Visit Tampa Bay: Celebrating My Engagement as a Tourist in My Own City
If you’re reading this, I’m sure you’ve seen the big news Robert and I are engaged! Yes, he proposed on our 8th anniversary (those 96 months FLEW by). I’m super hype and it feels like I should start planning something but idk what…we don’t even have an exact date yet so I’m getting way ahead of myself clearly. What better way to celebrate your engagement and/or anniversary than having a few experiences in your own city? The people over at Visit Tampa Bay, Tampa Bay’s tourism bureau, hosted Robert and I to a 2-night stay at the new dual Hyatt House/Hyatt Place hotel in Downtown Tampa and several yummy restaurants.
This was a fun trip with Visit Tampa Bay. There aren’t too many chances I’ve been a tourist in a city I live in but it’s a nice change of pace to pretend to be one for a spell! The itinerary was jam-packed with several awesome activities I wouldn’t normally do and I enjoyed myself (plus I got to pack some cute outfits 🙂 )
Lunch at Columbia Restaurant
Our first stop on Day 1 was lunch at Ybor City’s OG restaurant Columbia. I’ve lived in Tampa since 2007 when I came for college and this was my first time ever in life stepping foot inside the restaurant. Immediately walking in, it felt like I was transported back to Ybor’s heyday waaaaayyyyy before it was the land of bars and partying. The space is massive and holds so much of Tampa’s old history. Where we sat looked like something out of a movie. Although we were sitting inside, it felt like we were outside because the ceiling was letting in so much light. One place it reminded me of was Miami’s Vizcaya Museum & Garden (such a beautiful place if you haven’t been btw).
Sooooo about the food…if I had to sum it all up into one word, I’d describe it as BOMB AF. It’s no surprise why this restaurant is still open a whole century later. We started off our lunch meals with Cuban bread from other Tampa old-school staple La Segunda bakery. Robert and I were talking about how we should start going to the bakery for their bread and their sweet treats of course. After the bread, they served us their classic 1905 salad. It’s such simple salad and guests can watch as a server makes it in front of them. I’m such a cornball; I really enjoyed the “show” of watching my salad being made. My lunch entreé was the Cannelloni de Langosta. The meal comes in a small skillet-type dish and is made with pasta, lobster, and other seafood covered in a cheese sauce…this might become one of my go-to dish whenever I get the craving.
Another suggestion or whenever you decide to visit: the White Chocolate Bread Pudding. Several people mentioned it to us before we even got to the dessert portion of our visit so we knew it had to be bomb. The bread pudding is made from La Segunda bread, of course, and white chocolate. The dessert is topped with chocolate shavings and a Bacardi rum sauce. Honestly, if you went to Columbia and got the bread pudding only, I’m sure they’d understand fully.
Staying at the Hyatt House/Hyatt Place
Checking in to the hotel was a quick and easy process per usual. Overall, I think I enjoy corner rooms the best. I’m such a sucker for those kinds of rooms now because they really do enhance anyone’s visit. When we first entered, there’s a small hallway before entering the rest of the room. We had views of downtown and Channelside on two sides of the room. The cool thing about the hotel was the parking garage was accessible to visitors and we didn’t have to go through the front door. We took the elevator down to the third floor and could come and go as we pleased. Valet parking is available as another option to guests also.
Tour at JC Newman Cigar
After lunch, we went around the corner to the JC Newman Cigar factory for a tour. My dad and Robert’s stepdad Albert love cigars. My dad’s car reeks of the smell. Robert already knew Eric Newman from when Newman frequented Robert’s family’s restaurant so we were able to talk with him for a bit at the end of the tour. The factory building is like a step back in time when folks could throw a coin and hit a cigar factory.
Since we got there close to the time when cigar production ends, our tour started at the top and we worked our way down to the 1st floor. It was exciting seeing cigars made in real time either machine made or handmade. We were able to see the entire evolution of a cigar from dry leaves to fully packaged. I’m a sucker for random historical facts so seeing a huge bale of Cuban tobacco from 1960s before the embargo blew my mind.
Dinner at Epicurean Hotel
The Epicurean Hotel is a really nice spot to stay in South Tampa. I haven’t stayed there but I have been to their 2 eateries: EDGE Rooftop and Élevage. The first time I ate at Élevage was a couple months ago for brunch but this was my first time at the hotel’s rooftop bar. I got to look out at a small view of South Tampa and, of course, had to get a few pics of OOTD. I love a good cocktail so I ordered the Epic Mai Tai.
An hour later, we went downstairs to Élevage for dinner. When Robert and I go out, usually we order a bunch of appetizers or shareable dishes and that’s exactly what we did. We started off with a King Crab salad and Pork Belly followed by Grilled Octopus and Lamb Spare Ribs; everything we ate was phenomenal. If I had to choose which dish I liked the most, I’d say it was the ribs. The lamb meat fell off the bone and the sauce had a decent amount of sweet. The next time I go back to Élevage, I’m ordering them again for real for real.
That’s it for my recap of my day 1 activities with Visit Tampa Bay. Stay tuned to see what Visit Tampa Bay and I had in store for day 2! Do you ever take some time and be a tourist in your own city? What do you usually do as a “tourist”?