Thursday, August 17, 2017

What To Do in Downtown Tampa

I'm not going to lie, when I first found out that I was doing training for three days in downtown Tampa, I was less than enthusiastic.  When I found out that I would be coming back on a Saturday, I was even less enthused.  I checked around for things to do and it didn't seem like I really had that many options.  But, I remember something that my co-worker quotes his former boss on all the time, "You might not know a city when you visit, but you better know it better when you leave than when you arrived."  I decided to take that to heart.

And you know what? I had fun! I had more fun than I thought I would and most of it was by myself. So in the event that you ever find yourself in downtown Tampa, here's some of what I found to do!

Where to Stay
My training was at the Tampa Convention Center.  My very intense training happened to be at the same time as the Food Fanatics conference, so it took a lot of willpower not to just hop over there instead! There are two hotels close to the Convention Center, the Embassy Suites and Marriott Waterside.  I stayed at the Marriott. I was a really bad blogger and didn't take pictures of the hotel, but I can give you my likes!

The room was super nice. I had a king size bed with a nice size bathroom. My room faced downtown, while others faced the water. I actually enjoyed facing downtown, it was really pretty at night and kind of fun to watch others go about their lives. Here's the view from the water side.

The food was good! My flight was delayed by two hours, so I didn't actually get to eat real food last Tuesday until 8 PM. Hanger is real. I went to the hotel restaurant, Champions, and had this amazing turkey burger! I'm not sure if I was just starving or if it was really that good, but it was delicious.  It had mozzarella, tomato and a pesto sauce (like a pesto ranch?!) on it and used naan as the bun. So good! I also ordered room service Friday night because I was tired of eating dinner out alone.  I had a pizza and key lime tart that were both really good!

It's super convenient! The trolley is right outside the door (I'll get into that later!) and it's within a three minute walk to the Convention Center and the River Walk.  There is a Starbucks in the Embassy Suites, but it's literally a two minute walk there as well!

The fitness room has amazing equipment! I only used it once, but they had about 5 treadmills, 4 bikes and 4 ellipticals.  The ellipticals had a fan at the top that would blow air on you. Life changing, I tell ya!  They also had weight machines, free weights, a bosu (which is pretty uncommon in my opinion) and weight bench. The pool was also really nice, but I didn't frequent that.

I would definitely stay there again!

Where to Eat
Most of my adventuring revolved around food. There isn't as much to do at night during the week and, to be honest, things can be kind of boring by yourself.  Food, however, is never boring.  There wasn't much food near my hotel and the Convention Center.  Finding the trolley and realizing I felt safe on it by myself was a game changer!

The Colombia
The original Colombia is in Ybor City.  I didn't eat at the real, original Colombia restaurant.  There was a smaller version in walking distance that a friend and I ate at twice for lunch.  I had an actual entree once that was pork covered in Cuban breadcrumbs and Swiss cheese and paired with the yellow rice and the other time I had a chicken sandwich with plantains. Both were amazing meals!  I did pass by The Colombia while exploring Ybor City, so here's a photo of (part) the original!

So, funny story. I accidentally ended up in Ybor City.  I had originally planned to go, then I was tired after training all day and was going to meet a friend at a restaurant, but took the wrong trolley.  So I ended up in Ybor City anyway. And it was pretty awesome!  I went to a greek restaurant and ice cream shop while there.

I got off the trolley at my stop in Ybor City and walked around to find a place for dinner. I really was after the ice cream, which I'll get to, but figured I should also eat real food. I ended up at Acropolis, a greek restaurant.

It wasn't super busy, but at one point, they cranked the music, started dancing and throwing napkins around. Then they were breaking plates.  Other people in the restaurant got up and danced with them.  I just watched, fascinated. It was such a fun atmosphere! I ate dinner here by myself and with everything going on, I had so much else to pay attention to, that it really didn't even cross my mind to be bored.

The real reason I was going to Ybor City.  My friend had told me about Snobachi earlier after he and his family went there.  They make ice cream like hibachi and they have liquid nitrogen fondue. While the liquid nitrogen looked cool (you dip your chosen food in, then eat, then blow smoke out), it really wasn't my cup of tea.  So I stuck to the ice cream.

Basically, they start with the ice cream in liquid form, then pour it on these cold plates where it freezes. They add in mix-ins, flatten it back out and roll it up.  Then they add sauces, toppings, etc.

I did a vanilla base with cheesecake flavor ice cream, added Nilla wafers as my topping and Nutella inside and out.

Holy. crap. It was seriously the best thing ever.

What To (and not to) Do
Things I thought about doing: going to the beach, going to see a game, etc.  But that was all way too far away. Downtown Tampa is thirty minutes from the baseball stadium and an hour from the beach. But there are still some fun things to do!

The trolley was a game changer. It doesn't go super far, but fare is pretty cheap.  You can pay $2.50 for a single trip or $5.00 for the whole day, which also covers bus fare.  I wasn't brave enough to do the buses too, but I wore that trolley out!  I took it to Ybor City, the aquarium, etc. For $5 a day, I could do a lot of stuff!  Some people also stayed at the Hampton Inn, which wasn't super close to the Convention Center, but was right on the trolley line and they rode that in every day. It's also super cute and a fun little experience.

This is my don't do.  Friday afternoon I was bored and kicking around.  I stopped by Channelside thinking I could do some shopping or find a place to eat and there just wasn't much there.  There were some bars, a Hooter and a Coldstone, but after Snobachi, who needs Coldstone?! It was just a little underwhelming to me.

Florida Aquarium
I did the aquarium Friday afternoon. I was lazy and took the trolley (also because it was raining).  For $27, I wanted to be a little more wowed, but I enjoyed it.  I got to see some big alligators, sea horses and the ever adorable lemurs! Plus, I felt like I had done at least a few touristy things!

This guy was huge!!

The otters were actually playing/fighting with each other in the water when I walked up, which was fun!

 Lemurs! We love these guys! If you're ever in Durham, check out the Lemur Center! But they were so cute all scrunched together and sleeping.

 And then this guy popped his head up! So cute!

Seahorses! I love how vivid this photo turned out!

This is the huge tank.  I'm sure there is another term for it, but the gigantic shark and sting rays were in here as well.  I could have stood there for hours just watching all of them, but there were lots of kids that wanted window time, so I obliged.

I was a little sad that Tampa did not have it's own Starbucks You are Here mug so I could add to my collection (I already have Florida and Miami), but I will forgive them that.  Overall, I actually had a much better time than I expected. I was excited to get home on Saturday, but I can honestly say that I would probably do Tampa again.  Near the beach, of course!


  1. Wow! Your amazing pics are almost like being right there, and you visited some fab places! Hugs...RO

  2. CONGRATULATIONS Sarah! You're the winner of the tickets to the racing event! Please forward me your email address within 24 hours, so I can give you more details. My email address is listed on the bottom of this page under Contact Me. Thanks for stopping by to visit! Hugs...RO (I didn't see any other way to contact you, sorry!)

  3. It looks awesome! I'm glad you were able to have some fun while out training!