South Tampa’s Secret Beaches

There’s a strong perception among Tampa residents that to go to the beach, you have to haul yourself down the highway to St. Pete, or across the sprawl of Clearwater.  After all, the body of water closes to Tampa itself is the industrialized Port of Tampa, fit for nothing but deep-keeled shipping vessels and hungry pelicans.  Right?

Not quite.  There are a handful of amazing beaches much closer to Tampa proper, out past the metallic clang of the port, and right at the doorstep of South Tampa residents.

cypress point park

Caption: Cypress Point Park. Credit: Vic Wagner, Flickr.

Cypress Point is a small park with a mix of beaches and hiking trails.  The beaches don’t quite match Fort DeSoto, but combine them with beautiful, forested paths and you’ve got something pretty special.

davis islands

Davis Islands Seaplane Park. Credit: Path to Enlightenment, Flickr

Maybe the most unusual beach in South Tampa is at the Davis Islands Seaplane Basin Park.  It’s located next to the Yacht Club, so if you’re into watching the tall ships come in, this one’s for you.  It’s also one of the better off-leash dog parks in town, so if you love both seafaring and canines, you’re truly blessed.

picnic island

Picnic Island Beach. Credit: the_blue_lotus, Flickr

But the best treat in store for Tampa beach bums might be Picnic Island Beach, perched right at the lip of the Port of Tampa.  You might catch a glimpse of a freighter or two, but you’re likely to be more occupied by the white sand beaches and crystal-clear waters – pretty much what you’d get if you trekked all the way to Passe-a-Grille, and it’s right in your South Tampa backyard.


Cypress Point Park is located at 5620 W. Cypress St., Tampa, FL 33607.

Davis Islands Seaplane Basin Park is located at 864 Severn Ave
Tampa, FL 33606.

Picnic Island Beach is located at 7409 Picnic Island Blvd.
Tampa, FL 33616


From Dining Rooms to Great Rooms

American life is pretty well known to change at a ferocious pace.  It’s strange to think about how different things were fifty years ago – most people still lived close to where they were born, social equality for women and minorities were much farther off, and families still sat down to the dining room table together every night.

Well, some things change for the better, and some things . . . just change.  While some of us work hard to hang on to the old dining room tradition, the vast majority of families on the go have settled into different rhythms than their parents or grandparents’ generation.  And naturally, they want a home that reflects those changes.  That’s why now, instead of a separate dining room, many architects, developers, and remodelers are opting for what’s known as a Great Room – a single space that flows between a kitchen, a dining area, and a living room or lounge area.

The Great Room concept is a response to a lot of social trends – some of them great, some maybe not so much.  The Great Room accommodates the hectic flow of modern family life, as dads, daughters, and Cousin Joe zoom around on their own missions, snatching snacks from the fridge and counter willy-nilly.  That might not please those who see the ideal family interaction as five people sitting down for an hour over a meal.  The Great Room is also a monument to contemporary informality – it makes just as much sense to carry a plate of food to the couch in front of the T.V. as to the kitchen table.


But the Great Room also strengthens families, since the open, flowing space makes it easier for us to connect. Mom is no longer sequestered away while the rest of the brood eagerly await the fruits of her labor – instead, the kitchen in a Great Room becomes a social space, with the kids hanging out and watching the magic. And for today’s sometimes larger families, which are more and more likely to include three generations under one roof, the spaciousness of a Great Room can be a very practical amenity.

When family isn’t the order of the day, a Great Room’s flow can make for a great football Sunday or wine bash, giving people different areas to congregate in.  And this sort of layout is truly at its best when our family lives mesh with our social lives – during the holidays. The cooks and gourmets can hang out in the kitchen, the social butterflies can chit-chat in the dining area, and the jocks can watch football – each doing their own thing, but staying connected by space, and freely mingling.  Certainly an improvement over the old days, when a family would be divided up between totally separate rooms.

So, if you’re in the market for a home, consider how your life works – and how you’d like your home to work with it.  Maybe a Great Room would fit your flow.

Sundays at South Tampa’s Thai Gem, Wat Tampa

Tampa is a city of immigrants – travel the byways of Temple Terrace or Clearwater and you can find almost any variety of ethnic grocery store, and South Tampa gets to taste the benefits in the form of an array of fantastic global restaurants.  But one of the most public, friendly, and authentic ways to get a glimpse of Tampa’s immigrant life has to be a Sunday-morning visit to Wat Mongkolratanaram.

Wat What?


Wat Mongkolratanaram ( (mercifully a.k.a. Wat Tampa) is a Thai Buddhist Temple serving Tampa’s Thai community.  It sits on the banks of the Hillsborough River just east of South Tampa, and every Sunday its parishioners hold an open Sunday Market, where they cook and sell a variety of authentic Thai home cooking.  The temple’s story ( is pretty amazing – it was founded in 1981, and its members have spent three decades expanding it to what you see today – including a glittering artwork of a central temple, where on Sundays you can catch both Buddhist services and a friendly cultural introduction for outsiders.

The temple has expanded in large part with proceeds from the Sunday Market, which began with two tables in 1993.  Now, it sprawls across the length and breadth of the place, including not just dozens of kinds of food, but fresh herbs and a variety of potted plants, as well.  Not surprisingly, you can get a really good deal here on herbs that are important to Thai cooking, like lemongrass and galang.

The experience of visiting this cultural landmark during the Sunday morning market is one of Tampa’s truly unique pleasures.  Look around and you’ll see all types of people coming together in a friendly, peaceful environment, spreading out on the dozens of red picnic tables, and strolling a few short paths – but most of all, enjoying rich Thai food cooked by the Temple’s members.


The food is homey and basic, including a variety of soups, noodles, and pastries (some are spicy, so be sure to ask).  I was surprised to find that these Buddhists are definitely not vegetarians, as most of the plates come piled with beef or chicken.  Be prepared to wait on line, especially for the fresh soups – but it’s worth it.  On a Zagat scale, the food might not compete with plates from South Tampa’s array of polished Thai experiences, such as Lemongrass (  But take your dish and settle into the park-like atmosphere, say hello to a neighbor, and enjoy one of the most relaxing Sundays I can imagine.  (That said the deep-fried plantains are worth the trip on their own – sweet, crusty, crunchy balls of batter that, I’m sure, have a banana in there somewhere.)


To get to Wat Tampa, take I-4 east from downtown,  take the North 50th street exit heading south, then head east on Palm River Road until you hit the slow-moving column of cars waiting for a spot in the Temple’s crowded parking lot. Don’t’ worry, though – the small army of parking attendants find a way to squeeze everyone in, and after that, the bustle is part of the charm.

Great Society: Touring the Nightlife on Soho

Of all the advantages of living in South Tampa, social life is high on the list. Everyone’s happy to see some buzz finally cropping up downtown, and Ybor City still has a few worthwhile destinations, but the SoHodistrict is the real sweet spot for bars, nightclubs, pubs, lounges, and every other possible combinations of people, drinking, and music.  Here’s a quick overview of some of the best and most interesting spots on South Howard.

MacDinton’s, 405 South Howard Avenue ( What most of us are looking for in a bar is a comfortable place to unwind after work, hang out with our friends, and maybe make some new ones before heading home.  A place like MacDinton’s fits the bill, with a homey Irish pub atmosphere and a neighborly culture including frequent charity events and fun runs (Jogging and Guinness – a mysterious match).  It’s also the place to be in Tampa if you’re a soccer fan.

World of BeerSoHo, 402 South Howard Avenue (link: It’s a chain among one-of-a-kind neighborhood joints, but you can’t fault World of Beer’s comfortable atmosphere or its seemingly infinite variety of tap and bottled beers.  The South Tampa location features what is clearly more important to a bar even than beer – Trivia, starting at 7pm.  Watch out, though, as Wednesday’s discounts for University faculty and students might attract undesirable characters, like UT philosophy professors looking to talk Nietzche over a goblet of Tripel.  THE HORROR.

The Dubliner, 2307 West Azeele Street(link: It’s not as if you can have too many comfortable Irish pubs with great food. Like MacDinton’s, the Dubliner’s menu features Irish classics like Sheperd’s Pie and Fish and Chips. But the Dubliner claims the distinction of featuring an Irish Nacho Pizza, which is . . . well, you’ll have to find out for yourself.

The Green Lemon,915 South Howard Avenue–( – Formerly The Lime (see what they did there?) this is mostly a restaurant, with a sprawling Mexican menu.  But they also have a huge, and surprisingly reasonably priced, tequila list.

The Kennedy (2408 West Kennedy Blvd.) andHyde Park Café (1801 W. Platt Street) (links: and – Okay, in all likelihood you’re happy that your days of Jello shots, Red Bull and vodka, and sweaty dancing with multiple anonymous partners is behind you.  But sometimes even the best grown-ups get the urge to cut loose and relive the worst/best nights of college.  With throbbing dancefloors, celebrity appearances from the likes of Lady Gaga, and parties with names like “Menage Mondays,” thesetwo clubs have your arrested development covered.  Just don’t blame me if the music sounds like robots going to the bathroom, or if that’s where you end up at the end of the night, curled into the fetal position and longing for your couch.

Mangroves, 208 South Howard Avenue ( Luckily, catching up on the nightclub scene doesn’t have to be synonymous with a barrage of cheap booze and brain-melting music. If you’ve got a yin for partying but don’t mind being able to hear yourself think, Mangroves offers a more refined nightclub/lounge experience, including some amazing food.  Whether you’re a real high roller, or just want to play one for the night, their VIP bottle service will let you keep an eye on the action from a comfy private booth.  Oh, and ladies, hopefully the classy atmosphere will help you use your better judgment on Friday nights, when you can drink all you like between 9 and 11pm for just $10.

Hyde Park Village Fresh Market

Aaaaaaaah, fall in Florida.  In some parts of the country, chilly denizens dream of summer all year round – but in here, fall is the real golden time, when the weather becomes friendlier and the tourists pack up, leaving the still-warm beaches to the locals.  As if we weren’t already spoiled, fall is also a great season for locally-grown produce, with cooler weather making way for broccoli, lettuce, carrots, and an array of fresh herbs like basil, cilantro, and fennel.


If your mouth is watering at the thought of fresh, locally-grown produce, there’s a great place in Hyde Park to scratch your itch. Now in its third year, the Hyde Park Village Fresh Market expertly serves the resurgence of food-consciousness over the last ten years, and the first Market of the Fall is coming October 6th.  The Market returns the first Sunday of every month from 10am to 3pm, with more than a hundred vendors, local food, handicrafts, live music, and some consistently great people-watching.

Everything old, it seems, is new again.  Many methods of handcrafting food and household goods fell out of favor when our grandparents’ generation happily adopted convenience foods and manufactured goods.  But in the U.S. and elsewhere, a movement for more local and organic food has formed around activists like Michael Pollan, whose book The Omnivore’s Dilemma became the bible for a food movement pushing for more local, healthy food.


Vendors will bring herbs and plants from Lakeland, hydroponic produce, eggs from Seffner, locally-made chicken coops, organic fertilizer, and more.  The Fresh Market also offer a unique Kid’s Market where sprouting foodies and crafters can sell goods they helped create.  With 10 to 15 booths each month, the Kid’s Market aims to foster an entrepreneurial drive in kids, and also, hopefully, teach them something about the value of creating something with their own hands.

You could say that the Hyde Park Fresh Market offers just what every omnivore needs to solve their dilemma.  Head out to Hyde Park Village on October 6th to get a taste of the creative eclecticism of one of Tampa’s most exciting neighborhoods!

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