Tampa, Florida

Come with me on a quick tour of downtown Tampa and Ybor City landmarks and along the way I will introduce you to several local residents at Busch Gardens and the Florida Aquarium. You are going to like the Tampa Bay Area.

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1 Tampa Riverwalk Near Downtown Tampa, Florida

The Hillsborough River flows for almost 60 miles before emptying into Tampa Bay. The best way to see some of its prettiest scenery is to stroll along the Tampa Riverwalk. This pedestrian walkway will take you along downtown, through parts of the arts district and next to several parks. You will also see several statues and busts of local historic figures. Eventually this beautiful trail will extend about 2.5 miles. The two towers in the background are the Bank of America and Rivergate. The latter is commonly called the Beercan building.

100 N Ashley Dr, Tampa, FL 33602
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2 Henry B. Plant Museum in Tampa, Florida

Henry B. Plant was a railroad tycoon who, in 1891, proudly opened the ultra-luxury Tampa Bay Hotel. It’s Moorish Revival design features a stunning array of stainless steel cupolas, domes and minarets that stretch for a quarter of a mile. Inside the six-acre resort were unheard of amenities such as telephones, electric lights and an elevator plus over 500 suites with stunning views of the 150 acre grounds and the Hillsborough River. It closed in 1930. The south end is now a museum that suspends in time several of the original rooms, furniture and artworks. The other wing is used by the University of Tampa.

401 W Kennedy Blvd, Tampa, FL 33606
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3 Gasparilla Pirate Festival Costume in Tampa, Florida

In 1904, Tampa conducted its first Gasparilla parade which celebrated the legend of a swashbuckling pirate named José Gasper and his crew who terrorized the local seas during the late 1700s and early 1800s. Since then it has grown into an annual festival that attracts over one million people. This costume was made for the Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla around 1950. It is one of several historic buccaneer outfits on display at the Henry B. Plant Museum.

401 W Kennedy Blvd, Tampa, FL 33606
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4 John F. Kennedy Sculpture at Plant Park in Tampa, Florida

In November of 1963, four days before he was assassinated in Dallas, President John F. Kennedy’s motorcade drove along Grand Central Avenue which was a main artery leading into downtown Tampa. The following year it was renamed the John F. Kennedy Boulevard. Then, as a further tribute to the 35th president, a committee commissioned Italian artist Bernard Zuckerman to sculpture this life-size memorial. It stands in Plant Park overlooking JFK Boulevard.

200 UT Poe Pkwy, Tampa, FL 33606
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5 Golden Dome First Baptist Church in Tampa, Florida

According to the keystone below this gilded dome, the First Baptist Church of Tampa started in 1859. Eight years later, the South Florida Baptist Association was formed. In 1911, 19 of the 51 churches that were members of the SFBA split to create the Tampa Bay Baptist Association. This exquisite building was erected in 1923 along what is now called West Kennedy Boulevard. It is one of 150 churches that are part of TBBA.

302 W Kennedy Blvd, Tampa, FL 33606
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6 SunTrust Financial Center in Tampa, Florida

This SunTrust Financial Center in downtown is the fourth largest tower in the Tampa Bay Area. It stands 525 feet with 36 floors. Tampa boasts of having 130 high-rise buildings, more than any other city in the state other than Miami which has twice as many. Although SunTrust is headquartered in Atlanta, it has three Floridian skyscrapers that dominate the cityscapes of Jacksonville, Orlando and this one which is the tallest of the three.

401 E Jackson St, Tampa, FL 33602
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7 Old City Hall Clock Tower in Tampa, Florida

In a downtown filled with glass high-rises, the seven stories of the Old City Hall in Tampa stands as a beautiful example of what ornate architecture looked like in 1915. Notice the copper dome and the reliefs of Seminole Indian maidens with braided hair just below the dentil blocks. My favorite historical footnote is that originally there were no plans for having a clock tower. But the determined efforts of a young girl named Hortense Oppenheimer raised enough money to have this four-sided, 2,840 pound clock added. It is still called, “Hortense the Beautiful.”

306 E Jackson St, Tampa, FL 33602
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8 Freedom Sculpture at Courthouse Square in Tampa, Florida

This stunning sculpture of a man with raised arms surrounded by rings is called “Freedom.” It was a gift to Hillsborough County in 2000 by ProLogis Trust. The 12 foot, bronze and steel artwork was created by sculptor Jerry Meatyard. It stands in the Joe Chillura Courthouse Square. In the background are some downtown buildings and in the center is a silver dome from the 1892 courthouse.

600 E Kennedy Blvd, Tampa, FL 33602
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9 Old Courthouse Silver Dome in Tampa, Florida

Between the early 1800s through 2004, Tampa has had six courthouses. Most of the structures are gone. However, this silver dome used to sit on top of number three, a red brick courthouse that was built in 1892. Its architect was J.A. Wood, the same man who designed the elaborate Tampa Bay Hotel. The dome acts as a gazebo in Joe Chillura Courthouse Square which is a downtown park.

600 E Kennedy Blvd, Tampa, FL 33602
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10 Memoria in Aeterna Sculpture at Courthouse in Tampa, Florida

In 1911, the Tampa chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy purchased this Italian marble sculpture called Memoria in Aeterna which means, “in everlasting remembrance.” It is a tribute to “the patriots of the Confederate States of America.” This south side view shows the “departing soldier” carrying his rifle while walking back home after the war. When Hillsborough County built a courthouse in 1952, this memorial was moved to its current location.

419 Pierce St, Tampa, FL 33602
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11 Vaughn Center at University of Tampa in Tampa, Florida

The private, co-educational University of Tampa was founded in 1931 and, a few years later, was relocated to its current location in the shadow of downtown. The Vaughn Center is one of 58 buildings on the UT campus but it is the heart of activities for its 7,750 students. Within this college union’s 254,000 square feet are dining halls, the bookstore, a theater and a game room plus six stories of student residences. It also contains several school offices and a large conference center on the ninth floor.

200 UT Poe Pkwy, Tampa, FL 33602
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12 Zoo Animal Mosaic at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida

Most people think of Busch Gardens in Tampa as primarily an amusement park. What they don’t realize is that its 335 acres with over 12,000 animals also qualifies it as one of the biggest zoos in the United States. The three animals featured in this mosaic over the door of the Emporium for Kids shop are some of their most popular attractions: a white Bengal tiger, a giraffe and a cheetah.

10165 N McKinley Dr, Tampa, FL 33612
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13 Cheetahs Resting Side-by-side at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida

When I saw these beautiful cheetahs laying side-by-side, I assumed they were a couple. But I later learned that females are loners and it is the males that form close social groups called coalitions. Busch Gardens in Tampa has made a significant commitment to showcase this endangered species. In addition to fourteen of these big cats at Cheetah Run, they also have an interactive cheetah viewing building and a rollercoaster called the Cheetah Hunt.

10165 N McKinley Dr, Tampa, FL 33612
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14 Asian Elephant Eating Grass at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida

The elephant is the world’s largest land animal but this Asian one is slightly smaller than the African species, assuming that a three to six ton mammal can be called smaller. It has a very distinctive and useful physical feature: its trunk. There are about 60,000 muscles in this six foot nose and at the end is a small, finger-like extension. This tool is strong enough to push down a tree yet agile enough to pick up a blade of grass. This Asian elephant is one of five females at the Nairobi section of Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida.

10165 N McKinley Dr, Tampa, FL 33612
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15 Chimpanzee Squatting on Limb at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida

This common chimpanzee at Busch Gardens in Tampa seemed to be staring with as much curiosity at its closest evolutionary cousins – humans – as they were watching him. Chimps and mankind had common ancestors dating back four to six million years ago. In fact, they still share about 94% of common DNA. In the wilds of western and central Africa, this male would have a life expectancy of about 33 years but it is almost twice that long in captivity.

10165 N McKinley Dr, Tampa, FL 33612
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16 Cookie Monster and Grover Posing at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida

The faces of kids and parents always light up when they see their favorite TV show characters waiting for a hug at an amusement park. I was honored to have two celebrities like Cookie Monster and Grover willing to pose for me at Busch Gardens. They were standing in front of Air Grover, a biplane flight rollercoaster ride that opened in the Sesame Street Safari of Fun section in 2010.

10165 N McKinley Dr, Tampa, FL 33612
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17 Male Rosy-billed Pochard Duck at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida

About a million of these distinctive ducks, which are appropriately called a rosy-billed pochard, live on lakes and marshes in the lower half of South America. Only the drake has that prominent knob at the base of his red bill. Notice how his head shines with a purple iridescence in the sunshine at Busch Gardens in Tampa.

10165 N McKinley Dr, Tampa, FL 33612
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18 Female Rosy-billed Pochard Duck at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida

Unlike her male counterpart, the female rosy-billed pochard duck doesn’t have a red bill; instead it is blue and her colors are subdued shades of brown and tan. This freshwater rosy-bill, which is classified as a diver but acts more like a dabbling duck, hails from South America, predominately in Argentina and parts of Chile. This hen can also be observed swimming alongside her favorite drake companion at the Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida.

10165 N McKinley Dr, Tampa, FL 33612
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19 Demoiselle Crane at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida

The demoiselle crane may be the smallest of the crane species at about three feet tall but they are a very proud and inquisitive bird when they strut their stuff like this one at the Kookaburra Aviary in Busch Gardens. This red-eyed beauty with a high-pitched trumpeting call hails from Eurasia but then migrates to warmer climates in the winter. This one seemed perfectly content in the warm sunshine of Florida.

10165 N McKinley Dr, Tampa, FL 33612
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20 Roseate Spoonbill at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida

The long, flat and circular shape of this wading bird’s bill gives it a unique and slightly bizarre appearance, but it is the perfect tool for the roseate spoonbill to dig through mud in search of food. Similar to a flamingo, its pink plumage is derived from its diet of crustaceans. It can be found in the shallow, fresh waters of South America and the Caribbean as well as at Busch Gardens in Tampa.

10165 N McKinley Dr, Tampa, FL 33612
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21 White Bengal Tiger Roaring at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida

White Bengal tigers are rare because both parents must have the gene for this pigment mutation so it happens about once in 10,000 births. Bengals are the largest of the big cats and, surprisingly, the white ones are even bigger and can easily exceed 500 pounds. This exquisite examples is Lanie, one of five tigers at the Jungala section of Busch Gardens

10165 N McKinley Dr, Tampa, FL 33612
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22 Big Cat Bush Sculpture at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida

This plant sculpture of a big cat at the entrance of the Jungala section of the Busch Gardens is so expertly crafted that you expect it to roar and then leap forward with its exposed claws. This form of living art is called topiary which means clipping foliage into defined shapes.

10165 N McKinley Dr, Tampa, FL 33612
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23 Bengal Tiger Close Up at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida

The biggest population of wild Bengal tigers lives in India with a much smaller population in Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. Yet with less than 2,500 in their natural habitat, they are classified as endangered. Fortunately, there is many times that many in captivity at refuges, entertainment venues and zoos like this one at the Jungala section of Busch Gardens. Another 10,000 are kept by individuals as pets. I can’t imagine having a several hundred pound cat sitting in my lap, especially because tigers can’t purr.

10165 N McKinley Dr, Tampa, FL 33612
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24 Gateway to Pantopia at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida

Walk through this archway at Busch Gardens in Tampa and you’ll enter a section called Pantopia. Here you can enjoy several adventure rides. The most famous and by far the scariest one is called Falcon’s Fury. In the upper right corner you can see a portion of North America’s tallest drop tower as passengers begin their 60 mph plunge down its 355 foot height. The screams of delight were bone chilling enough for me so I was not tempted to join them.

10165 N McKinley Dr, Tampa, FL 33612
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25 Palawan Peacock-pheasant at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida

If after one look at this gorgeous bird you think it is a peacock but it has some resemblance to a pheasant then you have a sharp eye because it is a Palawan peacock-pheasant. As its name suggests, it hails from the Palawan Island which is a province of the Philippines. Its colorful display of blue, violet, green and turquoise plumage is radiant in the Floridian sun at Busch Gardens.

10165 N McKinley Dr, Tampa, FL 33612
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26 Orangutan out on a Limb at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida

This long-haired primate that is tightrope walking on an o-line at Busch Gardens in Tampa is a Bornean orangutan. It is named after Borneo, the world’s third largest island located in Asia where this great endangered ape can be found in the wild. Males weigh in at about 165 pounds but this femme fetale is about half that size.

10165 N McKinley Dr, Tampa, FL 33612
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27 Thomson’s Gazelle at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida

This Thomson’s gazelle looks relaxed but when chased in the grasslands by a predator, this small animal can run 50 to 60 mph while zigzagging. Their population is down by over half in their native East Africa but their numbers still exceed half a million. This adult tommie is part of a herd at Busch Gardens in Tampa.

10165 N McKinley Dr, Tampa, FL 33612
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28 Viva Ybor Mural of Ybor City in Tampa, Florida

The distinguished looking gentleman in the upper right corner of this 2012 mural by Chico Garcia is Vincente Martinez Ybor. He was a 19th century entrepreneur who brought his talent for making fine cigars from Cuba to a historic neighborhood of Tampa now called Ybor City. His fair treatment of immigrant workers together with his keen entrepreneurial skills created a prosperous community. At the peak, his business manufactured hundreds of millions of cigars each year.

1907 E 7th Ave, Tampa, FL 33605
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29 Man Rolling Cigar at Ybor City in Tampa, Florida

If you enjoy an excellent cigar then you must visit the Ybor City neighborhood of Tampa and walk into one of several small shops that still make them by hand. The aroma of aged tobacco is wonderful. Then you’ll be mesmerized as the skilled torcedore lovingly spreads each leaf, cuts it with his rounded knife called a chaveta, expertly shapes it and pierces it with a lance. Now comes the best part of all: cut, light, draw and enjoy!

1817 E 7th Ave, Tampa, FL 33605
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30 Cherubs and Spanish Musician Mosaic at Ybor City in Tampa, Florida

Since it opened in 1905 as a humble café that served Cuban immigrants and cigar workers, the Columbia Restaurant has evolved into an award winning landmark in the Latin Quarter of Tampa. It claims to be the world’s largest Spanish restaurant. You are impressed before you walk through the front door because its block-long building is adorned with colorful, hand-painted mosaics like this one of cherubs surrounding a crest of a Spaniard plucking on a bandurria. It was created by Richard Sorrentino in 1982.

2117 E 7th Ave, Tampa, FL 33605
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31 Spanish Explorers Mosaic at Ybor City in Tampa, Florida

This exquisite ceramic mosaic on the exterior of the Columbia Restaurant is a tribute to Spanish navigators who explored and conquered America, including Ponce de Leon who led the first expedition to Florida. They were part of the order of knights named La Orden Real Sant’ Yago. It was originally formed in 1175. In 1972, a chapter of the Krewe of Sant’ Yago was formed in Tampa. Each year they conduct a parade as part of the Gasparilla Pirate Festival.

2117 E 7th Ave, Tampa, FL 33605
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32 Birds at Bays and Beaches Exhibit at Aquarium in Tampa, Florida

The Florida Aquarium offers several excellent sections that collectively feature over 20,000 species including countless plants, marine life such as starfish and stingrays plus animals like alligators and otters. Most of the aquatic exhibits are so natural under sunlit atriums that you feel like you are visiting their actual habitat. One of my favorites is the Bays and Beaches that features Florida wildlife.

701 Channelside Dr, Tampa, FL 33602
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33 Yellow-crowned Night Heron at Aquarium in Tampa, Florida

The yellow-crowned night heron is a fairly common bird that lives along the coastal waters in the southern United States, Mexico, Central America and northern sections of South America. But it may be hard to find it because, as its name suggests, it is a nocturnal feeder. So it is easier to visit this and all the other birds at the Florida Aquarium.

701 Channelside Dr, Tampa, FL 33602
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34 Boy Watching Swimming Penguin at Aquarium in Tampa, Florida

This little boy was spellbound while watching a colony of South African penguins as they swam and dove in a huge tank at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa. He would stare, then pat the glass and giggle. I hope his mom took him to the “Penguins: Backstage Pass” experience where you can interact with these exciting birds for about thirty minutes.

701 Channelside Dr, Tampa, FL 33602
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35 Sharks Swimming at Coral Reef Exhibit at Aquarium in Tampa, Florida

The dramatic centerpiece of the Florida Aquarium is a half-million gallon tank called the Coral Reef Exhibit. In addition to these passing sharks, you’ll see over 2,000 sea creatures swimming inside. They represent 100 species … including homo sapiens! That’s right. You can sign up for either the “Swim with the Fishes” or “Dive with the Sharks” experiences. I prefer the safety of watching these sharks from outside versus scuba diving among them like the people in the upper left corner of this photo.

701 Channelside Dr, Tampa, FL 33602
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