A Vacation Guide to Tampa Bay

Planning on a trip to Florida? Instead of choosing one of the heavily crowded tourist spots or spring break getaways, such as Daytona Beach or Miami, why not try a walk on the wild side? Offering quiet sandy beaches, breathtaking sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico, and a wide variety of entertainments to keep even the busiest family occupied, the Tampa Bay area is a vacationer’s dream come true.

Sports fans are sure to love the Tampa Bay area in the spring; nearby Clearwater hosting the Philadelphia Phillies during their spring training, the Toronto Blue Jays calling Dunedin their springtime home, and the New York Yankees spend their spring training time in Tampa. Additionally, six additional spring training teams are all located within one hour’s time of Pinellas County. New Year’s Day is when the annual Outback Bowl is held and, each year, Clearwater Beach hosts the Outback Bowl’s Beach Bowl Day, where fans are able to meet the teams, cheerleaders, and members of the band.

If you’re looking to pick a winner and win some money, forget Vegas! Greyhound racing is available at one of three locations in the Tampa Bay area, and Tampa Bay Downs hosts some of the finest race horses in the country. Slots more your style? Several different cruise lines offer trips out into the Gulf of Mexico, where guests can enjoy casino gambling including slot machines, blackjack and roulette. Additionally, the Seminole Indian Casino offers land lovers the chance to win at high stake bingo and poker, as well as offering video gaming machines.

Highly regarded for its sand, Clearwater Beach was one of only two United States sites chosen for the FIVB World Beach Volleyball Championships, the series that determined who would play in the 1996 Summer Olympics. Nearly every spring, the Miller Lite AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Tournament is held on Clearwater Beach, as well as other major tournaments throughout the year. If you aren’t interested in the pros and just want to go see a fun game, amateur tournaments are held between the months of May and October. Afraid that beaches aren’t clean? Think again! Clearwater Beach was awarded the Blue Wave Award by the Clean Beaches Council. The symbol of responsible beach management, this prized award recognizes that Clearwater Beach provides a clean, safe and healthy environment for you and your family. Clearwater Beach has also been ranked the “Best City Beach on the Gulf of Mexico” by Dr. Stephen Leatherman, a.k.a. “Dr. Beach”.

Also common to the Tampa Bay area are racing competitions; road races, bicycle races, triathlons, swimming, canoe or kayak races and various marathons are held throughout the year. Just off Clearwater’s coast, international yacht racing takes place in the form of the Clearwater Cup Regatta and South Ocean Racing Conference, while colorful competitions can also be found at the site of the Clearwater Sailing Center. Like something a bit slower-paced? Clearwater is also the home of both the National and International Shuffleboard Halls of Fame. Florida isn’t all beaches, palm trees and theme parks.

If you like Jazz music? There’s no need to go to New Orleans! The third weekend in October, Clearwater takes a Jazz Holiday; four sunny days and starlit nights with more than 100,000 music lovers who gather to experience the largest free jazz festival in the Southeastern United States. If you visit Florida in October, be sure to check out this wonderful musical opportunity at the stunning waterfront Coachman Park.

Over a century’s worth of history is easily accessible and much of it can be viewed for free. The Belleview Biltmore Resort and Spa, built in 1897, is the oldest occupied wooden building, still used for its original purpose. One can tour the underground railway or visit Heritage Village, where men and women dress in period costume, living and working as Florida’s pioneers did. You can climb the batteries at Ft. DeSoto, a Spanish-American war fort or nearby Hillsborough County’s Ybor City can take you back to when Tampa was the “Cigar Capital of the World.”

If you want to get out on the water, a wide variety of sightseeing boats offer unique ways to experience the Tampa Bay area. One can sail under the billowing sails of three-masted schooners, ride on the world’s largest speedboat, cruise the gulf on a pirate ship, or enjoy dinner and dance cruises which promise a night to remember. Ferry services provide transportation out to natural locales such as Caladesi Island or you can even become a marine biologist in one of several marine life adventure cruises. Additionally, Clearwater Marina is home to the largest recreational fishing fleet on the West Coast of Florida.

But no one can visit Florida without visiting some of the main attractions! Featuring nearly 5,000 aquatic plants and animals, The Florida Aquarium provides a wonderful blend of education and excitement. Detailed tours take you on behind the scenes look at how the aquarium is maintained and operated; a wonderful learning opportunity for both young and old. Nearby Clearwater Marine Aquarium allows visitors to view, touch and experience the behavior of bottlenose dolphins, loggerhead sea turtles, river otters, sting rays and more!

Museums abound in the Tampa Bay area; A Smithsonian Institute Affiliate, with the largest private collection of Kennedy family artifacts, the Florida International Museum can be found just a few blocks off the interstate in downtown St. Petersburg. Meanwhile, the Gulf Coast Art Museum features contemporary Florida art for viewing, as well as offering a variety of educational programs for adults and children throughout the year. MOSI (Museum of Science and Industry) is the largest science center in the Southeastern United States and is home to one of Florida’s two IMAX theaters.

The Lowry Zoo, located in Tampa, is one of the top three zoos of its size in North America. Voted #1 Family Friendly Zoo in America, by Child Magazine, they are home to some 1,500 animals, where more than 350 different exotic species are exhibited, along with Florida’s ‘mermaid,’ the manatee. View the Sunshine Skyway Bridge; Florida’s first suspension bridge, soaring 183 feet above beautifulTampa Bay. Another main attraction are the sunsets at Pier 60; a nightly ‘street’ festival, in Clearwater, that celebrates the setting of the sun and features artists, craftsmen, musicians and performers. Also located in Pier 60 park, one can find a new beach welcome center, providing visitors with information about Clearwater and its island beaches (a great place to purchase maps or tickets to special attractions in the area!).

Still wanting your amusement park rides? Forget the long lines at Disney and check out Busch Gardens, in Tampa Bay. The live entertainment is outstanding, the roller coasters sure to keep you breathless, and a wide variety of other rides are set midst beautiful naturalistic animal habitats. Enjoy one of the park’s many safari rides, including one where you get to go out on a land rover and help care for some of the park’s animals!

When you’ve finished, be sure to check out Adventure Island, Tampa Bay’s only outdoor water theme park and finish up your vacation with a relaxing dinner at any one of the numerous fine restaurants in the area. Whether you like it fast or slow, mellow or spicy, there is something for everyone in Tampa Bay!

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