Tampa, Fla. • Whether you’re in the Tampa Bay area for the Republican National Convention or there on a family vacation, you’re probably aware of the usual tourist spots: the beach, Busch Gardens, the Florida Aquarium.
While the region does boast some of America’s most beautiful beaches, there are also some out-of-the-way spots that reveal a different side of this sunny state.
Here are five free things — including one very gorgeous but little-known beach — to do in the Tampa Bay region, which encompasses both the city of Tampa and neighboring Pinellas County.
Jose Marti Park
While it’s physically located in the city of Tampa’s historic district called Ybor City, this tiny park is really part of Cuba. Yes, THAT Cuba. Named after the revolutionary who helped oust the Spanish out of Cuba in 1900 who also spent time in Florida, the land was bought by a couple in the 1950s to honor the man himself. The couple gave the land to Cuba — but Fidel Castro took over the country a few years later. To this day, property records show that the owner of the .14 acre park is the “Cubano Estado,” or “Cuban State.”
In 1898, before he was president, Col. Teddy Roosevelt once stayed in Tampa on his way to fight the Spanish-American War in Cuba. He and the First United States Volunteer Cavalry — also known as the Rough Riders — bivouacked and planned the invasion at the Tampa Bay Hotel, an ornate structure with silver minarets built by a railroad magnate. The building is now part of the campus of the University of Tampa and houses a museum.
Did you watch the movie Donnie Brasco? Remember how Donnie and Sonny Black met up with famed mobster Santo Trafficante Jr., the mafia boss of Florida and Cuba? In Tampa, you can see Trafficante’s final resting place at the L’Unione Italiana Cemetery in Ybor City. Trafficante died in 1987 at a Houston hospital after a triple bypass. During his funeral at the Tampa cemetery, police officers stood outside and took photos of the mourners.
Almost all of the Tampa-area beaches are located west of the city in Pinellas County, and all of them are gorgeous. But one of the nicest and most secluded is Sunset Beach, nestled at the tip of a small beach city named Treasure Island. There are few businesses on this part of the barrier island; it’s mostly homes and condos. From downtown Tampa, take I-275 South to 22nd Ave. S., then head west.
St. Petersburg Waterfront
Downtown Tampa is mostly concrete and steel, but across the bay is a kinder, gentler cityscape. You can stroll along parks and waterfront between the historic, Mediterranean-revival Vinoy Renaissance Resort and Golf Club and the new, eye-popping Salvador Dali Museum. Pass by the Museum of Fine Arts, a marina, a yacht club and some gorgeous banyan trees. On nearby Beach Drive, cafes, bars and stores line the street.