August 12, 2015
Business travellers are in luck to find themselves in Tampa. With 13 million square feet of office space, 4,000 businesses and proximity to the city’s award-winning airport, the Westshore district alone is Florida’s largest business hub. A 600,000 square foot convention centre and regenerating Downtown bring further opportunities for commerce, but it’s at the end of the working day that Tampa comes into its own. The city is at the vanguard of Florida’s foodie and craft beer scenes, and offers the shiniest shopping and nightlife on this side of the state. It does, however, require some local knowledge to do it justice; so here’s how to get the best out of being on business in Tampa.
Where to stay: Tampa’s most talked-about place to stay is the stylish Epicurean Hotel, a member of Marriott’s Autograph Collection. The property, whose name speaks of life’s finer things, is heavily foodie-themed and features an excellent restaurant, culinary classroom and a spa offering treatments using edible ingredients. It’s ideal for business travellers, convenient for both Downtown and Westshore, and with complimentary in-room Wi-Fi as standard. Two other recent newcomers, both Downtown, fall under the Starwood banner. The rather grand Le Méridien Tampa occupies a restored, century-old courthouse, while its sister property, Aloft Tampa Downtown looks onto the university’s silver-topped minarets – Tampa’s signature sight.
Where to eat: If your schedule allows, book a table for breakfast or lunch (it’s not open for dinner) at Oxford Exchange. It’s big on fresh, seasonal flavours, with a menu that hovers between healthy and hearty. Another good lunchtime bet is Carmines, across Downtown in Ybor City. This being Tampa’s Latin Quarter, try devilled crab, Cuban sandwiches and other Hispanic treats. With its own microbrewery on site, Ulele is great for an after-work tipple – not to mention its menu featuring regional Floridian ingredients. Or celebrate a successful day of business in Tampa with dinner at one of the city’s best restaurants. Mise en Place is renowned for Chef Marty Blitz’s Modern American cuisine (especially the five-course ‘Get Blitzed’ tasting menu with carefully chosen wine pairings).
Where to go for evening cocktails: Being on Florida’s western coast, Tampa is well placed to enjoy epic sunsets. And to do so in style, head to Oystercatchers at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay for sundowners and stunning views on its outdoor deck overlooking the bay. For something a little more urban, Edge, the Epicurean Hotel’s rooftop bar, serves up expertly crafted libations for a lively, post-work crowd. And for something really out of the ordinary, try Ciro’s Speakeasy, just down the street from the Epicurean. This quirky bar has a secretive vibe that’s borrowed from 1920s Prohibition – a password is given when you call to reserve, so remember it, or they won’t let you in!
Top sights: Those lucky enough to enjoy some downtime while on business in Tampa will find that this city is more about being than seeing, so don’t come here expecting lots of landmarks. That said, Tampa’s most famous sight – the former Tampa Bay Hotel – is a stunner. This fancifully exotic building is now the University of Tampa, but one wing recaptures its Victorian splendour at the HB Plant Museum. Meanwhile, the newly completed Tampa Riverwalk sweeps past its distinctive faÃ§ade, steering pedestrians and cyclists along the waterfront to the Tampa Museum of Art and Straz Performing Arts Centre. And if that’s not enough of a cultural fix, check out the historic Tampa Theatre for its dynamic roll call of movies and musicals.
Great gifts: In Westshore for meetings but with a gap in your schedule? Use the time to best advantage with a whip around one of two malls. International Plaza is the higher-end option, where Tiffany and Apple stores top the list for desirable gifts. Nearby, Westshore Plaza is a little more “high street”, with lots of good options for kids. One of Tampa’s most exciting stores is the lifestyle boutique at Oxford Exchange, which stocks a brilliantly curated selection of must-have homewares, cards and gifts. But for something that says “uniquely Tampa”, hit the Columbia Restaurant’s gift shop for hand-rolled cigars made on-site – a throwback from when Ybor City was the Cigar Capital of the World.
Going local: Tampa’s Bayshore Boulevard is a 4.5-mile sidewalk that skirts along the shore of Tampa Bay. It’s a favourite recreational resource, perfect for a scenic bike ride or jog. The millionaires’ mansions that front the bay demand to be ogled with envy, but keep an eye on the water, too, as bottlenose dolphins can be seen here year-round. Tampa residents love exploring their bay, so make like a local and hit the water in an electric boat, or if watching sport is more your thing, pick up some tickets to a live game and support local teams in everything from American football to baseball and ice hockey.
Where to break curfew: When your final meeting’s in the bag and you’re ready to let your hair down, make a beeline for Ybor City. Tampa’s premier nightlife district, and its main drag, Seventh Avenue, is awash with bars and clubs. Each seems to cater to a different scene, so whether you’re in the mood for line dancing, disco beats or a quiet pint of locally brewed ale, there’s plenty to choose from. Tampa’s other nightlife hub is known as the SoHo Strip. This collection of bars along South Howard Avenue (near the Epicurean Hotel) is slightly less hectic than Ybor City, but either is perfectly suited to rounding your business trip off with a bang.
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Have you been on business in Tampa? Where were your favourite places to visit between meetings? Let us know in the comments section below.