets as you’re crossing the Kennedy Boulevard bridge and will likely be as awestruck as you are giggly.
The audacious architecture behind Plant’s hotel is just the beginning: Many of the antiques, artworks, and artifacts with which he stocked the original hotel are still there, and while wandering through the Grand Hall or the Garden Room may not send you back in time, it’s quite a lark nonetheless. Splurge for a guided tour; they’re free, you just have to show up in the main lobby by 1 p.m. weekdays.
From the Plant Museum, it’s only a few blocks south to Bayshore Boulevard. Hugging the side of Hillsborough Bay, this stretch of road is one of the most elegant in Florida , dotted with multimillion-dollar homes that maintain much of the architectural history of Tampa . There are no McMansions here. Running between Columbus Statue Park to the north and Gandy Boulevard to the south is also the world’s longest continuous sidewalk, a 4.5-mile-long 10-foot-wide stretch of columned cement that’s routinely filled with dog walkers, joggers, and bikers. This is one of the most scenic and beautiful spots in all of Tampa Bay .
About halfway down Bayshore, hang a right on South Howard Avenue. This will take you into the SoHo neighborhood of Tampa’s Hyde Park area. The surrounding area is primarily residential, and the bungalow residences in this neighborhood, although not as palatial as those on Bayshore, are still character-rich. The strip of Howard Avenue that runs between Bayshore and Kennedy Boulevard to the north is filled with dozens of unique stylish shops and has cemented its reputation as Tampa’s premier dining district.