Want to make the most of Florida’s year-round sunshine? Looking to extend your stay and treat yourself to some next-level food and drink while on a visit to Walt Disney World Florida? Soak up the sunshine over IPAs and tacos in beachside community St Pete, capture a slice of Cuban culture in Tampa City and hop between mural-clad restaurants in Miami’s vibrant Wynwood district.
The EDGE District, St Petersburg
This small but thriving section of downtown St Petersburg claims to be one of Florida’s best neighbourhoods, and it certainly deserves its place in this guide. Queue up at the hatch at Bodega’s white, 1930’s-style premises to order Cuban sandwiches, stuffed with lechon pork and pressed until golden, with a side of lively, crunchy jicama, pineapple and mango salad. Across the way is Intermezzo, an elegant coffee shop by day and Italian cocktail lounge come evening. Bartenders turn an impressive selection of amaros into aperitifs such as the punchy 5 Amaro Manhattan. Bag a seat in the open-fronted taproom of St Pete’s first brewery, Green Bench Brewing Company, to enjoy a flight of Florida IPAs and ales while soaking up the state’s year-round sunshine. Sit outside Red Mesa Mercado with chimichanga burritos, grilled shrimp tacos and fajita bowls, or build your own poke bowl at Pacific Counter for a refreshing, nutrient-rich lunch.
On Central Avenue is Wild Child, a tropical bistro with a handful of tables inside and a large, funky terrace for al fresco dining. Unique dishes involve a riot of flavours and textures; try crisp brussels sprouts on smooth aïoli in fish sauce vinaigrette, panko-coated croquettes filled with creamy butternut squash and mascarpone, and fresh tuna and avocado on a crackling toasted tortilla. The staff get their coffee from sleek and contemporary Bandit Coffee Co across the way, or there’s another branch of cosy and eclectic Black Crow Coffee down the road.
Miami’s art district offers all sorts of food and drink spots dotted amongst the mural-adorned warehouses. Sip on small-batch cold brew beneath the shade of an impressive tree at Panther Coffee and plan your visit. This area boasts Michelin-recommended restaurants at both ends of the price spectrum, from Zak the Baker’s babka, challah bread and pastries to Greek dishes in al fresco taverna Mandolin Aegean Bistro, and swanky Michelin-starred tasting menus at Hiden and Le Jardinier.
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If you’re looking for a bolthole in this trendy part of the city then try Arlo Wynwood, complete with a mural-clad staircase leading to a funky tropical cocktail bar and terrace. The rooftop pool is the place to relax for classic Miami vibes; wiggle along to tunes on your sun lounger and sip refreshing mezcal cocktails or tuck into tuna poke bowls beneath candy-striped parasols. The ground floor restaurant is a collaboration with some of Miami’s best-known names, including chef Brad Kilgore and Broken Shaker’s Elad Zvi and Gabriel Orta.
Armature Works, Tampa
Previously a streetcar warehouse, this riverside food hub showcases food and drink businesses from the Bay Area. Try one of the city’s best Cuban sandwiches at Hemingway’s, and taste your way through small-batch sustainable wines at Cru Cellars (originally a small neighbourhood wine shop). Industrial Steelbach focusses on grass-fed, marbled beef from its own ranch outside the city. Alongside juicy steaks, there are southern-style classics including spicy fried chicken buns and plump shrimp on a creamy bed of grits and deep, rich gravy. Pair with cocktails such as basil-infused vodka spritz or choose a dram from the extensive whisky and bourbon list.
Behind Armature Works resides one of Tampa’s three Michelin Bib Gourmand winners, Rocca. Bag a sought-after table to try the mozzarella, made fresh tableside by hydrating, pulling and shaping New Jersey cheese curds with hot water. Pasta also makes its mark, particularly the parcels of fresh agnolotti, stuffed with creamy ricotta and salami and topped with crunchy garlic breadcrumbs. Nearby is another iconic building restored by local restaurateurs. Ulele showcases the future of Florida’s food, highlighting native ingredients from the region. Alligator is worked into crispy hush puppy nests, fried okra is served with homemade ketchup, and Gulf Coast oysters are slathered in butter and parmesan then tossed on the open grill. Delicate local pompano fish comes with crawfish tails, crunchy Floridian green beans and crispy carrot ribbons. Bread pudding is made using La Segunda bread, caramelised and sweetened with rum and pineapple, served with homemade coconut ice cream. Exclusive beers are brewed on site, including a Wedding Beer creation that’s creamy and refreshing with a whisper of berries.
Ybor City, Tampa
This atmospheric neighbourhood of Tampa is rich in history and legend. Built in the 1880s by the thriving cigar industry, it became a hub for immigrant workers from Cuba, Spain, Italy, Germany and beyond. Still at Ybor City’s heart is Columbia, Florida’s oldest Spanish restaurant. Menu stalwarts include the 1905 salad, pollo manchego (juicy crumbed chicken topped with sun-dried tomatoes on paella-style rice), and white chocolate bread and butter pudding. The 1,000-seater original restaurant is a mansion of eclectically adorned rooms that pay homage to the cultures that influenced it.
Ybor City bills itself as the birthplace of the Cuban sandwich (though this is hotly contested by Miami). If you have a cubano anywhere in Tampa, the bread is likely to have come from La Segunda, a bakery that’s still going strong in its original location since 1915, close to JC Newman (Tampa’s only remaining cigar factory – it’s well worth a visit to learn how the industry shaped the neighbourhood’s culture and cuisine). Bite into a crisp, layered cubano or try the guava turnover for a sweet, flaky accompaniment to a café con leche. For something stronger, small batch brewery, Cigar City, works homegrown ingredients such as habanero peppers into its award-winning beers.
Right in the epicentre, boutique hotel Haya preserves Ybor City’s heritage with cigars for sale, an eclectic curation of Cuban artefacts and an on-site contemporary Cuban café, Quiquiriqui. The latter serves Cuban-style coffees alongside empanadas, club sandwiches and breakfast burritos.
South Beach, Miami
The city’s glamorous, extravagant beach neighbourhood, gridded with palm-lined boulevards of art deco buildings, is where the world’s A-listers come to party. But there are more casual, affordable beachside options for those in the know. Locals roll up on skates, blades and boards to South Beach institution, La Sandwicherie, for crusty French baguettes loaded with fresh ingredients and the magic sauce vinaigrette. Or stop for signature blue corn tacos and quesadillas filled with squash blossoms at Taquiza’s sweeping wooden bar. Further up the beach, Sweet Liberty promises a lively night out. Mixologists climb the ladder to reach the immense library of bottles containing every spirit, liqueur and homemade syrup imaginable. Sophisticated cocktails include toasty coconut sazerac; silky, spiced banana negroni; and sweet and zesty rum-based The Florida Cocktail.
Tucked behind pedestrianised Española Way, Esme hotel is an elegant revamp of a bohemian warren of rooms, courtyards, restaurants and bars. Head up to the rooftop for chic pool loungers, plenty of pretty flowers, floating drapes for shade and no less than six varieties of sangria. Come evening, sip on manhattans in the dinky, seductive little bar, El Salón.
The Drexel, from the owners of Mandolin Aegean Bistro, serves Mediterranean dishes including wood-fired wild prawns and charcoal tzatziki-laced lamb chops, while Tropezón offers globes of Spanish gin and a selection of tapas. Rattan details, velvet bedspreads and romantic lamps are thoughtfully placed in rooms coated in sultry hues of peach, mustard and teal.
St Pete’s Pier, St Petersburg
St Pete’s Pier was revamped in 2020, stretching over 26 acres, and you can now walk between palms, red hibiscus and purple jacaranda trees that blossom at different times of the year, between which flutters Janet Echelman’s illuminated Bending Arc installation. For views of the pier, Tampa Bay and beyond, rooftop bar Canopy comes alive at night with locals scattered around private cabanas and perched at high tables. For drinks on the ground, leaf through the leather-bound wine list of smart wine bar Allelo, its showstopping feature an intricate mural showcasing endangered birds of Florida. Next door is Ceviche for tapas, paella and zingy versions of its namesake dish. Mooch down to Paradeco Coffee for sustainable coffee in an array of trendy serves, and a scoop of Paciugo’s black cherry or peanut butter chocolate swirl gelato. Stop in at Black Crow Coffee for a warm muffin and coffee, then onwards for a stroll through the Sunken Gardens to spot cockatoos, kookaburras and flamingos flitting between waterfalls, Japanese ponds and tropical plants.
Set slightly back from the harbour is The Birchwood Inn, a quirky boutique hotel with 18 rooms. Book a deluxe room to soak in the bathtub before plunging into your four-poster bed, or make the most of the proximity of previously mentioned rooftop bar Canopy.
Little Havana, Miami
Vibrant Little Havana beats to its own cafecito and mojito-fuelled drum, with live music floating out of bustling bars and dynamic Cuban-American culture on every corner. Casual must-eats include pressed sandwiches at Sanguich de Miami, iconic patties and shoestring fries in old-school diner El Rey De Las Fritas, and no-frills seafood lunches at fish market turned canteen, La Camaronera. Classic Cuban cocktails, live music and a slice of Cuban cantinero culture are to be found at lively, internationally award-winning bar, Café La Trova. Or Olds does a brilliant mojito and ropa vieja stew with live music. Non-Cuban spots include dinky, popular Lung Yai Thai Tapas, whose fiery, fragrant northern Thai plates have bagged it a Michelin Bib Gourmand badge.
Hyde Park Village, Tampa
Promenade through Tampa’s bougie Hyde Park Village for upmarket shopping and grazing. Nourish yourself with smoothies and acai bowls from Clean Juice, get your caffeine fix at sleek Buddy Brew Coffee or pop into chic Timpano any time of day for Italian American dishes and cocktails such as the zingy frozen blood orange negroni.
For the all-American experience, Goody Goody burgers is an old-school-style diner, where friends and families gather for hot-off-the-griddle buttermilk pancakes, cheeseburgers with secret sauce, and famous sweet butterscotch or chocolate cream pies washed down with root beer ice cream floats and shakes. A short walk through Hyde Park’s residential streets, lined with houses that embody the American suburban dream (pastel-hued verandas, lanterns lining walk ups, trees tumbling over front yards), is Bern’s Steak House. This legendary restaurant makes for a lavish dining experience, complete with dry-aged steaks and caviar, a dedicated dessert room and one of the largest wine collections in the world. Bern’s is so popular that the Epicurean Hotel was strategically opened across the road. If you can’t get a reservation at the steak house (tables book up to three months in advance), you can try a selection of cuts and wines at the hotel’s Élevage bistro, alongside Florida grouper, chicken schnitzel and mushroom shepherd’s pie. Bern’s Fine Wines also lies in the hotel lobby, where you can peruse rare bottles from the world’s finest classic vineyards. If you prefer cocktails, EDGE rooftop bar boasts sweeping skyline views and a hip, lively crowd.
Pass-a-Grille Beach, St Petersburg
This beach community has a rhythm and character of its own, making it well worth a visit. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you pass one of the Bay Area’s most iconic landmarks. The Don CeSar hotel is a Wes Anderson-style pink confection located right on the beach. Pop in for a cocktail or bourbon at the elegant bar. In Passe-A-Grille proper, local character Evander Preston’s legacy lives on in his studio of colourful curiosities, that’s still open to visitors. His widow describes his Viking-like stature looming over the hob to host dinner parties for famous guests.
Across the way on 8th Avenue is The Berkeley Beach Club and its restaurant The Dewey, owned by the glamorous Maryann Ferenc, who also runs riverside fine-dining restaurant Mise en Place in Tampa City. Rooms are distinctly beach chic, with sweeping balconies to soak up the sunsets. Or head up to the rooftop deck that was built to watch the pink and orange hues melt into the Gulf of Mexico. Take your pick from the Gulf Primeval oyster and raw bar or seafood dishes such as grilled shrimp. For a true American dive bar experience, hop across the way to Shadracks, complete with pool tables, darts and cold beers, as well as a bloody mary bar on the first Sunday of the month. Next morning, join locals at iconic diner Sea Horse, that’s been serving southern-style breakfasts and lunches since 1938. Treat yourself to an iced coffee or scoop of blueberry cheesecake ice cream from Paradise Sweets and stroll along the sugary white sand to the end of the peninsula with views of Shelly Key preserve.