West Coast Florida
Tucked inside Tampa Bay off the Gulf of Mexico, you'll
find a Florida destination that is truly a package deal. The Tampa
region offers up charming downtown possibilities, myriad sporting
events, cultural venues, water sports, a thrilling theme park,
lovely sugar sand beaches and superior seafood and ethnic eateries
- all in one place.
Tampa provides ample opportunities for large-scale retail
shopping, and its unique neighbourhoods and downtown area are
dotted with intriguing antique and vintage clothing shops; markets
selling handmade clothing, accessories and décor; and exotic stores
filled with items purchased from across the globe. Add in the
delightful surroundings and taste-tempting dining options and
you've got the true Tampa experience.
Looking for a thrill? Busch Gardens is brimming with rides,
shows and animal attractions. Experience a walking safari, meet the
Budweiser Clydesdales, try America's only dive coaster - reaching
speeds up to 70 miles per hour - and marvel at a 4D pirate show
that makes you feel so much a part of the show, you'll actually get
wet. Tickets for Busch Gardens here.
A wide range of museums is enough to keep any history buff or
art fan happy. The Henry B. Plant Museum is set in a glorious
restored gingerbread Victorian hotel, circa 1891, that will take
you right back to turn-of-the-century Florida. Enter and you are
immediately transported to America's Gilded Age, the early years of
Florida's tourist industry. The Tampa Museum of Art, located along
the Hillsborough River, exhibits twentieth-century art as well as a
celebrated collection of Greek and Roman artefacts.
For a bit of artistic entertainment, take in a Broadway calibre
play at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. Or you can try a
little humour therapy with a side splitting comedy show.
You can't leave the Tampa area without trying some of its
fabulous Cuban specialities. Wake up to Cuban bread and steaming
café con leche, devour a crisp and savoury Cuban sandwich for lunch
and tuck into local seafood accompanied by flavourful black beans
simmered all day. Top it off with a traditional flan and a
nightcap, and you've satisfied all appetites in a typically
wonderful Tampa day.
Fort DeSoto Park Photo © Visit Florida
A stop at Fort DeSoto Park's North Beach, named by "Dr.
Beach" as the top American beach for 2005, is a must for sun and
nature worshippers. Stretching over five interconnected barrier
islands, including three miles of luxurious tree-lined white sand
beaches, the park is simply breathtaking. But it didn't start out
as a tourist attraction. The beach was once the site of a WWII
gunnery and bombing range, the history of which is preserved at the
Quartermaster Stonehouse Museum. The original mortar batteries are
the main feature of the historic display. The park also includes
two fishing piers, boat launch facilities, campgrounds, a
playground, and nature trails.
The ideal climate and beautiful surroundings of the Tampa-St.
Petersburg region make it a consummate golfing locale. There's
something here for every golfer's budget, from upscale resort
courses and one that winds through a wildlife preserve, through to
the affordable and well-kept municipal courses.
If solitude and relaxation are what you're after, head north to
historical New Port Richey. The landscape here is an
unusual blend of winding rivers, wetlands, natural springs and
untouched Gulf coast. First, take a fascinating tour of historic
downtown. Local museums explore the area's role in early American
Indian survival, as a landing point for Spanish explorers, its
Civil War roots, the post-war expansion and its evolution to modern
Wildlife enthusiasts will find New Port Richey enchanting and
written guides and eco-tours are available throughout the area.
This is the perfect place to climb up on horse, rent a bicycle, hop
in a canoe or just pull on some boots and hike the day away in the
luxuriant tropical scenery, amongst captivating wildlife.
For a truly unique wildlife encounter, take a short drive up the
coast to Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, a 210-acre park
with a bubbling spring feeding the Homosassa River at its heart.
Marvel at the spring's resident manatees and the fresh and
saltwater fish attracted to the warm water in the park's floating
observatory. The nearby Crystal River Archaeological State Park
comprises a 61-acre pre-Columbian Native American site replete with
burial and temple mounds, a plaza area and a large midden, or
archaeological refuse pile. The site served as a ceremonial centre
for more than 1,600 years.
You may be hard pressed to see and do all there is on Florida's
West Coast, but you'll have a fabulous time trying.