About the series: Welcome to our ongoing travel series. These are all posts written by planning students and professionals about what to do in a given city when looking for Brunch, a Brew, or a good idea on a Budget. To cap it all off, we include a fun planning fact!
By Doug Bright
About the visit: While travel remains inadvisable and typical tourist activities remain limited, it’s fun to reflect on past trips and dream of future ones. During this friend visit a few years back, my expectations of the Tampa area were blown away. I cannot advise a trip during the summer, but Tampa Bay in the winter has plenty to offer for a frugal long weekend, delivered in large part by its surrounding ecology. For the time being, even if you can’t visit in person, you can check in with some of the locals via webcam.
East of downtown Tampa, Wat Mongkolratanaram sits on the south bank of the Palm River. Every Sunday between 8:30am and 1pm, this Thai temple hosts a large outdoor market, open to the public. A variety of Thai dishes are offered at stands staffed by volunteers. The ubiquitous pad thai may be an obvious choice, but this is a great place to experiment with friends, especially given the affordable prices. I ended up with two pork salads – larb and nam sod – in addition to a few Thai desserts. Dozens of picnic tables under a canopy of trees and Spanish moss provide a pleasant place to enjoy the meal. Once sated, make sure to linger to take a good look at the main temple building, whose gold trim glistens in the Florida sun.
While downtown St. Petersburg presents a great collection of street art, a pleasant walking experience, and some great craft beer in breezy outdoor digs (Green Bench Brewing), free beer is hard to turn down. Yuengling – America’s oldest brewery – has a large production facility north of downtown Tampa, near the campus of the University of South Florida. While the building itself is dated and the tour is similar to most any other brewery tour (“Can anyone tell me the four ingredients in beer?”), the tour guide was entertaining and the beer at the end is included in the ticket price ($0). Yuengling doesn’t make the best beer in Tampa, but it does make the most historic (and cheapest). Careful not to drink it too quickly; there’s a gift shop.
Coastal Florida represents great opportunities for enjoying the great outdoors. While beaches exist on Tampa Bay, the prime locations are on the ocean. Clearwater Beach, just west of downtown Clearwater, across the bay from Tampa, is a strong choice, though it may be hard to go wrong. On the other end of the natural spectrum is the swamps. The $2 entrance fee lets you explore Lettuce Lake Park’s boardwalk, from which you can see many species of birds and some alligators. To get more up-close-and-personal with alligators, I recommend a kayak trip on the Hillsborough River (Canoe Escape starts at $14/hour). Luckily, the internet was right about alligators being fraidy cats when confronted by kayakers, but the experience still provided thrills for this Midwesterner.
Fun Planning Fact
The coal-fired Big Bend Power Station sits on the east side of Tampa Bay. The station uses water from the bay for cooling processes, meaning that discharged water is warmer than inflow. This impact of industrial cooling is known as thermal pollution and can have significant ecological impacts. In this case, another unintended consequence was observed. On days with cooler water temperatures, manatees flocked to the warmth. The Tampa Electric Company (TECO) formalized a Manatee Viewing Center, which provides a tidal walkway, educational content on manatees and electricity generation, a open tank of rays offering the opportunity to touch, a butterfly garden, and more. The center provides two interactive webcams, which – at publishing of this article – suggest that the manatees are still coming, despite the center being closed due to COVID. This isn’t the only place in Florida where power plants attract manatees. This pairing makes the decommissioning of such a power plant more complicated ecologically, making for a bizarre case of mutualism.
Featured Image: Being wildlife is exhausting. A local’s well-deserved sun-soak, seen from the boardwalk at Lettuce Lake Park. Photo Credit: Doug Bright
About the Author: Doug is a second-year master’s candidate in the Department of City and Regional Planning, specializing in transportation. He’s a proud Chicagoan, enjoys taking the streets by two wheels, and indulges in improvisational cooking. He likes thinking and talking about education, design, and sustainability. He also likes jokes. Doug received his undergraduate degree in Social Studies from Harvard College.