Music and nightlife are a must for ultimate Tampa fun on this getaway

By Leilani Polk

 

I organized a spectacular girls getaway weekend so we could enjoy a divide-and-conquer, take-no-prisoners Tampa Bay experience. It was me and my two best girlfriends. Their arrival coincided with the third annual Gasparilla Music Festival, so I planned accordingly, booking us a room within walking distance at the Hilton Tampa Downtown. As if great live music wasn’t enough, we put together a full agenda featuring shopping, pampering and a slice of Ybor City nightlife.

Getting started
Shanna and Rosaline flew in Friday afternoon and we headed directly downtown to take over our posh room at the Hilton Tampa Downtown. They gushed about the weather and shed their heavy coats and boots in favor of bikinis and flip flops. I slipped into my own swimwear and we headed to the rooftop deck to lounge by the pool and catch some Florida rays. Gorgeous! Relaxing! Perfect! We stayed until we reached sun-kissed bliss then returned to our room to get gussied up for our night on the town.

Having traded our swimsuits for flowing maxi dresses, we strolled in to the swanky 211 Lounge.

“Coconut Lime Cooler, please,” Shanna said to the bartender with a wink.

“I’ll have the same,” Rosaline said.

I went rogue, ordering a Cucumber Gimlet.

We started in the scenic courtyard at New World Brewery, sipping Stellas on draft and listening to a band. We enjoyed the spot, but were on a mission to take over Tampa. We moved on to an Ybor City staple, Reservoir Bar. Here we had a blast taking turns playing songs on the jukebox.

Letting our hair down
We’d heard that REIGN Saturdays at Czar—the nightclub that takes over The Ritz Ybor on the weekends—was the place to be if you wanted to get your groove on. Rumor proved true. We spent the rest of the night sipping $5 Martinis and dancing at the party. One room pumped out a mix of indie, EDM and pop. Another room shook the hip hop walls! We would have stayed later, but we weren’t wearing our 18-hour heels.

On the streetcar ride back to the hotel, we decided we make a great team. Shanna always finds great guys, Rosaline is outgoing enough for two people and I’m the one who knows what’s up. We were having a ball catching up with each other and could hardly wait for the next day’s adventures.

Sweet sounds
Our Saturday morning started with a French breakfast at the nearby Bizou Brasserie before we strolled to the most scenic part of downtown. Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and its adjacent Kiley Gardens hosted the Gasparilla Music Festival. The day was clear, bright and breezy as we scoped out the four stages. We soaked up the ambiance and munched on various sweet and savory local treats. Rosaline fell in love—with Chapssal donuts, a Korean-style sticky, powdered sugar-covered beignet. I was all about the prime steak sandwich, and Shanna became a beer expert as she chatted up all the local brewers. Cigar City Jai Alai and Florida Cracker Ale were the flavors of the day. And of course, the music was phenomenal.

Benjamin Booker, a young blues-punk artist with an old soul serenaded us first. We head-bobbed along to the alt-country doo wop, Those Darlins. Everyone was scream-singing along to the one track we knew, “Screws Get Loose.” Later we got swamp rocked n’ rolled by Big Easy-soaked Anders Osborne and his fantastic band. Then we got our shimmy-shake fix courtesy of Los Amigos Invisibles, a Venezuelan group mixing funk, jazz and disco sounds.

By the time psych rock behemoths, The Flaming Lips, hit the stage with their typical eye-dazzling extravaganza, we were losing steam, so we swung by the Hot Donut Company and grabbed warm donuts slathered in chocolate frosting with sprinkles. Then we moseyed back to the hotel.

Even with limited time in the weekend, we weren’t going to miss out on fine shopping at the International Plaza. Michael Kors, Burberry and Coach were calling. After, we splurged on a little pampering at Spa Evangeline. Invigorating herb and citrus scents restored and relaxed us during our mani/pedi session before I had to drop the girls off at the airport.

We started the trip on a mission for fun and freedom. Mission accomplished. Our bonds were strengthened as we painted Tampa Bay red! We’ve already started planning next year’s retreat: Busch Gardens® Tampa's, Food & Wine Festival, Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo’s Zoominations... On second thought, we may have to make this a bi-annual tradition—Takeover Tampa Bay, Part 2!

Plan your Tampa Bay getaway with the Visitors Guide.

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