Now I’m not the biggest sports fan, so I’m proud to say that I actually knew that the Super Bowl is taking place this Sunday, February 1st. And I know the Cardinals are taking on the Steelers in Tampa Bay, Florida.
That said, as a fact-checker here at Traveler, I have to admit to not knowing much about the city that’ll host Super Bowl XLIII. To make up for this gap in my geographic knowledge, I’ve done some research and found some cool places to go, beyond Raymond James Stadium, if you’re heading down to sunny Florida this weekend for the big game.
First, some history and background: Tampa is Florida’s third largest city with a population of over 300,000. Spanish conquistadors, including de Soto, passed through it in the 1520s and the U.S. bought it and its state from the Spanish in 1821. Teddy Roosevelt and his 30,000 “Rough Riders” trained and waited in Tampa before being shipping off to Cuba during 1898’s Spanish-American War. In the 20th century, cigar factories boomed, as did shipping and manufacturing, attracting immigrants from Spain, Sicily, and Eastern Europe.
Today, this city on the Gulf of Mexico boasts 165 parks and over 2,000 acres of beaches. Yahoo!
ranked Tampa the eighth cleanest city in the nation while Forbes called it the fifth best outdoor city. In 2004, NYU claimed it was the best city for 20-somethings.
These accolades and its semi-tropical climate allow visitors to enjoy outdoor activities year round. If you’re footballed-out, check out some of Tampa’s best non-sport attractions:
features 450 hands-on exhibits on anatomy, ecology, and physics. The museum has its own flight simulator, butterfly garden, nature trail, planetarium, IMAX theater, and hulking Diplodocus skeleton.
boasts 20,000 plants and animals, from both salt and fresh-water environs, as well as a million-gallon coral reef. Trained divers feed the sharks twice daily. Kids love the “Penguin Promenade” featuring African black-footed penguins.
At Canoe Escape
in Thonotosassa, you can paddle or kayak your way along the Hillsborough River and 16,000 acres of wildlife preserve. Look for herons, gators, deer, wild pigs, otters, and lush vegetation. Canoe Escape offers a relaxed, unparalleled view of nature, done sustainably.
When the ocean-water temperature dips below 68 degrees Fahrenheit, Tampa’s wild manatees gather where clean, warm water is discharged from the Tampa Electric power plant. The power company has set up a viewing platform at the Manatee Viewing Center, which is open for free November through April.
Stroll down streets lined with wrought-iron fences that make you feel you’re in the heart of Cuba at the Ybor City National Historic Landmark District.
While there, join a tour led by a local. Visit the Ybor City Museum to learn about the history of the city and its Cuban diaspora, then check out the Mediterranean garden, turn-of-the-20th-century bakery, and the quaint cottages that once housed the families of the cigar-factory workers.
Teddy Roosevelt was headquartered at the opulent, Moorish-inspired Tampa Bay Hotel during the Spanish-American War.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Today, it’s the Henry B. Plant Museum
where you can enjoy a collection of furnishings from the city’s gilded age and learn more about the history and development of Tampa.
Though about 50 miles from Tampa, the Salvador Dalí Museum
is worth the trip. The museum is home to 96 oil paintings by this Spanish surrealist, the most complete collection of Dalí’s work anywhere.
I’m sure there are spots I’ve missed. Send ’em along to IT.
Photos: Above, via the Florida Aquarium; Below, via the Manatee Viewing Center.