I spend so much time focusing on and dissecting the shopping and fashion flavors of other cities…I tend to overlook what is going on directly in front of me. Growing up here, I have a good idea of the evolution of design and taste in the neighborhoods I grew up in and now know intimately. Tampa is a beautiful and diverse place, and tastes on design and fashion vary widely, now more than ever. We have the benefit of several water bodies and endless days of warm weather, so tropical influences abound. However, as Tampa attracts residents from the Midwest and Northeast, there are many different interpretations of what is ‘stylish.’
Here is a brief overview of what one could expect, moving here or just visiting:
Chic Neighborhoods –
- Downtown/Channelside. This area is still largely undeveloped and quiet, due in large part to the 1990s corporate takeover of the city center and flight of residents from the most urban areas to the suburbs. However, as in most cities, there is a revival! Downtown and Channelside include some of Tampa’s most recognizable and treasured real estate. The Tampa Theatre is on Franklin Street. It is a must-see (has a ceiling painted and lit to look like an open night sky). The three new museums (Tampa Museum of Art, Glaser Children’s Museum, and The Tampa Bay History Center) are all along the waterfront. Housing includes almost all entirely new developments. Skypoint, Element, Grand Central, The Towers, The Slade, The Place. All full of motivated, smart young people! Hooray! My favorite block is Franklin Street, north of Kay Street. It is very rough around the edges, but ripe for redevelopment. So many beautiful historic storefronts and buildings on this stretch. Best Bar/Night Spot: try Flybar on Franklin or Taps on Ashley Drive.
- Ybor City. This area is just adjacent to Downtown, but of an entirely different flavor and with a whole different historical significance. This area was home to Tampa’s long-revered cigar industry up until recently, when it shifted to a primarily residential and commercial/night-life district. It is full of beautiful old buildings, historic bungalows and shotgun houses…and is a good mix of lifetime residents and recent, young in-fill residents, living in the multitude of new condo or townhouse buildings. Centro Ybor is the main commercial attraction, with a movie theatre, shops, and restaurants. My family and I live in Ybor City, in one of the said townhouses, just out of earshot from the nightclub beats of Seventh Avenue. Best late-night munchies: Mema’s Alaskan Tacos, on 8th Avenue.
- Old Hyde Park. I grew up here! This is Tampa’s classic upscale historic neighborhood made up of about 40 blocks of majestic mansions and mini-mansions, all from the 1930s or earlier. It is prime real estate in Tampa, although not nearly as exciting as Ybor or Downtown. The Old Hyde Park Village is a retail development built in the 1980s that now houses stores including Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn, Brooks Brothers, and landmark Tampa restaurants like Cafe BT and The Wine Exchange. Best Martinis: Timpano on the corner of Swann Avenue and Dakota Avenue.
- Howard Avenue. This is just near Old Hyde Park, and is definitely the center of 30-something nightlife in Tampa. The popular stretch runs from Bayshore Boulevard up to Kennedy Boulevard, and includes numerous bars, restaurants, dessert spots, breakfast places, small shops, and other resources. I get my hair cut on Howard Avenue, frequent the Starbucks there, eat at Evo’s (healthy fast food) there, and occasionally brave the crowds to have a drink at one of the many crowded bars. Bern’s Steakhouse, a Tampa tradition, is on the corner of Howard Avenue and Marjory Street. Best optical shop in Tampa: The Optic Shop, on Howard.
- Westshore. Known as a popular neighborhood for offices, retail, and restaurants, there is little residential stock here. Both big malls (International Plaza and Westshore Plaza) are here, and upscale (and downscale) restaurants line Westshore Boulevard, Kennedy Boulevard, Cypress Street, and Boy Scout Boulevard. Traffic can be an issue in this area, as it is the apex of several major highways, the airport, the two retail complexes, and spillover from nearby Dale Mabry Highway. Best relaxed luxury shopping: Saks Fifth Avenue.
- Palma Ceia. This area was historically a suburb of Tampa proper, but is now a much sought-after primarily auto- and family-oriented area that is famous for homestyle restaurants, darling antique shops, and excellent schools. Housing varies, although single-family is the king here. There is a central golf course in the area, and many residents are members of its Country Club. Community assets include: The Red Herring (a chic salvage-decor store), Pane Rustica (a beautiful Italian restaurant famous for its breads), The Royal Tea Room, and Pinky’s (my favorite breakfast place in Tampa). Best power lunch: Pane Rustica.
- Most heterosexual men in their late 20s to early 40s wear jeans and button-down oxford (or other) shirts untucked, with leather loafers of some sort when they dress for the evening. Polo shirts are also very popular when the weather is warmer. Daywear is more varied, although Tommy Bahama-type things seem to pop up often.
- Embellished jeans and tee shirts are (unfortunately), a big thing in Tampa. Ed Hardy, Affliction, and others get lots of recognition here…probably why Ed Hardy recently opened an eponymous store in International Plaza.
- Gay men are more drawn to tee shirts and tight jeans. Diesel is popular, Zara and Express are as well.
- Womenswear is more varied overall in Tampa…some things like J.Crew are very popular, along with Lilly Pulitzer-type things, for girls with a preppy slant. Simultaneously, Urban Outfitters, GAP, and Anthropologie outfit the more adventurous or eclectic.
- My friends range from preppy (J.Crew, Levi’s, Sperry Topsider, and Ralph Lauren) to edgy (American Apparel, Diesel, and Urban Outfitters).
- In areas like Hyde Park and Palma Ceia, BMWs and Range Rovers are endless, and Chanel is a safe bet for a handbag or pair of flats.
- Louis Vuitton is a perennial favorite. You’ll see plenty of Monogram Speedys, Damier shoulder bags, and the occasional rare seasonal bag or pair of shoes, all over the city.
- International Plaza includes most of the upscale brands one might expect: Apple, Burberry, Coach, Cole Haan, Diesel, Gucci, Kate Spade, Louis Vuitton, Michael Kors, Solstice, Tiffany & Co., and Wolford (list non-exhaustive). Attached to the mall are mediocre and overpriced places like The Cheesecake Factory, Capital Grille, and Blue Martini.
- Neiman Marcus (at International) has shops-in-shop for Cartier and Chanel, and stocks lots of upscale brands that aren’t available anywhere else in Tampa. Some of my personal favorites: Armani Collezioni womenswear, Balenciaga handbags, Brioni menswear, and Christian Louboutin shoes.
- Nordstrom (at International) is right about in the middle of the range, between Macy’s and Neiman Marcus. It stocks things like Chanel sunglasses, Gucci watches, Marc by Marc Jacobs bags, Hugo Boss and Faconnable for men, Salvatore Ferragamo shoes, and St.John womenswear.
- Westshore Plaza is the former star mall in Tampa, that is still popular but slightly less upscale than International. It includes Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, Bo Concept, Gap, and Old Navy. Attached in a similar way to the setup at International Plaza are such upscale chains as: P.F. Chang’s, Maggiano’s, and The Palm.
- Saks Fifth Avenue (at Westshore) is quite pleasant. It has several shops-in-shop: Chanel, Jo Malone, Louis Vuitton, and MAC Cosmetics. Aside from those, it stocks many of the same brands that Neiman Marcus does. Personal favorites: Longchamp handbags, Jimmy Choo shoes, Diesel menswear, and Oliver Peoples eyewear.
- Macy’s (at Westshore, formerly Burdine’s) still has the feel of a 1980s department store, but it seems to have held its own against competition from newcomers in the area. It stocks mostly mid-range brands, but does have a large Polo Ralph Lauren men’s section, a Gucci and Burberry timepiece selection, a large Chanel makeup counter, and a nice assortment of mid-level women’s handbag brands.
- Generally, I enjoy shopping at Westshore more than I do at International. I probably split my time equally, but Westshore is (understandably) quieter most of the time, and is less of a hassle to get in and out of. Plus, I have a friend who works at Gap and another at Saks, so I can visit them and chat while I shop.
Next time – design and aesthetic in Tampa!