Whereas New Tampa may bring to mind a tangle of disconnected, albeit beautiful, new master-planned communities and big box shopping outlets and malls, South Tampa brings to mind a unique combination of gracious, established, character-rich neighborhoods and urban sophistication. South Tampa is not a community proper; instead, it comprises the upper and lower Tampa peninsula and is home to McDill Air Force Base, the University of Tampa as well as many thriving commercial districts and well-established residential communities south of West Kennedy Boulevard, such as the notable Hyde Park, Bayshore Boulevard and Ballast Point.
Shopping and Dining
As one resident said, “If I can’t find it in South Tampa, I figure I don’t really need it.” The area is home to a plethora of top notch restaurants, trendy fashion boutiques and hip bars, particularly along the palm-lined streets of SoHo, Hyde Park and Palma Ceia.
Dining out tops the to-do lists of most locals, and there is no shortage of great restaurants to choose from. Bern’s Steak House on South Howard Avenue is Tampa’s most prestigious and well-known dining affair, esteemed for its Rococo-style décor, mammoth steaks and a wine cellar stocked with more than 6,500 labels from around the globe. Tour the kitchen and cellar, if you wish. And then, after dinner, retire upstairs to an intimate, subdued “dessert room” where specialty coffees, fresh fruit, desserts and great cheeses flow along with aged cognacs, liqueurs, sipping whiskies and dessert wines from around the world.
South Tampa is also well-known for its selection of ethnic eateries, including The Byblos Café on MacDill Avenue. Byblos is well known locally for its authentic Lebanese atmosphere, complete with Middle Eastern music and Belly Dancers, as well as for its Middle Eastern wait staff and incredible food: lamb chops, kabobs and Lebanese wine, to name a few. Or perhaps French-Vietnamese is more your style; in that case, head over to Restaurant BT on Snow Avenue in Old Hyde Park Village, their motto is Eat, Drink, Love. Sample authentic bo tai chanh, lamb stew, duck in orange sauce, tuna sashimi or “langoustines a la BT”, jumbo marinated crustaceans grilled on sugar cane.
Other favorites include 717, Ceviche and Cellini’s, which is in the Ballast Point neighborhood just off Bayshore Boulevard south of Gandy. Cellini’s serves up fresh breads, Italian specialties and its namesake: the Cellini Pizza, topped with calamati olives, mushrooms, tomatoes and cheeses.
Would you like to do a little shopping? Shopping opportunities, as with dining, abound. Not only are major malls within reach; so, too, are many boutiques and specialty shops. Deborah Kent’s on Dale Mabry Highway is one such stop; owner Deborah Skyrms regularly travels to New York, Paris, Milan and Los Angeles in search of international couture, from which she hand-picks with her stylish customers in mind. The Pink Palm on South Dale Mabry is another must-see, offering colorful sunshine and beach prints, embroidered jeans and lots of suede.
Other great, local shopping experiences include Whaley’s Market on South Howard, the Village Health Market on McDill and The Fresh Market on Henderson. Whaley’s has been in business since 1932; it is the area’s wholesale farmer’s market, offering high quality meats, seafood delicacies and the freshest fruits, sandwiches and ready-to-go entrees in the area.
Leisure and Play
South Tampa abounds in opportunities for play as well. Beyond boating and parks and nightlife galore, the area also hosts some of Florida’s most exciting urban festivals and celebrations, including the annual Gasparilla Pirate-fest and Parade, a Tampa tradition and weeklong-celebration held each January since 1904. South Tampa is also home of the annual MacDill AirFest, one of the largest air shows by the Department of Defense. The event draws more than 750,000 people in April each year for the two day extravaganza, which includes civilian and military aerobatics demonstrations.