The Tampa Bay area is known for many things—professional sports and passionate fans, great beaches and greater sunsets, cigar factories, authentic Cuban sandwiches and more—but it hasn’t been known as an enclave for the arts until recently. Though it has long enjoyed a robust share of cultural amenities—with museums, theaters and performance troupes by the dozen—the Bay area’s artistic profile has taken giant steps forward in the past few years with the rebirth of two highly acclaimed destinations: the Tampa Museum of Art and St. Petersburg’s Salvador Dali Museum. With these and other must-see venues, the metropolitan arts scene has become more than a vacation afterthought. Here’s a look at what you need to know about an art-filled weekend excursion to the Tampa Bay area.
TAMPA / HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY
• TOP DRAW: In February 2010, the $33-million Tampa Museum of Art (tampamuseum.org) opened as the city’s premier venue for touring and permanent exhibitions. Located downtown in Curtis Hixon Park along the Hillsborough River after 10 years of start-and-stop planning, it replaced the city-owned museum that had stood there since 1979. With more than 14,000 square feet of exhibition space encompassing eight distinct galleries, TMA prides itself on a diverse array of traveling collections—everything from Henri Matisse to Herb Snitzer—and a growing permanent collection of American modernist and realist works, classical art, regional creations and Greco-Roman antiquities. Sculptures by Edgar Degas have top billing through June 19, 2011. 120 W. Gasparilla Plaza (Ashley Drive near Kennedy Boulevard); 813-274-8130; open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Thursday, until 8 p.m. Friday, until 5 p.m. weekends; admission $10
• ALSO: H.B. Plant Museum—Moorish architecture, opulent furnishings, tropical gardens and world treasures at a turn-of-the-century hotel for the stars (plantmuseum.org); Museum of Science and Industry—hands-on exhibits and fascinating displays for all ages (mosi.org); Contemporary Art Museum—University of South Florida’s notable collection of fine prints, paintings, sculpture and more (usf.edu); Florida Museum of Photographic Arts—photographers’ visions and their contributions to culture (fmopa.org); Tampa Bay History Center—examining 12,000 years of Florida history (tampabayhistorycenter.org); Glazer Children’s Museum—critically acclaimed discovery learning environment for kids; Florida Aquarium—one of the country’s top 10 interactive facilities for marine animals, aquatic plants and wildlife (flaquarium.org).
• LODGING: Tampa has a handful of AAA Four Diamond-rated hotels, including Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay (hyatt.com) and Westin Tampa Bay (starwoodhotels.com) overlooking the bridges just west of the airport; InterContinental Tampa (ichotelsgroup.com) and Renaissance Tampa International Plaza (marriott.com) in the Westshore district; and the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino (seminolehardrock.com) east of town, near the Florida State Fairgrounds. Golf and tennis fans will enjoy the plush Saddlebrook Resort (saddlebrook.com) just over the Pasco County line, in Wesley Chapel.
• DINING: Skip the usual array of upscale, big-city chains and try local tastes, including Bern’s Steak House (bernssteakhouse.com), legendary since 1956 for impeccable service, prime beef, organic vegetables and a 7,000-bottle wine list; the Columbia Restaurant (columbiarestaurant.com), serving Cuban and Spanish cuisine in historic Ybor City since 1905; and Malio’s Prime Steakhouse (maliosprime.com), the new downtown incarnation of the famed meet-and-eat spot for political and sports powerbrokers. If you want to explore, stay in South Tampa; we’re fond of Restaurant BT (restaurantbt.com) and the exceptional French-Vietnamese dishes from highly regarded owner-chef B.T. Nguyen.
ST. PETERSBURG / PINELLAS COUNTY
• TOP DRAWWhat a difference a building makes. In January 2011, the Salvador Dali Museum (thedali.org) relocated from the cramped, renovated warehouse south of downtown St. Petersburg it had occupied since 1982 and into an expansive, sleek $36 million downtown facility overlooking Tampa Bay. Designed by Yann Weymouth, who played a lead role in creating the glass pyramid at the Louvre in Paris, the architecturally intriguing venue is as much an attraction as the stunning collection of the Spaniard’s work—the most comprehensive such collection outside of Spain, chronicling Dali’s transformation from still-life artist to Surrealist master. It’s a veritable showcase of his work in all media, including paintings, sculptures, film, photography and objects of all description. 1 Dali Blvd. (Fifth Avenue SE near First Street SE); 727-823-3767; open 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily except Thursday (until 8 p.m.) and Sunday (open at noon); admission $21
• ALSO: Morean Arts Center—host to the world’s only permanent installation of Dale Chihuly glasswork (moreanartscenter.org); Museum of Fine Arts—featuring examples of European art dating to the 1600s, American art dating to the 1800s, Greco-Roman antiquities, and pre-Columbian and Asian art (fine-arts.org); Florida Holocaust Museum—artifacts, documents and artwork honoring the memory of those lost during World War II (flholocaustmuseum.org); Great Explorations—children’s museum dedicated to arts, sciences and humanities (greatexplorations.org); St. Petersburg Museum of History—collecting, preserving and communicating Florida’s history and heritage (spmoh.org); Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art—St. Petersburg College collection of various works, including Abraham Rattner and Allen Leepa (spcollege.edu); Florida Craftsmen Gallery—showcase for contemporary craft artists throughout Florida (floridacraftsmen.net).
• LODGING: Pinellas County has several AAA Four Diamond-rated hotels, including the Renaissance Vinoy Resort & Golf Club on the bay in downtown St. Petersburg (marriott.com); the Don CeSar Beach Resort overlooking the Gulf of Mexico in St. Pete Beach (loewshotels.com); and Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach (hyatt.com) and Sandpearl Resort (sandpearl.com) in Clearwater. Golf and tennis fans will enjoy the energetic vibe of Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club (innisbrookgolfresort.com), home to the PGA Tour’s Transitions Championship each March, in Palm Harbor.
• DINING: Though the restaurants at the Don CeSar (Maritana Grille) and Sandpearl (Caretta on the Gulf) resorts are Pinellas County’s lone AAA Four Diamond establishments, many excellent choices abound. Well-reviewed restaurants include Clearwater’s Cafe Ponte (cafeponte.com) for contemporary American, and Salt Rock Grill (saltrockgrill.com) in Indian Shores for surf ‘n’ turf. Central Avenue in downtown St. Petersburg is a worthy culinary expedition.