First off, HUGE thanks to the wonderful PosterDog shop on Etsy for that glorious vintage image. Owner Fred has this and many other cool vintage posters. I’m not an Etsy affiliate, so any spending goes directly to him.
Super Bowl LV will be here on 7-February, 2021. From my vantage point in the snow-covered north, that’s a good excuse to do a little virtual Tampa getaway.
Steve and I have spent time in the area before. We found amazing beaches, great food, and the magnificent Dali museum in nearby St. Pete Beach. Had we only known that the city is referred to as The Big Guava—well, count me in for that T-shirt. Click this link to buy the one pictured below.
Now, let’s get oriented to the city.
1. Take a virtual Tampa walk
While the Gulf Coast of Florida is all about beach walks—hang tight, we’ll get to that—Tampa is also on a river, the Hillsborough. This video lets you take a walk alongside it. Who knew? Not moi.
Because it’s cold and slippery here for much of January and February, I tend to walk more or less in place in front of something scenic on my screen in order to get my steps in. This one lets you plug in and pretend that snow and freezing temps don’t exist. You start in some sort of food festival, spend a lot of time on a very beautiful day alongside the river (naturally), see many, many baggy shorts in weird colors, pass a park.
If you want to continue on (or go directly to) the beach, here ya go. Nothing happens, but it’s relaxing and pretty, and the closest I’m going to get to a beach walk for a good long while. Also not completely sure where this is; it looks a lot like Longboat Key, near Sarasota. But, to a degree, all Florida Gulf Coast beaches look a fair amount alike, at least to my untutored eyes.
2. Get Hungry: Tampa’s Cuban Cuisine
A great intro to Tampa’s most famous culinary export, this video from the Thrillist YouTube series, Food/Groups, gets you right in the heart of Ybor City, Tampa’s big Cuban neighborhood. You’ll learn what makes a Cuban sandwich authentic, watch cigar rollers in action, and spend a little time in the beautiful Columbia restaurant.
I have just discovered Leyla Kazim, whose blog The Cutlery Chronicles is as delightful as she is. Watch her chow through Cuban sandwich after Cuban sandwich, and marvel at how she stays so tiny. Then again, for all the food featured in this video, there is not an inordinate amount of eating. I’m going to venture that she takes awesome care of her crew. Meanwhile, her tastings go beyond Ybor and made me really want to eat out again.
If, after all of this food observation, you want another river walk, this one is shorter than the one above, and features some time on Sparkman Wharf, which Leyla visits in her clip above.
Meanwhile, a full menu of Cuban-influenced dishes with links to recipes awaits you on our upcoming South Florida Food page; check back for the link in a day or two. We’ve even got a suggested menu for your super bowl party—scaled-down this year, we’re sure. Of course, it’s good any night you need to escape the chill and generate a little culinary warmth.
3. Learn Some History: The Virtual Tampa Guided Tour
While statistics vary, African-Americans compose at least 20% of Tampa’s population. Historian Charles Fred Hearns provides a video version of one of his walking tours of the city, with fascinating info and great archival photos. Mr. Hearns has another video focusing specifically on Tampa’s black churches at this link. He apparently closed up his tour shop in 2019; history buffs owe him gratitude for documenting his excellent work.
Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay History Center offers many other walking tours, should you ever make it down there. And until you can, the site has great photos on a variety of cool places, including their gorgeous version of Cafe Columbia, pictured below along with its equally stunning dishes on offer.
4. Have a Little Virtual Tampa Art Attack
First, there’s the Tampa Museum of Art, a building of space age beauty with a collection stretching from its extensive Greek and Roman antiquities to important contemporary artists. The museum has a series of art project videos that it’s been doing since April, the online version of their weekly in-museum projects, easily accessible at the museum’s YouTube channel. If you’re one of the many who’ve found COVID solace in art, bookmark the page.
The other big art stories aren’t in Tampa but in St. Pete Beach. So let’s take a little trip about 30 miles south and across the bay.
5. Say, Hello! Dali. And, oh, hey, Dale.
Nearby St. Pete Beach, aka St. Petersburg, is home to the amazing Salvador Dali museum. There’s a giant, silly, oh-so-Dali mustache that you’re supposed to pose in front of; I was too cool to do that back when we visited approximate 8,000 years ago. Ok, it only feels like that because 2020 was at least 7,994 years long.
The Dali is wonderfully laid-out and curated, with excellent tours. Naturally, the in-person experience is awesome. But don’t let distance keep you from exploring the Dali works. If you want more after watching the video below, check out any of the other 417 videos on the museum’s YouTube page.
Nearby is the Dale Chihuly Collection at the very beautiful Morean Arts Center. Chihuly’s work can be described many ways: “flamboyant,” “passionate,” “tacky,” “WTF?” So what better guide than drag queen extraordinaire Bak Lava?
Should you desire a more serious appraisal of the artist’s work, the following video can help. Of course, you may already be there. I will say that seeing a big Chihuly in person and being able to walk around it did change my mind (that happened at the Palm Springs art museum a few years back, where I took the photo below).
I gather that the video below was made to sell some smaller stuff, but it’s a great intro to the way Chihuly uses color and shape, and to what inspires him.
And if you just gotta buy a 3D souvenir, the museum shop has a lot of great and affordable clay and glass pieces by other artists.
6. Get to Know Some Locals
Photographer Sandra Döhnert and St. Pete Beach resident got on her bike in mid-November of 2020 to document how people were handling COVID for her photo essay “I Miss Us.”
Roll over the pictures to learn about the subjects. It’s a loving, heartfelt portrait of the photographer’s city, with honest, bittersweet reflections on this unique and weird time in our lives. Also, it’s sunny and things are blooming and pretty much glowing with positive energy.
7. Mermaid Out!!
Tackiness is the glue that keeps Florida firmly connected to our American reality. Exhibit A: The Weeki Wachee Mermaid Show. There are lots of Weeki Wachee YouTube videos, but this one, made by the New York Times, is the Classy One.
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, with its Serengeti Safari, is the other big theme park story. But the only videos I found made it look like The Good Place without Tahani, Chidi, Jason, Eleanor, Michael, and Janet. And, well, for me, they’re the whole point.
But if you know a good virtual travel experience there, or anywhere in the Tampa Bay area, please leave a comment, or drop a note to [email protected].