Rainy Day Itinerary: Tampa Bay

Florida is well known for sudden changes in weather and stormy days, which often leaves residents and travelers stuck indoors wondering what to do. Here is my favorite rainy day itinerary for the Tampa Bay area:

  1. Take a tour through the Tampa Museum of Art

The Tampa Museum of Art has an excellent display of pottery and art from the Classical World. My personal favorite displays in the museum were the sports photography and Alex Katz pieces, both of which will be on display throughout April. The Tampa Museum of Art is a great rainy day stop since admission is only $15 a person and free for college students. It also has a parking garage next door for easy parking, which is not always easy to find in Downtown Tampa.

2. Grab Lunch at Oxford Exchange

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Courtesy of Oxford Exchange on Instagram // @oxfordexchange

Rainy days call for a good cappuccino and refreshing lunch. Luckily, OE has mastered the art of both with their Buddy Brew coffee stand and seasonal fresh menu. Grab a book in their book shop and a comfortable seat to enjoy a delicious hand made coffee. Then, take a seat in their exquisite bright dining area to enjoy a great lunch. The clean bright interiors matched with the cozy coffee area make for the perfect rainy day lunch treat.

3. Spend the afternoon at Top Golf

Top Golf is great but also pretty crowded most of the time, which makes it the perfect rainy day activity. Three stories of golfing into color coded holes, great music, and a delicious menu of dishes and desserts makes Top Golf the ultimate outing for friends and families. It is completely covered overhead and each bay has comfortable seating, which allows you to stay dry and away from the rain without being cooped up inside. Top Golf is least crowded mid day and early afternoon, so make sure to golf before prices increase and things get busy in the evening.

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One Tank Trip: Tarpon Springs

A 45 minute drive northwest of Tampa, Florida, Tarpon Springs is home to sponge docks, Greek heritage and unique local shops. The town of almost 24,000 people is the perfect destination for a sunny day trip!

Parking is very easy to find in a lot near the downtown water front area. The shops line the street running parallel to the sponge docks. Once parked, you can stroll the wide sidewalks lined with shops and restaurants. If you are wondering what to eat and where to stop for lunch the answer is pretty obvious. This area was established mainly by Greek immigrants that worked at the sponge docks, so authentic Greek food is the way to go.

Tarpon Springs is filled with wonderful Greek restaurants all having similar menus filled with traditional gyros, spanakopita, dolmades, and of course, baklava. My favorite of the many authentic restaurants that reside in Tarpon Springs is Hellas Bakery & Restaurant. Hella’s menu is best enjoyed family style since the plates are pretty large. A Greek salad is always my first go-to at any Greek restaurant and Hellas does not disappoint. Salty feta and Kalamata olives, creamy Greek potato salad, crisp veggies, and a tangy oil and herb vinaigrette makes this salad delicious and perfect for any warm day. I also recommend the assorted spreads platter – warm fresh pita bread and home made hummus, tzatziki, and feta dips. An order of dolmades, grape leaves filled with rice and ground beef, and spanakopita pie makes for an excellent shared meal for four people.

Once finishing off a family style meal at Hellas, you must your way over to the bakery section to grab a bite of baklava. Layers of filo dough, chopped nuts, and honey make for a sweet ending to the meal. Hellas combines bright flavors with the fresh healthy ingredients of a delicious Mediterranean diet.

After completing lunch at Hellas, a beautiful Florida day lends itself to shopping and sightseeing around the rest of the town. Look all around the area and the waterfront offers views of beautiful birds, sponge boats, and Florida wildlife.

The main street (Dodecanese Boulevard) is home to unique boutiques and sponge shops perfect for picking up hand made soaps, local sponges, and great gifts. Outside of the waterfront area there are several neat antique and home shops including Tampa Bay Salvage, which offers a neat collection of vintage and architectural salvage pieces. Tampa Bay Salvage is a great place for anyone looking to update or decorate a room in their home.

A quick drive to Tarpon Springs unlocks a day of great food, neat shopping, and unique finds – all while being able to enjoy a beautiful day on the water!

The Great Barrier Reef

Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef is one of those once-in-a-lifetime events that you put on the bucket list but typically don’t expect to cross off. For me, swimming in open waters and snorkeling were not high on my to-do list. However, I knew I could not pass up this opportunity to see something that may one day die off.

Getting to the GBF should be a bucket list task in itself. In order to snorkel or dive the reef you must depart and boat from one of the two local ports – Cairns or Port Douglas. These small beach towns survive mainly on the tourism cruises and include small airports that host arriving passengers from major Australian cities. We opted to fly into and stay in Cairns to take the Reef Experience snorkel tour. From Sydney the flight was around 2.5 hours.

Our tour started off by departing around 8 am with a breakfast and lunch included in the cost of the tour. We boarded the boat, slipped on a stinger suit and held our fins and masks with expectations running high. Around an hour and a half later we anchored to our first location for snorkeling. The water was deep and from the surface seemed dark, unlike what I imagined it would be like. We jumped in – then the fun began. And by fun, I mean a panic attack in open water trying to decide if the Great Barrier Reef was worth it. It was, and once my breathing regulated I was glad to have made the trek to see the incredible reef.

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We went to two sites to snorkel, both of which were different but beautiful in their own way. Bright corals and tropical fish covered the sea floor with intricate detail and color. It was stunning, and no picture serves the real view justice. We saw several different types of beautiful fish in all sizes swimming in and out of layers in the reef.

Unfortunately, parts of the reef are dying as water temperatures continue to increase and cause organisms to leave the coral rendering it lifeless. But for now what is left is magical. The Great Barrier Reef is the only living creature visible from outer space. I was grateful to the staff aboard who explained the dangers and life of the reef, which led to my appreciation of the beauty in front of my eyes.

If you have the chance, take the extra day to visit the beautiful Great Barrier Reef. It is a once in a lifetime experience that you won’t forget. You may even encounter a reef shark or two like my group did. Be sure to reserve your tour at least a month in advance to ensure your ability to do a guided snorkel or drive.

 

Sydney, Australia

My first impression of Sydney, Australia was that of New York City on steroids with a beach vibe. The CBD (Central Business District) is packed with skyscrapers and busy side walks that mark the hustle and bustle of any major city. Sydney felt much larger and more crowded than New York, Chicago, Atlanta, or any other major city I have visited. Tourists walk amongst business women and men as they make their way around the city. The tourists and locals shop high fashion and often crowd around to view public displays for the holidays. The windows of David Jones were the main attraction around the previous holiday season, which falls in their summer months. Sandals mixed with Santas weren’t anything new to this Floridian girl.

The city had much to offer from delicious restaurants to a cathedral light show and almost anything in between. We stayed at the Hilton downtown in order to walk around the city to explore. The Hilton housed the Glass Brasserie which made for wonderful fresh breakfast each morning during our three day stay.

Our first two days included exploring the surroundings and checking out Christmas displays such as the fun light show at St. Mary’s Cathedral. We arranged to to take the ferry to the Taronga Zoo in order to find out more information about the unique wildlife that Australia has to offer. The cheap high speed ferry allowed us better viewings of the Sydney Opera House and Harbor Bridge! At the zoo we had the incredible opportunity to interact with koalas up close and personal. This was great, but I must warn that you cannot touch the koalas and you must have great self control to keep from hugging the adorable little bears. Although it was an up-charge to get to see the Koalas up close, I would absolutely recommend it, since the free Koala exhibit is very large and can be hard to see. The lemur exhibit was also neat since we were able to walk in the lemur enclosure and see them up close for free! Even if you have been to the zoo before, this one is a great experience if you are looking to understand Australian wildlife!

Unique neighborhoods surround the CBD which made for great markets and delicious eats. One of my favorite stops during my time in the city was at The Rocks Friday Foodie Market! If the words “foodie” and “market” weren’t enough to draw me in, the delicious truffles and beautiful fresh flower bouquets did. The market, which we visited on our second day, was full of friendly vendors that led to streets full of great lunch spots like the Pony Lounge and Dining. Our meal at the Pony Lounge was delicious! I ate the lamb kabobs, which were full of flavor. It was obvious that this trendy area was popular with the young adults. If you have a weekend in the city be sure to check this unique area out.

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Fresh flowers greet market goers as they enter The Rocks Friday Foodie Market.

Our final day in the city we purchased tickets for the hop-on and hop-off double decker bus that took us out to Bondi Beach and the Bondi to Coogee walk. Like the postcards, Bondi was full of tourists and locals looking for a spot to sun-bathe. We opted for a walk instead of a surf as the waves were a bit rough that day, which led us to the Bondi to Coogee walk. The coastal walk in full runs about 7.6 miles, but you can turn around at any point to make your way back. A great workout and beautiful coastal walk, this path leads you past the famous Icebergs Club and over crashing cliffs. It serves as a great way to see the famous Bondi beach!

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Swimmers lap the pool at the Bondi Icebergs Club, which marks the start of the Bondi to Coogee walking path.

After spending your days walking and shopping, finding restaurants in Sydney can be a little tricky. Brunch and lunch takes priority over the traditional dinner meal here in the United States. Often, restaurants and shops close in the early afternoon to allow employees to spend time with their families. Not only does the early day tradition make eating meals somewhat difficult, finding restaurants does as well. Sydney has an abundance of great restaurants that cannot be beat. However, many of them are tucked hidden within the city. A favorite of mine from the trip, Graffiti, was tucked within a larger building called the Galleries off of a side street. Graffiti was open for dinner, and it was good. I opted for the goat cheese croquettes and seared tuna tacos for my meal, both were excellent. I wish I could remember all of the ingredients in the decadent croquettes so I could continue to make them. They were delightful.

The three days in Sydney were fabulous and honestly the perfect amount of time if traveling around the country. The brunch dishes will make your mouth water, the views and attractions are incredible, and the city is so large you should never run out of things to do.