The Southwest Region of Florida also known as the Gulf Coast
The primary airport serving the region is Tampa International Airport (TPA), located near the waters of Tampa Bay along I-275. St. Petersburg Airport (PIE) is an alternative only fifteen miles away, generally serving smaller routes and discount airlines. A bit further away is Sarasota International, offering proximity to beautiful Gulf beaches to the south of Tampa. Further south yet is Fort Myers International Airport which offers quick access to Cape Coral, Ft. Myers, Ft. Myers Beach, and Bonita Springs.
The Southwest region is anchored at the top by Tampa Bay. Tampa is easily accessible via the major interstate highways, I-75 from north and south, and I-4 from the east. From either highway, exit onto I-275 to reach Tampa. However, be prepared for frequent traffic jams particularly when it rains. The rest of the gulf coast is likewise accessible from I-75 and is equally prone to traffic, especially in-season.
- Sanibel Siesta Condominiums 1246 Middle Gulf Drive at Fulgur Street Sanibel Island, FL 33957-6699, 1-800-548-2743, .
There are many lodging options in Tampa to fit any budget. Here are a few good options:
- University of Tampa. Formerly the Tampa Bay Hotel built at the turn of the 20th century by railroad magnate H.B.Plant, the beautiful old building is now used as the administration building and classrooms for the University of Tampa. It has been lovingly restored to most of its prior glory; the ballroom is a showpiece with its domed ceiling under brilliant silver minarets. There is a small, but very interesting museum in the building that recreates a large portion of Tampa's early history, as well as giving visitors a peek into how the hotel appeared when it first opened.
- Florida Aquarium. Channelside district, just east of downtown. Fabulous aquarium following a drop of rain from a swamp through Florida's aquifer, to its rivers and out into the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. Restaurant, gift shop, children's play area, touch tank, interactive dive experiences, and eco-tours of Tampa Bay.
- Lowry Park Zoo. One of the top-rated zoos in the country, featuring children's areas, restaurants, a manatee hospital, and first-rate encounters with animals from around the world. Make sure to tour the aviary and feed the lorikeets.
- Busch Gardens. More than just an amusement park -- also a top-notch zoo. Expensive, but a very enjoyable day -- rides, shows, and the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales!
This is a fun place for all ages, kids, teens, and even adults. It has a family friendly atmosphere with lots of things to do and see. The scenery is amazing; it has a feel of different places as you travel throughout the park. Rides vary from a huge merry go round to the famous rollercoaster, Montu. There are many different types of rides to choose from and also many roller coasters to choose from as well. Not a ride fan? You can check out the many shows they perform daily. Ice skating, singing, magic, birds, dolphins and other performances can be found all around the corners of Busch Gardens. Not a show fan either? Then check out the many food establishments spread out through the park. They offer fast food like popcorn and fries to a nice sit down meal. Also check Busch Gardens out during different holidays. They always have special events and offers. For instance, for Halloween they have Howl-O-Scream when the park is open all night long. They also have special events for over night stays, New Years, and special ticket sales for Florida residents. Always watch out for these special events because they happen all the time. If you do one thing while you’re in Tampa, go visit Busch Gardens. It is a great place to remind you about how fun Tampa really is. It is one of the biggest attractions in the Tampa Bay area. The rides, food, and shows will make you want to come back!
- Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI). Hands-on children's science museum, including an IMAX dome and stellar revolving exhibits. Great way to spend a day with the family.
- University of South Florida. The main campus for this university. Blossoming from five buildings in its opening (1960) to 164 buildings on the Tampa campus alone, this beautiful college is now educating more than 29,000 students. With beautiful greenery, fountains, and named the “top architecture school in Florida” by the Florida Board of Architecture and Interior Design in 2002 this school is certainly pleasing to the eye and is worth a visit, especially if you are considering or know someone considering a collegiate career. Who wouldn’t want to attend this college. The school is also holder of another prestigious honor, in 2001 the $255.9-million raised in gifts and pledges is Tampa Bay’s largest campaign in history! If in your visit to the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI), Busch Gardens, or simply the popular Ybor area you need a place to stay for a couple nights, there is a hotel waiting for you right on campus. The very nice Embassy Suites is about 10 minutes from many of the main attractions of Tampa. A sports fan? The University of South Florida has you covered here as well! Home to the Division-1 football and basketball among others, the USF Bulls are a joy to watch.
- Sanibel / Captiva Island These two barrier islands provide a look at "old Florida" tourism in a charming and beautiful setting. The sunset from Captiva's beaches is a tourist must.
Read the Tampa Tribune -- Tampa has some sort of event going on nearly every weekend, especially in the spring and early summer. Art festivals, a terrific Renaissance festival, street festivals -- take advantage of the great weather and enjoy our city.
- Go Ice-Skating at the Ice Sports Forum- the official training facility of the Tampa Bay Lightning http://www.theicesportsforum.com The Ice Sports Forum features an excellent figure skating program, as well as a leading hockey program. So, lace up some skates and get on the ice!
- Catch a Broadway show at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center- http://www.tbpac.org Be sure to check their website concerning current and upcoming shows. There is always a wide variety of entertainment to suit every taste!
- Explore the exhibitions at the Tampa Museum of Art- http://www.tampamuseum.com Exhibits are ever changing. Refer to website for current and upcoming exhibits, as well as a coupon for an admission discount
- Jam to a concert or watch a sporting event at the St. Pete Times Forum- http://www.icepalace.com Formally known as the Ice Palace, the St. Pete Times Forum is located in downtown Tampa, not St. Pete.
- Scream down the Tampa Typhoon at Tampa's Premier Water Park, Adventure Island- http://www.adventureisland.com This water park features a Key West atmosphere, and is located on 30 acres of water-related fun. Featured attractions include a wave pool, a child’s play area, many volleyball courts, numerous water slides of varying degrees, and a lazy river to relax upon.
Ybor City is a historic area of Tampa which now hosts the region's best known bar and nightclub district. In the 1980's it was reborn as an arts/bar district, but increased demand for rental space eventually crowded out the artists and independent small-scale bars. Now chains and drunken hooligans predominate in the late hours.
If you’re really into nightclubs, while in Ybor you need to stop at the “Amphitheater,” which is one of the regions best nightclubs. Featuring radio stations, DJs, parties, Las Vegas style shows, VIP rooms, and beautiful people as far as the eye can see, if you’re up for a party make your way there while in the area.
Although not spectacular, Ybor City now boasts a very respectable list of very dependable upscale restaurants. Make sure you find time, however, to have at least one meal at The Columbia, a beautiful Spanish restaurant in continuous operation since 1905. Excellent food and attentive service for a very affordable price -- make sure you stay for the Latin dance show staged twice each evening (nominal fee).
Ybor’s newest addition, Centro Ybor, includes a 20-screen movie theater with stadium seating, restaurants, a comedy club, retail stores, and Steven Spielburg’s fun center, GameWorks.