World Facts Index > United States > Tampa

Tampa Bay, one of the world's great secluded harbors, is a vast body of water separated from the Gulf of Mexico by a peninsula that stretches from Clearwater on the north to St. Petersburg on the south. Ranked among the top five best places in the nation to live in the The 1999 Places Almanac, the city ranked among the top 15 cities in the nation in a Forbes Magazine list of the best places for business and careers.

In the center of this huge bay is a dogleg peninsula with MacDill Air Force Base at its southern tip. North of that is the city of Tampa, which got its name from a Native American word meaning "a bundle of sticks," a reference to the region as a campsite. Three routes - Courtney Campbell Causeway, Gandy Bridge, and Howard Franklin Bridge - connect the city to St. Petersburg and Clearwater.

On the city's west side is its award-winning Tampa International Airport which, together with the many corporations that have settled in the area, is known as the Airport/Westshore region of Tampa. Tampa International Airport ranks among the top 10 airports in the nation for on-time departures and is celebrating its 25th anniversary with passenger volume of about 14 million annually. It was also named among the nation's top 10 airports by Conde Nast Travel, one of only two Florida airports to earn a spot on that list.

Westshore is home to many corporations, lured here at least in part by the city's lauded lifestyle. Outlook Magazine rated the city among the top 10 in its "Top 25 Choice Cities" and educational opportunities here have been praised - Expansion Management Magazine ranked the city twelfth in its "Top 50 Hottest Cities" for the city's efforts to attract technology companies through cooperative educational efforts.

Here you will find some of the city's most impressive hotels, many of them with Airport/Westshore added to their names. Here, too, you will find the International Shrine Headquarters and two major sports facilities, the New York Yankees Legend Stadium and the Raymond James Stadium, where the Super Bowl will be played in January, 2001.

A major north-south interstate highway, I-75, streaks up the east side of the bay, while I-275 branches off from I-75 north of Sarasota and travels through St. Petersburg, crossing the Courtney Campbell Causeway and heading north from downtown. Those two interstate highways meet just north of town. There they create a triangle known as the Busch Gardens/University of South Florida section of town. That's where you'll find Tampa's famed Busch Gardens, home of wild rides and wild animals, and an attraction that ranks among the top crowd pleasers in Florida. Other attractions in that vicinity include the Tampa Greyhound Track, the Museum of Science and Industry, Adventure Island water park and the D. G. Yuengling Brewery. Temple Terrace, a suburb, can be found here, too.

Tampa's Hillsborough River winds its way through the Busch Gardens/University of South Florida section of the city and through downtown Tampa, bisecting the city as it makes its way to the sea. On the east side of the river, you will find a number of attractive hotels in the city's downtown core. Points of interest in this part of town include Tampa Museum of Art, Tampa Performing Arts Center and the main office of the Tampa Hillsborough Visitor Information Center. Here, too, are the city's downtown stores, banks and government offices.

On the southern edge of downtown Tampa is tiny Ybor City, a municipality that made its mark on the region as the center of the cigar industry when cigarmakers moved here from Key West after a fire destroyed the industry there. Ybor City covers only about 10 streets in either direction, but on and around those streets is a wealth of history. Solid brick warehouses that once served as cigar factories (some still do) are now home to offices and shops. And thanks to a concerted restoration effort, Ybor City is the liveliest spot in town on weekend evenings when the party starts at dusk and ends in the wee hours. Ybor City's narrow streets are home to a host of bistros, dance clubs, cigar stores and speciality shops and exhibits in the Ybor City Museum chronicle the city's colorful history. To take a look at a working cigar factory, drive by Cuesta-Rey Cigars, 2701 16th St., Ybor City. No tours are offered, but the building's carefully restored architecture is impressive. A block or so away, you will see the crumbling remains of a big brick tobacco warehouse no longer in operation, capsulizing the city's cigar history.

Traveling east of Tampa on I-4, built to connect Tampa to Daytona through Orlando, will bring you to Plant City, a farming community renowned for its annual strawberry harvest and an array of special events that surround that. Out this way is the teensy town of Thonotosassa (a Native American word denoting a place to find flint) where one of the most intriguing restaurants in Central Florida, Branch Ranch, doles out rib-sticking, family-style meals served at wood picnic-style tables in a huge barn of a building with a massive fireplace.

On the southern edge of downtown Tampa, the Garrison Channel passes between Harbour Island, home to the Wyndham Harbour Island Hotel, which anchors a cluster of shops and restaurants, and the Garrison Pier, home to the new Tampa Waterside Marriott. Here, too, you will find the Tampa Convention Center, which houses a branch of the Tampa Hillsborough Visitor Information Center, a new Ice Palace Arena, home of the Tampa Bay Lighting professional hockey team, and the Florida Aquarium fittingly tucked in near the sea.

Soar across the glittering waters of Tampa Bay on one of its three bay-spanning causeway/bridges and you'll find you're on a peninsula that is home to downtown Clearwater and downtown St. Petersburg. North of Clearwater is the tranquil little town of Dunedin, founded by Scots and still dedicated to keeping that heritage alive in annual festivals and monthly bagpipe concerts. East of Dunedin is Safety Harbor, home to a popular spa.

Still farther north on the peninsula is Palm Harbor, a Tampa Bay bedroom community, and Tarpon Springs founded generations ago by Greek sponge fishermen.

Courtney Campbell Causeway, which crosses Tampa Bay in a sweep of bridges and multi-lane macadam, becomes Gulf to Bay Parkway when it reaches Clearwater and travels on to Clearwater Beach. If you turn south, you can follow the signs to reach a host of island communities sometimes promoted as the Holiday Isles.

Here's a look at that string of islands that play such a vital part in the life of leisure travelers in the region.

Traveling from north to south, your first stop is Clearwater Beach, named for just what its moniker suggests, crystalline waters clear as teardrop.

Next comes Belleair Beach, which provides sand for the massive, historic Belleview Biltmore Hotel which is actually located a few miles from the sea in the mainland town of Belleair.

Continuing south on the beach road, you find Indian Rocks Beach, which got its unusual name from jagged red rocks that trim the shoreline. A quiet strip of beach, the town is well-known to fishing enthusiasts who come here to drop a line into warm, fish-filled waters that swirl around the city's 1,041-foot fishing pier, said to be the longest in Florida. Under it frolic mackerel, kingfish, groper, sea trout, tarpon waiting for a hook!

Redington Shores is home to John's Pass Village, which is just that, a cozy village snuggled between a pier and wooden walkways. A rustic, casual spot, it bears a strong resemblance to northern coastal fishing villages but, fortunately, the water's much warmer! To be sure you don't forget where you are, the village has posted a few road signs indicating its 1,105 miles to Greenville, PA, and 1,157 miles to Chicago from here. In February, when the temperatures are hovering in a comfy 70-degree range, that's comforting information for many a traveler. John's Pass Village's biggest claim to fame hereabouts: its annual John's Pass Seafood Festival, a November event that attracts thousands to a feast of local seafood treats.

Madeira is the Spanish word for wood and early explorers saw such a large pine forest when they landed that they named this ribbon of sand Madeira Beach. You'd be hard pressed to spot much wood here these days but the beach glitters as does the sea and this small town is home to a cluster of small, simply decorated, kick-off-your-sandals inns with welcomes as warm as the temperatures.

Florida's the land of the brave, the free....and the canny! Nowhere is that any more evident that in Treasure Island which got its name from one of the more whimsical stories of Florida wacky real estate developers. Seems a promoter, whose sales chart recorded somewhat less impressive results than he'd planned, dreamed up a sure-fire sales pitch: he told the world that a treasure was buried here and, sure enough, folks flocked to find it. What they found was that salesman, contract and pen at the ready. Despite that nice try, his shot at a fortune fizzled but the name stuck. A few large hotels here are joined by a raft of smaller properties, all of them focusing their 'treasure' tales on the strip of sand and sea available to visitors.

St. Petersburg Beach is the official beach for the St. Petersburg region and it's the busiest of these island that stretch along the coastline like a ribbon trailing off the edge of a package. Packed with restaurants, motels, hotels, shops and souvenir sellers, the beach is, well...beachy. Crown prince of the strip is the antique Don CeSar Hotel that's been luring guests for generations - F. Scott Fitzgerald and his Zelda stayed here, among many other notables. Otherwise, the summer crowd is composed largely of families who roll over from St. Petersburg proper, about a 30-minute drive away, to settle in for a day, a weekend, or a couple of weeks of beachside rest and relaxation. In winter, 'snowbirds' from northern states fly in to fill rooms and restaurants.

One of Florida's oldest strips of vacation beach, pretty little Pass-a-Grille Beach is a secret hideaway visited by those in the know. As casual as casual can get (sandals are formalwear here)its pretty Eighth Street is short but seductive, with palm-fringed beaches stretching out alongside glittering aquamarine seas whose waters are warm all year long. Pass-a-Grille got its unusual name from some early French settlers who penned in the name Passe-aux-Grilleurs on a map to indicate that this spot was used by fishermen who crossed over the island at this point but stopped here to grill dinner. Officially called Long Key, this tiny spit of land has a wide, wide beach and is a quiet spot much loved by those in search of serenity, seclusion.

After you've explored the islands, you can find your way back to I-275 and travel on that interstate highway to Bradenton, Sarasota, and points south, via the impressive Sunshine Skyway Bridge, itself a soaring tourist attraction.

History of Tampa

It is sometimes the flukes of history that make all the difference - and two of those created what was to become the sunshine capital called Tampa Bay.

In 1527, Spanish explorer Panfilo de Narvaez set off with a fleet of four galleons on an expedition in search of that coveted New World treasure - gold. He intended to find some, conquer whoever had it, colonize the place and recline in splendor for the rest of his days. That was not to be.

First, Florida's best known annual visitor 'the hurricane' changed his plans, blowing de Narvaez's fleet off course to a landing on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

When de Narvaez went ashore to trade with the natives, the second fluke occurred. In the village, so the story goes, he spotted a glittering gold ornament and figured he'd found the mother lode of every early explorer's dreams. But, no, that treasure turned out to be Spain's very own doubloons, salvaged by native tribes who'd plucked them from shipwrecks!

As de Narvaez and later explorer Hernando de Soto discovered, gold can occasionally be fool's gold, but centuries later the real gold of this coast was discovered, and it had little to do with metal.

Before that could come true, however, a host of hopefuls sought treasure here. Among the most colorful were pirates Black Caesar, José Gaspar and Jean Lafitte who cut a wide swath through the area, literally and figuratively. That trio and others of similar ilk are remembered fondly (even honored) today at the region's riproarin' annual Gasparilla Festival, a wildly enthusiastic party that comes complete with a pirate invasion in full costume.

Those fiercesome pirates of Tampa's earliest days gave way to proponents of another waterborne career. Fishing fleets arrived to take advantage of the fish-rich waters of Tampa Bay. That catch remains a mainstay of the region's economy and the backbone (or should we say fishbone?) of the region's restaurants which convey the catch to many a platter at hundreds of seafood restaurants.

As life settled into a certain comfortable predictability in the Tampa Bay region, the string of islands that dot the coastline like a phalanx of sentinels felt the need for a little connection with the mainland. That was accomplished with the addition of miles-long causeways and bridges, one of which, the Skyway Bridge, a series of conectors that stretches 14 miles across glittering Tampa Bay - is today a tourist attraction in its own right.

With those sunny islets connected to the rest of the state, Tampa Bay was on the way to its future. About that time, some modern pirates discovered Tampa Bay and environs. Calling themselves 'promoters,' those contemporary buccaneers were every bit as adventurous as their privateer predecessors. They found, and lost, some real gold in the 1920s boom years. Steaming in, armed with millions and a strong desire to compound them, those promoters followed in the tracks of entrepreneur and railroad magnate Henry Plant, literally and figuratively.

Plant, as much an adventurer as a promoter, made it all happen here when he made tracks for the sunshine, bringing a railroad line from cold northern climes to the sunny South and engendering a legendary rivalry with his entrepreneur counterpart, Henry Flagler, who did the same on the Florida peninsula's Atlantic coastline.

Plunking down what was then the staggering sum of $3 million dollars, Plant in 1891 opened the massive Tampa Bay Hotel at the water's edge, topping it with glittering silver minarets and trimming its verandas in Moorish gingerbread woodwork. Sun-seeking throngs he brought here on his railroad steamed right up to the hotel's door on a special spur line.

Visible for miles around, the Tampa Bay Hotel remains the city's love and landmark. A magnificent structure, it boasted corridors so wide the hotel's indolent wealthy could hire a rickshaw to trot them off to their rooms. To get upstairs, they rode a magnificent handcarved- wood elevator powered by hydraulic force, a creation that was the only one of its kind in the world.

Here's an amusing footnote to history and the Plant-Flagler rivalry: so lively was the competition between the two entrepreneurs that when Plant sent Flagler a telegram inviting him to the opening of his showy new hotel in Tampa, Flagler shot back this rejoinder: "Where's Tampa?"

Plant could have held his own with any of today's power-promoters. He brought in the 'names' of that era's world and the somewhat lesser lights followed. Here the famed and the infamous strode the wide verandas - Teddy Roosevelt, Babe Ruth, Clara Barton, William Jennings Bryan. To keep them amused, Plant brought in the biggest names in the entertainment industry of the day - Ignace Paderewski, Anna Pavlova, Sarah Bernhardt.

Meanwhile, down in the basement bar, troops who were to ride with Teddy Roosevelt as he stormed through the Spanish-American War gave birth to the Cuba Libre, that long-lived combination of rum and Coca-Cola that remains today a favored sip around the world.

Plant went on to build another hotel, this one the imposing Belleview Biltmore which is still operating and said to be the world's largest frame structure under one roof.

Soon those two hostelries were joined by the bubble-gum pink Don CeSar Hotel, flagship of the coastal island hotels and possessor of a notable guest list that includes F. Scott Fitzgerald and his Zelda, among a host of the rich, famous and infamous.

As time passed, Scots settlers moved into nearby Dunedin, which, nearly 150 years later, still toasts its Gaelic connections with an annual highland games festival that features such entertaining competitions as the log throw and a performance of the military Tattoo and Retreat ceremony. Wailing bagpipes are still played by a bagpipe and drum corps that performs for crowds of misty-eyed Scots-philes.

Scots were not the only 'foreigners' to find their way to the sunshine of Florida's tranquil Tampa Bay coastline. Generations ago, Greek sponge fishermen settled into Tarpon Springs to scour the ocean floor for those coveted cleaning items whose value was later usurped by the manmade variety. You can still buy a straight-from-the-sea sponge here, and chat with folks whose heritage has long been tied to the glittering waters of Tampa Bay. None of that heritage has been forgotten, either. Bouzoukis still strum at tavernas in Tarpon Springs, and it is said that many a platter is smashed at local pubs when the dancing goes derverish in the wee hours. At Easter, the community celebrates the Ephiphany by tossing a cross into the sea for divers who plunge in after it, the winner guaranteed a year of good fortune.

Meanwhile, serene St. Petersburg was taking its own tack. Here, history was made in the halcyon days at the turn of the century before Prohibition and the bust in the boom. In 1885, an American Medical Assn. report dubbed the city a healthy place and St. Petersburg quickly capitalized on that. Dozens of green benches were scattered about town to provide respite to sun-seeking, elderly tourists and before long that 'green bench' image had become national news. Folks of a certain age, shall we say, flocked here, intent on wintering in the sun that had drawn their predecessors.

If you think this sun thing is getting a little thick, think again'the city's newspaper, the Evening Sun, was once distributed free on any day that the sun did not shine. In 76 years, readers got their paper free just 295 times or an average of four times a year! One more sun stat: the city made the Guiness Book of World Records for the longest consecutive run of sunny days: 768, stretching from the February, 1967 to March, 1969.

To keep 'em coming down, in 1889, the Orange Belt Railway built a railroad pier, the St. Petersburg Municipal Pier, and added an ornate bathing pavilion and a toboggan slide into the sea. A horse-drawn flatcar carried passengers from the docks two miles away and a jitney service shuttled them down the mile-long strip of concrete. Smack dab in the middle of town, that slab of concrete is today called simply The Pier and it's no less unusual than it was in those early days, in the middle of it all is an upside-down pyramid!

In ensuing years, the city has tried hard to dispel its old-folks-at-home image and if you're ensconsced over on St. Petersburg Beach where the discos rock until dawn, you may have difficulty believing it. Despite all the image efforts, however, the city remains popular with an older crowd that has formed a softball team open only to players age 70 and up and formed the largest shuffleboard club in the world. So beloved is shuffleboard here that the city is home to the National Shuffleboard Hall of Fame!

Today's St. Petersburg remains a lovely place, filled with serenly beautiful old homes, manicured lawns, two miles of shoreline, 2,000 acres of recreation area and a bevy of parks so pretty you'll wonder if city gardeners measure the grass blades. Flagship of the city's hotels is the postcard-perfect Renaissance Vinoy Hotel, restored to its flapper-era splendor and, after some dark days, once again one of the most spectacular antique hotels in Florida.

While all that history lives on in Tampa, the historic cigar capital of Ybor City and St. Petersburg and environs, today's Tampa is on the grow. With a regional population now topping 2.5 million, Tampa Bay opened a sleek waterfront Tampa convention center in 1990, the Florida Aquarium in 1995, a 20,000-seat Ice Palace Arena a year later and is hot on the trail of a downtown development that in just a few years will connect downtown Tampa to Ybor City in a grand scheme that will include at a 230,000-square-foot Channelside at Garrison Seaport Center entertainment complex of theaters, restaurants and retail shops. Meanwhile, interest in Tampa's port continues to grow with Holland America Lines and Carnival Cruises sailing on regular ititneraries from the nation's 11th largest docking area.

So, welcome to Tampa Bay, long a welcome sight for mauraders and explorers, promoters and sun-seekers, a water-locked land that has discovered that real gold lies in its sunlight and sand.

The Weather

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Avg. High 68 71 76 81 87 88 90 90 88 84 77 72
Avg. Low 50 51 56 60 67 72 74 74 72 65 57 52
Mean 60 62 67 71 77 81 82 82 81 75 68 62
Avg. Precip. 2.0 in 3.1 in 3.0 in 1.2 in 3.1 in 5.5 in 6.6 in 7.6 in 6.0 in 2.0 in 1.8 in 2.2 in


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