Ex­pand Your Hori­zons

2017 Travel Guide to Florida - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - BY SU­SAN BARNES

When it comes to the Sun­shine State and all it has to of­fer, Cen­tral West Florida presents a lit­tle of the best of ev­ery­thing: pow­der-soft, white-sand beaches; thrilling theme parks; back-to-na­ture spots; vi­brant nightlife scenes; cap­ti­vat­ing world­class mu­se­ums; and much more.

ARTS AND CUL­TURE

If beauty is in the eye of the be­holder, Cen­tral West Florida has plenty to share. A show­piece on the River­walk in down­town Tampa, a pedes­trian walk­way that me­an­ders through the city along the Hills­bor­ough River, the Tampa Mu­seum of Art is housed in an ar­chi­tec­tural work of art de­signed by Stan­ley Saitowitz. In­side, an in­cred­i­ble col­lec­tion of con­tem­po­rary and clas­si­cal art, as well as en­tic­ing trav­el­ing ex­hi­bi­tions, are on dis­play. From the mu­seum, fol­low the River­walk south to the Florida Mu­seum of Pho­to­graphic Arts, show­cas­ing works by lo­cal, na­tional and in­ter­na­tional pho­tog­ra­phers, as well as his­tor­i­cal col­lec­tions. Far­ther along the river, the Tampa Bay His­tory Cen­ter tells the sto­ries of the city on the bay. A short trol­ley ride from the Tampa Bay His­tory Cen­ter, Ybor City is a liv­ing mu­seum in it­self. Once the “Ci­gar Cap­i­tal of the World,” this small city within a city was rich with ci­gar fac­to­ries where work­ers rolled mil­lions of cigars an­nu­ally. To­day, the brick streets are lined with cafés and shops, a few of which sell hand-rolled cigars, while the Ybor City Mu­seum pro­vides an in­side look at yes­ter­year.

Back in down­town Tampa, step back into sim­pler times and the splen­dor of the sto­ried 1920s “movie palace,” the Tampa Theatre. Tour the mes­mer­iz­ing theatre be­fore the main fea­ture be­gins, then sit back and re­lax while a vol­un­teer or­gan­ist ser­e­nades you on the Mighty Wurl­itzer Or­gan be­fore the cur­tain rises.

Within walk­ing dis­tance of each other in down­town St. Peters­burg are the Chi­huly Col­lec­tion at the Morean Arts Cen­ter, fea­tur­ing 10,000 square feet of amaz­ing works of glass art by the mas­ter him­self, and the Mu­seum of Fine Arts, with thou­sands of ob­jects span­ning 4,500 years, from an­tiq­uity to the present. Not far from these two mu­se­ums, the Dalí Mu­seum dis­plays the world’s largest col­lec­tion of Sal­vador Dalí’s work out­side of Spain, in­clud­ing 1,300 graph­ics, pho­tos, sculp­tures and ob­jets d’art; 96 oil paint­ings; and more than 100 wa­ter­col­ors and drawings. The struc­ture hous­ing the Dalí Mu­seum is in it­self a sur­real piece of art.

To the north of Tampa, Dunedin is filled with gal­leries and reg­u­larly hosts arts and craft shows through­out the year. If you’re in the area Jan­uary 7-8, 2017, head over to the 20th An­nual Down­town Dunedin Art Fes­ti­val, which show­cases more than 100 of the na­tion’s most tal­ented artists and a broad spec­trum of me­dia in­clud­ing sculp­tures, glass, paint­ings, jew­elry and ce­ram­ics. Ad­mis­sion is free. Ev­ery spring, world-class Scot­tish ath­letes de­scend upon Dunedin for the an­nual High­land Games & Fes­ti­val that in­clude a tra­di­tional Scot­tish gath­er­ing with mu­sic and dance, a pa­rade and a full day of events and com­pe­ti­tions.

For a peek into the his­tory of the area, check out the an­nual Fort Cooper Days event in In­ver­ness, where re-en­act­ments of the Sec­ond Semi­nole War are held twice a day along with liv­ing his­tory demon­stra­tions.

AT­TRAC­TIONS

When it’s time to go wild, be sure to visit Big Cat Res­cue in Tampa. One of the largest ac­cred­ited sanc­tu­ar­ies for ex­otic cats in the world, this is home to about 100 lions, tigers, bob­cats and cougars that have been res­cued and are now cared for by loving staff and vol­un­teers. An­other place to en­joy close en­coun­ters with an­i­mals is Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, five-time win­ner of TripAd­vi­sor’s Cer­tifi­cate of Ex­cel­lence. Spend a day ob­serv­ing an­i­mals from Africa, Aus­tralia, Asia and be­yond, learn about their habi­tats and how to pro­tect them, and you’ll eas­ily see why it’s rated so highly. Dis­cover all of the won­ders that lie be­neath the water’s sur­face at the Florida Aquar­ium in down­town Tampa. Meet pen­guins, dive with sharks (SCUBA-cer­ti­fied only), swim with fish (for ages six and older) or sharks (for ages nine and older), or cruise out onto the wa­ters of Tampa Bay to watch for dol­phins.

In its 46th year, the largest non-profit wild bird sanc­tu­ary in the US—the Sun­coast Se­abird Sanc­tu­ary in In­dian Shores (lo­cated be­tween St. Peters­burg and Clear­wa­ter)—has been ded­i­cated to the res­cue, re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and (hope­ful) re­lease of sick, in­jured and or­phaned birds.

North of In­dian Shores, Win­ter, the star of Dol­phin Tale, makes her home at the Clear­wa­ter Ma­rine Aquar­ium and is al­ways happy to greet her fans. Plenty of other ma­rine life live along­side Win­ter: stop and say hello to her friends, Hope and Nicholas, and the res­i­dent sea tur­tles, ot­ters, st­ingrays, sharks, pel­i­cans and clown fish. You can get out on the water here, too, on board the aquar­ium’s 90-minute Sea Life Sa­fari.

Take an­other look be­neath the water and you’ll find mer­maids in the crys­tal-clear wa­ters at Weeki Wachee Springs.

More amuse­ment is found wind­ing down the Weeki Wachee River on a Bay­port River Sa­fari; cool­ing off in the new in­door ice rink at Florida Hospi­tal Cen­ter Ice in Wes­ley Chapel; cre­at­ing art at the Glazer Chil­dren’s Mu­seum in Tampa; in­door sky­div­ing at the new iFly in Bran­don; and walk­ing among life-size dinosaurs at Di­nosaur World in Plant City, not to men­tion the thrilling rides at Busch Gar­dens Tampa Bay.

BEACHES AND OUT­DOOR GEMS

Cen­tral West Florida’s stretches of sug­ar­white, pow­der-soft sandy beaches found along the Gulf of Mex­ico each have their own per­son­al­i­ties and are per­fect play­grounds for all ages.

For a quiet, more nat­u­ral beach day with­out high rises tow­er­ing be­hind you, con­sider Fort De Soto Park, south of St. Pete Beach, or An­clote Key Pre­serve State Park to the north. Caladesi Is­land State Park is a per­fect des­ti­na­tion not only for beaches, but also for its four-mile kayak­ing trail and its three-mile na­ture trail. Nearby Hon­ey­moon Is­land State Park was con­nected to Caladesi Is­land un­til a hur­ri­cane sep­a­rated them in 1921. Once a pop­u­lar hon­ey­moon des­ti­na­tion in the 1940s and 1950s, it is now a fa­vorite among bird­watch­ers and wel­comes more than one mil­lion visi­tors an­nu­ally.

Not only Florid­i­ans think the beaches here are fan­tas­tic. Two lo­cal beaches made it onto TripAd­vi­sor’s 2016 list of “Top 25 Beaches–United States”—Clear­wa­ter Beach (No. 1) and St. Pete Beach (No. 4). And at the end of the day, there’s no bet­ter place than a beach in Cen­tral West Florida to watch spec­tac­u­lar sun­sets over the Gulf of Mex­ico.

When water tem­per­a­tures dip be­low 72 F in Florida, Cen­tral West Florida's nat­u­ral springs are ter­rific spots to see man­a­tees, thought to be mer­maids by sailors too long at sea. Pop­u­lar man­a­tee view­ing spots in­clude Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, Ho­mosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, Three Sis­ters Springs in Crys­tal River and the TECO Man­a­tee View­ing Cen­ter in Apollo Beach, just south of Tampa.

EN­TER­TAIN­MENT

When it comes to nightlife, Cen­tral West Florida likes to party. And there are plenty of spots to do just that.

Ybor City and its thriv­ing nightlife ranges from dance clubs and live mu­sic venues to quiet pubs, while Tampa’s South Howard Av­enue, or SoHo, is filled with restau­rants. How­ever, this hip strip re­ally comes alive af­ter din­ner when the drinks be­gin to pour.

Across Tampa Bay, down­town St. Peters­burg’s nightlife is alive and kick­ing, and a new ferry ser­vice makes it easy to bar hop across the bay. The ferry is run­ning on a trial ba­sis through May, depart­ing from the dock at the Tampa Con­ven­tion Cen­ter and the Vi­noy Basin in down­town St. Pete.

Pro­fes­sional sports take hold of Cen­tral West Florida on the ice, on the field and on the pitch. The Tampa Bay Light­ning are on the ice for their 2016–17 sea­son through April, un­less the team makes the play­offs again and their NHL sea­son is ex­tended in pur­suit of the cov­eted Stan­ley Cup.

Take the fam­ily out to the ball game dur­ing spring train­ing or dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son for that mat­ter. Be­gin­ning in March, the Toronto Blue Jays take their swings at the Florida Auto Ex­change Sta­dium in Dunedin (once ranked one of the top five places to watch a spring train­ing game by Sports Il­lus­trated), while the New York Yan­kees play spring ball in Tampa and the Philadel­phia Phillies step up to the plate in Clear­wa­ter. The Jol­ley Trol­ley trav­els from Clear­wa­ter to Dunedin and on to Tar­pon Springs, mak­ing it easy to catch a few spring train­ing games along the route. Dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son, the Tampa Bay Rays play their op­po­nents at the 72 F Trop­i­cana Field in St. Peters­burg.

On the pitch in down­town St. Peters­burg, the Tampa Bay Rowdies soc­cer team be­gins its pre-sea­son matches in March, and the reg­u­lar sched­ule takes them through the sum­mer and late into the fall.

The Tampa Bay Buc­ca­neers be­gin their grid­iron sea­son in Septem­ber and play through the fall and into Jan­uary, with their sea­son ex­tend­ing if they make it into the NFL play­offs.

For a dif­fer­ent type of sport, try your hand and test your skills at the Semi­nole Hard Rock Casino in Tampa.

LGBT SCENE

When it comes to LGBT travel, the Tampa, St. Peters­burg and Clear­wa­ter com­mu­ni­ties show their true col­ors as they open their doors and arms to wel­come every­one who vis­its the area. In fact, more and more ho­tels in the area are be­com­ing TAG-ap­proved, which means they have agreed not to dis­crim­i­nate on the ba­sis of sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion in their em­ploy­ment prac­tices; to ac­tively out­reach to the gay and les­bian com­mu­ni­ties; and to strive to cre­ate gayfriendly ex­pe­ri­ences for their guests.

In Tampa’s Ybor City, the his­toric city­within-a-city, a LGBT-friendly col­lec­tive of more than 200 busi­nesses, in­clud­ing shops, restau­rants, bars, clubs and more, come to­gether to cre­ate GaYBOR. Check out the Honey Pot and South­ern Nights Tampa for hours of danc­ing and good times.

Across the bay in St. Peters­burg, the LGBT Wel­come Cen­ter is an invit­ing space in which to get ac­quainted with the city, find things to do or just sit and re­lax a while. Pop­u­lar LGBT hot spots in the St. Pete and Clear­wa­ter ar­eas in­clude St. Pete’s Grand Cen­tral Dis­trict, ter­rific for shop­ping and din­ing and the host of the city’s an­nual Pride Pa­rade; spend­ing time soak­ing up the sun on Sun­set Beach on Trea­sure Is­land; and end­ing the night with Drag Queen Bingo at the Blur Night­club in Dunedin or the Flamingo Re­sort & En­ter­tain­ment Cen­ter back in St. Pete, where you can dance the night away and en­joy the Flamingo Royal Play­ers Cabaret Show.

A num­ber of LGBT events are held through­out Cen­tral West Florida year-round, in­clud­ing the Tampa Pride Pa­rade Fes­ti­val (March); Pride & Pas­sion, the of­fi­cial kick-off of Gay Pride Month cel­e­bra­tions through­out the area (May); the St. Pete Pride Fes­ti­val and Pa­rade, fea­tur­ing the largest LGBT Pride Pa­rade in Florida and in­clud­ing more than 150 or­ga­ni­za­tions and busi­nesses (June); Pride Night @ The Trop with the Tampa Bay Rays (June); and the Tampa In­ter­na­tional Gay & Les­bian Film Fes­ti­val (Oc­to­ber).

ROAD TRIPS

Greek cui­sine, art and cul­ture—it’s all found in the small fish­ing vil­lage of Tar­pon Springs. The area was first set­tled in 1876 by Greek im­mi­grants, and to­day has the high­est per­cent­age of Greek-Amer­i­cans than any other city in the US. What was once “the sponge cap­i­tal of the world” is a pop­u­lar daytrip des­ti­na­tion from Tampa, Clear­wa­ter, St. Peters­burg, Dunedin and Pasco County. Go for the his­tory, cul­ture and food, and you’ll find your­self want­ing to go back for more!

Park the car and walk, run, cy­cle or rollerblade along the Fred Mar­quis Pinel­las Trail, a 40-mile pro­tected, multi-use greenspace cre­ated along an aban­doned rail­road cor­ri­dor that ex­tends from St. Peters­burg to Tar­pon Springs.

For a truly unique ex­pe­ri­ence you won’t soon for­get, head over to Crys­tal River where var­i­ous tour op­er­a­tors pro­vide the equip­ment and let you swim among West In­dian man­a­tees in su­per clear wa­ters. Visi­tors who pre­fer to stay at arm’s length from the gen­tle giants can rent a kayak (with or with­out a guide) to ob­serve them as they swim and play be­low in the warm wa­ters. If this op­tion is still too close for com­fort, you can watch man­a­tees any day of the year from the un­der­wa­ter ob­ser­va­tory at the nearby El­lie Schiller Ho­mosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. The park also show­cases other na­tive Florida wildlife, in­clud­ing black bears, bob­cats, white­tailed deer, Amer­i­can al­li­ga­tors and crocodiles, and river ot­ters, and of­fers Wildlife En­counter pro­grams and a chil­dren’s ed­u­ca­tion cen­ter.

SHOP­PING

What’s a va­ca­tion with­out shop­ping?

Pull out your credit cards and get ready to fill your bags at the In­ter­na­tional Plaza in Tampa. With an­chor stores, such as Nord­strom and Neiman Mar­cus, as well as all-time fa­vorites Gap, J. Crew, Ba­nana Re­pub­lic (his and her shops), and H&M, and bou­tiques in­clud­ing Burberry and Gucci, the reg­is­ters will be ringing. Just down the road, WestShore Plaza counts Macy’s, LOFT, Old Navy and Dick’s Sport­ing Goods among its store­fronts, so there are plenty of charg­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties here, too.

Tree-lined streets, sprawl­ing homes and shop­ping à la Euro­pean vil­lage make Hyde Park Vil­lage one of Tampa’s hot re­tail spots. It’s easy to spend the day here. Shop for a bit in the morn­ing at brand-name stores, such as west elm, Sur la Ta­ble, lu­l­ule­mon ath­let­ica, Brooks Broth­ers, An­thro­polo­gie and oth­ers. Later, en­joy a bite to eat at the re-imag­ined Goody Goody, nib­ble on a cup­cake at Sprin­kles or sip wine at the Wine Ex­change Bistro & Wine Bar. For more out­door shop­ping, slip over to The Shops at Wire­grass in Wes­ley Chapel, where bou­tiques and depart­ment stores en­tice shop­pers with their wares, or Tampa Pre­mium Out­lets in Lutz for 25 to 65 per­cent savings on de­signer brands.

St. Peters­burg’s Grand Cen­tral Dis­trict is gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity among shop­pers, and it’s easy to see why. Spend a day leisurely strolling along the av­enue lined with fine art gal­leries, record and vin­tage cloth­ing shops, and an­tique stores. There are also plenty of restau­rants and bars along the way, so take your time and en­joy all this shop­ping dis­trict has to of­fer.

Look­ing for a lit­tle some­thing to take back to friends back home? Sou­venir shop­ping is per­fected at John’s Pass Vil­lage & Board­walk in Madeira Beach. Drop by any of the 100-plus shops for ev­ery­thing from Tshirts and shells to art­work and more.

If you ad­mire arts and crafts, don’t miss the 25th An­nual Down­town Dunedin Craft Fes­ti­val in Fe­bru­ary. Just a short drive from Tampa, this small coastal town at­tracts some of the coun­try’s finest artists and crafters to its an­nual event. If you miss it, the town hosts ad­di­tional craft fes­ti­vals through­out the year, so don’t de­spair!

SPAS

When it’s time to re­ally re­lax and spoil your­self, Cen­tral West Florida has just what you need.

With a list of spa pack­ages that goes on and on, you’re sure to find the right com­bi­na­tion at Pia Es­thet­ics Day Spa in St. Peters­burg. Check out the two-and-a-halfhour Beauty Break (massage and pedi), or go for the four-plus-hour Ex­trav­a­ganza (body sugar scrub, cho­co­late cake mani-pedi and deep pore res­cue fa­cial).

When Her­nando de Soto reached the shores of Old Tampa Bay in 1539, he thought he’d found the leg­endary Foun­tain of Youth that Ponce De León had missed. Since its found­ing in 1925, the his­toric Safety Har­bor Re­sort and Spa is “where nat­u­ral healing min­eral wa­ters flow” un­der the grounds. To­day, the 50,000-square-foot spa and fit­ness cen­ter, which Spa Fin­der Mag­a­zine con­sis­tently rec­og­nizes among its top 10 US spas, fea­tures ev­ery­thing you need for that youth­ful glow. Spend a day and choose from more than 50 spa and salon treat­ments.

In Tampa’s SoHo neigh­bor­hood, Spa Evan­ge­line takes or­ganic to a new level with fresh fruit scrubs, but­tery lo­tions and botan­i­cal oils in­fused with hand­picked herbs. Each treat­ment is cus­tom­ized to meet your needs, and each in­gre­di­ent is care­fully se­lected to awaken your senses and re­fresh your soul. You can even cre­ate your own aro­mather­apy blend to use dur­ing your treat­ment and take home to en­joy af­ter­ward.

You’ll feel in­stantly re­laxed as you cozy into Amy’s Day Spa, housed in a bun­ga­low, also in Tampa’s SoHo neigh­bor­hood. The Sig­na­ture Zen Jour­ney will take you through five hours of pam­per­ing, in­clud­ing a 90minute cus­tom­ized massage, fa­cial and a mani-pedi. Feel those cares melt­ing away?

It re­ally is all about you at All About You Salon & Day Spa in Pasco County’s Ze­phyrhills, where the team is ready to pam­per you from head to toe with treat­ments rang­ing from mas­sages and fa­cials to ma­nis and pedis, and much more.

Fol­low­ing a day in the springs in Crys­tal River, re­lax at Spa Bleu, an Aveda spa that has nearly ev­ery­thing you could de­sire, from oneof-a-kind treat­ments to a full day of pam­per­ing filled with man­i­cures, pedi­cures, mas­sages, fa­cials, Vichy show­ers and more.

OP­PO­SITE TOP: The Dalí Mu­seum, St. Peters­burg. OP­PO­SITE CEN­TER: Colom­bian ar­chi­tec­ture in Ybor City. ABOVE: Fire­stone Grand Prix of St. Peters­burg.

OP­PO­SITE TOP: Beach on Caladesi Is­land. OP­PO­SITE CEN­TER LEFT: Tour­ing Ho­mosassa Springs State Wildlife Park. OP­PO­SITE BOT­TOM: Aerial view of An­clote Key Pre­serve State Park in Pasco County. TOP: Blue crabs at the Ho­mosassa River Re­sort. CEN­TER LEFT: Shuf­fle­board and craft beer in St. Pete. CEN­TER RIGHT: En­joy­ing cup­cakes at the Crys­tal River Main­street Her­itage Vil­lage. BOT­TOM: Down­town Tampa at sun­set.

OP­PO­SITE TOP LEFT TO RIGHT: St. Pete Pride Fes­ti­val and Pa­rade. OP­PO­SITE BOT­TOM: The LGBT Wel­come Cen­ter on Sun­set Beach. ABOVE: The multi-use Fred Mar­quis Pinel­las Trail.

OP­PO­SITE TOP: John's Pass Vil­lage, Madeira Beach. OP­PO­SITE BOT­TOM: Shops in the Grand Cen­tral Dis­trict of St.Peters­burg. TOP: Friends re­lax­ing in a Jacuzzi. ABOVE: A well-de­served Ayurveda spa treat­ment.

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