Tampa has long been a pop-culture punchline (see Magic Mike), but it’s on the brink of a rebirth, thanks to a $3 billion investment by Bill Gates and Jeff Vinik, the owner of the NHL’s Lightning. The resulting 53-acre Water Street development aims to be one of America’s top medical-tech hubs and the world’s first WELL Certified community. Here, a sweet one-day tour of the Big Guava’s present that’ll leave you hungry for its future.
No trip to Tampa is complete without a taste of its greatest culinary export: the Cuban sandwich. Start your day with chef Felicia Lacalle’s A.M. version (topped with fried eggs and guava-glazed pork belly) at Hemingway’s, in the Heights Public Market, a new food hall inside Armature Works, a cavernous 1910 streetcar warehouse.
Work off the pork belly on the Tampa Riverwalk, a pedestrian and bike path along the Hillsborough River. Cross the Kennedy Boulevard bridge to the University of Tampa campus, which is known for its iconic Moorish Revival minarets (pictured), and then duck into The Shop at Oxford Exchange, a chic lifestyle boutique in 19th-century stables.
The first phase of the Water Street development is the new Sparkman Wharf, where the city’s top chefs serve quick bites out of rainbow shipping containers. After a brisk game of shuffleboard— Florida’s official sport?—order piri piri Key West pink shrimp at Edison’s Swigamajig and raw Cedar Key oysters, from just up the Gulf coast, at Boat Run Oyster Company.
Spend an afternoon on the water with eBoats Tampa, which rents out eco-friendly, electric boats that drive as easy as golf carts. They’re so quiet that bottlenose dolphins and manatees will often swim up to investigate.
Back on dry land, hop the free streetcar to Ybor City, which once ranked as the world cigar-making capital and is still home to a slew of storefront tobacco shops. Stop into Coppertail Brewing Co. for a distinctly South Florida brew, such as the Guava Pastelitos Berliner Weisse or Captain Jack’s Stone Crab Stout, infused with real crab.
Dinner is a 10-minute drive away, in up-and-coming Seminole Heights, where strip malls hide inventive bars and restaurants like Rooster & the Till. The kitchen here works magic with local seafood— especially unexpected cuts such as Vietnamese-style cobia collar (pictured), swordfish belly crudo, and chicken-fried grouper cheeks and throats.
Head back downtown to the Le Méridien Tampa, a hotel in the 1905 former federal courthouse and post office, and follow the glow of the uplit Corinthian columns to your room. Drift off content that you knew this future rock- star of a city before it got big.