Two words sum up Tampa Bay’s arts scene: radiant and hip. A stroll along the Tampa Riverwalk reveals a city where creativity abounds. Latin music provides a soundtrack to step to, outdoor Zumba classes invite observers to join in, sidewalk art shows pop up for pondering and majestic public sculptures watch over it all.
From downtown’s Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, the Tampa Riverwalk winds upstream along the Hillsborough River to Water Works Park in Tampa Heights and downstream to the South Plaza in the Channel District. The Tampa Riverwalk is where families meet, lovers walk hand-in-hand and cyclists and runners get some exercise. It’s hard to resist the beauty here. Especially dramatic is the scene across the river where the University of Tampa’s silver minarets glisten in the sun and shimmer at night.
The best place to start your exploration of Tampa Bay’s arts scene is at the Riverwalk. From there? Simply follow the hum of art, culture and life.
Begin your arts and culture tour on the south end of the Tampa Riverwalk, where the Tampa Bay History Center reveals the colorful human history that has shaped the area, from native inhabitants to Spanish conquistadors. Travel back to the times of Florida’s first people, European exploration, cracker cattle ranchers and booming cigar factory days. You’ll think you’ve been transported to the 1920s as you walk through a replica cigar store of that era and immersed yourself in the scents, sights, cultural influences and politics of growing immigrant communities. Fair warning: you’ll likely have a yen for Cuban cuisine after a turn through the cigar store, but it’s easy to feed your craving at the Columbia Café. A sister site of the award-winning Columbia Restaurant, Florida’s oldest restaurant, the café is a delicious treat offering Cuban classics at the museum.
Photo Credit: Richard Barnes
Head north to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, where you’ll find the Tampa Museum of Art, which has provided innovative visual art since 1979 through classical, modern and contemporary pieces. The museum features visiting shows by world-renowned artists and showcases a permanent collection of more than 100 works that highlight the aesthetics of the human form. Paintings, sculpture and drawings by Picasso, Renoir, Cassatt, Rivera, Lichtenstein and Degas are on display. Outside is just as impressive as inside, especially after the sun sets behind the nearby minarets. The modern, rectangular building becomes an illuminated sculpture at night. Embedded in the museum’s long exterior, facing the water, is Leo Villareal’s Sky: Tampa, a luminous, 14,000 LED light installation that glows in shifting shades of electric blue, hot pink, bright violet and red every evening.
Next door is a special place for kids. The dynamic Glazer Children’s Museum captivates kids with interactive activities that enhance imagination, creativity and play. The museum triggers curiosity and imagination at first sight: exterior pops of color that, in some places, erupt from the building. Adults and kids alike can answer the question, How does that work?, in the Engineers’ Workshop, where young inventors are welcome to tinker with blocks and experiment with solar and wind power. The budding writer can publish a computerized newspaper, while entertainers produce a live weather forecast or create their own stage play using costumes and a system to control lights, sounds and even applause.
Continue a block south on the Riverwalk to the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts for a variety of commanding performances. Rising high above the Riverwalk, it has been a downtown Tampa icon since it opened in 1987. This center has a total of five theaters that pulsate with the performing arts, from live Broadway shows, opera, ballet or concerts in Morsani Hall, to dance, music and more intimate performances in the smaller Ferguson Hall. Three other venues offer cultural spice with cabaret, music and local performances. Whatever theater or performance, the Straz exudes drama from the crimson theater seats to the chandeliers and twinkling lights of show time.
Once a silent movie house, the historic 1926 Tampa Theatre still shows classic films along with concerts and lectures further inland on Franklin Street. Since the 1920s, this intimate 500-seat theater has been a popular, lavish escape for the common man. Today, it still exudes grandeur from the lighted “Tampa” marquee above the vintage glass ticket booth to the realistic starry night sky ceiling that completes the “atmospheric” design and instant sense of escape. The architect intended it to be the most elaborate movie palace of the early 20th century. His plan was influenced by Spanish, Italian and Mediterranean design, visible in the tiled floors, fountains, statues and gargoyles. With its unique features, the theater has become a city landmark and earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.
A short drive northeast is the largest science center in the Southeast. Tampa Bay’s Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) houses a wealth of educational and interactive displays. Inside, you’ll find a planetarium, The Florida Hospital IMAX® Dome Theatre and countless exhibits. The sharpness and clarity of the IMAX® Theatre is unsurpassed and creates a truly immersive experience by projecting 10,500 square feet of visual imagery on a dome-shaped screen. And the senses-driven activities only grow from there. The popular Disasterville exhibit demonstrates the devastating effects of weather—visitors walk through towns that have experienced simulated natural disasters. You can even experience hurricane force winds. Also fascinating, are the array of hands-on science activities, including Mission: Moonbase, where kids blast off, land and then have a go at sustaining a moon colony. Other exhibits let kids build working robots and tinker with a 3-D printer. The opportunity to experience science and to learn is limitless.
Across the Hillsborough River, you’ll see the famous minarets of the University of Tampa. These architectural gems aren’t the only treasure to be found at the university. Enter the Henry B. Plant Museum, a National Historic Landmark and once the grand Tampa Bay Hotel built by Henry Bradley Plant in the late 1800s. The museum is located in the south wing of the original hotel and transports visitors into the Victorian era, when status was signified by opulent surroundings. See some of the extravagant furnishings collected by Mr. and Mrs. Plant on their buying trips to Europe and the Orient, as well as exhibits on how the hotel influenced the beginning of Florida’s tourist industry and Tampa’s introduction to the world arena.
Tampa Bay’s dynamic cultural venues sparkle with adventure and inspiring delights for all who visit.
Explore Tampa Bay’s cultural attractions that ignite visual splendor and create engaging entertainment.