Tampa, the third largest city in Florida, sports a high-rise facade, but cozying up to Gulf water marinas and their gleaming yachts, bobbing sail boats, and huge ocean liners (which butt their way through the port as motorboats scoot out of sigh)t, it's hard to think of this big urban center as strictly business. With a population of over 312,000, Tampa is definitely a far-cry from small town America; it's a metropolis where old buildings steeped in history blend with spanking new glass towers and nine-to-five slides easily into after-hours at some popular perch waterside. In addition to top-rated restaurants, hotels, a solid late-night scene and cultural sights, it's the home of three universities - and less than ten miles from big-name amusement parks.
Famous for its Busch Gardens, a 335-acre African theme park, Tampa is host also to many fine (more culturally oriented sights) like the Tampa Museum of Art, the Tampa Aquarium, the Museum of Science and Industry, and the Lowry Park Zoo. While all the theme parks in the Tampa area are full-on, a lesser-known local venue is also deserving of attention. Canoe Escape, several miles from downtown Tampa, is an adventure trip that excites every naturalist at heart. Slipping down the Hillsborough River in a canoe, paddle boat, or kayak, nature nuts pass all sorts of exotic wildlife including gators, deer, wild hogs, turtles and birds. River otters, wood storks, and bald eagles have been spotted as well. Fishing is permitted and photography is advised (this 16,000-acre park is a must see for anyone interested in the Florida countryside and its wonderful wildlife).
There's plenty to cheer about in terms of spectator sports here as well. From dog and horse racing to baseball, football, basketball, and hockey, Tampa has it all. There are also many opportunities for participatory sports from boating and beach-combing to skydiving and hot air ballooning. Simulated speed car racing is an interesting attraction at Malibu Grand Prix in North Tampa, which also has arcade games, miniature golf, go-carts and batting cages. Of course, there are always the old standbys of swimming, golf and tennis for which there are countless facilities available.
Tampa is an easy ride on I-4 about 85 miles west of Orlando and it's roughly a 30 minute drive from downtown Tampa across the bridge to downtown St. Petersburg.