Traveler: Albert Costill
When: March 2018
Unless you’re one of those people who can’t get enough of the winter, by the time March rolls around you’re over the grey skies, snow, bitter cold, and bundling-up every time you walk-out the front door. If that’s not you, then it’s time to pack up the warm-weather gear and head down to Florida for some sunshine, microbrews, spring training, and a party that almost rivals Mardi Gras with the Rough Riders St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Getting there: Getting down to Tampa is a breeze. I was able to catch a Southwest flight from Philly and was there in under two and half hours. Because this was a busy weekend down in the Tampa area — what with spring training and the parade — flights were more expensive than usual. But, I still was able to snag a flight for under $400 roundtrip.
Getting around: As for getting around town, I was lucky enough to meet up with two of my best friends (shout out to Bill and Bonnie!) who had a car — they live a couple hours away. However, since we’re responsible adults, we used Uber. A lot. I was actually pleasantly surprised at how quickly the car arrived after requesting a ride.
If you do drive, just make sure to give yourself plenty of extra time. We went to Clearwater Beach one day and because there’s only one road coming in and out, it took almost two hours to get there. If you’re just staying around Ybor City though, the traffic wasn’t bad at all.
Where to stay: Like any major city, there are hundreds of hotels to choose from. Luckily for me, my friends found this quaint little house in Ybor City (this is an awesome and historic part of town settled by Cuban, Spanish, and Italian immigrants, so there’s lots of culture here) through Airbnb. It was in a quiet neighborhood, but was only a couple of minutes from downtown. The price was higher for St. Patrick’s Day weekend, but we can definitely find a house in this historic area for well-under $100/night.
Things to Do:
Spring training: This will definitely change depending on when you visit. But, if it’s in February/March, then go catch a spring training game. That was always on my bucket list and was able to cross that off by seeing my Phillies take on the dreadful Blue Jays (yeah, I’m still bitter about ‘93) at Spectrum Field. I believe it was designed by the architectural firm behind Citizens Bank Park. Which makes sense to me since it was reminiscent to a mini version of CBP.
The beach: Because it was 80 degrees and sunny, we definitely had to hit the beach. We went to Clearwater Beach for the afternoon. And, let me tell you something, sitting there with my toes buried in the sand and taking a dip in the Gulf was worth every dollar traveling down.
Parades: Outside of the baseball game and beach, we were mainly there for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. It’s an annual event put on by the Rough Riders. If history isn’t your forte, the Rough Riders were that group led by Teddy Roosevelt during the Spanish-American War. Before they departed for Cuba and Puerto Rico, they spent two weeks in Tampa. Today, the members of the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment are a “living memorial” to Teddy Roosevelt.
The parade goes down the historic 7th Avenue and includes everything from marching bands to elaborate floats. And beads. Lots and lots of beads.
I was impressed with this parade, but I was told it has nothing on the Gasparilla Night Parade. Long story short, people just like to party in Tampa.
Places to Eat and Drink:
I didn’t have a chance to check out the Columbia Restaurant, but I did enjoy the following places;
A cool microbrewery in Ybor. My favorite brew was the Free Dive IPA. I also recommend chewing down on the shrimp burger BLT with tater tots.
On your way back from Clearwater, stop by this beachfront bar. I had their house blonde ale and alligator nuggets with fried garlic pickles and chipotle aioli.
We stopped by the Centro Ybor location to grab lunch and a few brews on St. Patrick’s Day. I enjoyed the Old Elephant Foot IPA and a delicious Cuban sandwich with a side of rice and beans and fried plantains.
Beers celebrating bands like 311 and Hootie and the Blowfish? You can find them here. And, they’re delicious. The 311 Amber Ale and Hootie’s Homegrown Ale were my favorites. Light and refreshing. There’s also some signed memorabilia, like guitars, displayed on the wall.
Frenchy’s South Beach Cafe
There’s several of these in the Clearwater area. We popped-in after the beach where I had a Caesar salad with grouper and a delicious mixed drink. You know. Something light.
Lolis Mexican Cravings
This is a small, no-frills restaurant that serves some tasty tacos, sopes, and quesadillas. I had my favorite — Carnitas — and they definitely didn’t disappoint. It’s out by the airport, so stop by and grab a little something to eat before your flight home. Thanks for the recommendation Richard.