If the Tampa area were somehow magically transported 100 miles inland, there would still be plenty of exciting reasons to visit. Tampa offers a bustling arts scene, professional sports, upscale shopping - even an African-themed zoo and thrill park. But Tampa, of course, is perfectly placed along the Gulf Coast, enticing tourists to get out and enjoy the perpetually sunny days at coastal parks and white-sand beaches. (Forbes recently named Tampa the fifth best outdoor city in America.)
Nearby St. Petersburg also offers many fine examples of serene sands and metropolitan conveniences. When guests aren't enjoying the warm, Gulf waters, they can tour one of six museums, visit art galleries, and enjoy quality shopping and dining - all on or near the waterfront. Much of the dining and entertainment can be found on the Pier, which includes a multi-story inverted pyramid with an observation deck that affords excellent sunset views.
Endless Vacation Rentals offers one and two-bedroom luxury condos in the middle of it all, each with the quality views and comforts you would expect in a home away from home.
Mema's Alaskan Tacos (Tampa). This popular Ybor's district restaurant is a great place to go after hours (until 3 a.m. on weekends) and offers traditional Mexican fare. Other menu items include tofu tacos and - of course - those namesake tacos prepared by frying the meat and taco shell together.
Z Grill (St. Petersburg). This hip, urban restaurant recently underwent a makeover and now better reflects the skateboard culture of chef Zack Gross. The food, however, is as enticing as ever: Gross was recently named a James Beard semifinalist.
Go on a family thrill-ride adventure. Tampa's Busch Gardens is a theme park and African-themed zoo wrapped into one. Get face-to-face with exotic animals at "Jungala," then get your heart pumping on one of several world-class coasters.
Get your sports fix. The Tampa/St. Petersburg area host three major sports teams: baseball's Rays, football's Buccaneers and hockey's Lightning. St. Petersburg also hosts a Grand Prix auto racing event annually.
Play on the Pier. St. Petersburg's unique Pier offers many ways to shop, dine and play. The ground floor of this smartly designed "inverted pyramid" features shops and cafes, as well as places to feed the pelicans or book a tour. The top floor sports an observation deck and a restaurant.
Take a walk in Abercrombie Park (St. Petersburg). Locals love this beautiful park where they can walk their dog, wander the beach, or simply sit and enjoy amazing views of the inlet.
Day trip to Disney. Visitors planning a trip to the Tampa area often forget that Orlando, the world's theme park capital, is just a 1.5-hour drive away.
Madeira Beach. This family friendly, 2-mile stretch of toe-hugging white sand is easily accessible from several parks. The beach is also home to the popular John's Pass Village, a launching spot for tours and a destination for shopping, dining and entertainment.
Sunken Gardens (St. Petersburg). These city-owned botanical gardens feature thousands of colorful plants and a kid-friendly butterfly garden. Modestly priced, the Sunken Gardens offer a great way for a family to enjoy a "down" day.
Bay Walk (St. Petersburg). Retail stores such as Ann Taylor and Chico's help make up this relatively new, Mediterranean-themed shopping, dining and entertainment complex.
Old Hyde Park Village (Tampa). Talbot's, Pottery Barn and Brooks Brothers are just a couple of the more than 70 shops that call this South Tampa shopping destination home.