Culture Crusaders Take Tampa
August 28, 2017
When planning a road trip or any sort of adventure that takes you out of the house and away from your hometown, every base needs to be covered. To us, a well-rounded excursion has equal amounts of art, revelry, wonder, and of course…indulgence. Continuing on our quest to connect this wonderfully weird state of ours, we decided to take on Tampa next, proudly wearing our Culture Crusaders pins and bonding over Support Local along the way. From breweries and puppy parties, to speak-easys and Buddhist escapes…Tampa was a surprise to say the least.
We started our trip on a bright Friday morning, narrowly missing morning traffic as we left the 305. Our first stop wasn’t a rest area along the Florida Turnpike but a perfectly secluded and equally legit bakery in Dania Beach called Bake Shack. We’ll be honest, we were lured in by an Instagram feed so decadent we couldn’t miss the opportunity (or excuse) to kick off our drive with freshly-made apple turnovers, and creative donut flavors that don’t last more than five minutes in the car.
Our heads filled with the kinds of conversations that can only be explored while exploring new territory, we got to Tampa in the blink of an eye. After a quick refresh at the hotel, we passed by the highly revered and painfully beautiful Oxford Exchange–and experience straight out of a 19th-century novel. We entered through an impeccably curated store where international brands like Aesop and Shinola mingled with local crafts and artisanal scents so beautifully arranged it took every ounce of willpower not to buy every item in the whole store, or even the vintage chests and tattered books used to display them. The neoclassical black and white floor tiles match the sweeping arched ceilings and the greenhouse-like outdoor dining area–a perfect venue for afternoon tea or coffee at one of three F&B options (all local) or to flip through a volume or two at the bookstore at the other end.
We pried ourselves away from the slice of London and crossed the river into Downtown. Passing the historic Tampa Theater, it’s hard not to notice how widespread the city is. With pockets of art deco architecture and towering stone structures, it’s a clean yet quiet place–as if it’s still settling into its own personality. We got to Franklin Manor before the crowds and enjoyed some bites and live music in the backyard patio, swooning over some of the best frozé I’ve ever had. For Miamians it would remind you of Wood Tavern. We then made our way to Fly Bar for sunset sangria and a rooftop view of the skyline which reminded us that we definitely weren’t in Miami anymore. Ending the night at the famous Cigar City Brewing tap room.
Waking up hungry and with some hours to kill, we bit the bullet and headed to St. Pete but not before passing by Buddy Brew Coffee for a refreshing and gorgeous morning pick-me-up. Another Instagram seduction led us to Better Byrd for their social-friendly fried chicken sandwiches and creamy sides. It was absolutely delicious and I still dream about my Motherclucker sandwich like a long-lost lover. We stumbled upon a summer market happening at Williams Park and spent some time weaving in and out of the local vendors with excitement. Some freshly tapped Tidal Boar ginger beer in-hand, we headed to Station House for a quick peek into the multi-story co-working space and Tea Bella pop-up. Which all felt like a dream.
We walked along Central Ave toward the Central Arts District, which is strikingly similar to NW 2nd Ave and Wynwood. Vibrant murals by local and world-renown artists greeted us just as welcomingly as the local shop owners and array of vintage stores and coffee shops. We wandered into Strands of Sunshine, an eclectic and art-filled store where owner, Amy was celebrating her dog Oscar’s 12th birthday with a party and an array for homemade favors. Community here is not a buzz word, it’s everywhere you can look. Escaping a sun shower, we grabbed a cold brew at Brew D Licious, a cozy coffee shop with attitude where every cup is served with a side of sass and girl power.
If Cuban food is Miami’s M.O., craft beer culture is Tampa and St. Pete’s and we’re not complaining. Once it becomes socially acceptable to have a little liquid courage, locals and travelers head to many of the seemingly infinite tap rooms for some fresh brew and seasonal flavors. Our absolute favorite was Green Bench Brewing in St. Pete for its outdoor vibes, funky playlist, and best all-around selection of taps. The staff helped us find some well-suited choices and we enjoyed the sunshine on the grass.
We were then drawn into Hawkers, an industrial-inspired locale serving up some of the best Asian street food I’ve ever had. If not for the attentive staff, you should go in for the roti and house-made curry which I’d fly back over for. When in St. Pete, an absolute can’t-miss spot is Haslam’s Bookstore, Florida’s largest for new and used books. Started in 1933, the literary staple was once a favorite escape for Jack Kerouac in his later years. The store is now guarded by an a-team of four cats whose favorite books vary depending on their moods and where each one is more literature savvy than the next.
Passing the Dali Museum, the entire marina area felt like something out of a painting–bustling with the excitement of a nearby baseball game. It’s so easy to forget what a connected city-life is like when everything is walking-distance from everything else. It’s a charm Miami has still yet to capture. After hitting up Coppertail Brewing for a few flights and some cheesy tots, we headed out for some swankier vibes and hit up Ciro’s Speakeasy. Tip for newcomers: call ahead to get the password. The dark and 1930s interior was intoxicating, or maybe it was the well-crafted cocktails. Either way, the food is also not to be overlooked. But like with anything good, don’t “be that guy” and forget to respect the neighbor.
Slightly fuzzy heads aside, we took some seriously legit advice and stopped by the Wat Thai Temple for their weekly Sunday brunch. Authentic doesn’t begin to describe what our senses experienced while there. The riverside breeze cooling us down on a hot day, we were blinded by the beautiful gilded temple and blindsided by the welcoming atmosphere while we enjoyed our Thai feast. We closed off the trip with a stop at the Indie Flea at the historic Rialto Theater where we said hi to some of our favorite makers like Milk & Honey Books, The Seeker, and Katthecuervo, and made quite a few new friends along the way. We were all smiles as we headed home, a feeling that we couldn’t shake off the entire time.
- Bake Shack – We tried: Mexican hot chocolate donut, maple bacon donut, and a chocolate Tres Leches donut.
- Buddy Brew Coffee – Anything house roasted, and their almond croissants.
- Better Byrd – What to get: Any of their fried chicken sandwiches, the messier the better.
- Hawkers Asian Street Food – Can’t miss: Roti Canai, Chow Faan, Buns.
- The Franklin Manor – Couldn’t stop ordering: the Manor Frozé.
- Cigar City Brewing – What we loved: Lue Gim Gong Pale Ale, Florida Cracker Belgian White Ale, Invasion Pale Ale, and of course…the flavored popcorn.
- Green Bench Brewing – Izzy’s favorite: the Brussels Belgian White. Pola’s favorite: the Happy Hermit Pale Ale.
- Coppertail Brewing – Must have: Unholy Trippel, Oktoberfest, and Free Dive. Also, don’t miss their food.
- Ciro’s Speakeasy – Best stuff: Old Fashioned and French 75, plus their duck fat fries for sustenance.
- Oxford Exchange – For beautifully curated shopping and light-filled atmosphere.
- Fly Bar – For the view.
- Central Arts District – For the locally-proud shops, murals, and eclectic vibes.
- Haslam’s Bookstore – For Florida history and endless pages to flip through.
- Wat Thai Temple – For the culture, even if you don’t eat anything (which you should).
- Tampa India Flea – For the rows for local vendors inside a towering historic theater.