5 Great Neighborhoods in Tampa Bay
These five neighborhoods represent the vibrancy and charm of the Tampa Bay area.
Lying just west of downtown St. Petersburg, Historic Kenwood is on the National Register of Historic Places, an acknowledgment that the neighborhood contains one of the highest concentrations of bungalows in Florida, many of them dating to the 1920s.
This is a house-proud neighborhood of enthusiastic fixer-uppers of all ages who gladly share information and sources about restoration. The first weekend of November, the neighborhood hosts BungalowFest, a two-day tour of homes and gardens that celebrates the area’s architectural richness. It’s a diverse neighborhood with a hard-working and effective neighborhood association.
Downtown St. Petersburg
This is the most urban neighborhood in the Tampa Bay area: restaurants, retail, office, commercial, two college campuses, several museums, many churches, hotels, plus waterfront parks and great views. More than 5,000 people live here, from young professionals to seniors moving out of big family homes in other neighborhoods: in single-family homes and townhomes, apartments, midrise buildings and luxury highrises.
What others have to drive to (and fight for parking), residents of the Downtown Neighborhood Association walk to: fireworks on July 4, First Night celebrations on Dec. 31, a regular calendar of food, music and arts festivals, a branch library, City Hall, the courthouse, the city’s famous 1917 Open Air Post Office, the wedding-cake Mediterranean Revival architecture of the 1926 Snell Arcade and a thriving Saturday morning greenmarket.
This is Tampa’s “Latin Quarter,” a mile from downtown, settled in the late 1880s by immigrants from Cuba, Spain and Italy. They worked in the cigar factories, some of which remain, where you can still buy hand-rolled cigars. Wander the streets and you’ll see some of the original wooden worker cottages, many of them remodeled and highly desirable.
Ybor (pronounced “E-bor”) is one of three National Historic Landmark Districts in Florida. The area’s ethnic origins are translated through the food: strong Cuban coffee, roast pork, boliche (sausage-stuffed beef roast), paella, Cuban sandwiches and more. Seventh Avenue is the main bar/club/entertainment strip. Centro Ybor is a shopping, dining and entertainment venue designed to attract the family trade.
There’s new residential development to encourage growth of a 7/24 neighborhood, not just a weekend late-night venue. Every Halloween, thousands pour in for Guavaween, a Mardi Gras-style celebration that includes kids’ activities and a parade, the Mama Guava Stumble, that’s heavy on outrageous costumes. An electric trolley will take you from Ybor to downtown via Channelside, an up-and-coming loft district that includes the cruise port, the Florida Aquarium and the St. Pete Times Forum (a hockey and concert venue).
West of downtown and east of the West Shore business district lies West Tampa, which in its heyday boasted more cigar factories than Ybor City. It also produced more cigars than anywhere else in the world. Near the downtown and West Shore employment centers, this emerging neighborhood is close to the upscale International Mall and minutes from the St. Pete Times Forum, major hospitals and cultural centers. Twenty years ago it was predominantly Hispanic and African-American.
Today, “it’s rapidly transitioning to being very diverse, with lots of Caucasians and Asian-Americans,” says former city council member Ed Turanchik, who is developing a project called InTown Homes, new single-family homes whose classic designs blend well with the original homes in the neighborhood. Buyers range from first-time 20- and 30-somethings to downsizing empty-nesters to single female heads of household. Stop in at the West Tampa Arts Center, an old cigar factory with 25 working studios and a gallery.
You won’t be hungry for long in this neighborhood. The West Tampa Sandwich Shop, at 3904 N. Armenia, (813) 873-7104, has “the best cafe con leche in town,” Turanchik says, or try Arco Iris, a Cuban-Chinese restaurant, at 3328 W. Columbus Drive, (813) 879-1357, or Valencia Gardens, the Spanish restaurant at 811 W. Kennedy Blvd., (813) 253-3773, where you’re likely to spot local politicians.
Everyone seems to use the word “funky” to describe this town between St. Petersburg and the beaches. Maybe it’s the housing — lots of bungalows (including several Sears, Roebuck kit houses from the 1920s), Queen Annes and concrete-block houses from the 1950s and 1960s
Maybe it’s the small-town atmosphere that invites strolling down Gulf Boulevard or along the waterfront.
Or perhaps it’s the shops and restaurants: an old-fashioned mercantile with a little of everything, chic designer shops, or the Backfin Blue Cafe, a celebrated eatery with glorious crab cakes.
Maybe it’s the mix of artists, business folk, longtime residents and newcomers, or the laid-back, tolerant atmosphere.