Streamsong Golf Resort
Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club
3. Saddlebrook Resort
Speaking of Florida resort style, Saddlebrook is another property that beckons cold weary northern golfers with its two Arnold Palmer-designed golf courses: the aptly named Palmer and Saddlebrook. Both courses are less than 6,500 yards, but include water hazards, narrow fairways, contoured greens and elevation changes to challenge any golfer. If you get beat up score-wise, you won’t seem to mind given the scenic backdrop, with over 480-acres of lagoons, cypress trees and a car-free village area. The resort has 540 guest room suites, on site restaurants, sports bars and a poolside café. Packages start at $176 per night. 5700 Saddlebrook Way, Wesley Chapel, (800) 729-8383, www.saddlebrook.com.
4. Spring Training Baseball
Take a day off from the golf balls and think baseballs instead. Major league spring training games run from late February through the end of March. The Tampa area offers excellent Grapefruit League action for the Philadelphia Phillies in Clearwater, the New York Yankees in Tampa and the Toronto Blue Jays in Dunedin. Spring training has become a hot ticket, so it’s best to plan ahead and buy them from your favorite team in the late fall or early winter. The games are more intimate in the smaller ballparks, and you get to see the players up close in a more relaxed, approachable setting. www.floridagrapefruitleague.com or www.mlb.com.
5. Gasparilla Pirate Festival
Think Mardi Gras, except with pirates, and you have Gasparilla. The uniquely Tampa citywide party celebrates the memory of José Gaspar, the “last of the Buccaneers,” a notorious pirate who once terrorized the west coast of Florida. The Gasparilla celebration is a week’s worth of activities culminating in a reenactment of the sacking of the city and festive parade the last Saturday in January. It’s a party with pirates and wenches, beads, elaborate costumes, sailing ships, neighborhood block parties, and more. If you have ever attended the Mummers Parade in Philadelphia, then the Gasparilla Pirate Festival should be next on your agenda. www.gasparillapiratefest.com.
Gasparilla Pirate Festival
6. Bern’s Steak House
Every city has “the place” you have to try if you are in town, and, for decades, that place in Tampa has been Bern’s Steak House. You won’t be impressed by the facade, and may even be taken aback by the entrance, but just wait until you try the food. You will experience the finest steaks, seafood and veal, with top-notch service by a long tenured wait staff, and the world’s largest wine cellar. Be sure to check out the upstairs dessert room, constructed from redwood wine holding tanks that founder Bern Laxer had moved from a California winery. The booths feel so intimate that patrons would never know the dessert room square footage
is larger than all seven of the main dining rooms combined. 1208 S. Howard Ave. Tampa, (813) 251-2421, www.bernssteakhouse.com.
Bern’s Steak House
7. Epicurean Hotel, Élevage Restaurant, The Edge Bar
What used to be an old warehouse directly across the street from Bern’s Steak House has been transformed into a wonderful hotel, restaurant and bar complex in the SoHo section of south Tampa. The Epicurean is a highly stylized hotel, with 137 guest rooms and suites, featuring a blend of urban chic and comfort. From the iPad front desk check-in, to the heavy-duty sliding bathroom doors in the guest rooms, everything about this place whispers, “I’m cool.” Élevage Restaurant has Bern’s DNA, but delivers with a more modern take on comfort food. Nationally recognized executive chef Chad Johnson brings his rural upbringing influences to Élevage’s diverse offerings. The Edge is just as cool as you would expect, with interesting takes on old libation favorites in a rooftop setting. You may be ready to forget about golf, and just relax here for a two-day gastronomic staycation. 1207 S. Howard Ave., (813) 999-8700, www.epicureanhotel.com; (813) 999-8726, www.elevagerestaurant.com.
8. Clearwater, St. Petersburg, Ybor City
Tampa is often linked to neighboring Clearwater and St. Petersburg, where you will find some of the best beaches in Florida. Both have great downtowns with shops, restaurants, bars and live music venues. The Dali Museum in St. Pete is worth a visit. Ybor City is Tampa’s Latin Quarter, with an eclectic mix of Spanish and Cuban cuisines, a vibrant music scene, and the best place to get a fresh, hand-rolled cigar. At night, Ybor comes alive—it’s a great place to sit outside and
watch a multi-cultural parade pass by. www.visitstpeteclearwater.com, www.ybor.org.
9. Taco Bus
In 1996, way before the food truck craze, chef Rene Valenzuela rolled his converted bus into Tampa with a goal of bringing his love for Mexican street fare to Americans’ taste buds. Today, there are five Taco Bus locations in the Tampa area, and the world has taken notice, with features on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and Eat Street. Taco Bus is still true to its south of the border roots, and the original bus is now part of the restaurant at the East Hillsborough Avenue location. They offer a complete line of Mexican dishes and include vegan and gluten-free options. Take the bus, where they even poke fun at themselves with their proud slogan: “Broken English Perfectly Spoken.” (813) 232-5889, www.taco-bus.com.
10. Do you need another reason?
Especially after the brutal winter we had? I didn’t think so.