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The heat is on in Tampa, and we’re not talking summer temps. Top-notch museums, inventive eats, even flamenco dancing make this bayside locale sizzle year-round. Our guide to Cigar City is chock-full of big surprises. (Care to meet a giant feline?) Your journey starts now.
By Amanda Gleason
Check out the video of Amanda's adventures here!
Saddlebrook Resort At this golfer’s getaway, you can refine your swing on two Arnold Palmer–designed courses and at an on-site academy.
Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay Spot egrets, spoonbills, and other avian wildlife as you stroll the grounds of this waterfront spread, set within a 35-acre nature preserve.
See cuban culture come alive during a...
Wandering the bar-lined brick streets of Ybor City, you might not realize you’re in the former cigar capital of the world. This buzzing neighborhood was mere swampland before stogie magnate Vicente Martinez-Ybor built his factory here in 1886. Learn the rich history—and some modern trivia—on an Ybor City Historic Walking Tour led by longtime local Lonnie Herman. (Did you know the only land in America owned by the country of Cuba is located here?) Afterward, stick around for a meal. King Corona has a huge selection of cigars, coffee, and Cuban sandwiches, while the Columbia Restaurant, Florida’s oldest eatery, offers almost-nightly flamenco dancing. But be prepared to stay out late. As Herman says, “When the clubs open, the history and tradition take a backseat.”
Tampa Theatre Classic, first-run, and indie films roll regularly at this grand venue, designed in 1926 to represent a Mediterranean courtyard.
Cigar City Brewing This cozy brewery invites patrons to quench their thirst with more than 30 different beers, such as the famed citrus-flavored Jai Alai IPA.
Spend the day with some cool cats at a…
Want to peer into the eyes of a 500-pound lion? We’ve got just the place. Now home to more than 100 giant, four-legged friends, Big Cat Rescue began in 1993 when founder Carole Baskin purchased 56 bobcats from a fur farm. Since then, the sanctuary has grown to fill 55 acres. Its mission? To provide a safe home for wild cats, most of which have been retired from the circus, abandoned or abused, or traded in the exotic animal industry. During guided walking tours, visitors can get to know the inseparable (and unlikely) duo of Nikita, a tiger, and Joseph, a lion; as well as a special heavyweight star, a 725-pound tiger named Shere Khan. There’s even a night tour offered, when the glowing eyes of the eager beasts stay stuck on you. Who’s the scaredy cat now?
Treat yourself to a stop at…
Nicola’s Donuts Flavors like Almond Joy, Mint Chocolate Chip, and Peanut Butter ‘n’ Jelly have donut fans swarming to this sweets-filled bakery.
The Refinery Savory dishes like Berkshire pork belly and chickpea stew keep visitors of this intimate eatery properly satiated.
Oyster-catchers Dig into the jumbo lump crab cakes or the roasted corn and crab bisque at this elegant seafood haven while soaking up panoramic views of Tampa Bay.
Explore electricity and more during a…
Who says lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place? It happens all day at the Museum of Science and Industry, where inquisitive guests can touch a 20,000-volt, 12-inch spark from the safety of a chain-mail glove. If that’s not electrifying enough, the more than 450 other hands-on activities at this four-story venue will certainly stir up some stimulation. Put the principles of physics to work by taking a spin on a high-wire bicycle suspended 30 feet above the ground. (Relax, it’s counterweighted and impossible to fall off of.) Or, let your young space invaders learn about gravity by donning Velcro suits and getting launched against a wall—just don’t forget to peel them off before you move on. Through September 9, you can check out the Mummies of the World exhibit, which includes a 6,420-year-old specimen. Take that, King Tut!
Pay a visit to…
Florida Museum of Photographic Arts Shutterbugs can seek inspiration from rare Civil War photos, on display throughout most of August, at this pint-sized museum.
Whiskey Joe’s Perfect your spike on the sand volleyball court, then take in the sunset at this laid-back beach bar.
Glazer Children’s Museum An interactive cruise ship exhibit complete with buried treasure in the sand awaits kiddos at this learning center.
Seafood lovers can search for fruits of the ocean on a…
If you’re the type of person who would “rather be fishing,” Gus Muench is your kind of guy. A commercial crab fisherman for 36 years, Muench invites guest crewmates aboard his 21-foot skiff for four-hour excursions, during which even those with wobbly sea legs will learn to bait and pull blue crab traps on the Little Manatee River. About seven miles offshore, you’ll attach a fiberglass pole to the end of a net trap and, with the help of an electric hoist, pull it aboard. While chugging along, you’ll get your fill of wisdom about the 10-legged invertebrates, like how to tell the difference between the guys and gals. “The females like to paint their fingernails orange red,” says Muench, about the color of their pincers. Once the heavy lifting is done, relax with a dockside meal cooked by the captain himself, complete with hush puppies, coleslaw, shrimp, and—what else?—crab.
Getting There Fly into Tampa International Airport (TPA), about five miles west of downtown.
Getting Out On the first Thursday of every month, a local musical act takes to the stage for a free show at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.
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