Often passed over for more popular cities like Orlando and Miami, Tampa is coming into its own as a destination for travelers who want to experience Florida beyond the beaches and theme parks. Here a cadre of scrappy entrepreneurs are opening restaurants and breweries that tell the story of Tampa’s past, while laying the groundwork for the city’s future.
Tampa is Florida’s craft beer capital. Many local brewers are quick to credit Cigar City Brewing, the granddaddy of Tampa’s beer scene and one of the best breweries in the world, according to Ratebeer.com. Pull up a bar stool for a taste of Tampa’s history. Cigar City’s brews tell the story of the area’s famous residents, including Tony Jannus, the world’s first commercial pilot, and Jose Marti, a leader in Cuba’s quest for independence.
One of the newest breweries on the Tampa scene is Hidden Springs Ale Works, located in the up and coming Tampa Heights neighborhood just north of downtown. Try the Deja Moo milk stout and Tropic Thunder Berliner Weissbier. Local food trucks keep imbibers well fed most nights.
Up the road, Angry Chair doubles as a brewery and neighborhood bar. Started by a team of proud corporate dropouts, Angry Chair makes a delicious – and potent – German Chocolate Cupcake Stout.
The nearby Southern Brewery and Winemaking has about two dozen taps pouring ciders, craft beers and meads. Cozy up to the bar or take your brew into the backyard, complete with a fire pit, board games and picnic tables. Southern, as the locals call it, is also a homebrewer’s shop where you can load up on hops, yeast and carboys.
Get a taste of Florida’s beer scene beyond Tampa at New World, a former brewery turned biergarten and music hall. With live shows throughout the week, New World is a great place to catch the best of Florida’s up-and-coming music acts, as well as national indie bands like My Morning Jacket, Matt Woods and Kishi Bashi. The staff is happy to walk you through the 100-plus beer list, which features gluten-free, international and local brands.
The nearby King Corona serves craft beers, cigars and some of the finest people watching in Tampa. Located smack dab in Ybor City, Tampa’s Latin Quarter and nightlife hub, King Corona’s porch offers a front row seat to the nightly parade of concertgoers, club kids, and drag queens on their way to a show.
For a proper Guinness pour, head downtown to Four Green Fields Irish pub. The bar’s signature feature is a straw thatched roof, which provides excellent acoustics for the sharp-tongued guitarist who performs regularly on the bar’s small stage. He’s picky about what he plays, so don’t be surprised if your request is countered by: “I’m not a f**king jukebox.”
Tampa’s Columbia restaurant is the oldest restaurant in Florida. Grab a white cloth-covered table in the garden atrium and be sure to try the 1905 salad, named for the year the restaurant opened. The restaurant hosts flamenco shows every night but Sunday.
One of the newer players in Tampa’s dining scene is Fodder and Shine, about four miles north of downtown in the Seminole Heights neighborhood. Run by a repeated James Beard semifinalist for Best Chef: South, Fodder’s specialty is Depression-era Florida Cracker food. Here smoked mullet is served with a side of bacon fat cornbread, and the fried gizzards are washed down with a Hemingway daiquiri, a mix of rum, lime and grapefruit juice.
For a real splurge, head to Bern’s, recognized by everyone from Wine Spectator to Rachael Ray as one of the best steakhouses in the country. Round off your filet mignon or short rib ravioli with one of the 6,000-plus varieties of wine on hand. Bern’s cellar is recognized as one of the largest wine collections in the world.
A Tampa institution since the 1970s, La France sells vintage wedding gowns, Victorian nighties, and more 1950s shoes than one shopper can handle. Have fun sorting through the piles of veiled hats, racks of carefully curated gowns, and recycled jewelry stands.
If you’re lucky, you’ll visit Tampa during the monthly Indie Flea. The market, held the third Sunday of every month in one of the city’s oldest renovated theaters, features several dozen Florida crafters, clothes-makers and card vendors. Come for the handmade soap, stay for the locally-sourced leather bags.
Culture and History
The Tampa Bay History Center traces Tampa’s evolution from a military outpost, to the one-time cigar capital of the world, to the 350,000-strong city it is today. Here you’ll learn why the legend of Pocahontas was likely based on a local girl, and why other city’s cigar manufacturers put the word “Tampa” in their brand names to boost sales.
The recently renovated Tampa Museum of Art features a growing permanent collection as well as rotating exhibits from some of the finest contemporary artists. The museum also hosts regular fashion shows, meditation classes and even the occasional silent disco. Come at night to see the 14,000-square foot Sky (Tampa) LED display on the building’s façade.
The Hillsborough River snakes through downtown and is popular with manatees, alligators and dolphins, as well as boaters, jet skiers and paddle-boarders. If you don’t want to get wet, take a stroll along the new Tampa Riverwalk. The Riverwalk has turned the formerly empty riverside into a popular recreation trail that winds through most of downtown. It’s a project that took 40 years, the work of a half dozen mayors, and more than $30 million to complete. But it’s finally here. And it’s awesome.