A Northerners’ Guide to Living in the Tampa Bay Area of Florida

Three years ago, in early July, I moved to Florida in the peak of its hot season. Never having been to Florida before, except for airport layovers in Miami, being in the intense heat was surprising. I’m sure, if you cracked an egg on a sidewalk, it would’ve fried itself. Thank goodness for air conditioning. Once you get past the intensity of the heat in the summertime, you are initiated into this gorgeous state’s climate. Of course there are hurricanes, but after encountering eight of them myself and not having my property damaged, I am not as afraid of the smaller ones as I once was.

It just takes a little self-education on what to do during a hurricane, such as what supplies to buy in case your power goes out. It isn’t a bad idea to rent or buy your home out of the evacuation zones, either. These zones are listed in the front of Floridian phone books, along with the escape routes, should you be unfortunate enough to encounter a larger one. The truth of the matter is, if you live in Florida, you will most definitely witness multiple hurricanes. If a larger one comes through, I know now to take my pets and plan a vacation up north to see my family, as soon as I find out the hurricane is coming. If you wait too long, you will have no choice to be stuck in a very long line of highway traffic. And hotels book up quickly. So, if you don’t want to end up sleeping in your car in the Wal-Mart parking lot, it pays to stay put or leave early.

When I first moved down here, I thought I’d live in Tampa, a big city on the Gulf of Mexico side of the state. Being tropical in climate, the whole Tampa Bay area is gorgeous. Exotic birds like egrets, spoonbills, ibis and others walk and fly around everywhere. Among other birds, I’ve also seen ospreys, cormorants, and even a bald eagle once (on top of a telephone pole). Even in the city, nature is all around. I was in a drive-through at Burger King, and an egret (large, white stork-like bird) stood in front of my car as I picked up my food. I just waited him to slowly walk off. He was totally oblivious to the fact that he was holding up a line of traffic, as he walked around looking for lizards to eat.

The city of Tampa is full of wonderful places like Busch Gardens. Ibor City (an old cigar town turned into a hot spot for nightlife), Lowry Park Zoo, the Museum of Science and Industry and the Florida Aquarium, a large, well-stocked public aquarium, situated on the water. The historic Henry Plant Museum in downtown Tampa is a beautiful example of Victorian architecture. If you love to shop, the International Mall is the “in” place to be, with its large variety of upscale stores and restaurants. Tampa is most definitely worth visiting, but the apartments I wanted there were out of my price range, so I headed over to St.Petersburg.

The city of St.Petersburg is an artist’s dream, full of museums and art fairs. I especially like The Pier(full of shops on a pier that sticks out into the bay), and Sunken Gardens, with its old, well-tended plants and trees. I fell in love with it all, and found a gorgeous, large apartment in the old part of town, which has the most charm, with its old Art Deco buildings (my apartment building was one of them), coffeehouses and trendy shops.Being able to walk to Starbucks was a big perk for coffee-loving me. I was down the street from the water, and at the end of my street was a lovely lake, with all kinds of tropical wildlife freely living their lives, unafraid of humans. Outside my office window was a big starfruit tree, all I had to do was reach out the window and pick the fragrant, yellow fruits. In the grocery store up north, one starfruit easily could cost $5. I had fresh fruit and a mockingbird (the state bird of Florida) serenading me with his beautiful songs on a daily basis. Orange and grapefruit trees are common, and my friend would bring me a bucketful of the sweetest oranges off her tree, whenever she stopped over.

After getting a good job and having a better income, I decided to upgrade to a place closer to my work, in Largo. This cultural, park-filled city is next door to both St.Petersburg and another popular city, Clearwater. My new place is on a lush, secluded lake, and I feed many different large birds who come to visit me daily from my back balcony. Nature is all around, in the peaceful oasis I call home. And, less than a mile away is the Gulf of Mexico. Taxis are plentiful and cheap down here, so whenever I want to go to the beach, I take a taxi. My favorite beaches are the ones at Fort DeSoto and Clearwater Beach. There are some huge, stately old hotels down here worth visiting such as the Don Cesar (large, pink and totally luxurious. on the beach. Rumor has it that it is a favorite stop for Presidents) and the Renaissance Vinoy, which is situated waterfront in downtown St.Petersburg. It is like a dream to live in such a water-loving world down here. In the grocery stores, you can buy food, pharmacy products, along with bait, beach chairs and scuba gear. Up north, that never happens. Shopping is plentiful everywhere you go here, due to the large variety of stores of every type.

The climate in the Tampa Bay area is moderate and we have no frost. I brought my orchid plants with me from up north, and they are in plant heaven, blooming their heads off, in their ideal growing conditions out on my balcony. Plant shows down here are held outside, and vendors from everywhere come to sell their large variety of plants. Every time I go to one, my car bulges with plants, big and small, somehow I always find a place for each of them back at my place. If you want to see professional growers in action, visit Plant City, east of Tampa. They have a wonderful Strawberry Festival there every year that is definitely worth going to. This is a plant lover’s paradise.

Fishermen love it down here, because this area is a boater’s and fisherman’s dream. The fish in the Gulf of Mexico are gigantic. There are fishermens’ charters all over, and tour boats for those who don’t fish. Going to Sanibel Island is fun, if you love to pick up shells. Up and down the Gulf coast of Florida are many varied restaurants with some of the freshest seafood around. My favorite restaurants are located on the water, which is really atmospheric.

For anyone thinking of moving down to the Tampa Bay area, I advise you to come down here on vacation, and just drive around. Ask the locals where to eat, see the sights. You will surely love the climate, especially in the winter. If you want to avoid hurricanes, come between December and March. Hurricanes occur when the water is really warm. My favorite time of year are the winter months, because the heat and humidity lessen at those times. Still, it is a good idea not to bring heavy, northern, synthetic knit clothes down here, because they don’t breathe as well as natural fibers like cotton. Lightweight clothes are a must, in general, to be most comfortable.

Liviung in Florida is recommended if you want a more temperate climate, and are sick of snow. Come down and see for yourself all the sights and beauty of this wonderful state. People here are friendly and gracious. The food is wonderful, no matter what time of cuisine you like. Try it, you’ll be glad you did.

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