36 Hours In Tampa Bay: What To See? What To Do?

What if one of your friends were to pop in for a short stay in the Tampa Bay region and wanted to see something other than the popular tourist attractions? 

What would you recommend to get a brief but true taste of the Tampa Bay experience?

Write it up and submit up to 800 words to [email protected]

Here's one option!

Loving Open Spaces

Friday, 2:15 p.m. – Catch a cab or rent a car at Tampa International Airport to get to downtown Tampa to check into your hotel.

Ask the clerk or the concierge to point you to the Old Tampa Book Company on Tampa Street, where you can pick up a good read, step across the street for a croissant from nearby L'Eden and walk over to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park to take in the look and feel of downtown Tampa.

Bring a blanket or find a bench so you can sneak in a chapter or two before walking off the carbs with a stroll down the Tampa Riverwalk bordering the park. The Riverwalk is one of downtown's most recent additions, and its biggest fan of all in the City of Tampa couldn't be happier with what it has to offer.

"A top goal of my administration has been to open the river to the people," says Mayor Pam Iorio. "That's what the Tampa Riverwalk is all about -- a 2.1 mile walkway that connects parks, museums, and other Tampa amenities from Channelside to Tampa Heights."

5:30 p.m. – Hop on the trolley to ride south to the Tampa Convention Center and walk over the Platt Street Bridge to mingle with the locals who are warming up to get in one last brisk walk or run along Bayshore Boulevard before sunset while dodging equally committed rollerbladers and bicyclers.

Tasting Local Flavors

6:55 p.m. – Travel over to South MacDill Avenue in the Palma Ceia neighborhood to Datz Deli for a foodie seminar (one night's focus, the mushroom); unorthodox food combinations (lobster pot pie? short rib ravioli?); and gelato flavors so bizarre (rosemary olive oil?), they just work.

9:45 p.m. – Go back downtown to board the streetcar over to Ybor City for a concert at The Ritz Ybor, a venue notorious for an eclectic roster of music acts, local and national, followed by a final stop at Tre [email protected] Bunker for a cup of java and a chat.

"A lot of people think Ybor is just restaurants and bars. But it's got the best coffee shop to hang out in Tampa," says Julia Gorzka, founder of local social networking community Brand Tampa. "The management put a lot of thought into programming – open mic nights of music and spoken word and community conversations."

Whether it's a cozy coffeehouse, open cigar bar or expansive city park, the Ybor City landscape is one that invites congregating and discussion.

Making A Statement

Saturday, 6 a.m. – We know it's early, but this will be worth it. Find your way to the West Tampa Sandwich Shop for a must-order of café con leche and Cuban toast, while eavesdropping on the regulars as they passionately discuss politics and candidate hopefuls in the next election.

7:45 a.m. – Check out at the hotel and load up the rental for a trek over the Howard Frankland Bridge to downtown St. Petersburg.

Catch a morning paddle board lesson at Stand Up Fitness on North Beach, then take a hike along Beach Drive and nearby streets to see a few of the unique art galleries and shops. Among your choices: Art Pool Gallery, where visitors can shop for original art and vintage clothing at the same time. Browse pottery, jewelry and artifacts designed from repurposed materials at Florida Craftsmen Gallery and visit the Glass Studio and Hot Shop at Morean Arts Center.

Complete the local art tour at The [email protected], home to art exhibits, performances and special collaborative art projects.

"The basic goal of The Studio was to bring people from different cultural groups in our community together," says Dave Ellis, founding artistic director of The [email protected] along with co-founder Bob Devin. "We wanted to create a space where everyone felt safe and welcome."

Kicking Back

1:15 p.m. – Scoot over to Gulfport's Beach Boulevard for lunch at Peg's Cantina. Sample one of Peg's award-winning, G.O.O.D. beers (Gulfport Original On Draft beers) – like the Square Dancing Cody or the Cold Kickin' Wit white wheat beer – served with Cheese Nachos smothered in black beans as a starter and grilled Sugar Shrimp for the main event. After lunch, walk through downtown Gulfport, checking out local boutiques and art galleries to find a memorable keepsake.

4:45 p.m. – Cruise over to Clearwater to Sand Key Park to catch the most relaxing and least expensive attraction of all: one of Clearwater Beach's breathtaking sunsets.

7:40 p.m. – Travel back to Tampa by way of the scenic Courtney Campbell Causeway and head northbound on I-275 to Skipper's Smokehouse for a cheap, entertaining open-air concert to cap off the visit.

The venue's famous outdoor "Skipper Dome" has seen the likes of a rich mix of blues, rock, country and gospel artists from Los Lonely Boys to Rick Derringer to Leon Russell to the Blind Boys of Alabama.

"The atmosphere is unique and second to none in the (Tampa) Bay area," says Tommy Duncan, lead singer of JGLB whose band has performed at least a half-dozen times at the venue for fundraiser concerts. "It's a great place to see a show."

Finding A Good Bargain

11:45 p.m. – Wind down the evening with a late-night snack of fish tacos washed down with a mandarin-flavored Jarritos at Tampa's favorite Taco Bus, formerly known as El Taconazo on Hillsborough Avenue. (Downtown St. Petersburg got its own Taco Bus when the doors opened Monday at 2324 Central Ave. Just saying!)

"Hanging out at the Bus after midnight is like watching a human aquarium. There's no telling what you'll see,'' says Jeff Houck, food critic at The Tampa Tribune.

As for the food, Houck says, "the salsa verde is the best I've ever had. One of the homemade agua frescas (I recommend the cantaloupe when it's in season) are incredibly refreshing. The butternut squash tostada is a vegetarian's dream.''

Open 24/7, the Tampa eatery whose kitchen sits nestled inside an old converted school bus, offers the perfect nightcap -- cheap, delicious Mexican food -- before zipping back to TIA to hop aboard a red-eye home.

Chris Kuhn is a freelance writer who lives and works in the 'burbs of Tampa with her husband and her assistant, a 12-year-old dachshund-Chihuahua. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

Read more articles by Chris Kuhn.

Chris Kuhn is a freelance writer, editor and blogger who resides in the northern ‘burbs of Tampa with her husband and a rambunctious Shih Tzu. She is a frequent contributor to area print and online publications and previously served as editor for a local women’s publication. A graduate of Florida State University, Chris has been published nationally and written two books, her most recent, an anthology celebrating public art as a central focal point for storytelling across various Florida communities, including Tampa. When she is not writing, Chris loves checking out art, movies and museums, and discovering new Thai restaurants.