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A day in Tampa Bay

Once upon a time we woke up really early and headed to Tampa for a fun-filled day. Sure that opening line sounds dreamy and effortless, but it was just that! My husband planned the whole thing; he even picked the restaurants which is usually MY thing! And you know what…our day was perfect! Here is a guideline of how we pulled off our day with toddlers, naps and instagrammable momentos!

Firstly, we planned ahead. We knew that the focus was to visit the Florida Museum in Tampa Bay. We also knew that food is always a key player in our outings. Another thing is that I blog! And well, I needed to document the trip as much as possible and create content-worthy images for you guys! Ok, so here we go:

The night before, we packed two bags. One bag had our clothes, blankets, sweaters (just in case) and a first aid kit. Second bag was our “day bag”. This was chic diaper bag on steroids fully equipped with diapers, wipes, water, snacks, camera and accessories. The evening before our big outing, we set our  alarms for 6am, and we pre-styled our girls’ hairs before bedtime. We knew that we would be taking pictures and figured neither Alegra or Eliana would let us touch their hair at 6am! Genius right!? We also made a route map of “musts” and “kid-permitting” places/things we wanted to do/see.

Morning of…

As planned, parents were up at 6am, Dad handled breakfast and to-go snacks. Mom handled getting ready and dressing girls. It was important to feed the girls breakfast in their pjs, so we had clean outfits for our first stop. Everyone was ready and in the car by 6:40 a.m.  The girls as suspected slept through the entire ride to Tampa. We arrived to the infamous Oxford Exchange,  exactly when they opened 8AM. We were promptly seated by the beautiful patio. 

A little about Oxford Exchange (OE). It is nestled in a  stone street with a southern vibe across from a church. Upon opening the doors you are welcomed by art. The floor is a beautiful black and white pattern setting  the tone for the rest of the space. Now, OE  is not just a restaurant…when you enter the space, Darby Parker, then a book store,  shoe polishing services, a coffee shop, Aesop skincare store, and a shop featuring curated pieces from the restaurant and favorite things by owners. It is also home to The Commerce Club, “a quiet, comfortable and professional space for work, study and private meetings”. Though, thats awesome, I was here for the food (please check out my insta review on their pancakes) and the architectural beauty of this structure.  The restaurant serves “weekday breakfast and lunch, weekend brunch, and afternoon tea. No matter where guests are seated, you are surrounded by art, an open kitchen, and a sunlit conservatory. The menu offers fresh and seasonal items, a new translation of the classic bistro. Lastly, I think the modern brutalist designs remind me a little of my beloved NYC, and a little of what I have brought into my home… brass, black and white with pops of green <3.

After OE, we refreshed the girls, changed them into comfy clothes. We did the same. How? Umm we have an SUV with tinted windows lol. So in a breeze Los Vasquez were a united front again, ready for the Florida Aquarium (www.flaquarium.org). The aquarium was only 12 minutes away; we were there in no time. The girls were mesmerized  by the big cruise ships at the bay, and it must be something in the air… but it enticed us to plan a cruise trip (I have never been). We paid $6 for parking. Admission per adult is $30, children 2 years and older pay $7. We decided to sign up for the yearly membership for $130 for a party of 3, Nana does not pay until next year, when we renew. Here is a direct link to the membership plans. 

Once inside, we were reimbursed for parking now that we were members! (Actually, I went to customer service and asked for my money back assuming my rights as a member). There, I also learned that we had tons of perks as members, including 50% the zoo and other parks within the SHARE programs (click on link above for more). We then start making our way through the exhibits. The girls seem extremely pleased with the Madagascar exhibits, maybe for its tropical feel and chirping birds flying above our heads. I almost forgot I was indoors. The overlook exhibits are always a winner here and at any other aquarium. Seeing all of the bigger species dance around and being able to witness it all from a tunnel, is truly a privilege. I think this is where we claimed a corner and camped for a while to just admire the beauty of the sharks. Its was a great opportunity to show Alegra what their natural habitat looks like, and how not all fish belong in one pond (if you know what I mean lol). We then stumbled upon the outdoor terrace overlooking the Splash Pad… I honestly did not even know it existed, and frankly thought it was not part of the aquarium. The overlook view from the terrace was such a treat, we were really able to appreciate the bay from above, and the ships of course. Alegra ran around with the sun in her eyes making the best photo worthy squinty face. From there we passed by the coral reef conservation, this was a solemn reminder that our planet needs our TLC. 

Around 12:00pm, we needed to munch on something and put our girls down for a nap. We took a quick drive to Ybor City, which was maybe 8 minutes from the aquarium. Randy was craving real pan Cubano, and some say that La Segunda bakery is one of the last real Cuban bakeries around. Some say this place was a Theodore Roosevelt favorite. By now, Eliana was asleep and Alegra was borderline cranky. We took turns going into La Segunda. We bought cheese and guava pastries (duh!), a 4 foot long pan Cubano, some empanadas among other goodies.  While the girls slept in the car, we drove around Ybor, sight-seeing and enjoying our treats. We stopped by the Ybor Park, I chased some roosters and busted the myth (I did not believe there were roosters wandering the mean streets of Ybor lol). We stopped at Columbia Restaurant to make a reservation and continued on our car-tour. Randy got a nice treat with his purchase of handmade cigars. When the girls woke up, we walked around the downtown area and were tempted to visit the museum, but our reservation at Columbia was approaching.

Ahh Columbia Restaurant. With over 5K reviews on TripAdvisor and another 6K on Yelp… rating about 4.5 stars, this Spanish restaurant (which can easily be confused for Cuban) is the place to eat at while in Tampa. I was like a kid standing in front of the biggest rollercoaster ready for the ride! Owned and operated by 5 generations over the last 110 years.  It is the oldest restaurant in Florida, founded in 1905 and the largest Spanish restaurant in the world! We came here for the salad, and boy what a salad that was! I added camarones al ajillo to mine. I will leave my food details for my pending published review. But in short, Columbia was quite a delightful dining  experience! My eyes wandered with so much art around me and was floored by the volume of patrons. Please be sure to stop by here, its flagship location, or its other sister restaurants around Florida.

After this late lunch, early dinner we headed home. The sun was low on our drive back, and it was wonderful remising our day on our drive back.  We were home around 6pm, and we couldn’t believe how much we had done and enjoyed in just a few hours. This all because of our awesome planning. I thank my husband for executing this idea and treating our family with a  day to remember by the bay. #dadandmomwin


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