There’s hardly anything I love more than traveling. I love exploring new places and capturing the beauty of the unknown. I love trying new restaurants and discovering local cuisine. I love people watching and observing life. There’s nothing like it.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been back in my hometown, staying with my parents, as we prepare to move to Asia in a few weeks. I’m back in a town that I’ve lived for almost 30 years. I have driven around, across, and through this city hundreds of times. But what could have been a creative travel slump has actually been an inspiring few weeks.
I’ve been looking at Tampa through new eyes, as someone who hasn’t lived here for a few years. I’ve enjoyed new restaurants and old favorites. I’ve driven through the city with my photographer’s eyes open, and sometimes stopped to capture the unexpected. I’m realizing that I don’t have to always be in a new place physically to experience what I love about traveling.
So here’s my top five favorite things about my hometown of Tampa, Florida.
For a few months out of the year, Florida is simply miserable outdoors. It’s humid or rainy or muggy or full of mosquitoes. But for a couple blissful months, Florida is divine. And Tampa is equipped to handle the outdoor lovers with some pretty exceptional parks. I have two favorites. Curtis Hixon Park, redone a few years ago, is right in the middle of downtown on the Hillsborough River overlooking beautiful University of Tampa, with wide open spaces and seating for events. From outdoor concerts to movies on the lawn, this park is great for events and lounging about. Just a bit north is Water Works Park, a brand new Tampa park, complete with children’s playground and splash pad. There’s many more outdoor spaces worth checking out, and I love that a large urban city is making beautiful landscapes a priority.
4. Taco Bus
This Mexican restaurant is a gold mine. For years, it’s been a Tampa staple, and recently has branched out to the suburbs, downtown and even across the Bay. For good reason. This place is Mexican heaven. It has novelty and good food. And I don’t hate ordering my meal from a big yellow school bus.
3. Independent Coffee Shops
I came back to Tampa a few years ago, and all of sudden Starbucks was no longer the hip place for a cup of coffee. And all I could say was thank goodness. Small, independent, trendy, and unique coffee shops are popping up all over the city, and thriving. Two must visits in Tampa are Buddy Brew and The Blind Tiger Cafe. These two shops are a great space and a delicious place to chill. Blind Tiger actually serves Buddy Brew, so there you get the best of both. I love that my city is finally breaking away from chain & established restaurants, and giving space for the new and independent ventures. I will happily support [and Instagram] these delightful establishments.
2. Tampa Theatre
Be still my heart, this building is simply beautiful. The best place to check out an art film, a vintage classic, or an unlikely concert is the Tampa Theatre. The building was built in the 1920’s and still holds it’s historic charms. At this theatre, I’ve sung along to Mary Poppins and Repo the Genetic Opera, cried through It’s a Wonderful Life, enjoyed the Academy Awards in style, rocked out to Ray Lamontagne and discovered a love for documentaries.
1. Oxford Exchange
This place flew onto Tampa’s radar, most likely in part thanks to Instagram. A restaurant, a shop, a bookstore, a coffee shop & tea room, Oxford Exchange will forever be a Tampa landmark. For starter, it’s simply breathtaking. I love every inch of the decor and style that make up this building. The shop is filled with unique housewares, gifts, and must-haves. The bookstore carries the best versions of your favorite books. Serving Buddy Brew Coffee and TeBella Teas, the coffee shop and tea room is a destination of it’s own. And the restaurant, with organic, local, and fresh items regularly on the menu, you will never experience a bad meal.
It feels like Tampa is in a period of rebranding itself, with more independent restaurants, craft breweries, and Instagram worthy coffee shops & restaurants. I could go on and on about the great places I love in Tampa like The Independent, The Refinery, Ella’s Americana Folk Art Cafe, The Bricks, La Tropicana Cafe, New World Brewery, and Cafe Hey. Tampa is no longer just the city of the Bucs, Lightning and Rays. We have art, culture, music, good food, and class. And I’m simply loving it all before I have to say goodbye.