Sitting on Florida's Gulf coast, Tampa is the center of the state's second-largest metropolitan area, after Miami-Ft. Lauderdale. In a 2008 listing by Forbes magazine, Tampa ranked as America's fifth best outdoor city. It also has acquired a reputation as a great city for young professionals, and ranks with the likes of Phoenix, Köln, and Osaka as a World City by Loughborough University.
Visitors to Tampa have a full range of hotel available to them, from budget-priced inns perfect for families on Florida vacations, to luxurious accommodations that meet the business traveler's highest expectations. Many of these hotels are either on or within a minute or two of the area's main thoroughfares. The downtown hotel district runs from the river eastward for several blocks to the historic Ybor City neighborhood-once famous for cigar manufacturing. The Hampton Inn & Suites Tampa/Ybor City is a fine hotel in this district. It offers a free shuttle service to locations within three miles of the hotel.
A little further out, near the University of South Florida, are the Embassy Suites Tampa-USF and the Wingate by Wyndham. These hotels are close to the USF Research Park, the Museum of Science and Industry, and not far from such theme parks as Busch Gardens and Adventure Island. Visitors flying into Tampa Executive Airport will find the La Quinta Inn & Suites and the Crown Plaza Hotel Tampa East conveniently located. Also nearby are the Sabal Park Business Center, the Tampa Convention Center, and such major area employers as Citigroup and JP Morgan.
Naturally, many hotels cluster around Tampa International Airport. Notable among them is the Hilton Tampa Airport-Westshore. Guests of this Hilton enjoy proximity to high-end shopping at International Plaza and Bay Street as well as at Westshore Plaza Mall. Other popular tourist attractions such as the Port of Tampa, Busch Gardens, and Raymond James Stadium-home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers-are within a convenient distance. Other hotels in this area that you might consider include the Hyatt Place Tampa Airport and the Hampton Inn Tampa-International Airport.
Tampa is home to some great vacation attractions. Among visitors' favorites is the Manatee Viewing Center, sponsored by Tampa Electric. Here naturalists guide and educate guests about this marine mammal that has been called the most gentle creature on earth. If you are interested in seeing some decidedly ungentle animals, you may be pleased to take in the Big Cat Rescue, the largest accredited sanctuary in the world dedicated entirely to abused and abandoned big cats. Visitors here can see not only the typical big cats such as lions, tigers, and cougars, but the rarer species-lynx, caracal, serval, ocelot-as well. Busch Gardens is another huge draw for animal lovers, as the St. Pete Times Forum is for sports fans.
The biggest annual celebration in Tampa is "Gasparilla," held for more than 100 years in late January and/or early February, although in recent years events have extended into March. The highlight of the merrymaking is the Gasparilla Pirate Festival, which opens with a mock pirate invasion led by the pirate ship, José Gasparilla, and a parade that typically draws more than 400,000 attendees. Other Gasparilla events include the Children's Parade, the Sant'Yago Knight Parade (a Mardi Gras-like celebration more for the drinking-age crowd), the Gasparilla Distance Classic road race, Gasparilla Festival of the Arts, and the Gasparilla International Film Festival.
Other notable events include "Fiesta Day", also in February, which celebrates Tampa's Cuban, German, Italian, Afro-Cuban, Jewish, and Spanish immigrant heritage. In April, the MacDill Air Fest presents one of the largest military air shows in the country. Tampa has its own take on Hallowe'en, called Guavaween, an after-dark street celebration that flavors Hallowe'en with the Latin spice of Ybor City. Ybor also hosts "GaYbor Days", an annual street party in the GLBT-friendly GaYbor district. The Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, held annually since 1989, is the city's largest film festival event, and one of the largest independent gay film festivals in the country.
The peak season for Tampa tourism is the fall, late winter, and early spring. To get the best deals on flights and hotels, think about booking your trip for the summertime or the late fall. Lines at area attractions are shorter during those times, as well.