10 locations to visit in the Tampa Bay Area. Traveling is one of the most fun things to do on Earth. You can do things that are not part of the doldrums of daily life. It can set us free even if just for an hour at a time. I have spent many vacations in Tampa, Florida and enjoy every minute that I am there. Recently I stayed at the DoubleTree at Rocky Point. While in the Tampa Bay area we have many traditions that we must do everytime we are there.
- Eating Pizza at the Countryside Pizza Kitchen
My family found the Countryside pizza kitchen by accident. It was ten o’clock at night and there were more cars at the Countryside Pizza Kitchen than the competition next door. My mother discovered this restaurant in her twenties and she is now fifty five. It is some of the best food we have while on vacation. The food is made from scratch daily. The pizza and bread is some of the freshest I have ever had. The desserts are original and delicious. It is a killer decision to decide between the Baklava and Chocolate Torte. For those trying to watch their waistlines the fruit salad is divine in it’s own right. The lunch buffet is the best bang for your buck. Every weekday at regular lunch hours this family owned restaurant has an all you can eat buffet. It has many different Italian and greek delicacies both off and on the buffet. The restaurant does have a complete menu besides the lunch buffet. It does however also have buffalo wings. The buffet has something for everyone in your family even the pickiest of eaters.
- The Wagon Wheel Flea Market in Pinellas Park
The Wagon Wheel is a great place to find that souvenir you are looking for. It has something for everyone. From used books to sequined sweatshirts this place has it all. This is a place to really connect with the locals. The people who actually live in the Tampa Bay Area come here. It is not a big tourist attraction. That does not mean you should write it off of your itineraries unless you have a fear of meeting people who are native Floridians. In that case you may want to avoid this spot. The people here are always friendly and I can never leave without buying a few Florida Oranges and a Peach. There is a senior citizen couple who sell books there year round. They have been there for the past five years. They now recognize me when I am at their shop. They know as the boy who always asks for murder she wrotes, Barbara Cartland’s, and Agatha Christie’s. As you can see I have an eclectic taste in my novels. Once you are done scouring for great finds in the covered buildings do not forget to look at all the great stalls in the open air market behind the Wagon Wheel. It’s called the Mustang. I have found better stuff there than I ever found in the covered buildings. There is also an Asian Market with fresh Asian vegetables and Shrimp bigger than my palm that were caught that morning. If you are staying in a condo with a full kitchen. I highly suggest you buy some shrimp to cook at your condos.
- Whiskey Joe’s Restaurant and Bar
This is a place frequented by tourists. It is located on the Courtney Campbell Causeway. It is literally the last stop before you cross the bay into Clearwater. This place has great food and even better drinks. This is not a place for kids after sunset however. The place changes entirely once the sun goes down. The restaurant has a great view of the water. Almost every seat in the place has fantastic views of the ocean. Once we had some very playful dolphins as our view at our dining table. It was absolutely magical. What I usually get at Whiskey Joes is the Shrimp pasta. It has a sauce unlike any shrimp pasta I have had before. It was cheesy and garlicy but had many deeper notes of flavor that I can’t really decipher. It was fantastic. Everything on the menu is good in my opinion. Everyone at the table enjoyed every bite of their food. We’d go there tonight if it wasn’t a sixteen hour drive away.
- Surf Style inside the Hyatt Regency on Clearwater Beach
Surf Style is a store I could spend hours inside looking at everything. This is a two story megaplex dedicated to the art of surfing. It has everything you could every want or need to surf. It has sweatshirts, swimsuits, sandals, backpacks, surf boards, boogie boards, etc. etc. etc…. This place boasts of having the most surfing fashions and equipment in the Tampa Bay Area. It is absolutely fantastic. Don’t forget to bring a swimsuit of your own. One that won’t be washed away put thousands of gallons of water rushing at you. I’m talking about none other than the indoor wave rider they have at Surf Style. For a reasonable price you can learn to surf in a safe shark free environment. They offer classes and surf sessions every day. My sister and I tried our hand at the wave machine the last time we were there and I loved every minute but my sister was a much better surfer than I am. She is the family’s athlete after all. Make sure you tie your swimsuit very very tight because several times a day someone loses their suit and has to look for it while in the nude. It is a funny sight to see even my cousin Stephen’s five year old Ryder got a kick out of it.
- The Seaside Seabird Sanctuary in Indian Rocks, FL
The Seaside Seabird Sanctuary is a great place to see the Seabirds of the area. All the birds in the sanctuary have been rescued for one reason or another. This is a rehabilitation center. It is not a zoo. All the wildlife have the same goal of one day being released back into the wild. The birds are amazing to look at and a great place to get the perfect photo for Instagram of you trip. This is a great place to visit not only to see the natural wildlife but to have access to a secluded beach. Everyone who visits and makes a donation has the privelidge of using the beach. This is one of the best places to find seashells because it is untouched by people for hours on end. There are lots of shells for your growing collection.
- Haslam’s Bookstore in St. Petersburg
This is one of the oldest and largest bookstores in the entire state of Florida. It has one of the largest collections of used and new books I have ever seen. It has a book on every subject available. They have a large antique and rare collection to boot. If you were wondering where to get that first edition of Don Quixote you have found the spot. On my last trip to Haslam’s I got a Japanese textbook used for a dollar. If I would have bought that book on Amazon it would have been at least $35. It is a must see store while in the Tampa Bay Area. One of the drawbacks of this store is the store mascots. They have quite a few cats that roam the store. If you are deathly allergic to cats you may want to go to Barnes and Noble in Pinellas Park.
- Bahama Breeze at Rocky Point, Tampa
Bahama Breeze is a great place to enjoy the ocean and it’s bounty of food in the downtown Tampa area. It is noisy and always crowded, not to mention a major chain restaurant but there is some kind of spell the restaurant places on me the minute I walk in the front door. My worries and complaints seem to melt away. I can relax and enjoy the gorgeous view of the bay at my seat. There is a view from the water in every direction. This is only enhanced by the fact that the building is a circular structure. What I have to get every time I eat here is the Seafood Paella. It is fantastic. Spiced saffron rice and a cornucopia of seafood and vegetables. What could go wrong. The jerk chicken wings are delicious as well. The food is exceptional even though it is a chain restaurant.
- Clearwater Beach
Clearwater Beach is expansive and goes beyond the tourist destinations in the middle of the beach. If you go towards Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill and The Palm Pavillion you can get a far less crowded stretch of beach to yourself. This is the part of the beach locals go too. It has not yet been soured by the thousands of tourists that swarm to the area every spring. It is pure beach life. The way you picture the beach in your imagination, pristine water, white quartz sand, and as few people as possible.
- Ben T. Davis Beach
Ben T. Davis Beach is another great beach. It is far less crowded than the beach in clearwater all together. It is a more laid back and not as high energy a scene as the beach in Clearwater. It is a wonderful beach for families. The beach consists of mainly families and young couples. It gives you a great view of Tampa Bay. When my family visited back in May one woman came up to us and thanked us profusely for visiting the beach. This beach is a great place to fish. You can catch big fish of all kinds on any given day. The only thing you need to watch out for is the jellyfish that wash up along the shore. If you see something that looks like clear jelly on this beach do not touch it at all.
- The DoubleTree at Rocky Point
This is not the absolutely best in luxury hotel or the newest but my family stays here every year. It is layed out like most doubletrees in a v like structure with the pool directly behind the lobby. It has been renovated in the last two years. It was a 5 million dollar renovation that completely overhauled the hotel. The hotel is clean and full of eclectic charm. It has a fantastic breakfast buffet with fresh squeezed orange juice. I could just have buckets of the orange juice for breakfast. The buffet on weekends has an omelette bar with a chef who creates an omelette to your liking. The pool is not the largest in the area but has a great view of Old Tampa Bay. You can see dolphins playing in the water frequently. The pool is always warm. My only complaint is the pool is not always the best for children when the hotel hosts events and weddings. The pool can also be very windy during the day however my feelings is you are staying by the ocean, there is bound to be wind. There is never no wind when you live by the ocean. There is always a breeze. It has a little pantry with different snack food for in the middle of the night. It has toiletries as well to replace the ones you lost in baggage claim. I am not going to sell you on the idea that it is more fantastic than the four seasons but I am going to say that my family has made great memories here and cannot imagine staying elsewhere.
In conclusion part of traveling making memories and traditions to last a lifetime. There are travelers who have to go somewhere different every year but everyone has their favorite destination. My family and I’s favorite location is the Tampa Bay Area. We could come back every year and be satisfied every time. We probably should at some point venture out of our comfort zone but why else have a comfort zone unless you stay in one.