Ten things you didn't know about Tampa Bay
The Tampa Bay region is most well known for its’ beautiful Gulf Coast beaches, world class theme parks, 3 major pro sports teams, and hot, humid weather which includes plenty of intense thunderstorms (daily storms are common during the summer season!). Although Tampa often gets passed over in favor of theme park capital of the world Orlando, the diverse range of activities & close proximity to top rated beaches actually make Tampa a pretty nice vacation destination in and of itself as the area. After visiting Tampa just once, you will find that the area offers a never ending supply of activities & attractions, in addition its’ world famous beaches and theme parks.
The Tampa Bay region is loaded with endless recreational trails, gorgeous nature preserves, top knotch cultural attractions & museums, fantastic local restaurants & breweries, amazing coffee shops, diverse waterfront activities, and so much more. Here are 19 fun facts (you may not have know) about the Tampa Bay area!
1. Tampa is home to the world’s longest continuous sidewalk
Bayshore Blvd in downtown Tampa, at 4.5 miles long, earns the title of “the world’s longest continuous sidewalk.” This gorgeous recreational path, which is used by cyclists, joggers, and walkers alike, is lined with palm trees and features never ending views of the bay. Beautiful views of the Tampa skyline, unending palm trees, and historic mansions lining the street give your eyes even more to look at. To add to the excitement, dolphin and manatee sightings are a common occurrence (early morning is your best bet)! Bayshore Blvd. is a picturesque place for any type of workout, and if you want to challenge yourself even further, you can test out your strength & agility on the fitness stations located along the course. It’s a must do for any fitness enthusiast!
Despite the area’s widely recognized heat and humidity and seemingly endless days of oppressive heat, the temperature has actually never reached 100 degrees! The record is actually 99 degrees, although that is not to say that the temp feels well over 100 with the heat index on an almost constant basis during the brutal summer season. On the other hand, the record high in nearby St. Pete Beach reached 102 degrees back in 1997.
3. Tampa is home to Florida’s oldest restaurant (as well as the world’s largest Spanish restaurant)
The amazing Columbia restaurant (Ybor City location) is Florida’s oldest restaurant & the world’s largest Spanish restaurant. The Ybor City location in Tampa opened in 1905, and 110 years later 4th and 5th generation members of the the Hernandez/Gonzmart still own the restaurant. On an interesting side note, Columbia was Florida’s first air conditioned restaurant! Despite opening several other locations, the Ybor City is the place to visit as this location features a lively nightly Flamenco dance show (every day except Sunday). The restaurant is widely regarded as offering some of the best Spanish and Cuban cuisine in the country. After trying it out on several occasions, I can attest that this is true! You cannot leave without trying the Cuban Black Beans!
4. Ybor City is one of the most haunted places in the world
Ybor City, a historic downtown Tampa neighborhood founded in the late 1800’s by cigar manufacturers and known for its’ cigar factories, is known as the “cigar capital of the world,” and thus, has been given the nickname of “Cigar City.” It is recognized as a National Historic Landmark District, and is home to the highly regarded Columbia Restaurant. Asides from its’ cigar making past, the area has a long history of strange paranormal happenings and is considered to be one of the most haunted towns in America.
Tampa was once referred to as the “damnedest town this side of Hell.’ Not surprisingly, the area offers a number of ghost tours, including one that is frequently rated amongst the best in the country. Ybor’s Cuban Club was voted “One of the Top 10 Most Haunted Places in the U.S.” by the Travel Channel. A tour is must anytime of the year, and of course, even more fun around Halloween!
5. Tampa is home to Florida’s largest port
Port Tampa Bay is the largest port in Florida. It’s the closest full service port to the Panama Canal. It also happens to be one of the top cruise ports in the US with 4 cruise lines homeporting here including Carnival Cruise Lines, Holland America, Royal Caribbean International and Norwegian Cruise Line.
6. Tampa Bay is the lightning capital of the world
If you have ever visited the Tampa region during the summer season, it will come as no surprise to you that Tampa is known to be the lighting capital of the world. These storms can get pretty intense and can come on with no advance warning. One minute you are sitting at a beach enjoying the sunny skies, only to have to pack up all your stuff and run to your car before the torrential downpour starts. I have had this happen to me so many times I cannot count – both at beaches and while on hiking trails. On the bright side, these storms provide a much needed cool down from the blazing heat.
Florida averages more than 10 deaths per year from lightning strikes. On an interesting note, only 10% of those struck by lightning die and men account for 80% of all lightning deaths. “Lightning Alley”, an interesting nickname given to the region between Tampa and Orlando, sees more than 50 strikes per square mile – more than anywhere else in the country. Be safe and prepared for a thunderstorm possibility every day in the summer.
7. There is much more to the region than simply beaches & theme parks
The Tampa Bay area really offers a bit of everything – a top ranked family zoo, a wide range of interesting museums (the Tampa Museum of Art is wonderful), the Tampa Theater (one of the top rated theaters in the world), gorgeous nature preserves everywhere you turn (check out Weedon Island & John Chestnut for starters), and on and on. Additionally, the area is home to fantastic local restaurants and coffee shops, despite the perception as it being a chain only destination…this is simply not true! It’s one of the top rated cities for fitness and nature lovers, and after a visit it will not be hard to see why. Check out my list of 50 fun things to do in Tampa to get started!
8. Birdwatching is a popular past time
The natural landscapes of Florida make it home to a diverse range of bird species. The Great Florida Birding Trail is a network of over 500 birding sites designed to protect Florida’s natural bird habitat. Pinellas County is a favorite spot for birdwatchers due to the mild climate, diverse ecosystems, and variety of trails and parks scattered all around the region. Some of the top include John Chestnut Park in Palm Harbor, Boyd Hill Nature Center in St. Petersburg, Brooker Creek Preserve in Tarpon Springs, Lettuce Lake Park in Tampa, and Honeymoon Island State Park in Dunedin. Birding is becoming more and more popular with both locals & tourists, and fortunately, there are many, many parks in the region for everyone to enjoy this fun past time without overcrowding.
9. A massive pirate festival has been taking place for over 100 years!
The Gasparilla Pirate Festival, a large festival celebrating the legend of pirate Jose Gaspar, dates back over 100 years. The festive pirate themed lineup features the Gasparilla Invasion (arrival of the Gasparilla ship downtown), pre invasion live entertainment, a special brunch, and the 3rd largest parade in the country.
10. Tampa ranks as one of the best cities for coffee lovers
Looking to skip the standard chain coffee shops like Starbucks and Peet’s? You are in luck as Tampa is home to so many eclectic coffee shops. Out of the dozens of coffee shops I have tested out, only 1 was a let down. While most associate Tampa with endless chains, one would be surprised at how many independent shops are lurking in each and every city. In fact, Tampa ranks amongst the best cities for coffee lovers!Tampa is home to so many wonderful laid-back shops, each offering their own unique vibe, that it would be difficult to pick amongst the bunch. To get started, check out my list of the 5 best coffee shops in Tampa Bay!