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Tampa Bay: An Arts Destination

Jason Davis
And though, as the satellite image shows, Tampa and St. Petersburg are rife with coastline, more and more are looking beyond the beaches when visiting. Both sides of the bay have become a destination for art enthusiasts.
The beaches of Tampa Bay are some of the prettiest in the state. The white sand, which is made of crushed quartz opposed to the crushed shell and coral beaches of the PBC, is cool to the touch, regardless of the sweltering summer heat.
The new Tampa Museum of Art in downtown Tampa looks over the Hillsborough River that meanders through the city. Designed by architect Stanley Saitowitz of Natoma Architects, the building is the crown jewel of the city's Riverwalk district and is quickly becoming recognized nationally as a major arts destination.
The Tampa Museum of Art's 66,000-square-feet is broken into eight gallery spaces and is home to a collection of contemporary and classical art, as well as a destination to world class traveling exhibitions.
Ybor City, also known as Cigar City, was founded in the 1880s by cigar manufacturers and became the leading supplier of cigars in the world, rollings millions of cigars annually. Ybor's cigar production peaked in 1929 when 500,000,000 cigars were rolled in the city, but the ensuing depression hampered the city's industry, which it never fully recovered.
The cigar culture is an indomitable tradition in Tampa Bay. A visit to Ybor City will have you walking away with hand-rolled cigars made on the spot.
Ybor City, which is just northeast of downtown Tampa and weathered degradation and rejuvenation, has been designated as a National Historic Landmark District, with several locales listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Ybor is now a popular arts and tourist destination that is still steeped in the cigar tradition, and offers an active nightlife.
The Columbia Restaurant, located in Ybor City, is Florida's oldest restaurant, originally opening its doors in 1905. The Ybor location, which is now an entire city block, is still owned and operated by the 4th and 5th generations of the Hernandez Gonzmart family. The oldest Spanish restaurant in the United States, it is said to be the originator of the Cuban sandwich.
Henry B. Plant Museum, once the spectacular Tampa Bay Hotel and is now part of the University of Tampa, is a celebration of the gilded age. Plant, Flagler's westcoast railroad rival, completed the Moorish inspired hotel in 1891. The 511 room hotel was the first to have electrified rooms in the state. The museum has preserved the height of American opulence with authentically restored rooms, complete with clothing, furniture and art, even newspapers of the day.
The Tampa Theatre, built in 1926, has been a fixture of downtown Tampa for generations. Originally billed as a movie palace, today, the theater is a destination for touring acts, as well as a place to catch indie and foreign films.
The new Dali Museum, located along downtown St. Petersburg's  Bayboro Harbor, houses the largest collection of the surrealist's work outside of Europe. The collection includes 96 original oils, over 100 watercolors and drawings, 1,300 graphics, photographs, sculptures and other objects of art.
The building itself is a work of art and worth a visit in it's own right. Designed by Yann Weymouth of the HOK global architectural firm, the geodesic amorphous glass structure acts as an entrance, as well as an amazing atrium inside.
Art and form meet at the new Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg.
The Morean Art Center in downtown St. Petersburg is giving the city the gift of art with classes and outreach programs, as well as exhibitions of local, regional and national contemporary artists. The Morean Art Center is also home to the Chihuly Collection, the only permanent collection of glass artist Dale Chihuly.
The storied Don CeSar in St. Pete Beach is a must for those looking for the luxe life with white sandy beaches and some of the most spectacular sunsets the state has to offer.
The St. Pete Pier is a popular tourist attraction jutting out into Tampa Bay. With shops and boutiques, The Pier Aquarium, restaurants and events, the pier gives visitors a chance to explore the more touristy side of the Burg.

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 COUNTYTampa skyline

 

TOP DRAW: Tampa Museum of Art - Natoma ArchitectsIn 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

 H.B. Plant Museum - Tampa

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 - Sand TigerFlorida 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

St. Petersburg skyline - St. Pete Pier

 

TOP DRAWThe Dali Museum - St. Petersburg - HOKWhat 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:Dale Chihuly - Morean Art Center - Mille Fiori - Photo cred. Terry Rishel 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.

 

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