There’s a lot to like about Tampa Bay's beaches, from the powdery sand to the calm, warm waters of the Gulf – perfect for a relaxing day spent wading and floating. However, like most beaches, they also come with a chance of sunburn, afternoon showers and/or crowds of spring breakers and tourists.
Should you need a break from the sun and sand, it’s always nice to have some other activities in your back pocket. Fortunately, if you venture a little further inland to the cities of Tampa and St Petersburg, you’ll find Tampa Bay has a lot more to offer than its great beaches.
The Cuban sandwich doesn't come more classic than Columbia Restaurant's offering © Dominic Cador / Lonely Planet
Visit the birthplace of the Cuban sandwich
Perched just northeast of downtown Tampa, Ybor City was founded by cigar manufacturers, and its early existence was dominated by the trade. In the early 20th century, the city hosted more than 150 cigar factories employing thousands of workers, mostly immigrants from Cuba, Spain and Italy. It’s widely accepted that the Cuban sandwich – ham, roasted pork, salami, pickles and mustard thin-pressed between slices of Cuban bread – was their creation, influenced by their native cuisines. You can find a classic rendition of the Cuban sandwich at the historic Columbia Restaurant, or pay a visit to La Teresita or Bodega, two local favorites.
While there’s only one working cigar factory in Ybor City today, you won’t have to look far to find a hand-rolled cigar. Simply follow the scent of tobacco smoke on Seventh Avenue and you’ll pass by a handful of shops ready for your business.
The Salvador Dali museum contains the largest collection of the artist's work outside of Europe © Abbey Cory / Lonely Planet
Find inspiration in a local art museum
Few activities offer better cover from overbearing sunshine or intermittent rain showers than a museum excursion, and Tampa Bay has several that are worth a visit. At the Salvador Dali Museum in St Petersburg, visitors can peruse over 2,100 of the artist’s works produced throughout his career – the largest collection outside Europe.
You can also find the Museum of Fine Arts in downtown St Petersburg, which houses masterpieces from artists including Monet, O’Keeffe, De Kooning and Rauschenberg, along with one of Florida’s most respected photography collections. Across the bridge, the Tampa Museum of Art overlooks the Hillsborough River and prides itself on being the largest institution in the southeast dedicated to modern art.
If you don’t feel like paying museum admission, you can view dozens of vibrant street murals throughout St Petersburg’s downtown neighborhoods for free, thanks to SHINE Mural Festival, which since 2015 has commissioned artwork throughout the city. Or make your own art and try your hand at wheel throwing or hand building with a class at the Morean Center for Clay.
Shufflers enjoy a Friday night at the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club © Abbey Cory / Lonely Planet
Play shuffleboard at the oldest and largest court in the world
Even if you think of shuffleboard as a game for your grandparents, it’s hard not to be charmed by the cheerful strung lights and nostalgia at the St Petersburg Shuffleboard Club. Established in 1924, the club’s row upon row of shuffleboard courts and emerald benches carry some serious vintage appeal. In fact, it even inspired some visitors to open the Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club in Brooklyn and Chicago.
In its heyday in the 1930s, the club had over 4000 members. While not quite as lively today, it’s still a popular place for families and friends to spend the day or evening. The courts are open to non-members on Tuesdays and Thursdays for $5, but on Fridays anyone can play for free from 7–10pm. Show up with a few friends, your favorite snacks and drinks (just no glass) and snag a club volunteer to give you some shuffleboard tips.
Locally baked cookies are among the delicious items at Indie Flea in Tampa © Dominic Cador / Lonely Planet
Scour local markets for a keepsake
Whether you’re looking for farm fresh veggies, locally baked goods, handmade art and jewelry or live music, Tampa Bay’s market scene offers a little (or a lot) of everything. Go beyond the ubiquitous puka shell necklaces and tacky beach T-shirts to find a locally made souvenir to help you remember your trip.
St Pete’s Indie Market and Tampa’s Indie Flea are stocked with everything from local art to artisanal jams to handmade soaps and decor. Even better, whether it’s St Pete’s Green Bench Brewing Co or Tampa’s Armature Works, these markets’ locations are worth visiting on their own.
If you’re in the area on the first weekend of the month, don’t miss Brocante Market, a revolving array of antique furniture and vintage housewares.
If you're more interested in a tasty memory, St Petersburg’s Saturday Morning Market is the largest farmer’s market in the southeast, hosting over 130 vendors each week offering regional produce, dairy, meats and honey, among other goods. You can find more fresh produce and local bites at Hyde Park Village on the first Sunday of every month, and in Seminole Heights on the second Sunday of every month.
Tampa is the biggest city in the Tampa Bay area, which offers several sports teams to cheer on © John Colletti / Getty Images
Cheer on the home team (or not) at your choice of sporting event
Surprising as it might be to find ice hockey in Florida, the Tampa Bay Lightning, 2004 Stanley Cup winners, are probably the most popular sports team in the area. Their games also offer another perk in that they’re indoors, keeping you air conditioned and safe from the elements (including actual lightning, a hallmark of the region’s sudden summer thunderstorms).
If hockey’s not your thing, the good news is that you have a handful of other options to get your sports fix. The Buccaneers, Rowdies and Rays are all based in the area – and you can even see the New York Yankees if you catch them during spring training.
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