Tampa, Florida: Great Food, Festivals and Urban Style Living! (January 2015)
By Urban Traveler Lynn Jones
My Urban Traveler reporting synopsis is based upon the visiting city’s representation of culture, restaurants, history, night life, downtown revitalization structure and more! Visiting Tampa, Florida I came across a barrage of information on a city that is a hidden jewel tucked away near the gulf coast. I prepared myself for a trip that is not only a few hours away from Jacksonville, but a town that is synonymous with football, pirates and cruise ships! From Jacksonville, I drove 95 south to I-4 west, well that was not the right route to take. It’s best that you take route 301 South to I-75 South, which will provide a road trip free of traffic and road rage! When I finally arrived in Tampa, my itinerary listed the eclectic Aloft hotel as my guest hotel. The Aloft is a boutique hotel that boasts European flare with a bar and restaurant on the main floor and the ticker of the New York Stock Exchange in the lobby; the hotel is pet friendly and many of the dogs were “best in show” dogs parading the hotel atmosphere. I quickly ascended to my room, glanced at my itinerary and prepared for dinner at the Copper Fish Restaurant Seafood Grill. Copper Fish specializes in east and west coast oysters, fresh lobster, grouper and mouthwatering appetizers! On the way to Copperfish we drove through Tampa’s Bayshore area. Bayshore is a historic area with beautiful early 19th century homes overlooking the Tampa Bay. Once we turned off from Bayshore we drove through SoHo Tampa, short for “South Howard Avenue (Tampa)” an entertainment district within the Hyde Park neighborhood of Tampa. Back to Copper Fish! Copper Fish restaurant was full of surprises. We ordered calamari, main lobster bisque, fried rice with crab and shrimp. The food was scrumptious (copperfishtampa.com)!
The next morning I meet my tour guide for breakfast at Oxford Exchange (www.oxfordexchange.com), which has quickly become the go-to for Tampa’s power breakfast crowd. Wow! The Oxford Exchange was a former horse stable for the Henry B. Plant Museum. The Oxford Exchange atmosphere was amazing and the food delectable! For breakfast I ordered an omelet with crispy potatoes and a side order of Pumpkin Pancakes topped with bacon maple glaze, spicy pumpkin seeds! I know your mouth is watering! I was more than stuffed!! After breakfast, we crossed the street and stepped back in time at the Henry B Plant Museum (www.plantmuseum.com). “The Henry Plant Museum was a dream hotel inspired and built by Henry Bradley Plant (October 27, 1819 – June 23, 1899), founder of the Plant System of railroads. The Henry B. Plant Museum is housed in the 1891 Tampa Bay Hotel, now a National Historic Landmark. During the 1880s, Henry Bradley Plant was building an empire of railroads, steamships and hotels. He wanted that empire to have a palace and that grand palace was the grand, Moorish Revival style Tampa Bay Hotel”. Tampa eventually turned the hotel into a museum tourist attraction. The rooms are grand with high ceilings and antique furniture. A great place to visit for knowledge on Tampa’s historic cultural exhibits.
As the day moved on we enjoyed a cruise along Tampa’ Downtown waterfront aboard an electric boat, and toured the destination by water (www.eboatstampa.com). My tour guide Kevin W. took the task of driving the boat where we ate with the locals at Rick’s on the River. This Riverfront bar and grille is one of the most popular restaurants with a marina. Offering visitors live music and fresh oysters! www.ricksontheriver.com. The highlight of the trip was Tampa’s Black Heritage Music Festival at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park in downtown Tampa. Each year Tampa’s Black Heritage Music Festival hosts hundreds of thousands of people from around the State of Florida and the country for a weekend of Black culture. The Heritage Festival main attractions are the African American Artist, food vendors and entertainers. This year the electric sounds of hit recording group Atlantic Starr took to the stage and wowed the crowd with their back in the day musical hits. Staying at the Aloft Hotel, which was only two blocks from the Festival, enabled me to walk to the Heritage Festival and peruse the artists wares and taste a variety of food! If you’re looking to visit Tampa for more than just the African American Heritage Festival, you will have to seek out the information as I had to inquire with my tour guide, “where is Tampa’s Black History Trail?” I found out that that there were two pioneering women at the forefront of Tampa’s African American Society: Blanche Armwood (1890–1939), Educator, activist and the first African-American woman in the State of Florida to graduate from an accredited law school. Blanche is also known for being the first Executive Secretary of the Tampa Urban League and as a founder of five Household Industrial Arts Schools for African-American woman in five different states. Armwood High School in Seffner, Florida is named in her honor. Clara C. Frye (1872–1936) was an African American nurse in Tampa, Florida who established the Clara Frye Hospital, where she worked for 20 years in the early 1900s. Frye’s hospital admitted patients of all ethnicities. Frye moved to Tampa in 1901 and in 1908 opened a hospital for black patients in her home. Her dining room table was the operating table. A building was secured in 1923 and was purchased by the City of Tampa in 1928. At the time, the Tampa Municipal Hospital, now Tampa General Hospital, did not admit African American patients. This changed in the 1950s. The Clara Frye Memorial Hospital that existed in West Tampa from 1938 to 1967 was named after her. The original Tampa General Hospital building was renamed after Frye in 1991. Armwood and Frye are immortalized along with other prominent Tampa historical figures on the Tampa Riverwalk with a bronze bust.
For breakfast on Sunday my tour guide and I met in the lobby and departed for breakfast at Datz. (www.datztampa.com.) Datz’s was a complete surprise. Datz is lined with cupcakes, sweets and nostalgic items plastered on the walls. I enjoyed a tasty breakfast and an appetizing Bloody Mary with a stick of bacon! Now that was a treat!
Wrapping up my Tampa trip, I can surmise that Tampa has a lot to offer from fine dining to cultural experiences that are void of an African American heritage trail tour. Many of Tampa’s visitors trek to Tampa for Ybor City, Carnival Cruise Line and Gulf Coast destination St. Petersburg and Clearwater Florida. Tampa’s Ybor City is well known throughout the nation for its lively open-style restaurants, entertainment and historic buildings that formerly housed Cuban cigar factories. Overall, Tampa has a big City atmosphere void of southern charm impact that you glimpse throughout many of the cities in Florida. Tampa is also the home of the Gasparilla Pirate festival, and home of the largest performing Arts Center in Florida, The Straz Performing Arts Center. I recommend Tampa for an in-city get-a-way, the proximity to the ocean and a nightlife scene that doubles as a Cuban American cultural experience. For more on what to do in Tampa visit www.visittampabay.com. Stay tuned for more from the Urban Traveler!