TAMPA — If you had to list the top 100 things to experience in the Tampa area, what would be on that list?
A dinner and a floor show at the Columbia Restaurant? Strawberry milkshakes at Parksdale Farm Market? The Tampa Theatre? Dinosaur World? The Tampa Bay History Center? Watching the sunset from Pass-A-Grille Beach? Cigar City Brewing? A Rays game at the Trop? A burger at the Chattaway in St. Petersburg?
Those are among the attractions listed in “100 Things to Do in Tampa Bay Before You Die,” a recently published book authored by journalist Kristen Hare, an online reporter at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg.
“There could have easily been 500 things to do in Tampa Bay,” says Hare, who tried to include “stuff that was a little bit out of the way along with some of the obvious.”
“For example, I include Busch Gardens and everyone knows about that. But I suggest going during Christmas when they have snow,” Hare said during an interview at La Segunda Central Bakery near Ybor City.
La Segunda is No. 1 in her book. But the 100 things are in no particular order. No. 100 is shopping for kid-made crafts at street markets in Hyde Park, Seminole Heights and Carrollwood.
“I think La Segunda is a good example of what I tried to show in the book,” she says.
“You know the good stuff like the Columbia, but do you know the stuff behind the good stuff like La Segunda, where they get their amazingly famous bread?”
She says her list came from her self-experienced crash course on things to see and do here.
When Hare moved from St. Louis to Tampa in November of 2012, she thought she only had a year to soak up as much of Florida as possible.
“We came here because of my husband’s construction engineering job and we instantly fell in love with the Tampa area,” says the 36-year-old mother of two who crammed every weekend of that first year with sight-seeing and cultural experiences.
“I thought we would be going back to St. Louis, so I wanted to see and do as much as possible,” she says.
“We were exhausted for that year. We did not rest on the weekends. We did a lot of Disney, a lot of beaches and a lot of everything else we could find.”
A former reporter for the St. Louis Beacon, she had written about the St. Louis-based Reedy Press, which publishes the “100 Things to Do” travel books for select cities.
She says she contracted with the publisher to cover the Tampa area from a tourist/resident perspective.
She was well into her research when she and her husband, Jai Jairam, decided to stay in the Tampa area.
They bought a home in the Lithia area of Hillsborough County, and she took a job with Poytner writing about the media. Before working as a staff writer with the St. Louis Beacon, she was a features writer with the St. Joseph News-Press.
Her list of things to do and see in the Tampa area kept expanding. The book includes some day trips to places like Tarpon Springs, Sarasota, Lakeland and Lake Wales.
Her list is an eclectic mix that includes taking in a movie at the Ruskin Family Drive-In, strolling down Main Street in Safety Harbor, watching the manatees in Apollo Beach, checking out quaint Gulfport and celebrating the sunset at Clearwater’s Pier 60.
She says the weirdest thing on the list is Solomon’s Castle, an unusual attraction, hotel, restaurant and life’s work by artist/sculptor Howard Solomon located in Ona in Hardee County.
“It’s weird and wonderful,” says Hare. “It’s this shiny, manmade castle in the middle of the country, complete with a moat, built by a man who looks like an old ship’s captain. The outside is made of old newspaper printing plates.”
Solomon’s Castle has been an attraction for years but it’s often overlooked, as are some other things on Hare’s list.
“I hope that when people pick up this book they are surprised and take time to see some of these things that we pass by every day,” she says.
“100 Things to Do in Tampa Bay Before You Die” is available at Amazon.