The water gently laps against the shore as schools of tiny fish peruse the underwater canyons and valleys created by the many pieces of broken concrete strewn along the bottom of the bay. A gentle breeze blows in from the East, ruffling the fronds of the lone palm that somehow continues to grow despite being partially uprooted. Looking out at just the right angle, it’s easy to imagine being a castaway marooned on an exotic island. However, the sound of distant factories and boat engines will quickly bring an observer back to the reality that they are no more than five miles away from the heart of downtown Tampa.
The end of Davis Island is one example of the many hidden sanctuaries dispersed throughout the Bay area. Attending USF and living in Temple Terrace can be isolating. The world outside of Fletcher, Fowler and Bearss Avenues may seem alien, uncharted and even a little scary, but that should not deter the intrepid urban adventurer. Travelers can be assured that the risks are few and the rewards are many.
Ybor City is an area typically associated with ear-crushing bass, watery cocktails and frantic, sweaty dry humping. A look at the historical district through sober eyes reveals a time capsule covered in red brick and steeped in rich Cuban culture.
Jose Marti Park or Parque Amigos de Jose Marti – located on 8th Avenue next to New World Brewery – is a unique feature of Tampa that could easily go unnoticed. The small plot of land that is home to a large white statue of Marti was purchased by Cuba in 1957 in commemoration of his achievements. The Tampa Department of Parks and Recreation has confirmed that the spot actually belongs to Cuba and is thus Cuban property. One can step through its gates and technically, walk outside of our country, where manicured lawns and hedges frame six mounds of dirt topped with stones adorned with the Cuban flag. According to the park, each mound represents dirt taken from the six original provinces of Cuba. The park is open five days a week until 1:30 p.m.
A few blocks away, another oft-overlooked quiet spot can be found. The brick-lined terrace that houses the Immigrant Statue is perfect for relaxing or hiding from the heat. Large shady trees and palms lean over benches, giving the area a lazy feel. In stark contrast with its environment, the Immigrant Statue portrays a well-dressed man and his wife holding their son and daughter close as they look off into the distance, encased forever in bronze.
The bust is an effigy to “those courageous men and women who came to this country in search of personal freedom, economic opportunity and a future of hope for their families,” according to an inscription on its base. On both sides of the statue are plaques with the names of the original immigrants to Hillsborough County.
Ybor isn’t the only place to look for hidden hangouts, though. Located on Ashley Drive next to the Tampa Museum of Art lies what the city of Tampa refers to as the Amphitheater.
The white stone structure is impossible to see from the street, but a brief walk through what once was a park will reveal the curious edifice. Although its purpose is unclear, the spot is still an interesting place to visit. From the top level of the Amphitheater, visitors enjoy a view of downtown and the Hillsborough River, and if you stand at just the right spot and yell, the echo is pretty impressive.
Across the river on North Boulevard is Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park. Sandwiched between Tampa Preparatory School, the University of Tampa and a long stretch of low-income housing, the park is an interestingly stratified microcosm of the city as a whole.
Heated games of pick-up basketball share space with the rhythmic strain of both college and high school crew teams, but it’s not the sports that make this park unique – it’s the design.
Large manmade hills define the landscape of the grassy playground. Climbing to the top of one, the entire skyline of downtown Tampa becomes visible. After the view becomes dim, one last thrill awaits the visitor – a quick descent via the giant slide incorporated into the side of the hill.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of Bay Area secrets. It is more of a blueprint for a journey’s beginning or a challenge written in examples. Tampa may not be as cosmopolitan as larger cities, but there is beauty here. The fact that this city’s unique qualities are hidden makes the search all the more exciting. Visit the places mentioned above and hopefully they will entice further exploration. The locales are out there, but it’s up to you to get in your car and drive.