Tampa's farrago of neighborhoods and natural assets—starting with its three-dozen beaches—makes winnowing the choices of nongolf activities a lot more difficult than identifying them. As you would expect in the prosperous, upscale metropolis, there are plenty of shopping options. Channelside offers a waterfront atmosphere, restaurants, an IMAX theatre and shops unique to Tampa, while International Plaza counts such national chains as Tiffany & Co. and Neiman Marcus among its 200 retail outlets. Old Hyde Park Village is set in one of the city's oldest and most architecturally distinguished neighborhoods. University Mall and are known for their vast array of department stores, specialty shops and eateries.
During the peak production years of the late 1800s, Cuban and Italian immigrants hand-rolled seven million cigars a year in Ybor City (pronounced EE-bor). Since being designated a national historic district in 1991, the neighborhood, Tampa's liveliest for nightlife, has become more diversified, but you can still watch tabaqueros ply their craft. The festive atmosphere includes restored turn-of-the-century architecture, nightclubs, boutiques, coffeehouses and the district's own trademark beer, Ybor Gold. It is also a great place for a Cuban sandwich, made with Cuban bread, ham, pork, Genoa salami, cheese, mustard and pickle, then flattened and crisped.
With more than 10,000 aquatic plants and animals, the Florida Aquarium is among the most thoughtfully put together in the country, not to mention the most participatory: Hands-on experiences include a sea urchin touching tank, catamaran tours of the bay in search of dolphin and other sea life, and a chance to don a wet suit to swim with fish and even dive with sharks. Naturally, those inclined to dive with sharks will want to follow up with a ride on SheiKra, the new roller coaster at Busch Gardens. The tallest roller coaster in Florida—technically a "dive coaster," a North American first, with its ninety-degree 200-foot drop—it is also the first to feature an Immelman loop, which combines a roll with the standard roller-coaster loop.
A sense of Tampa Bay's barrier islands comes in entertaining form on a Royal Conquest Pirate Cruise departing from Madeira Beach and sailing past Treasure Island and Boca Ciega Bay and into the Gulf of Mexico.
The region's lush, semitropical climate merges with some fascinating urban history at Sunken Gardens, a century-old botanical garden in St. Petersburg with cascading waterfalls and exotic birds.
WHERE TO STAY
BELLEVIEW BILTMORE RESORT, BEACH CLUB, GOLF CLUB & SPA
25 Belleview Boulevard, Clearwater; 800-237-8947, belleviewbiltmore.com. Rooms: $159$199. Suites: $179$259.
Perched atop white-sand bluffs, this Victorian hotel, built in 1897 by railroad tycoon Henry B. Plant, is one of the nation's first to connect grand living and golf. Its 244 rooms and suites emanate a turn-of-the-century charm, and guests get playing privileges at the nearby golf club of the same name, a vintage 1925 Donald Ross design.
LONGBOAT KEY CLUB AND RESORT
301 Gulf of Mexico Drive, Longboat Key; 888-237-5545, longboatkeyclub.com. Rooms: $240$375. Suites: $315$1,150.
All 202 of the guest rooms and suites here have private balconies. The resort also has four restaurants, a year-round "Kids Klub," a spa, a fitness center and a white-sand beach.