The 9 Best Craft Cocktails in Tampa

Craft cocktails are truly a thing of beauty. Indulgent, overpriced, and delicious, a good cocktail can turn your whole day around. Beer, wine, and two ingredient drinks are all great staples, but occasionally it is fantastic to indulge in a well-constructed beverage. It can be an appetizer, dessert, or an entrée all to itself. In the right bar, at the right moment, and with the right ingredients and muddler, a craft cocktail can flush the cheeks, boost the mood, give you a whole new appreciation for the sometimes pretentious art of mixology.

The craft cocktail scene in Tampa is booming. There are trendy bars and restaurants all over the city offering classic cocktails, interesting takes on familiar recipes, or brand new concoctions. There are fantastic bartenders in every neighborhood, just waiting for your order. Below are the nine best craft cocktails in Tampa. If you plan to try them all over one weekend, just promise to take an Uber!

 

Sangria at the Mermaid Tavern

The Mermaid Tavern is an incredible dark bar that sits just off the corner of Nebraska and Sligh in Seminole Heights. It is casual and friendly, and definitely funky. Walking through the front door feels like walking into the hangout of the coolest person you know, so long as you enjoy a hipster vibe. Here is how they describe themselves on their website:

“A restaurant is a place to eat, but taverns have been social spaces for over 1,000 years. Our service is basic, because your uninterrupted thought or punchline is more important than us pushing another round of drinks. We strive to select top-quality local, sustainable and family-owned suppliers, and virtually everything down to the ketchup, is made in-house. We think ethical means doing the right thing when no one can see, even when it’s not always profitable. People should locally control their food, water and beer, because when facing a Corporatocracy, our daily choices matter. Thanks for choosing us and welcome aboard!” (source).

They have a spectacular beer menu, a fantastic food menu, and the cocktail that secured their spot on this list…the sangria. This luscious red drink doesn’t quite taste like traditional sangria, but that is ok because it is fantastic in its own right. Rounded out with full fruit and red wine flavors, and topped with a sprinkle of ground cinnamon, this drink will sneak up on you, so try to limit yourself to just a couple…if you can.

 

French 75 at Ciro’s

Ciro’s is an incredibly stylish bar occupying prime real estate on the corner of Howard and Bayshore, but you may not see it from the sidewalk since it’s a speakeasy! Located on the first floor of a beautiful condo building, you have to call ahead to get the day’s password before you can enter. The cloak and dagger routine adds to the charm of this meticulously decorated space – all of the elements combining to make you feel like you are back in the prohibition era. You can enjoy some incredible cocktails at the bar, or stay for dinner in one of their intimate dining booths. Here is how they describe themselves on their website:

“Ciro’s is South Tampa’s finest cocktail bar serving an elite list of hand crafted cocktails true to the prohibition era. Our talented bartenders & mixologists create tantalizing hand crafted cocktails that will intrigue both your palate and your senses. Located inside the historic Bayshore Royal Building on the corner of Howard Avenue and Bayshore Boulevard, Ciro’s is a hidden gem in Tampa Bay.” (source).

Every single one of the cocktails on their menu is a work of art, but if you really want to embrace the prohibition vibe, you absolutely must try the French 75. This classic cocktail consists of sugar, lemon juice, gin, and sparkling wine. That’s right – the mixer is also alcoholic. Prohibition drinkers were not messing around. The beverage is served in a champagne flute and the delicate color is bound to make you feel like the lady or gentleman you are!

 

Sazerac at Roux

For your next drink, you will have to head deep into South Tampa, all the way into the heart of Palma Ceia. Roux is a New Orleans inspired restaurant seated in an unpretentious strip mall. They are serious about authenticity. Local legend has it that the owner spent a weekend in New Orleans, and when he found the best grilled clams in town he promptly invited the man making them to spend a weekend in Tampa, teaching his team how to replicate the recipe. Here is how they describe themselves:

“Roux’s signature Southern-inspired cuisine has become the darling of regional food aficionados. The highly approachable menu blends comfortable Southern classics with the iconic fresh Creole and Cajun dishes of Louisiana.” (source).

So if you are looking for a drink to go with those oysters (pro tip, hit this spot for Happy Hour since the Chargrilled Oysters are only $1 a piece), definitely go with the Sazerac. Another classic cocktail, the bartenders at Roux skillfully combine the Redemption Rye , Pernod Absinthe, Peychaud’s bitters, and lemon peel into a distinct and delicious beverage. The next time you’re in a NOLA kind of mood, skip the flight and head down to Roux instead.

 

La Madrileña at Bulla

Bulla is a relatively new fixture on South Howard Avenue. A Spanish-inspired Gastrobar with several locations across the American South, this restaurant capitalizes on the indoor/outdoor concept. Their space features giant doors that roll open when the weather is nice and a rooftop bar that is truly a place to be on Friday and Saturday nights. Here is how they describe themselves:

“Why all the buzz? The bar and open kitchen design set the mood with an energetic vibe. The emphasis is on quality gastronomic creations made with the finest and freshest flavors. With tantalizing tapas, seasonal menus, hand-crafted cocktails, and an impressive wine list, bulla is where you go to indulge in a celebration of good taste.” (source).

Bulla has been mentioned on Just Guava before, in our list of the Three Best Happy Hours in Tampa, the reason being that their cocktails are absolutely incredible. If you are going to spend an evening enjoying some tapas, definitely do it alongside a La Madrileña. This glorious little cocktail is comprised of Old Forester 100 Bourbon, La Gitana Manzanilla sherry, apple cinnamon infused syrup, grated cinnamon, and a filthy black cherry. The result is basically an alcoholic apple pie. Considering that the cooler temperatures we are enjoying now won’t last too much longer in Tampa, you had better head there for your drink now.

 

2001: A Space Odyssey at Haven

Haven is a painfully stylish restaurant and bar on the corner of Howard and Morrison. South Howard Ave has quite a few noteworthy craft bars, in case you had failed to notice the pattern. Haven’s tagline is “Crafted. Cultured. Cellared.” and it is a great place to grab dinner, or even just an appetizer before heading down the block to Bern’s for an incredible steak. Here is how they describe themselves:

“Haven is a place that you go to enjoy food, wine and spirits with your friends in a relaxing and comfortable space. Retreat from life’s challenges to celebrate life’s victories.” (source).

If you are looking to enjoy a drink at their oversized and well-appointed bar, definitely try out the 2001: A Space Odyssey. The movie reference may be about 18 years too late, but the drink itself is definitely out of this world. The crisp combination of Hendricks gin, Singani 63, Giffard cacao, and lime juice makes for a very stiff and very enjoyable cocktail. You will be tempted to enjoy more than one, but take care not to overdo it. Remember, you’ve still got a few more cocktails to try.

  

Hotel Nacional at Hotel Bar

Hotel Bar in downtown Tampa isn’t actually associated with a hotel. Rather, the name describes that stylish, somewhat transient feeling that comes with drinking in a hotel bar, all without the associated price of a room. Plus, all of their cocktails are named for famous hotels from around the world. Depending on what you order, you can convince yourself that you are sipping a cocktail in London, Paris, Trinidad or Japan, all from the same dimly lit interior of this clever little Tampa bar. Here is how they describe themselves:

 “True to our name, the space reflects a swanky hotel – embossed metal ceiling tiles, stylish wallpaper, local artwork, oversized brown leather stools, a custom marble bar top, and an antique chandelier hanging overhead.” (source).

So the question of the hour at Hotel Bar is always, where should you pretend to be? Our vote is Havana. The Hotel National cocktail, named for an incredibly impressive hotel from glory days past, this cocktail consists of cana brava, giffard peche pineapple and lime. It will taste tropical, refreshing, and like the perfect thing to enjoy underneath a palm tree on the once secluded Caribbean island.

 

Kurrant Bramble at Anise

If you are looking to stay downtown, then lucky for you the last cocktail on our list comes from a restaurant just a block or two away at Anise. Anise is a Global Gastrobar overlooking Curtis Hixon Park. The restaurant has a swanky feel, incredibly tall ceilings, and a wonderful drink menu. Here is what they have to say about themselves:

“Anise Global Gastrobar centers around internationally inspired bites, masterfully crafted cocktails, and carefully selected wines. We pride ourselves on being involved in an array of community conscious initiatives and maintaining an eco-friendly atmosphere. For the best Tampa restaurant specials, cocktails, and food, Anise Global Gastrobar answers the call.” (source).

So before you venture out onto the Riverwalk for a stroll, enjoy a Kurrant Bramble. The drink is made with Damrak gin, fresh berries, crème de mure and cassis, and is both refreshing and significant in a truly indulgent way.

 

Beet Negroni at Ella’s Folkart Café

Ella’s Folkart Café in Seminole Heights serves elevated soul food, soul food on Sunday, and incredible barrel aged cocktails. This fabulous restaurant with its epic porch has been a fixture in Seminole Heights since 2009, and it is easy to see why. The food is heavy but delicious, and the cocktails are inventive and inspiring, the art is curated and incredible, and the live music is loud and soulful. Here’s how Ella’s describes themselves:

“Ella’s expansive bar program includes craft and barrel aged cocktails, a collection of over 100 rare and small batch bourbons, locally sourced craft and classic beers, and an extensive wine list. On Soul Food Sundays, our award-winning Bloody Ella (garnished with a smoked BBQ rib), giant mimosas, and our breakfast of champion shots are sure ways to help you praise the lard!” (source).

So if you opt to enjoy some next level comfort food that both reminds you of home and fine dining, then make sure you’ve got a Beet Negroni to go with it. This incredibly creative cocktail comes together with Ella’s infused beet gin, Campari, Dolin Rouge Vermouth and an orange twist. It will taste earthy and refreshing, equal parts homespun and hip. This drink totally encompasses everything Ella’s is.

 

The Blind Pig at Mandarin Heights

This brand new little cocktail lounge is the trendy and Instagram-worthy bar that Seminole Heights had been missing. Have you ever wanted to take a selfie in a claw-foot tub in front of a plant wall adorned with flamingo paintings? Mandarin Heights is here to help you scratch that itch. In addition to basically being a bar-sized photo booth, this little spot also slings absolutely fantastic drinks. Here’s what they say about themselves:

“We see ourselves as stewards of the cocktail culture. In doing so we pride ourselves on classic drink recipes but also strive at creating new cocktails for our guests to explore and find ones tailored to their preferences. At the Mandarin Hide, we create a new menu each Tuesday for our guests to experience. We will continue this tradition and use Mandarin Heights as a cocktail laboratory to focus on pushing the exceeding expectations with cocktail theatre and innovation.” (source).

The Blind Pig is the only cocktail on the list that offers a spicy kick. The drink is made from Absolut Elyx, Ancho Reyes Verde Chile Poblano Liqueur, jalapeño, lime, and cucumber soda. So if you want your drink to hurt a little, then this is absolutely the drink for you.

 

So the next time you find yourself jonesing for something fancier than a cold beer or a glass of great wine, take yourself on a little cocktail tour of Tampa. The menus are extensive and inventive, the combinations skillful, and the bartenders ready and waiting to make you your new favorite drink.

 

Is Café Con Leche on the menu?

Café con leche is one of those magical beverages that is widely underappreciated in the English speaking world, much like Caipirinhas and Vinho Verde. Simply “coffee with milk” in Spanish, this café drink is so much more than a humble drip coffee with a splash of 2%, or a pretentious yet still disappointing latte from Starbucks. This drink is bold, yet smooth, strong, yet sumptuous. Something about the pull of the espresso, the scald on the milk and the perfectly proportional one-to-one ratio of those two liquids makes this hot beverage the perfect drink to start out any morning, satisfy an afternoon craving, or finish up any hearty dinner. Basically, you can have it any time. It is always a good choice.

The great plague of this drink is its under-appreciation – it can be difficult to find it on café menus. Fortunately for those who live in Tampa, the Cuban influence is strong enough that there are several spots around the bay forgoing fancier espresso drinks and blended nonsense in favor of this classic cup.

Below are the three best café con leche spots in Tampa, in no particular order.

 

#3: Gio’s Cuban Café

Tampa veterans may recognize this better under its old name – Pipo’s The Original Cuban Café. Apparently, a man named Gio purchased it several years ago, but only recently got around to putting his name on the sign. This no-frills Cuban eatery has several locations across Tampa Bay – all of which are dishing up some seriously delicious café con leches.

Here’s what Gio’s has to say about themselves:

“Over three decades ago The Hernandez Family opened their first Cuban Cafe in Tampa Bay. Focused on staying true to the tradition and authentic flavors of Cuban cuisine, they committed to use only quality ingredients and proven family recipes to build their menu. That dedication continues as the Hernandez family delivers authentic Cuban taste to satisfied patrons throughout the Tampa Bay region. Whether you choose the award winning roast pork, the mouth-watering black beans and Spanish rice, or a rich Cuban espresso, you are guaranteed to experience the vibrant, diverse flavors and aromas of authentic Cuban cuisine.” (source).

Here’s what happens when you walk in: Skip the food ordering line and go right to the cashier (that is, unless you want some food. The grilled palomilla sandwich with the works is highly recommended). You have a choice of small, medium, or large in your café con leche, and you can elect with sugar or without. You will be rewarded with a steaming Styrofoam cup filled to the brim with the most delicious coffee beverage you have ever tasted.

 

#2 La Ideal Sandwich Shop

This is another no-frills eatery dishing up delicious Cuban food (sensing a pattern here?). In fact, they make a bold claim right on their website, the claim that they offer the best Cuban sandwich and Cuban coffee in Tampa, FL. The competition in that category may be stiff, but this humble shop located a stone’s throw from Raymond James Stadium absolutely has the goods to back up their claim. This restaurant has more than 33 years of experience and is considered an icon in its neighborhood.

Each cup of café con leche is ground fresh, the milk is steamed as needed, which mean it is always piping hot and incredibly smooth. You can choose to dine in at one of their cute little café tables or at the counter, or you can take your drink to go (para llevar, en español). Don’t be put off by the outside of the restaurant or the bars on the windows. Places like this are nearly always hidden gems, and this one is absolutely a diamond.

Locals have reported that the best way to order your café con leche is with milk and with a ceramic cup alongside your Styrofoam. That way you can enjoy your drink out of a real mug, but the Styrofoam will keep any leftovers you have warm and ready for you. Do not miss this coffee.

 

#1 Café Hey

This eclectic little shop is not a Cuban eatery, but rather an independent coffee shop that held down a spot in Tampa Heights years before it was new cool spot to be. This unpretentious but painfully cool café sits on the corner of Franklin Ave and Kay Street. It is only a few blocks from Foundation Coffee and the Hall on Franklin but feels like a totally different world. Their menu includes basic café creations, not-so-basic café creations (case in point, the Red Hot Latte is made with cinnamon, chili, and chocolate), and some simple lunch and breakfast fare. This is the only place on this list that offers both hot and iced café con leches.

In addition to pouring some truly excellent coffee (made with Buddy Brew beans, another local company), this café can be quite the hangout. Every Thursday is Open Mic night which welcomes poetry, live music, and spoken-word performances. Additionally, the café is always seeking submissions for art to hang on their walls. They don’t even collect a commission when a piece sells! They also offer events like vegetarian brunches and an art night called “drink and draw”. If you are intimidated by the Cuban eateries, and would rather venture into a hippy-run and incredibly inclusive coffee house, then Café Hey is the spot for you.

Grab a book or a laptop (since they also offer free wifi), choose a spot to park it and enjoy your warm, delicious beverage while soaking up the off-beat side of Tampa culture.

 

So the next time you find yourself jonesing for a caffeine hit, close the Starbucks app and head to one of the places listed above. Enjoying a café con leche is a right of passage in Tampa – so join the coffee appreciation club, and try not to be too sad when someone offers you a boring latte or a cardboard tasting cappuccino in the future.

One Day in Downtown St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg, FL. Head South on 275 for 20 to 60 minutes (depending on traffic), and you are there. As Tampa’s sister-city, they it has a more relaxed, yet similar vibe to the Big Guava. In fact, according to the city website, their vision is to “be a city of opportunity where the sun shines on all who come to live, work and play. We will be an innovative, creative and competitive community that honors our past while pursuing our future.” (soure).

When most Tampa-dwellers think of St. Petersburg, they think of St. Pete Beach – a small strip of land jutting out into the Gulf of Mexico, St. Pete Beach offers white sand as soft as flour, perpetually warm water, and calm, relaxing surf…but enough about the beach. What about the city?

Downtown St. Petersburg has a ton to offer. If you are interested in venturing south, you should definitely have a plan for how to spend your day. Below is a suggested Saturday schedule. It’s time to brave the Howard Franklin Bridge – time to explore St. Pete!

 

Early Morning: Take in a Yoga Class at The Body Electric

The Body Electric is a fantastic, inclusive yoga studio hiding in a residential neighborhood in St. Pete. The studio itself used to be an ice factory, “which you can see in the thick brick walls, and the remnants of the cork insulation lining the walls of the studio.” (source). There are three large practice rooms, a yoga store, private showers, lockers, and even a lounge area. The teachers are diverse an eclectic, with the intro on their teacher’s page stating that “We subscribe to no dogma, and we are not the jealous types: yoga is vast, and a lifelong learning experience. We’re here to share with you everything we know and love about yoga!” (source).

If you are so inclined, this would be a magical way to start out a day trip to St. Petersburg. So climb into your car early, bring a change of clothes, and register for the 8:30 am Hot Hatha. The room will be heated to 95-100 degrees, and you will explore a variety of standing, balancing, floor, and inversion postures in this all-levels class. Get ready to get in a good sweat before taking advantage of The Body Electric’s showers.

 

Morning: Hit St Petersburg’s Saturday Morning Market

This market, which takes place every Saturday in Williams Park (right next to the Rowdie’s Stadium). Take some time to peruse dozens of fantastic vendors, and pick up some breakfast or coffee at one of the food stands while you are at it! The mission of the market is to “be the ‘heart’ of St. Petersburg — the place, more than anywhere else, that people feel a strong sense of joyful connectedness and creative community. While actual farmers, great food, interesting crafts, and live music are all wonderful elements of the market, this spirit of community is what really defines the market experience. Many customers have shared that they think that the market is the most significant improvement to the quality of life in St Petersburg.” (source).

You can take care of your grocery shopping for the week at their fantastically fresh farm stands, or just enjoy the ambiance as you shop around the art stalls and nab some samples from the food vendors.

 

Lunch: The Mill Restaurant

This classic American lunch menu offers elevated favorites. Whether you are craving a BLT, a “Southern Belle” salad, or something unique and summery like sweet pea hummus, the Mill Restaurant has got you covered. It has won several noteworthy awards, but all you really need to understand its greatness is a glowing customer review. One reviewer offers an insight into his experience at The Mill with this glowing recommendation: “I came here SUPER spontaneously while on a trip to Central Florida… I had some time to drive and the yelp reviews were practically unanimous! If you were visiting St. Petersburg and only had time for one meal, you can’t do much better than The Mill.” (source).

Recommended Order: Pimento Crab Corn Fritters and a BLT.

 

Afternoon: The Dalí Museum

Central Florida isn’t exactly known as an artistic mecca, but the Dalí Museum in downtown St. Pete is the exception that proves the rule. This stunning piece of architecture contains dozens of Dalí’s priceless work, collected by his friends and avid fans, The Morse Family. In the 1970s the couple donated their entire collection, and in 1982 it was moved to St. Petersburg. Now it is housed in a world-class museum that offers artistic revelations and beautiful history and celebration of Dalí’s life. Whether are not you are a fan of surrealism, there is no denying Dalí’s impact. Spending an afternoon in this gorgeous space will revitalize your appreciation for the arts. Make sure to ask the employees about their favorite pieces, they are quite knowledgeable and do not skip the free audio tour.

The Dalí Museum is also known for bringing in fantastic exhibits, which offer context for Dalí’s artistic influence. Whether it is a Disney Exhibit which chronicles the history of Salvador’s partnership with Walt himself (including an only recently released surrealist cartoon), or Dalí’s fascination and emulation of Leonardo Da Vinci, you are bound to learn more than you could have ever expected.

Don’t miss tying your visitor bracelet to the Wish Tree in the Avant-Garden as you exit the museum!

 

Evening: Take in the Sunset at Vinoy Park

Vinoy Park is a waterfront park that tragically lines the Bay and not the Gulf. Therefore, you will not be able to watch the sunset over the water, but you will be able to enjoy the softening, pink light of sunset bouncing off of the gorgeous trees and the nearby marinas. Vinoy Park is an excellent place for a walk, or as a home base for tying up a hammock. So take in the waterfront view and enjoy!

 

Dinner: Ceviche Tapas Bar

There may be a Ceviche in South Tampa, but the St. Petersburg location is absolutely worth the visit. It is located in a historic building in the middle of a bustling downtown, a far cry from the suburban feel of the South Tampa location, which is actually set to shut down. The floor to ceiling window, wrap around porch, and overall Catalan vibe is sure to charm you. What better way to end your day then over some shared tapas and a jarra of Sangía? Let the evening linger on in this stunning location. After all, it’s Saturday, you don’t have anywhere to be tomorrow!

 

Recommended Order: Grande Pitcher of Red Sangria, Tabla de Quesos, Gazpacho Andaluz, and Gambas Al Ajillo.

The 3 Best Day Trips in Florida from Tampa

Tampa is a great city. It’s got an urban center, unique neighborhoods, great parks and multiple waterfronts. That being said, sometimes you just need to get away and discover someplace new!

Unfortunately, considering that Tampa is located halfway down the Florida peninsula, it is impossible to leave the state without jumping on a plane or spending hours and hours in the car. But the good news is that there are plenty of exciting places to explore right within the Sunshine State! If you find yourself looking for something to do on a lazy weekend, jump in the car and spend some time exploring an exciting new place that is closer to your front door than you think!

 

#3 Revisit your Childhood at Disney World

Florida is a hotbed for amusement parks. From Busch Gardens, to Harry Potter World at Universal, to Sea World and all of its knock-offs, Central Florida has become a destination for the amusement park junkie. But Disney World was the first and remains the best. Less than an hour from Tampa, Disney World is 100% worth the visit. It will be an expensive day away, with tickets starting at over $100 even for a discounted pass, but it will be well worth the step back into childhood. Whether you choose to embrace your natural side at Animal Kingdom, explore different world cultures at Epcot, check out vintage Disney at the Magic Kingdom, or rediscover cinema magic at Hollywood Studios, you are in for a good day.

Remember to bring plenty of sunscreens, and to wear shoes you can walk in, and you are all set for the happiest place on earth.

Top 3 Things to Do:

  • Visit the Japanese pavilion at Epcot.

The entire world tour at Epcot is fantastic, but there is something special about the Japanese pavilion. The employees are thrilled to be there, the shopping is fantastic, and the dining options are even better! Maybe pick up a beautiful set of permanent chopsticks so that you can enjoy Japanese cuisine at home.

  • Check out the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

You don’t even need a ticket to check out this gorgeous hotel. The lobby is fantastically designed, and the safari in the backyard is free to view! May you will spot some giraffes exploring the wilds of central Florida during your visit.

The old-school rides at Disney are a testament to historical engineering. The combination of animatronics and forced perspective will blow you away. Do not skip these rides that are basically a step back in time.

 

#2 Explore a Greek Fishing Village on the Gulf

Tarpon Springs is barely an hour’s drive from the center of Tampa, but when you climb out of the car you will feel like you’ve just gotten off of an international flight. Tarpon Springs was founded in the 1870s as the first incorporated city in Pinellas County. By the 1890s a sponging industry had begun and Greek immigrants began moving in in droves. Local stories go that the Mediterranean had been over-sponged by the 1880s, and Greek divers were struggling. One diver took a trip to Florida, upon discovering that the conditions of the Tarpon Bayou strongly resembled the conditions in Greece, he immediately wrote home encouraging his family and friends to join him in the states. More than 100 years later, the iconic Sponge Docks still stand in Tarpon Springs.

Dodecanese Boulevard is full of kitschy sponge shops, boat tour docks, and authentic Greek restaurants. A simple stroll down the block will treat you to the scent of baklava, the sight of natural sponges drying, and the sounds of a busy waterfront. A far cry from the traffic of Tampa, Tarpon Springs is full of pedestrians and families, all exploring this unique little slice of Greek fishing culture.

Top 3 Things to Do:

This charming little shop isn’t fancy but has some of the best artisan soaps out there. You can even pick up some goats milk soap that has an embedded natural sponge! Once you use up your scented bar, you have a reusable natural sponge that you can keep in your shower forever.

Climbing on this boat requires you to embrace your inner tourist, but once you have made peace with that you will learn a ton about Tarpon History and botany of sponging. You will even get an authentic diving demonstration, which features a sea-weathered diver donning on an antique dive suit and pulling a natural sponge up from the gulf floor!

Don’t miss the Saganaki at Dimitri’s. It is an appetizer of sheep’s milk cheese that they sit on fire table-side. The result is a warm, crisp-skinned soft cheese that is absolutely fantastic. Next, walk down the block to the Hella’s dessert counter. Feel free to browse the delicious looking Greek pastries, but if you don’t opt for the baklava you are making a mistake.

 

#1 Explore new depths in Weeki Wachee

Weeki Wachee Springs are an incredible natural phenomenon that even more incredibly, are located only an hour from Tampa! The spring is so deep that the bottom has never been found. According to the Weeki Wachee Springs State Park Website, more than 117 million gallons of clear, fresh, 74-degree water bubbles out of a subterranean cavern every day. (source). And when they say clear, they mean crystal clear. The water is perfectly transparent, allowing anyone swimming or passing by in a boat to see clear to the bottom. Manatees commonly float up and down the Weeki Wachee river, and the portion of the Springs protected by the State Park is completely natural and rustic.

But Weeki Wachee has a kitschy side too. A live mermaid show has been performed at Weeki Wachee Springs since 1947! A theater was built under the Spring’s surface, and a glass panel was built in so that viewers can gaze right into the depth of the springs. For over 50 years, beautiful women in elegant fish tales have been doing live, underwater mermaid shows for visiting tourists and vacationing families. This show combines an amazing backdrop of natural beauty with the incredible stamina of underwater athletes and artists to create a show that is insanely unique.

Top 3 Things to Do:

Just get there early, tickets to the show sell out fast, as do tickets to the attached water park.

This scenic boat tour will give you an idea of what the springs looked like before people moved into the area and trained as mermaids. You are nearly guaranteed to see cooter turtles, blue herons, and the occasional manatee.

  • Rent a Kayak at the Kayak Shack and take to the river yourself

This is by far the best way to experience Weeki Wachee. The Kayak Shack is downstream from the state park, but the cost of rental includes a ride to the top of the spring. That way, you can leisurely row yourself down the river, taking in the natural sights and sounds along the way. You can even take a break to swing into the cool water from the rope swings set up along the way!

The Three Coolest Things in Tampa

“Cool” is one of those concepts that will never go out of style. Today, for something to be cool it has to be interesting yet relaxed and trendy but classic. It can be a difficult balance to strike without swinging into the boring or the kooky. But over the past few years, a few truly things have cropped up around Tampa – places and activities that are always worth the time and energy. If you ever find yourself with some time to kill after work or over the weekend, consider exploring one of the awesome and trendy things on this list.

Here is the unofficial list of the coolest things in Tampa.

 

Grab a Cigar at King Corona

Ybor City is a lot of things, it is historic, eclectic, and unique. This neighborhood used to be full of cigar factories, and the leftover industrial architecture will make you want to don a Guayabera shirt and drink some rum. Today, the neighborhood is full of restaurants, bars, cigar shops, and tattoo parlors. One walk down 7th ave on a Friday and Saturday night and you will be bombarded by a cast of characters like you have never seen before. Whether it is the guy charging people to hold his giant albino boa constrictor, the glassblower making bowls in the window of his shop, or just the bar clientele rocking nightwear that looks suspiciously like bondage gear…you are sure to see something new.

If you want to sit back and take it all in, grab an outdoor or window seat at King Corona. King Corona is not the fanciest or newest Cigar Bar in Ybor City, but it is the coolest. The family that started King Corona can trace their family history back to the 1890s when more than 10,000 factory workers rolled cigars by hand. Today, King Corona’s gigantic humidor offers a ridiculously wide selection of what put Ybor City on the map…cigars. While you sit an indulge in this classic tobacco product, you can also treat yourself to a café con leche off of their café menu, some delicious sangria off of their wine and beer menu, or even an unassuming yet delicious sandwich off of their food menu. If you decide to indulge the lifestyle further, you can buy your own home humidor right there, or take home decorative cigar boxes for an incredibly reasonable price. Once you decide on what you want to enjoy, you can elect to sit inside or outside (given that you can find a table). Inside, you can sit comfortably at tables or in leather armchairs, and you can chat with the staff about the rumors of hauntings that plague the building. Outside, you can enjoy the parade of 7th Ave partiers that wander past, reveling in Tampa’s humidity and enjoying the relaxation that comes from being outside the pedestrian artery of the sidewalk.

Cigar City isn’t fancy. It isn’t expensive, and it isn’t brand new. But it is cool. Go check it out.

 

The Tampa Riverwalk

Along the eastern side of the Hillsborough River, there is a 2.6-mile pedestrian walkway that extends all the way from Channelside to Tampa Heights. To describe the Riverwalk, the City of Tampa website says “The goal was to create a Riverwalk with timeless appeal and memorable qualities that will draw people from both near and far.” Well, they’ve done it. This modern walkway takes pedestrians and bikers from the condo-heavy Channelside neighborhood to the hip cultural center of Tampa Heights. Along the way, riverwalkers will pass under bridges, by Curtis Hixon Park, and on to the Water Works Park. Along the way, the path either hugs the river bank, makes its way onto land as a sidewalk and even swings out over the river. There are seating areas for pedestrians, several unique sunshades, and incredible, color-changing lights. Coming upon Curtis Hixon Park from the Riverwalk feels like entering a modern outdoor city of the future. The grassy tiers, evenly spaced palm trees, and in-ground water fountain look more like the grounds of Starfleet academy than a public park. If you keep walking you will hit the Straz Center and some very inventive art installations. Take a quick stop at a swinging bench to enjoy the boaters sailing buy, and then head straight on to Water Works and the brand new, super trendy Armature Works. Armature Works is a great place to grab a bite or a craft cocktail, which you can pour into a plastic cup to take out on to the lawn at the edge of the Riverwalk.

If you are looking for a more fitness-focused experience, hit the Riverwalk for a light, scenic jog, or jump on your bike and cruise back and forth. No matter how you choose to enjoy the Riverwalk, you are bound to have a fantastic, and memorable experience.

 

 

Foundation Coffee Co.

This craft coffee shop sits in a block-long brick building in the incredibly newly revitalized neighborhood of Tampa Heights. The entire front wall of the shop is floor-to-ceiling windows, and when you walk in you will find yourself in a giant, industrial-inspired space with a vaulted ceiling and ample natural light. If you proceed through the space, you will find a door to a back patio with intimate seating areas, tall café tables, and trellis that offers partial shade. Both the interior and exterior offer awesome places to hang out, enjoy a conversation or get some work done in peace.

Compared to the ever-expanding Starbucks menu, the Foundation café menu will seem suspiciously sparse – but if you are a real coffee lover then this is the place to be. Their drip coffee, cold brew, and cortados are true barista masterpieces. This is hipsterism at its best – eccentric, passionate people creating a quality product in an interesting space. So pull up a chair, or find a spot on their oversized couch, and enjoy.

 

Tampa is full of cool and trendy places. Do not limit yourself to the three mentioned on this list, but definitely take some time and check them out. You will not regret it.

The 4 Best Hammock Hangouts

If there is one thing that Tampa has in abundance, it is palm trees. A quick glance out nearly any window will reveal dozens of these towering, tropical trees that give the entire city a beachy, instagrammable vibe. But in addition to being beautiful, palm trees can serve a functional purpose as well. Find two palm trees spaced appropriately and you have an ideal spot to set up a hammock!

Hammocks have long been a symbol of summertime relaxation. Tampa is a summertime city, which means you can take advantage of hammock life all year long. The best part is that there is no need to buy an expensive hammock stand. Just grab a compact, nylon hammock off of Amazon (this one is great), and head out to find a good spot to chill out. Setting up a hammock is as easy as finding two trees, looping some rope around the trunks and clipping those ropes to a carabineer. Anyone can do it.

So if you are looking to kick back and enjoy the outdoors, grab a hammock and check out the 4 best hammock hangouts in Tampa.

 

#4: Swann Circle Park

This park sits in the middle of a high-end neighborhood between Westshore and Dale Mabry. It is super low key and pretty much off-the-grid, which makes it a great spot to relax in some peace and quiet. There aren’t any park amenities like a playground, picnic tables water fountains, or even a parking lot…but it does have a ton of beautiful trees. To find a good spot, just drive around the park, scoping out the different clusters of palm trees and oak trees. When you’ve found something that looks intriguing, just pull to the side of the road and park your car right on the street. If you want to make an afternoon of it, stop by Trader Joe’s, which is right down the block, and grab some snacks. Swann Circle Park is shady, gorgeous, and usually empty, so pack up your hammock and check it out!

 

#3: Picnic Island Park

Picnic Island Park is located on the southwestern tip of the Tampa peninsula, and offer absolutely gorgeous views of the bay. There is even a small narrow beach there if you are tempted to stick your feet in. The park is large and spacious, with several free parking lots, a Frisbee golf course, and picnic pavilions scattered all over. There are also dozens upon dozens of palm trees. The trees here are slightly more spaced out so that park-goers can enjoy sunny lawns, but there are clusters here and there that provide great hammock supports. This is largely a family park, so if you go in the middle of the day be prepared to enjoy a soundtrack of children playing and BBQs sizzling. To get here, try south on Westshore Blvd until you think you cannot possibly drive further south. The road will bear right, and you will see signs telling you to take a left into the park. This area of Tampa is a bit sparse, so it will feel strange driving in that way, but once you reach the park’s entrance you will be glad you stuck through it!

 

#2: Courtney Campbell Trail

The Courtney Campbell Causeway is the northernmost causeway that connects Tampa to Clearwater. The total length is just shy of 10 miles. The Courtney Campbell Trail is a pedestrian and cycling pathway that runs alongside the busy causeway – it even has an entirely separate pedestrian bridge! The trail is always busy with walkers, bikers, and runners, and the small strip of land along the edge the trail is a regular hangout for people just looking to enjoy the views of the bay. The big of land between the road and the bay has some beautifully spaced out palm trees, which seem to have been planted with hammocks in mind. Hanging up your hammock here means enjoying the bay breeze and a gorgeous bay-front view. The din of the traffic behind you will fade into the background as you enjoy what it feels like to hang out in the middle of a body of water. To get here, drive west towards Clearwater. There is a traffic light just before the raised bridge that will allow you to turn left onto the trail’s access road. It is a one-way road that will force you to head back east towards Tampa, but no more than 50 feet from the entrance to the road is a little parking lot you can safely leave your car at for free. Grab you hammock and walk back west. Pretty soon you will find some beautiful palm trees just begging to support a hammock. So set up, chill out, and enjoy the view.

 

#1: University of Tampa

You do not have to be a student to enjoy this University’s downtown campus. Situated on some prime river-front property across from downtown Tampa, the front lawn of UT has an insane view. In one direction, you have the Hillsborough River with Curtis Hixon Park, sparkly high rises, and the gorgeous color-changing light show on the Riverwalk. In the other direction, you have the stunningly unique main building of the University, Plant Hall. This stunning, historical building actually used to be a 511-room hotel situated near the end of the railway line. Build in 1891, it still maintains a lot of its grandeur. Between Plant Hall and the river, is a lush lawn and some towering palm trees, which provide an excellent hammock hang out. At any given time there are at least a half a dozen hammocks set up here. All you have to do is find two unclaimed trees and set yourself up right on the riverbank. The hardest decision you will have to make is which way to face. The one downside is that parking on campus is nearly impossible, so instead find a free 2-hour spot behind the Oxford Exchange (which is right across Kennedy) and walk over. If you want to establish a new appreciation for downtown Tampa, then this is absolutely the hammock spot for you.

 

So grab your hammock and enjoy our hot, sunny weather in these four fantastic hammock hangout spots.

The Three Best Happy Hours in Tampa

Happy Hour can be a magical thing. Just a few short hours every day in which drinks are cheaper, bars are crowded, and people are happy. Knowing a good happy hour means you have the inside track. You don’t have time for that “$2 off of house wines” nonsense. No. You know the places that serve incredible cocktails, good wine selections, and sometimes even light appetizers for a price so reasonable it sometimes feels like stealing.

The next time you are looking for something to do after work on a weekday, remember that bars and restaurants all over Tampa are trying to draw you into their lounges with special pricing.

So why not let them?

 

#3: Bernini of Ybor

Time to leave South Howard and venture into Tampa’s most unique neighborhood…Ybor City. Ybor is where all of the famous Tampa cigar factories were once located, and the cultural mix of the Cuban, Spanish, and Italian workers therein have created an eclectic and impossible to forget neighborhood. Bernini of Ybor is a corner restaurant on 7th Ave promising “Innovative Italian Cuisine”. The restaurant is in a unique, two story building that has vaulted ceilings inside and sidewalk seating outside. Opened by restauranteur, Jason Fernandez, who sharpened his teeth at the Colombia Restaurant down the block, at the Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, and then under Wolfgang Puck, Bernini promises that it is “Not an impersonal corporate chain, but rather an eclectic eatery where the cuisine compliments your surroundings without compromising your wallet.” This place offers a fun environment, rustic Italian food, and a great bar menu.

Speaking of the bar menu, absolutely every single day until 7 pm, you can enjoy $3 Finlandia Martinis. There are 13 different flavors to choose from! Also daily, between 4 pm and 7 pm, guests can enjoy 50% pasta and entrées. If you want to go out in Ybor on a Friday or Saturday night, start at Bernini’s for dinner and drinks, and then hit 7th from there.

Recommendations: Two or three lemon martinis. The Crispy Duck entreé, and the Rigatoni Bolognese.

Your Bill: $34

 

#2: Cheap

This place is frustratingly difficult to Google. Go ahead, try a search for “Cheap bar, Tampa.” You will get a list of dives and chains, but this place likely won’t appear until you add the street it is on (South Howard Avenue). Also, Cheap is somewhat of a misnomer. Situated on the ground floor of a boxy brick building that takes up an entire block on South Howard, one of Tampa’s more notorious party streets, Cheap is a swanky little lounge that consists of three bars and three different kitchens, all with a unique vibe. The first room feels like a club, the second like a trendy restaurant, and the third is vaguely like a dive. The menu is large, and segmented by kitchen. There is an American section, an Asian/Sushi section, and a Spanish section (note: Spanish, not Mexican). You can order off of any of the menus, and based on your selections those orders will be delivered to three different chefs in three different kitchens, and they will come out whenever they’re ready, so don’t count on course-planning here.

This place makes the list for “best happy hour”, because of their 5 for $5 promotion. It isn’t as simple as a daily happy hour. It takes place Thursdays (all day), and again on Fridays & Saturdays from 5-8pm. This is one of those elusive weekend happy hours, and the selection is fantastic. You can choose from a diverse list of menu items, and a great little cocktail list. Everything listed will be just $5 each. If you are looking for an inexpensive place to grab a bite and a few drinks on a Friday or Saturday night, you absolutely will not do better than this.

Recommendations: Calamari Fritos & a Shrimp Tempura Roll. A coconut mojito followed by your choice of a call drink.

Your bill: $20.

 

#1: Bulla

This Gastrobar is new to South Howard Ave, but it is a fantastic place to enjoy a few cocktails. You can choose from their main bar which is situated right on Howard Ave, right behind some floor-to-ceiling windows that open completely to make the whole place feel like a patio or the super swanky rooftop bar that will make you wonder why everyone in Tampa doesn’t spend more time on roofs. (Fair warning, the downstairs and upstairs menus differ slightly.) Bulla is an inventive Gastrobar that is quickly growing, with locations in Coral Gables, Doral, Winter Park, Atlanta, Tampa, Plano, and Charlotte. But just because people in other cities are in on the secret doesn’t make this place any less fun. Here is what Bulla says about themselves: “why all the buzz? the bar and open kitchen design set the mood with an energetic vibe. the emphasis is on quality gastronomic creations made with the finest and freshest flavors. with tantalizing tapas, seasonal menus, hand-crafted cocktails, and an impressive wine list, bulla is where you go to indulge in a celebration of good taste.” (source).

This swanky new place made the Best Happy Hour list because every weekday between 5 pm and 7 pm, every drink on the menu is half off. You can get a craft cocktail, a glass of wine, a bottle of wine, or a pitcher of sangria for half off the listed price. There aren’t any deals on food, but Howard has a great food scene. If you are planning a night out, definitely start at Bulla for drinks, then you can either decide to stay to enjoy dinner, or pack it up and try someplace new on the block.

Recommendations: A pitcher of the red Sangría (always trust a Spanish place to make a great Sangría). You should get 3-4 glasses out of each pitcher.

Your Bill: $14.50

 

Dinner and drinks don’t have to break the bank in Tampa. Try one of the three fantastic places on this list, and try not to drunk text anyone important.