Explore your City - Tampa
I was never a big fan of Tampa. In years past, the only reason I ever really made the trek to the Bay was because their arena and amphitheater seemed to often beat out our own Amway Center for big ticket concert tours. I saw Coldplay and Robyn, Billy Joel and Elton John, Depeche Mode and many more that are now just noisy blurs. But to take a full-day trip to explore Tampa was never really on the radar until recent years, as the city has seen a surge in locally owned shops worth checking out, much like it's I-4 cousin Orlando. While a 4-5 hour excursion only allows for a small dent in even the most seasoned explorer's stomach, I was still able to hit a decent amount of places you might want to check out on your next visit.
Are you sick of seeing pictures of this place? Well truthfully, the Oxford Exchange could have been the catalyst driving people to visit Tampa. While it opened in 2012, it's still being discovered and loved by visitors today.
Inspired during a visit to London, a Tampa businessman came back stateside with an idea that is what gave birth to this hipster mecca for work, play and over-priced knick knacks.
You cannot ignore the beauty of this historic building and the restoration that went into it. If you ware wondering what people do there, they purchase books, eat, drink coffee, and take pictures. If you happen to have money to blow on their trendy gifts and trinkets that are always alluring by all means do it. They've also been known to have products from Warby Parker and Aesop Skin Care. As for me, I go straight for a stack of carbs. Besides the restaurant, you can enjoy a tea from Teabella or a coffee from Buddy Brew, both local Tampa businesses.
The doors haven't been open long over at the Vine Baking Company, but the smell of delectable baked goods has been wafting out ever since they took over the space on South Dale Mabry Highway.
Part coffee shop, part bakery, this cute and quaint cafe starts working on made-from-scratch recipes at 3:00 AM. We were suppose start off slow when it came to eating, but of course a breakfast sandwich was purchased along with a sweet and pillowy waffle dessert.
Beyond the treats and the coffee, the staff was insanely nice and hospitable doling out lots of recommendations and places to maybe take off my list. I felt very much at home in a place where I was a strange out-of-towner, and for that I will always want to come back for a visit.
Back in 2015 the Mini Doughnut Factory opened, and now if you want a box of mini-sized goodness you better time your trip accordingly. I've been three times, and on one of those visits I gave up due to the line that wrapped around inside and outside. You get to choose from about 16 different options of toppings on small vanilla cake doughnuts that are made on-site fresh and served warm. Some of my favorites are Rice Krispy Treats, French Toast, and the Homer Simpson.
Coffee and doughnut shakes and doughnut sundaes are also available depending on how much you hate yourself that day.
I have a friend that's been telling me to eat here for well over a year. I'm definitely kicking myself that it took me so long to finally get to Ichicoro because in my opinion we don't have delicious Ramen like this in Orlando. Now I can safely say they do in Tampa.
This was our third stop of the day, so we decided to split a bowl and save ourselves some button-popping. We ordered the Tonkotsu which consists of pork broth, chasyu asado, menma, scallion, ajitama, mayu, and beni shoga. To save you some head scratching those ingredients are respectively braised pork, a Japanese condiment made from lactate-fermented bamboo shoots, a seasoned soft boiled egg, black garlic oil, and a Japanese pickle.
From first slurp I was transported back to the same flavors of a killer Ramen dish I had in Atlanta in December. The pork was crispy on the outside, yet flavorful and juicy on the inside. The noodles were the perfect texture; I could go on and on. In short, it made me very happy and I will make the drive from Orlando for a repeat dish.
Independent music shops are hard to come by these days so when I find one there is an unspoken rule to go in and support it. Right down the street from Ichicoro is Microgroove. They sell and buy used LP's and CD's, you can even spot some old cassettes in here as well.
The highlight of stopping here was that I found a musical treasure. If you've ever seen the movie Serendipity, Jon Cusack is searching every book store desperately for a copy Love in the Time of Cholera with a phone number in it left by the love of his life. Back in reality, I search every music shop for an album, not with any secret inscription, but this one album has evaded my life for years for reasons unknown. Well, there it was sitting in Microgroove waiting for me. Could I have ordered it online? Probably, but the search was way more satisfying.
If there is any reason to be jealous of Tampa over Orlando, they one-up us when it comes to the number of independent coffee shops they have. Hitting several of them had its challenges which included switching from lattes to chai tea into the better part of the day.
Foundation Coffee has two locations, I visited the one in Tampa Heights. By their own admission they saw the lack of a coffee shop in an area brimming with "millenials and twenty-somethings" and they filled the caffeine gap.
The space is large with indoor and patio seating, exposed brick, water features and a perfect chai tea latte. If I lived in Tampa you would probably find me here doing some work while soaking up some vitamin D in their courtyard.
This spot won me over when I walked in with the brick walls and pops of yellow, but the iced vanilla latte was probably one of my favorites in city that did not serve even one bad cup of coffee. It was richer and creamier than others, so perhaps they have a special method to their process, but I'd go back here in a heartbeat.
Tampa is not lacking in street art, but this trip was primarily for eats and coffee, so I didn't hunt as aggressively as I normally do, but there were a few spots I happened upon.
Tampa Heights Mural located at Franklin Street & E. Kay StreetN. Nebraska Avenue & E. Ida StreetN. Florida Avenue next to Ichicoro Ramen Tampa postcard mural at Florida Avenue and Royal Street
I have several more places on my list that I couldn't hit in half a day, so I will definitely be going back to try more spots. If you have any favorites, feel free to leave them in the comments below.