Beginner's Guide To Tampa Bay
March 6, 2002
My friend Lance Wilkerson, who's the sports director at WEHT in Evansville, IN, was the first person to point out a simple but oft overlooked fact to me -- there's no such city as Tampa Bay. Oh, there's a bay that separates St. Petersburg from Tampa, a body of water referred to as "Tampa Bay", but there's no such city with that name. The phrase "Tampa Bay" refers to the greater bay area, including Clearwater, Tampa, and St. Pete. How far the bay area extends is up for debate -- I'm not getting into that now. But first and foremost, if you decide to visit Tampa, then say that -- not "Tampa Bay". Unless you want to look like an idiot to the locals. The choice is yours.
Friends from outside the area often ask me what it's like to live in Tampa. And I tell them the truth: it's great. There are many wonderful things to enjoy in the area...
The Weather: It's hard to beat wintertime in Tampa. While friends of mine up north scrape ice off their windshield and deal with sub-zero degree temperatures and wait for their car to warm up in the morning, I enjoy warm temps and little rain. In the summer it's not as nice, as it can become brutally hot on some days. Air conditioning is a must. And then there's "rainy season", when it rains nearly every afternoon around 4:30 PM. It's crazy. And it's not just rain, but usually thunderstorms. Tampa's hockey team isn't called the "Lightning" for nothing.
The Sports: There are plenty of sports teams to follow here in the bay area. The NFL's Buccaneers packs them into Raymond James Stadium (and I've been on the waiting list for season tickets for more than a year). The Devil Rays baseball team isn't exactly a rousing success ("bad baseball" as my brother Matt would say), with plenty of empty seats and a weak team playing in an antiseptic dome in St. Petersburg... but it is major league baseball. And since they're in the American League, that means the Yankees come to down a few times every year. The Lightning hockey team is in their tenth season of play in the NHL this year. University of South Florida has a Division I football and basketball team (taking on the likes of Cincinnati and Marquette on the hardwood). If you want more college sports, Tallahassee (Florida State) and Gainesville (Florida) are a few hours away by car -- ditto for Miami. If you want the NBA, Orlando is just an hour and a half or so from here with the Magic.
The Nightlife: Tampa has a unique nightlife, with something for everyone. Ybor City (where I live) has a crazy scene on 7th Avenue, with plenty of clubs and bars and such. The women are mostly gorgeous, wearing rather revealing outfits (remember, 50 degrees is "cold" down here). My friend Dan called it "surreal" there, and I think that pretty much nailed it. Beyond that, the Hyde Park district is a bit more laid back for the "older crowd", and St. Pete has a good thing going with Baywalk. But if you're at all into the nightlife/party scene, you owe it to yourself to check out Ybor City on a Saturday night.
The Beach: If you like the beach, there are many options here. Between Clearwater and St. Pete Beach and a thousand points up and down the gulf coast, there's as much beach as you can handle... and then some.
Busch Gardens: Disney World is an hour or so away, but Tampa has its own amusement park -- Busch Gardens. It's a popular tourist destination.
Traffic: Unlike many other large cities, Tampa's traffic situation is pretty good. Granted, it gets congested at times, particularly in rush hour, and I-4 can be particularly bad. But it's no worse here than it is in, say, Nashville, and it's much better than larger cities like Atlanta.
Overall: Tampa is a wonderful place, with plenty to do and plenty to see. If you get the chance to visit, I highly recommend it.