From downtown Tampa, hop onto the Cross Bay Ferry (Wednesday through Sunday, $20 round-trip for adults) for a ride to downtown St. Petersburg. The new St. Pete Pier was unveiled last summer after a decade of development; its 26-acre waterfront park boasts plenty of eating and drinking options along with art installations, as well as the St. Petersburg Museum of History.
Across from the pier is the Museum of Fine Arts St. Petersburg, and about a mile south, the Dalí Museum, which houses more than 2,400 works of art by Salvador Dalí. In addition to the permanent exhibit of the surrealist’s works, the museum hosts traveling exhibits. “Van Gogh Alive,” an immersive experience, features more than 3,000 images of Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings (open through April 11, 2021).
For a peek at what’s happening under the water’s surface, check out The Florida Aquarium (Tampa’s Riverwalk), Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center (St. Pete Pier), and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, a rescue and rehabilitation facility that’s home to Winter the Dolphin, star of the “Dolphin Tale” movies.
What to eat
The dining scene in the Tampa Bay area has flourished over the past decade or so, with independent restaurants making a splash. James Beard semi-finalist Chef Ferrell Alvarez runs the kitchen at Rooster & the Till in Tampa’s Seminole Heights neighborhood. Tampa’s Cuban heritage is notable throughout the region. Authentic Cuban sandwiches—ham, pork, salami (a Tampa addition you won’t often find in South Florida), Swiss cheese, mustard, and pickles served on Cuban bread (order yours pressed)—are worth a stop at La Segunda and The Columbia in Ybor City; West Tampa Sandwich Shop and La Teresita in Tampa; and Pipo’s Cuban Cafe in St. Pete.
For a wide variety of options, Tampa’s two food halls fit the bill at opposite ends of the Riverwalk. Armature Works is a traditional food hall with plenty of indoor and outdoor seating, while restauranteurs serve their culinary masterpieces out of shipping containers at Sparkman Wharf.
Going to the dogs
It’s worth noting that the area is especially hospitable to pets, including the dog-friendly beach on Davis Islands, a bridge away from downtown Tampa, and across the bay in Fort De Soto Park ($5 parking fee), south of St. Pete Beach. Seminole Heights is where you can romp at Hair of the Dog Park Bar: a traditional dog park with bar service. Dog-friendly hotels include Le Méridien Tampa, (from $156 per night) in downtown Tampa, Sandpearl Resort (from $240 a night) on Clearwater Beach, and The Don CeSar (from $349 per night) on St. Pete Beach.
Where to stay
The JW Marriott Tampa Water Street (from $299 per night) recently opened in downtown Tampa, a block from the Riverwalk and across the street from a trolley station. Inside the 26-story luxury hotel are more than 500 guest rooms and suites, a Spa by JW, a pool, and several dining options.
Also new in Tampa is Hotel Haya (from $159 per night) in Ybor City, with restaurants and nightlife at its doorstep. The decor inside the 178-room hotel is inspired by the Golden Age of Havana, and the property features a private pool and two spots serving coastal dishes and Cuban favorites. Over the bay in Clearwater Beach, get a front row seat for sunsets at Opal Sands (from $280 per night), which was voted among the Top 30 Resorts in Florida in our annual Readers’ Choice Awards.