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The city of Tampa is the county seat of Hillsborough County and the largest city in West Central Florida.
Tampa has a humid subtropical climate. Its situation on the Gulf of Mexico allows the warm Gulf Stream to create mild winter weather. However, cold snaps do occur in winter in Tampa occasionally, bringing temperatures at night around freezing. Temperatures in the teens, and snow, have been recorded. However, this is very rare. From spring through fall, weather is very warm and humid, sometimes making the weather unpleasant for outdoor activities.
Tampa is situated on the north shore of Tampa Bay in West Central Florida. Saint Petersburg lies west of the bay, while Bradenton is on the southern shore. The downtown business center of the city is on the north shore of Hillsborough Bay (a small bay within Tampa Bay which is bordered by the eastern shore of Tampa Bay and the small peninsula of South Tampa) and Ybor City lies just to the east. MacDill Air Force Base is on the southern tip of South Tampa, while the city also extends to the north all the way to the newly incorporated area of New Tampa.
Tampa is divided into five main districts fanning out from Downtown in the south-center between the Hillsborough River and Ybor Channel. West Tampa, once a separate city, lies across the Hillsborough River to the west of Downtown. South Tampa, a large residential area, extends south along the Interbay Peninsula. Historic Ybor City (sometimes considered a part of downtown) lies on the northeast side of downtown. East Tampa, the historically African-American side of the city, lies north of Ybor City. North Tampa forms the urban/suburban sprawl north of Busch Boulevard. A significant suburban area, often considered a part of "Tampa", extends many miles to the northwest, north, and east of the city.
Within Tampa proper, there are six official "historical districts" (Hampton Terrace, Hyde Park, Seminole Heights, Tampa Heights, Historic West Tampa, Ybor City) and at least 86 named neighborhoods.
Tampa is a very diverse city. The first residents were the members of the Seminole Indian tribe that was relocated there from northern Florida and the soldiers stationed at Fort Brook to control the reservation. The town remained a mostly military town until the 1880s when Tampa saw its first major waves of immigration from Cuba, Spain and Sicily. The major growth of the area did not occur until air conditioning became common in the years after World War II, but the region has been growing steadily since then. Tampa is now home to many native Floridians, including Seminoles, Cubans, Spaniards and Italians, as well the residence of many 'transplants' from the Midwest and other areas of the states and new immigrants from the Caribbean and central America. Tampa's population swells during the winter months with the arrival of the 'snowbirds,' retired persons from the northern U.S. and Canada who come down for a few months to enjoy the relative warmth.
Tampa, Florida, seen from the historic Ybor district.
Tampa International Airport (TPA), located near the waters of Tampa Bay along I-275. TPA is served by Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) bus 30, which goes between the airport, Marion Transit Center in downtown Tampa, and the Northwest Transit Center.
Saint Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport (PIE)is an alternative only fifteen miles away, generally serving smaller routes and discount airlines. A bit further away is Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport (SRQ), offering proximity to beautiful Gulf beaches to the south of Tampa.
Tampa's Amtrak station is located at 601 Nebraska Avenue in downtown Tampa. Amtrak's Silver Service runs daily from New York City or Miami to Tampa. The train journey through Florida offers great views, but be aware that, whtile Amtrak reports an 80% on time rate, the scheduled times, particularly on the southboand trains, can be hours before the actual time of arrival, and there are limited options for rescheduling.
Tampa is easily accessible via the major interstate highways, I-75 from north and south, and I-4 from the east. From either highway, exit onto I-275 to reach Tampa. However, be prepared for frequent traffic jams particularly when it rains; nearly all of Downtown and the airport area are under constant and complete construction.
Tampa is served by several national bus companies. Tampa's Greyhound  station is at 610 Polk Street in downtown Tampa, from which it has several daily routes to nearby towns as well as to Orlando, Miami, and points beyond. Megabus, a low-cost carrier runs buses from Tampa to both Orlando and Miami.
Florida's Red Coach runs to multiple cities in Florida.
Sarasota-Tampa Express offers shuttle service between Tampa International Airport and the nearby towns of Bradenton and Sarasota for $40 one-way.
Cruise ships from five cruise lines operate from Tampa, mostly to Caribbean islands and Mexico. The Tampa cruise terminal is on the Ybor channel downtown.
Car rentals are the most convenient for of transportation for visitors, with local companies offering better prices but national chains offering more convenience vis-a-vis return policies and times.
The main freeways in Tampa are Interstate 275, Interstate 4, the Veterans Expressway (toll FL 589), and the Leroy Selmon Crosstown Expressway (toll FL 618). Some of the main east-west roads through town are Kennedy Boulevard (SR 60), Gandy Boulevard (SR 694), Hillsborough Avenue (US 92) and Fowler Avenue (SR 582), while some of the north-south roads are Dale Mabry Highway (US 92) and Florida/Nebraska Avenue (US 41). Traffic is especially bad during the rush hours: from about 7:30 to 9:30 AM and 3:30PM to 7:30PM. During these times, try especially to avoid I-275, especially between I-4 and SR 60 (by the airport) as this section runs by downtown and is currently being rebuilt.
Luxury limousines, sedans, and party buses are available for rent with Tampa Limousine VIP.
HART, provides extensive bus service throughout Hillsborough County. There are three types of routes offered: "local", "Commuter Express", and Trollies (see below). Local routes are ones which have many stops in a small region. Commuter Express lines are long-distance lines namely providing service from suburbs into Tampa. Bus transportation in the Tampa area is not popular and one can expect plenty of room in busses.
What to see
Channelside. Entertainment complex in the revitalized Channelside district near the Port of Tampa. Numerous upscale restaurants, several mid-range chain restaurants and bars, an IMAX movie theater and a trendy (if you can believe it) bowling alley. Make sure to call ahead at the bowling alley, however. On a Friday or Saturday night, the wait for a lane can easily extend upwards of 3 hours.
Florida Aquarium, 701 Channelside Drive. Channelside district, just east of downtown. Fabulous aquarium following a drop of rain from a swamp through Florida's aquifer, to its rivers and out into the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. Restaurant, gift shop, children's play area, touch tank, interactive dive experiences, and eco-tours of Tampa Bay.
Tampa Museum of Art, The new Tampa Museum of Art is located in downtown Tampa on the Hillsborough river at 120 W. Gasparilla Plaza.
Tampa Theatre, 711 Franklin Street. Opened in 1926 and located right downtown, the Tampa Theatre is a historic movie palace featuring a wide range of independent, foreign, and documentary films on a daily basis. Architecturally stunning both inside and out, it is no wonder that the Tampa Theatre has become both a city and national landmark being listed in the National Register of Historic Places since 1978. It is Tampa's only non-profit theatre and operating costs are largely covered by its membership program, various corporate sponsors as well as ticket sales.
University of Tampa. Formerly the Tampa Bay Hotel built at the turn of the 20th century by railroad magnate H.B.Plant, the beautiful old building is now used as the administration building and classrooms for the University of Tampa. It has been lovingly restored to most of its prior glory; the ballroom is a showpiece with its domed ceiling under brilliant silver minarets. There is a small, but very interesting museum in the building that recreates a large portion of Tampa's early history, as well as giving visitors a peek into how the hotel appeared when it first opened.
Davis Islands and Harbour Island are adjacent to downtown and both worth exploring for their beautiful waterfront areas, historic and upscale housing stock, and dining/nightlife in their main streets.
Busch Gardens, McKinley Drive. More than just an amusement park -- also a top-notch zoo. Expensive, but a very enjoyable day -- rides, shows. This is a fun place for all ages, kids, teens, and even adults. It has a family friendly atmosphere with lots of things to do and see. The scenery is amazing; it has a feel of different places as you travel throughout the park. Rides vary from a huge merry go round to the famous rollercoaster, Montu. There are many different types of rides to choose from and also many roller coasters to choose from as well. Not a ride fan? You can check out the many shows they perform daily. Ice skating, singing, magic, birds, dolphins and other performances can be found all around the corners of Busch Gardens. Not a show fan either? Then check out the many food establishments spread out through the park. They offer fast food like popcorn and fries to a nice sit down meal. Also check Busch Gardens out during different holidays. They always have special events and offers. For instance, for Halloween they have Howl-O-Scream when the park is open all night long. They also have special events for over night stays, New Years, and special ticket sales for Florida residents. Always watch out for these special events because they happen all the time. $70 visitors, $80 FL residents.
Lowry Park Zoo, 1101 West Sligh Avenue. One of the top-rated zoos in the country, featuring children's areas, restaurants, a manatee hospital, and first-rate encounters with animals from around the world. Make sure to tour the aviary and feed the lorikeets. Popular section of the zoo include the Florida Wildlife Center with alligators, bears and Manatees; the Asian Gardens with Komodo Dragons, Rhinoceros, and leopards; and the new Safari Africa with meercats, elephants, and a wide variety of African animals.
Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI). Daily 9AM-6PM. Hands-on children's science museum, including an IMAX dome and stellar revolving exhibits. Great way to spend a day with the family.
University of South Florida. The main campus for this university. Blossoming from five buildings in its opening (1960) to 164 buildings on the Tampa campus alone, this beautiful college is now educating more than 29,000 students. With beautiful greenery, fountains, and named the “top architecture school in Florida” by the Florida Board of Architecture and Interior Design in 2002. A sports fan? The University of South Florida has you covered here as well! Home to the Division-1 football (at Raymond James Stadium) and basketball (at the on-campus SunDome) among others.
What to do
Walking tour of Ybor City — , the Ybor City State Museum offers a 60 minute walking tour of Ybor City highlighting the cigar industry's impact on the area, historic cottages/businesses, and tours of the YC State Museum & YC Cigar Museum.
Gasparilla Pirate Festival is an annual event consisting of several parades, live entertainment, and fireworks. The event is also known as the Mardi Gras of Tampa, and normally takes place on the last two Saturdays in January.
Guavaween offers daytime events and nighttime parade on the last Saturday in October in Ybor City.
Sant'Yago Knight Parade is an illuminated nighttime parade that takes place one Saturday in February in Ybor City.
Several film festivals take place at the Tampa Theatre several times a year.
Read the Tampa Tribune -- Tampa has some sort of event going on nearly every weekend, especially in the spring and early summer. Art festivals, a terrific Renaissance festival, street festivals -- take advantage of the great weather and enjoy our city.
Surprisingly, ice skating is a popular activity in the Tampa Bay area. The Tampa Bay Skating Academy in nearby Oldsmar has two NHL-sized ice surfaces. Other well-known rinks include Sunblades Center and the rink in Westfield Countryside Mall, both in Clearwater.
Lettuce Lake Park between I-75 and the University of South Florida has boardwalks that go through a nearly pristine area with 700 year old cypress trees, alligators, egrets and herons. One end of the boardwalk overlooks the Hillsborough River in its original state, a far cry from what it looks like in the downtown area.