*This post is sponsored by VISIT FLORIDA, but all opinions are my own. I’m so excited to announce that I’ll be spending this week in sunny Tampa and St.Petersburg/Clearwater, Florida. I am thrilled to share this amazing Florida vacation with you all!*
This week I had the wonderful opportunity to spend a few days in the gorgeous city of Tampa. Located on the west coast of Florida on Tampa Bay, near the Gulf of Mexico, Tampa is a great destination for adults and children alike. In fact, in 2008, Tampa was ranked as the 5th best outdoor city by Forbes. Even though my time in Tampa was short, there were four things that still managed to steal my heart!
1. Edge Rooftop Bar
Located in the Epicurean Hotel (which is the most adorable hotel by the way), Edge is a super trendy rooftop bar that’s worthy of its name. I’ve been to plenty of rooftop bars back home in Chicago and my favorite part is always the beautiful view. Edge definitely didn’t fall short when it came to its amazing view. The bar overlooks gorgeous buildings and palm trees galore! If you’re in the area I HIGHLY recommend getting the lamb meatballs, a cocktail (the one pictured is ‘The Jerk’ and it’s delicious) and a macaron (or two, or three!) Another Tampa eatery I enjoyed (and highly recommend) was Irish 31. Irish 31 is adorable pub that’s on a mission to reset the standard for all Irish Pubs! While there, I had some incredible hummus, the most amazing shepherd’s pie I’ve ever tasted and a Chocolate Kiss Martini (sound good right?!).
2. Lowry Park Zoo
Game time! Can you find the two elephants in this photo?
I’m a huge animal lover. I probably visit the Brookfield Zoo at least once a year and the Lincoln Park Zoo about once every other month, so whenever I’m in a new city, I like to stop by their zoo. I’ve got to say, Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo is nothing short of amazing. No wonder Parents Magazine named it the “#1 Zoo in the USA.” The zoo is broken down into six sections: Asian Gardens, Wallaroo Station, Florida Wildlife Center, Primate World, Safari Africa and Ituri Forest.
While at the Lowry Park Zoo I got to feed an actual giraffe! Did you know giraffe’s tongues can grow 18 inches longs (take that Gene Simmons!) I had two big pieces of lettuce and as soon as I angled my hand toward the giraffe, its long tongue darted out and grabbed the treat. It was so amazing! I’ve fed stingrays and fish before but I’ve never experienced anything like this! Most zoo’s have small rides, like carousels, throughout it but they usually cost additional money. This IS NOT the case at the Lowry Park Zoo. All SEVEN mechanical rides are FREE with admission. The rides include: the Jungle Carousel, Gator Falls Flume Ride, Tasmanian Tiger Family Roller Coaster (it’s so fun), Overland Express Train, Boomer’s Flying Bananas, Outback Bumper Boats and the Expedition Africa Guided Safaris.
I really loved the attention to detail throughout the zoo. Each little section felt so real. When I was in the Asian Gardens, it felt like I had stepped in another country, same with the African Safari.
Besides feeding a giraffe (I also got to touch stingrays! One even give me a high five), my favorite part of the zoo had to be their passion for reserving the animal kingdom. The park had an endangered wildlife wall, letting visitors know what animals we have to do our best to help protect. There was also plenty of information throughout the park that encouraged people to help by donating, and adopting/sponsoring animals in need.
3. Busch Gardens
The last time I visited Busch Gardens I was either 9 or 10 years old. All I could remember is loving how some animals (mostly birds) walked freely throughout the park and how many huge roller coasters there were to ride. Since my last visit there has definitely been some changes, including new rides. Their newest coaster, Cheetah Hunt®, is a triple launch coaster that carries riders high above the park, then races down along the ground through a rocky gorge. At a length of 4,400 feet, it is the park’s longest thrill ride attraction. It’s also surprisingly a very smooth ride!
Besides all the thrilling roller coasters (my favorites where Cheetah Hunt, Montu and Scorpion), I took a little tour of the park via the Serengeti Railway. What I loved about taking the railway is the fact that you really get up close and personal with some of the animals. At one point I was mere feet away from a zebra (how cool is that?)
If roller coaster and rides aren’t your thing, Busch Gardens has some AMAZING shopping (I think I spend a little too much time in the Painted Camel Bazaar!)
4. Ybor City
This historic Tampa neighborhood was founded in the 1880s by cigar manufacturers and was populated by thousands of immigrants, mainly from Spain, Cuba, and Italy. I am happy to report that the rich blended cultures Ybor City was founded on still shines through! In fact, in 2008, 7th Avenue, the main commercial thoroughfare in Ybor City, was recognized as one of the “10 Great Streets in America” by the American Planning Association! Later in 2010, Columbia Restaurant was named a “Top 50 All-American icon” by Nation’s Restaurant News magazine. While I didn’t get a chance to stop by Columbia, I did go to an adorable Cuban restaurant, La Tropicana Cafe.
While at La Tropicana Cafe, I had my first ever authentic Cuban Sandwich (I also had Cuban toast & homemade stuffed potatoes) and I think it’s safe to say I’m OBSESSED with Cuban food now! I’m now on a mission to find good Cuban food in Chicago!
How cute is the movie theater in Ybor City? I am seriously counting down the days until my next trip to Tampa! What are some of your favorite Tampa attractions?