Why You Should Visit Florida’s Gulf Coast
Featured destinations: Tampa, Florida
Published 31 May 2017
Millions of visitors flock to Florida every year on holidays. Miami has glamour, the Florida Keys have stunning beaches, and Orlando is home to two of the world’s most visited amusement parks. The Gulf Coast however, remains largely undiscovered by European visitors.
I had the opportunity to visit Florida’s Gulf Coast and it blew my mind. From beautiful beaches, serene state parks, amazing food, lively nightlife, culture and some unique attractions, the Gulf Coast really has it all. Read below to learn about what makes this region of Florida worth visiting.
Streetcar to Yvor image: Claus Gurumeta
Cool ways to get around in Tampa
Forget the bus, and don’t even think about driving. Tampa’s neighbourhoods may be spread out, but with various interesting ways to get around in the city, the journey is all part of the fun. From downtown, ride a bicycle westbound along the scenic Bayshore Boulevard to reach stylish SoHo and the Hyde Park area. Otherwise, walk to the Channel District and hop on a water taxi to cruise up the Hillsborough River, heading towards the Tampa Museum of Art and the pretty Tampa University. To visit Yvor City, Tampa’s lively Cuban enclave, hop on one of the historic yellow streetcars from the convention centre and you will be there in no time. If you, like me, enjoy beer, then you’ll love the Brew Bus, a company that has taken brewery tours to the next level by turning their shuttle into a mobile tasting room, serving their own beer in between breweries.
Busch Gardens image: Claus Gurumeta
Exhilarating rides at Busch Gardens
It might not have the world appeal of Disney World or Universal Studios, but Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is actually really cool. Ride the Cheetah Hunt roller-coaster if you like speed, and the SheiKra ride if you like steep drops. If you’re crazier than me, you’ll enjoy their newest attraction Falcon’s Fury, which is North America’s tallest freestanding drop tower – a must for amusement ride aficionados. Families will enjoy the safari theme and have fun exploring the zoo on site, which is one of the largest in the United States. When you’re tired of all the excitement, visit one of the bars on site for a cold, refreshing pint of beer to finish up your visit.
Columbia restaurant image: Claus Gurumeta
Tampa’s amazing cuisine
From historic restaurants to trendy cafes and upscale eateries, Tampa has a bit of everything for those searching to enjoy their holiday through their tummy. Start your day right with a hearty all-American breakfast at Daily Eats (901 South Howard Ave), or with a fancy brunch at the incredibly stylish Oxford Exchange (420 West Kennedy Blvd). Grab a light lunch overlooking the scenic Hillsborough River from Sono Café at the Tampa Museum of Art (120 West Gasparilla Plaza), or head over to Yvor City and enjoy an Iberian meal at Columbia Restaurant, Florida’s oldest Spanish bistro which has been family owned for 110 years – a true Tampa institution. At sunset, head over to trendy SoHo for a cocktail at Edge, the rooftop bar of the Epicurean Hotel (1207 South Howard Ave), then enjoy an outstanding native-inspired dinner and beer brewed-on-site at Ulele (1810 North Highland Ave) in Tampa Heights.
Clearwater Beach image: Claus Gurumeta
More than beaches in St Petersburg and Clearwater
Florida’s Gulf Coast is blessed with calm waters and striking wide beaches. At the heart of the Gulf Coast, the joint cities of St Petersburg and Clearwater, along with various other areas that form the region, offer plenty of attractions and cultural activities for those looking for a little more than just a relaxing holiday. Yes, the beaches are stunning and you’ll want to spend some time in them, but believe me, you’ll also want to explore everything else that the Gulf Coast has to offer!Performers at Pier 60 image: Claus Gurumeta
The sunset market on Pier 60
Every evening from 5-10pm, rain or shine (unless a major hurricane hits town), the main wharf in Clearwater, Pier 60, becomes a lively market. Local artisans and artists come to sell their crafts, clothing and art, with stands set up all along the pier. Musicians and entertainers, including magicians and street performers doing all sorts of acts, also set up along the pier and in the surrounding area to amuse visitors. Stroll through the market, browse the crafts, and make sure to pay close attention in the horizon to see the pods of dolphins that often make an appearance at sunset.
Winter the dolphin at Clearwater Aquarium image: Claus Gurumeta
A famous tail-less dolphin
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is an animal hospital renowned for rehabilitating local fauna and releasing them back to the wild, only keeping those animals that cannot be safely set free, to help educate visitors. While their sea turtle rehabilitation program is extensive, the marine aquarium is most famous for resident Winter, a rescued dolphin whose tail had to be amputated and has learned to swim again with the use of a prosthetic tail. Families will know Winter from the popular family movie Dolphin Tale and for its sequel, which is based on the true-life story of orphan baby dolphin Hope, who formed a quick bond with Winter upon arriving at Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
Dunedin Brewery image: Claus Gurumeta
Florida’s oldest craft brewery
Located in Dunedin, a small city of Scottish ancestry with a village-like atmosphere just north of Clearwater, Dunedin Brewery offers some inventive brews made with locally-grown fruits, as well as a delicious menu, great for an evening out. Built inside an old garage, with the brewing tanks in plain view and décor highlighting the town’s Scottish heritage, the atmosphere of Dunedin Brewery is fun and eccentric. Most importantly, the brewery hosts local bands playing live music daily, making this an all-in-one nightlife destination for those looking to blend in with the locals, away from the tourist joints of Clearwater or St Petersburg.
Chihuly Glass Exhibit image: Claus Gurumeta
St Petersburg is a surprisingly cosmopolitan city full of marina-side restaurants, attractive architecture, and most surprisingly, various world-class museums. The Dali Museum is a one-of-a-kind collection of masterpieces by Spanish artist Salvador Dali and is an absolute must for art lovers. Commissioned by its owners to Dali over various decades, this is the second-largest collection of his art anywhere in the world, housed in a stunning purpose-made building. Nearby, the Chihuly Glass Exhibit is a wonderful permanent exhibit of American artist Dale Chihuly’s blown-glass works. The entire collection, most often displayed in dark rooms with floodlights upon them to accentuate their colours, is fantastic; yet, the breathtaking Mille Fiori, a colourful sea garden, takes the crown.
Caladesi island image: Claus Gurumeta
Florida’s most serene state park
A quick boat trip away from the mainland will take you to peaceful Caladesi Island, a State Park that is proud to protect Florida’s native vegetation and wildlife. Walk around the pathways of Caladesi always keeping an eye out for the tens of resident turtles. Find yourself virtually alone in the quiet beaches, swim in the ocean or hire one of the kayaks on site for a cruise around the island, where you’re sure to see a dolphin or two at some point. Caladesi Island is primarily a nature reserve, which means there are no roads, no overnight stays due to lack of facilities, and only one cafe to feed hungry visitors – in other words, it is truly a break from society, and the perfect place to let go of the world and relax for a day.
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