Category Archives: Travel features

“Checking the Perimeter”: The Real Florida Right Outside Orlando (Orlando Weekly)

It was somewhere around Holopaw, around the edge of the swamps, when the dung began to take hold. The smell of the reclaimed water hydrating the golf courses and manicured lawns of instant communities with names like Harmony and Lake Nona had given way to the loamy musk of vast cattle ranches and sod farms. In an instant, the cancerous advance of suburbia that marks Central Florida had been halted by wide-open swaths of dry prairie. I was only 20 minutes from my Winter Park house, but, surrounded by scrub palms, shade-seeking cows and an endless blue sky, I had found the Old Florida that so many people mourn.

Those mourners are correct in their judgment that this part of the state is being swallowed up by developers’ greed. It’s shocking that this rough and rustic region not only still exists, but is so tantalizingly close to the awful congested sameness of our area’s exurban blight. So, instead of sitting around wondering what Central Florida looked like before Disney and development, I put aside a few hours to actually find it. It turned out that – whaddaya know? – a day without turnpikes, billboards and stuccoed strip malls is a very good day.

Driving south on U.S. Highway 441, watching the Stepford perfection of Harmony Golf Preserve recede into the rearview, I shook my head in disbelief at the dredging and construction in and around Big Bend Swamp. Is it possible that these builders were – despite the housing slump – encroaching even farther into rural Florida? They appeared to be trying, but soon enough the goat farms, sod farms and cattle ranches asserted their primacy. It’s almost an hour’s drive down 441 going from Holopaw to the next town, Yeehaw Junction. In that time, there are few signs of life to focus upon: a tiny mailbox for the Deseret Ranch, a couple of wildlife management areas, the driveway-topping entry signs for various ranches. Lacking in man-made distractions, the route encourages drivers to relax their eyes in an attempt to take in the broad vista, the sky as limitless as the breadbasket views out west.

My reverie was soon broken, though, by the sight of the busy Florida’s Turnpike. Here it meets 441 and State Road 60, at Yeehaw Junction. Since the late 1800s, “cowmen working the free range cattle on the palmetto prairie and lumber men cutting timber nearby came to the Desert Inn to eat, drink and dance.” There’s not much dancing at the Desert Inn now (though there is a country-heavy jukebox), but even on this midweek afternoon, the bar and kitchen were busy. A very pregnant bartender/waitress served up my ice-cold Budweiser and gator burger in between complaints of hot flashes, and I couldn’t help but notice the sign on the bar that states that this is a “historic landmark, not a fast-food restaurant.” Thus, a quick bite on the road turned into an involuntary leisurely lunch. In this part of Florida it is essential that you slow down and take in the scenery.

From the parking lot of the Desert Inn, you can turn left on State Road 60 and be in Vero Beach in an hour, or you can turn right toward more of the palmetto prairie. I turned right. The dry, expansive vistas continued for nearly an hour, with only the hurried tailgating of trucks laden with orange juice, lumber and chickens reminding me that I wasn’t cruising down a 19th-century wagon trail. Crossing the Kissimmee River into Polk County, the landscape morphed from parched flatness into verdant scenery. By this time, the sight of the Westgate River Ranch – an upscale resort that claims to be “the world’s largest dude ranch” – appeared to be quaintly exploitative. This “1,700-acre ponderosa of winding trails, pristine waters and more” may allow travelers a chance to enjoy a simulacrum of Old Florida, but the real thing had surrounded me all day.

Farther down the road, I could buy “honey by the pound or by the car load” in the tiny town of Hesperides. Upon approaching Lake Wales, I decided to forgo a visit to the Bok Tower Gardens and headed instead to the ridiculous, gravity-defying Spook Hill. Getting on State Road 17 afterward took me along a winding road through rolling hills along the chain of lakes. Produce stands in old citrus towns like Dundee provided nourishment, while bars like Gary’s Liquorup Lounge in downtown Haines City offered cold liquid refreshment. By this time in the journey, though, those cookie-cutter subdivisions started to make themselves known again and it was clear that modern Florida was getting closer and closer. It was time to get back on dreaded I-4 and head home, but not without knowing that an instant oasis still lies just outside of town.

First appeared Sept. 27, 2007 in the Orlando Weekly “Fall Guide.”

Florida Keys Destination Guide: Intro (Time Out/Expedia.co.uk)

Just as any Floridian will tell you that their state is unlike the rest of the US, inhabitants of the Keys are proud to claim the islands are unlike the rest of Florida. And they’re right. This group of 45 islands south of Miami trails the rounded mainland coast like a procession of tadpoles. A 113-mile roadway links the Keys (from the Spanish ‘cayo’, meaning small island) to the bottom of the mainland, but that’s where any ties with the frenetic Miami pace ends.

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Some of the islands are monstrously overpopulated and lure tourists with vulgar neon and nasty T-shirts. But the further south-west you travel, the more peaceful the backdrop. Many visitors choose to head straight to Key West, skipping the islands en route. However, some hold more-than-worthwhile attractions, others offer unique natural beauty.

Key Largo couldn’t be less like the film of the same name if it tried – best move on. South of Key Largo, at MM 93, is Tavernier, a small town that’s notable chiefly for its protected strip of architecturally intriguing wooden buildings from the turn of the century – that and the very worthwhile Florida Keys Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center (MM 93.6, +1 305 852 4486, http://www.fkwbc.org).

The group of islands known as Islamorada – Plantation, Windley, Upper Matecumbe, Shell Lignumvitae, Indian and Lower Matecumbe Keys, running from MM 90 to MM 74 – offer a bunch of pretty spots. Whereas Key Largo is a dive centre, here it’s fishing that dominates. This is the first glimpse you’ll get of a quieter, more traditional Keys existence.

Next up, Long Key is now largely taken up by the 965-acre state recreation area (MM 67.5, +1 305 664 4815).

There are few points of interest on the short drive from Long Key to Marathon, through Conch Key, Grassy Key and the assorted smaller Keys around them. Some keys are home to fishermen, especially at Tom’s Harbor Cut, while others offer super-swanky resorts.

Marathon, on the island of Key Vaca, is the last major settlement before Key West. It’s an odd mix of delicious beaches (the lively Sombrero Beach, off Sombrero Road at the south side), subtropical forests (Crane Point), cheap motels, variable restaurants and seamy bars.

Bahia Honda is home to the uniquely beautiful and tranquil Bahia Honda State Park (MM 37, +1 305 872 2353, http://www.bahiahondapark.com). More typical signs of life arrive in Big Pine Key, the Keys’ second-largest island after Key Largo.

At the end of the chain, Key West is a strange place. It’s geographically closer to Havana than Miami – and is home to a mere 30,000, but it is visited by thousands more tourists each year, drawn by thoughts of eccentric charm, lively nightlife and quirky individuality. All those characteristics still exist, but they’ve been overwhelmed by the chase for the tourist dollar.

Local history
Native American Indians made their home here long before white settlers staked their claim in the 19th century. At first, farming communities made a living with fruit orchards, and on Big Pine Key a thriving shark processing factory was established. Cubans soon joined the white Americans. Today, their influence is still apparent across the islands, albeit less so than in Miami. Tourism struck in the early 1900s, when Henry Flagler built his ambitious railway to Key West.

Local politics
The 1935 Labor Day Hurricane put an end to Henry Flagler’s 20-year vision of a rail link through the islands when 40 miles of line washed out to sea. Just three years later, though, the first Overseas Highway (US 1) was completed, linking the islands to the mainland forever. Parts of Flagler’s Folly became fodder for Hollywood when they were blown up for scenes in several movies such as the Sylvester Stallone, er, bomb, The Specialist.

Commissioned by Time Out (London), first published mid-2006 on Expedia.co.uk. Updated mid-2007.

Florida Keys Destination Guide: Why Go? (Time Out/Expedia.co.uk)

Why go

For warm beaches, seedy nightlife and the deep, blue sea.

When to go
Like many subtropical places, Florida has two seasons: rainy and dry (not to mention hot and hotter). The winter air is warm, dry and pleasant, though you may need a sweater in the evening, and the sea is still warm enough for swimming, especially for those used to chillier climes. Summer, meanwhile, gets very hot and unpleasantly humid during the day. June to November is hurricane season.

Best for
Nightlife , Beaches

How to get there
The Keys are most easily accessed from Miami International Airport (MIA), just north-west of Downtown Miami. There are flights from London Heathrow with British Airways and American Airlines. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport is 30 miles north of downtown Miami and has flights from London Gatwick with US Airways and Continental. The Keys Shuttle (+1 888 765 9997 or 305 289 9997) is a door-to-door service from Fort Lauderdale and Miami International Airports to Key Largo and other points in the Keys.

Shopping
Other than some interesting bookshops, a result of Key West’s classy literary heritage (try Blue Heron Books, 826 Duval Street, +1 305 296 3508, or the superb Key West Island Books, 513 Fleming Street, +1 305 294 2904), most things in the Keys are expensive, and decent shops are few and far between. That said, there are some unusual shops worth checking out. At the Cuban Leaf Cigar Factory (310 Duval Street, Key West, +1 305 295 9283), you can watch cigars being made before buying them. Capricorn Jewelry (706B Duval Street, Key West, +1 305 292 9338) has a good selection of Native American jewellery.

Alternative Perspectives
Key West is a gay Mecca and the gay spots can be some of the Key’s most entertaining. Two popular venues are the 801 Bourbon Bar/Number One Saloon (801 Duval Street & 514 Petronia Street, +1 305 294 9349 for both).

Must see
Don’t leave without taking a look under the surface of the water – either in a boat or scuba diving proper. Then before you head to Key West for some seamy drag queen action, visit the Indian Key State Historic Site or Bahia Honda State Park.

Family activities
Beaches and snorkelling should provide plenty of entertainment for children and there’s all manner of other edifying and aquatic fun to be had at Dolphin Cove and Dolphins Plus (MM 99.5, +1 305 451 1993, http://www.pennekamppark.com).

Sports activities
Golf , Diving , Sailing

Local customs

Tipping. Tipping is standard practice here. So much so, in fact, that many restaurants add the tip on to the bill before you get it; always check before paying. If the bill doesn’t already contain a tip, add 15-20 per cent in restaurants.

Smoking. Compared to other parts of America, smoking is relatively well tolerated in the Keys.

Commissioned by Time Out (London), first published mid-2006 on Expedia.co.uk. Updated mid-2007.

Florida Keys Destination Guide: What To Do (Time Out/Expedia.co.uk)

Dolphin Research Center
This non-profit spot is part research facility, part education organisation and part tourist attraction, and it fulfils all three of its roles with aplomb. Those expecting a standard cutesy dolphin show will be disappointed: staff here are more concerned with the benefits of dolphin-related therapy on handicapped kids, although anyone can swim with the dolphins by booking in advance. The tours are illuminating and interesting.

Phone:
+1 305 289 1121; reservations +1 305 289 0002
Opening hours:
9am-5pm daily
Address:
MM 59, Grassy Key
Indian Key State Historic Site
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Indian Key, an island with a rich history (the Indian tribe that once lived here was booted out by fishermen from the Bahamas, and then by wreckers), is now uninhabited. The tours are worth taking, though you’ll have to go by boat from Robbie’s Marina at MM 77.5; booking is recommended, especially as, at the time of writing, public access to the island was limited due to severe damage sustained during the ruthless 2005 hurricane season.

Phone:
+1 305 664 4815, tour boat +1 305 664 9814
Opening hours:
Ranger tours 9am, 1pm Mon, Thur-Sun; tour boats 8.30am, 12.30pm Mon, Thur-Sun
Address:
Postal address: PO Box 1052, Islamorada, FL 33036. Accessible from MM 79.5
Pigeon Key & the Seven Mile Bridge
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Pigeon Key was once home to the labourers on Flagler’s railroad. These days it’s all but deserted, although it merits a visit for the tranquillity and for the chance to ride by train on the old Seven Mile Bridge, a soaring structure opened in 1982. When the original was completed back in 1912 newspapers proclaimed it the Eighth Wonder of the World; now it’s the world’s longest guano-spattered fishing pier. It adds a thrill to the most spectacular part of the drive down the Keys.

Phone:
+1 305 289 0025
Opening hours:
N/a
Address:
The island is accessible only by train, bike or on foot. Head to the Visitors’ Centre (in a red railway carriage at MM 47, right before the bridge)
Museums

Hemingway Home & Museum
Relentlessly hyped – especially when you consider that Ernest only lived here for eight years – and often extremely busy, this is still one of Key West’s most appealing sights. It is definitely worth tagging along to listen to the stories related by the bunch of laconic guides (they set off every 15 minutes or so), which have the effect of really bringing the house to life. And it’s an absolute must for fans of six-toed cats named after celebrities.

Phone:
+1 305 294 1575
Opening hours:
9am-5pm daily
Address:
907 Whitehead Street, Olivia Street, Key West
Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum
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An assortment of impressive and rare artefacts at this museum commemorates the work of Mel Fisher, an old-school salvager with new-school technology who unearthed a whopping $400 million of treasure from wrecks in 1985.

Phone:
+1 305 294 2633
Opening hours:
9.30am-5pm daily
Address:
200 Greene Street, Front Street, Key West
Natural Wonders

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
This is a vast, accessible swathe of the living coral reef that runs the length of the Keys. No array of colour pictures or brochure flim-flam can really prepare you for the beauty of the coral reef, which can be seen from inside a glass-bottomed boat (tours last two and a half hours). Garish fish and exotic sea creatures glide around, and can be viewed close up by snorkelling and diving (tours also available, along with equipment rental).

Phone:
http://www.pennekamppark.com
Opening hours:
N/a
Address:
+1 305 451 1621
Crane Point
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This extraordinary 63.5-acre subtropical forest, the last remaining virgin palm hammock in the US, is named after philanthropists Francis and Mary Crane, who lived here for years. The property includes the Museum of Natural History of the Florida Keys and the compact Florida Keys Children’s Museum, which will keep young ones occupied at least for a short spell.

Phone:
+1 305 753 9100
Opening hours:
9am-5pm Mon-Sat; noon-5pm Sun
Address:
5550 Overseas Highway (MM 50.5), Marathon
Bahia Honda State Park
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Perhaps the prettiest of all the parks in the Keys, Bahia Honda offers the proverbial something for everyone: nature trails for the exploratory-minded, diving and snorkelling for the adventurous (equipment rental is available at the marina), camping for real outdoor types (and cabins for real indoor types), and the loveliest white-sand beaches in the Keys. It’s the perfect way to get some R&R before or after a Key West binge.

Phone:
+1 305 872 2353
Opening hours:
8am-sunset daily
Address:
MM 37, Bahia Honda Key
Nightlife

Green Parrot
The Parrot, here since 1890, can get as loud and lairy as some of the Duval Street spots, but at least it’s mostly locals doing the shouting. It’s got a great divey atmosphere and a decent range of beers (about ten of them on draught).

Phone:
+1 305 294 6133
Opening hours:
10am-4am Mon-Sat; noon-4am Sun
Address:
601 Whitehead Street, Southard Street, Key West
Restaurants

Blue Heaven
A perennial favourite, BH, a former bordello, serves truly excellent Caribbean cuisine (BBQ shrimp, jerk chicken, surf ’n’ turf) in laid-back surroundings. Note the slate billiard table bases inset into the sandy floor of the rear yard, where Hemingway used to attend cockfights. There’s a fine little beach bar to patronise while you wait (make sure you try the locally brewed Sunset Ale).

Phone:
+1 305 296 8666
Opening hours:
8am-3pm, 6pm-10.30pm daily
Address:
729 Thomas Street, Angela Street, Key West

Commissioned by Time Out (London), first published mid-2006 on Expedia.co.uk. Updated mid-2007.

Tampa Destination Guide: Intro (Time Out/Expedia.co.uk)

Though she flaunts her colourful Hispanic past, Tampa is hot for the future, with a crop of muscular skyscrapers, an awakening downtown and a frolicsome array of sizzling, outdoor fun that other cities can only envy.

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Set on verdant Tampa Bay in Florida within a short drive of glittering, world-class beaches, the Big Guava’s spoiled inhabitants kayak and canoe wild rivers by day and enjoy the ruffled whirl of Spanish flamenco while they dine and party late in Ybor City by night. Ybor City – once a busy Hispanic neighbourhood, now a historic district – rocks with clubs, bars, shops and restaurants.

Whether your idea of pleasure is lounging face-down in the sand, or donning formal attire for an elegant night at a Broadway show, you can’t beat Tampa’s eclectic mix of the crass and the sublime, genteel past and modern cutting edge.

Florida Aquarium (701 Channelside Drive, +1 813 2734000, http://www.flaquarium.org), in the city’s developing Channelside District, features 10,000 aquatic plants and animals, and highlights Florida’s water ecosystem. The aquarium spans 152,000sq ft and circulates more than a million gallons of fresh and saltwater. Its most spectacular displays feature giant sharks and a colourful approximation of a tropical coral reef.

The lovely 1891 Henry B Plant Museum (401 W Kennedy Boulevard, +1 813 2541891, http://www.plantmuseum.com), in what once was the Tampa Bay Hotel, is a lovely place to visit. Picnic afterwards in its grounds, gracious Plant Park, overlooking downtown and the Hillsborough River.

If you feel like catching a movie, treat yourself to the Tampa Theatre (711 Franklin Street, +1 813 2748981, http://www.tampatheatre.org), built in 1926 and preserved as one of the city’s architectural treasures.

For cultural attractions, the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center (1010 N WC MacInnes Place, +1 813 2297827, http://www.tbpac.org) hosts a variety of shows each year – everything from Broadway plays and grand operas to pop and rock concerts. It is the home of the Florida Orchestra, which performs from September through May.

Local history
In 1849, Tampa (population 185) was established. A little more than 150 years later, the city is home to more than 300,000 and is the epicentre of a metropolitan area that’s home to 2.5 million people. Though residents like to trumpet their pirate heritage, the only buccaneer to call the area home was José Gaspar in the late 18th century… and he chose it because nobody else was around. Rather than privateering, Tampa’s roots lie in the financial success of industrialist Henry B Plant, a longtime military presence (United States Central Command is based here) and decades of Cuban immigration.

Local politics
Like other large Florida cities, Tampa’s politics don’t neatly fit into liberal/conservative niches; rather the effects of sprawling development and too-fast growth have created a new dynamic. Though Tampa has its fair share of jaw-dropping wealth and poorly planned suburbia, it’s also learned well from the mistakes of Miami and occasionally pretends to impose some governmental restraints on the bankers and builders that make the area hum.

Commissioned by Time Out (London), first published mid-2006 on Expedia.co.uk. Updated mid-2007.

Tampa Destination Guide: Why Go? (Time Out/Expedia.co.uk)

Go for the water and year-round sunny weather. Check out Tampa’s champion hockey team, the Tampa Bay Lightning, which, in 2004, won the Stanley Cup, the sport’s highest honour; it plays at the St Petersburg Times Forum (www.icepalace.com).

When to go
Summer and early autumn can be devastatingly hot and humid – and prone to hurricanes. The rest of the year provides gorgeous and comfortably subtropical weather. The cultural season that kicks off in mid-September wakes the area from its heat-induced torpor, while the relatively cool and dry weather in February and March is as yet untainted by the touristing hordes.

Best for
Sightseeing , Beaches

How to get there
Tampa is served by Tampa International airport which is 5miles west of the city. There are no direct flights from London to Tampa – connections must be made in Charlotte or Atlanta – but there are direct flights with Virgin from London Gatwick to Orlando International, 90 minutes from downtown Tampa.

Shopping
Mammoth, air-conditioned shopping malls abound such as the truly impressive 150-store International Plaza (2223 North West Shore Boulevard), but the historic neighbourhood of Hyde Park contains both a plethora of interesting, locally owned shops as well as the multi-building complex of Old Hyde Park Village (742 South Village Circle), which is home to name-brand boutique stores (Brooks Brothers, Williams-Sonoma).

Alternative Perspectives
Clearwater is home to the worldwide headquarters of the Church of Scientology.

Must see
Seemingly surrounded by water at all times, no trip to Tampa Bay would be complete without a stop at any of the area’s gorgeous white-sand beaches, the best of which are those at Fort Desoto Park.

Family activities
A visit to the low-key, but well-appointed Lowry Park Zoo (1101 West Sligh Avenue; 9.30am-5.30pm daily) may not have the roller coasters of Busch Gardens, but the growling of the tigers at feeding time is just as thrilling.

Sports activities
Golf , Windsurfing , Surfing , Hiking , Sailing

Local customs

Tipping. A service charge is almost never included on restaurant bills (unless the party is large), but in all but the most abysmal of service situations, you should tip your server. Fifteen per cent is minimal, 20 per cent is customary.

Smoking. Smoking is not allowed in any restaurant in Florida, as well as most public buildings.

Commissioned by Time Out (London), first published mid-2006 on Expedia.co.uk. Updated mid-2007.

Tampa Destination Guide: Things To Do (Time Out/Expedia.co.uk)

Florida Aquarium
Aquariums have been a quick fix for many redeveloping downtown areas, but the Florida Aquarium, situated in the Channelside area, is a more natural fit than, say, the Tennessee Aquarium. The Florida-centric focus allows for an amazingly wide array of aquatic life, all of which is presented in an informative, entertaining and eco-friendly way.

Phone:
+1 (813) 273 4000
Opening hours:
9.30am-5pm daily; closed Thanksgiving Day & Christmas Day
Address:
701 Channelside Drive
Tastings, A Wine Experience
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Automated wine-tasting bars are slowly gaining in popularity in the US and Tastings picks up winningly on that trend. Offering 120 different bottles of wine for sale, with the opportunity for customers to taste each one courtesy of mechanically poured one-ounce shots. The overworked bottle-opener behind the bar is replaced with a casual, knowledgable guide to assist you in your selections.

Phone:
+1 (727) 894 2255
Opening hours:
11.30am-10pm Mon-Wed; 11.30am-midnight Thur-Sat; 2pm-8pm Sun
Address:
149 First Avenue North, St Petersburg
excursions

Fort DeSoto Park
The beaches in and around Clearwater are consistently ranked among the best in the US and Fort DeSoto Park is the best of the best. Five different islands make up the park, and, though the history of the fort itself is interesting, it’s the 5km of naturally beautiful white-sand beaches that are the biggest draw. Fishing, camping and hiking opportunities abound.

Phone:
+1 (727) 582 2267
Opening hours:
7am-dusk
Address:
3500 Pinellas Bayway South, Tierra Verde
Museums

Salvador Dalí Museum
Positioned on the waterfront in an out-of-the-way section of downtown St Petersburg this museum is a beautiful and well-arranged homage to the surrealist master. From early works to large-scale masterpieces, the Dalí Museum puts the pieces in perspective with informative docents and even some kid-friendly activities.

Phone:
+1 (800) 442 3254
Opening hours:
9.30am-5.30pm Mon, Tue, Wed, Sat; 9.30am-8pm Thur, Fri; noon-5.30 pm Sun
Address:
1000 Third Street South, St Petersburg
Museum of Fine Arts
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A neatly organised and welcoming building that backs up to the waterfront, the Museum of Fine Arts is one of the area’s most underrated art museums, and certainly one of the best-curated in the state. A small permanent collection of pieces ranging from pre-Columbian to 19th-century European is augmented by frequently changing (and often surprisingly esoteric) exhibits that could be anything from photographer Weegee’s photos to the work of contemporary Japanese printmakers.

Phone:
+1 (727) 896 2667
Opening hours:
10am-5pm Tue-Sat; 1pm-5pm Sun; closed Mon
Address:
255 Beach Drive, NE, St Petersburg
Nightlife

Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino
Though casinos in Florida don’t hold a candle to the monstrous big-money rooms in Las Vegas (no table games, no sports book), the stylish and friendly Hard Rock is nonetheless an excellent spot to dance with Lady Luck. Some 2,200 slot machines and a constantly busy poker room are the extent of the action, but beware: the rock and roll environment makes you feel richer than you really are.

Phone:
+1 (813) 627 7625
Opening hours:
24hrs
Address:
5223 North Orient Road
New World Brewery
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Although beer is no longer made here, this Ybor City institution makes sure its customers are always provided the opportunity to consume interesting brews. A wide selection of imports and microbrews – with more than two dozen on tap – keeps the focus on beer, but the friendly staff, outdoor seating and occasional live indie and hip-hop shows make the distractions pleasant enough.

Phone:
+1 (813) 248 4969
Opening hours:
3pm-3am daily
Address:
1313 East Eighth Avenue
Restaurants

Ceviche
Cozy and hard to find, Ceviche still feels like a secret, despite nearly a decade of dishing up the area’s best tapas and sangria to ever-growing crowds. Extremely popular as a late-night dining spot, the casually friendly staff, authentic menu and leisurely pace of dining makes for a memorable experience.

Phone:
+1 (813) 250 0203
Opening hours:
From 5pm daily; closing times vary from 10pm on Sun & Mon to 3am on Fri & Sat
Address:
2109 Bayshore Boulevard
Bern’s Steak House
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For 50 years this opulent steak house has been synonymous with fine dining in Tampa Bay, and for good reason. Ridiculously luxe decor serves to complement the equally top-shelf Euro-American fare the kitchen creates. A long-winded, if amusingly readable menu – complete with two pages of caviar listings and a dissertation on the restaurant’s organic farm – a gigantic wine list and a relaxing ‘Dessert Room’ for sweets, coffee and aperitifs makes Bern’s as quirkily personal as it is traditionally elegant.

Phone:
+1 (813) 251 2421
Opening hours:
5pm-11pm daily
Address:
1208 South Howard Avenue
Theme Parks

Busch Gardens
The zoo aspect of Busch Gardens is not to be overlooked, and with 2,700 animals on the site, it would be hard to. However, the primary attraction here is the collection of awe-inspiring roller coasters, including Sheikra, which offers a 138ft, 70mph straight-down drop.

Phone:
+1 (888) 800 5447
Opening hours:
9am-10pm during summer; hours vary considerably the rest of the year
Address:
3605 E Bougainvillea Avenue

Commissioned by Time Out (London), first published mid-2006 on Expedia.co.uk. Updated mid-2007.