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Pilgrimage: Tampa Bay, Florida

by Brian D. Coleman on August 29, 2014

in Travel

Aerial view of the Davis Islands, a Tampa neighborhood with Mediterranean houses, near downtown.

Aerial view of the Davis Islands, a Tampa neighborhood with Mediterranean houses, near downtown.

Mention Florida and thoughts of sunshine, palm trees, and white beaches come to mind—but so should bungalows. Historic neighborhoods filled with charming Arts & Crafts-era homes (tiled Spanish haciendas, shingled Craftsman cottages) fill Tampa and St. Pete. Plus, you’ll find scores of museums and attractions. A good place to begin is at the History Center, right on the Hillsborough River that winds through downtown Tampa.

A Smithsonian Institute Affiliate, the Center has interactive exhibitions that give a good overview of the region’s 12,000-year history.

For a taste of local color, catch a streetcar from downtown (buy an unlimited-ride day pass for $5) to Ybor City (EE-bore) in northeast Tampa. Famous for its many cigar factories at the turn of the 20th century, it was home to Cuban, Spanish, and Italian immigrants and remains a colorful and lively neighborhood. Walk down brick-lined Seventh Avenue and peek inside Columbia Restaurant’s Cigar Store, where you can see workers hand-rolling cigars. Grab a Cuban sandwich: Genoa salami and ham. The Ybor City State Museum on 9th Avenue highlights the area’s colorful history and offers walking tours as well; the Ybor City Cigar Museum on 8th Avenue has a great gift shop.

The Craftsman House Gallery and Café, St. Petersburg.

The Craftsman House Gallery and Café, St. Petersburg.

Now it’s time for a leisurely drive through Arts & Crafts neighborhoods. Start in Historic Kenwood in the center of St. Petersburg, adjacent to the western edge of downtown. (Kenwood’s boundaries are Central Avenue to the south, 9th Avenue to the North, 19th Street to the east, and 34th Street to the west.) One of the most intact bungalow neighborhoods in the Southeast, Kenwood encompasses 125 blocks of everything from Greene & Greene-inspired Craftsman homes to historic Tudor Revivals. A good time to visit is the first week in November, when the annual Bungalowfest offers art shows and home tours (historickenwood.org). Stop for refreshments and check out handcraft and art at the Craftsman House Gallery set in a 1918 restored model home.

Hyde Park in Tampa is filled with period homes.

Hyde Park in Tampa is filled with period homes.

For more inspiration, head back to Tampa and take a spin through Hyde Park (from Hillsborough Bay to the east, Kennedy Boulevard to the north, Bayshore Boulevard to the east and south, and Armenia Avenue to the west) and Seminole Heights (bounded by Hanna Avenue to the north, Cherokee Avenue and I-275 to the east, Florida Avenue to the west, and Osborne Avenue to the south). Try a Southern soul food dinner at Ella’s Americana Folk Art Café in the heart of Seminole Heights.

For a taste of the opulence of the late 19th century, visit the H.B. Plant Museum. It’s in the original 1891 Tampa Bay Hotel built by railroad magnate Henry B. Plant (and now part of the University of Tampa). For art lovers, the new Tampa Museum of Art downtown on the Hillsborough River has contemporary art and changing exhibitions. In downtown St. Petersburg, the St. Petersburg Museum of Art, the Dali Museum, and the Chihuly Collection are all worth seeing. Soon St. Petersburg will be a major destination for Arts & Crafts collectors, with the completion of the new Museum of the American Arts & Crafts Movement.

Bungalows abound in Historic Kenwood, a district in the center of St. Petersburg.

Bungalows abound in Historic Kenwood, a district in the center of St. Petersburg.

You have many hotel choices. The elegant Le Meridien Hotel recently opened in downtown Tampa in the former 1903 Federal Courthouse. Less historic, but well-located, is the Epicurean Hotel that just opened in South ampa’s SoHo District, a lively neighborhood of boutiques and restaurants adjacent to the cobblestone streets of historic Hyde Park. Splurge on a dinner at Bern’s across the street. Locals also recommend the trendy Oxford Exchange, a great place for lunch adjacent to a lovely bookshop. (Make a reservation.)

The Tampa Theatre is a restored 1926 movie palace.

The Tampa Theatre is a restored 1926 movie palace.

Finally, don’t miss the Tampa Theatre, built in 1926 by movie-palace architect John Eberson. Saved from urban renewal and restored in 1977, it features an elaborate Mediterranean interior courtyard effect under a realistic night sky, and was named as one of the world’s 15 most spectacular theatres by CNN. A harbor cruise on Captain Larry’s Tampa Water Taxi is a wonderful way to wrap up a visit, as the Florida sun sets in a Technicolor display.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Addam Santana September 22, 2014 at 4:48 pm

I pressure washed and painted that Kenwood Bungalow.
It’s an honor to see my work published here.

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