The Big Guava: A Beginner’s Guide to Tampa

By: Jessica Vander Velde

December 10, 2013

Our new codeshare agreement with Delta brings exciting new destinations like Tampa Bay within easy reach. Tampa, aka the Big Guava, is a warm-weathered, waterfront city with a vibrant immigrant history. And though it’s only 45 minutes from some of the nation’s best beaches, Tampa offers plenty of alternative activities – perfect for those looking to discover a different side to the sunshine state. Take a look at our beginner’s guide to Tampa for some of the city’s top spots…

The University of Tampa

The campus’ beautiful main building, Plant Hall, is a striking Victorian-style brick building topped by Moorish minarets. It was built by railroad magnate Henry B. Plant between 1888 and 1891 and first used as a hotel.

Visitors are welcome to wander the campus, which sits on the Hillsborough River. Bring a picnic and sit under the lanky palm trees along the river’s bank.

Guide to Tampa | University of Tampa

University of Tampa’s minarets © Jessica Vander Velde

Museum mile

Just across the river from the University of Tampa sit three popular museums packed full of nationally renowned art. For photographs, the Florida Museum of Photographic Art is the stop to make. Even the building it is housed in, called “the cube,” is artistically stunning.

Grab coffee at locally owned Kahwa Coffee downstairs before heading across Curtis Hixon Park to the Tampa Museum of Art, which features a rotating lineup of exhibitions.

For visitors with children in tow, the Glazer Children’s Museum is the place to go. The primary-coloured building is hard to miss. Bring a camera and stop for some family photos in front of the glass mosaic walls.

Guide to Tampa | The Tampa Museum of Art

The Tampa Museum of Art at night © Jessica Vander Velde

Oxford Exchange

For lunch, the trendiest spot is the Oxford Exchange, across the street from the University of Tampa.

The building features loads of marble, dark woods and real gas lanterns, providing a luxurious setting for coffee or tea. The wait for generous sandwiches and the aromatic French fries may be long, but there’s plenty of seating in the high-ceilinged atrium, as well as a bookstore and home décor shop inside the building.

Guide to Tampa | Panoramic Downtown

Panoramic Downtown view of Tampa from the Pier © Robert Neff


What’s Florida without a dolphin spotting? Head to Ballast Point Park‘s long wooden pier for a good shot at catching these graceful creatures. Visitors will find locals fishing off the pier, and there’s a casual restaurant and playground nearby for little ones.

 Guide to Tampa | Ballast Point Park

Ballast Point Park © Gordon Tarpley


Ybor City is the most history-rich part of town, located just east of downtown Tampa, and anchored largely by Cuban, Spanish and Italian immigrants. Check out original whitewashed “casitas” (little houses) formerly inhabited by the workers at the many nearby cigar factories.

Those massive brick factories still stand, though they are no longer used for such purposes today. Visitors can still sample some great local food though. Choose between deviled crabs and Cuban sandwiches at Carmine’s, great Spanish food at the Columbia Restaurant and rich Italian food at Laughing Cat Bistro.

Guide to Tampa | Glazer Children's Museum

Glazer Children’s Museum © Jessica Vander Velde


For nighttime entertainment, the secret is Ciro’s Speakeasy and Supperclub, arguably the best cocktail joint in town. With a prohibition-era vibe and private booths enshrouded by black curtains for privacy, Ciro’s is a great local drinking den. Call ahead to get the password for the door.

Our partnership with Delta connects you to and from a range of destinations across the United States and Canada, making it easier to book flights to Tampa Bay.

How well do you know the Big Guava? Have we missed any of your favourite city spots?

Written by Jessica Vander Velde


Jessica Vander Velde

Jessica Vander Velde is a staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times, Florida’s largest newspaper. She also blogs about craft beer at

Categories: Our Places