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  1. Florida

20 fun places to escape the heat (or rain) and chill indoors in Tampa Bay

Here’s where to kill time during the sweltering summer months.
Published May 30, 2019

A simple walk down the street in summer can feel like it takes years. With the humidity and the Florida sun blazing, no amount of time feels like enough to cool off in summer. To help you regulate, we came up with a few places that encourage lingering for just ... a few ... more ... minutes.

MOVIES

Tampa Theatre. (Times files, 2018)
Tampa Theatre. (Times files, 2018)

Tampa Theatre

Main event: Chill historically at the famed movie palace, the first commercial building in Tampa to offer air conditioning when it opened in 1926. Everything from air conditioning to projection has been spruced up since then, but Tampa Theatre’s grandiose Mediterranean courtyard designs and Mighty Wurlitzer Theater Organ are preserved.

How to stall: No dining options are offered but 90-minute Balcony-to-Backstage tours are an entertaining way to crib some cool. Tours are held most Tuesdays and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. $10 for adults, $8 for children 2-12.

Go: 711 N Franklin St., Tampa. (813) 274-8981. tampatheatre.org.

CineBistro

Main event: For nearly a decade, these two Cinebistro locations have been popular places for upscale moviegoers to beat the heat with something to eat. Not to mention premium cocktails and wine at chi-chi lobby bars, with prices to match.

How to stall: Arrive 30 minutes before showtime for service at your seat. Entree prices range from $12 for a veggie burger to $27 for a N.Y. strip steak. Drinks start at $4 bottled domestic beers, peaking with $12 martinis. The entire gastro-lineup is available online. You pay extra to enter such luxury: $13 matinees and $16 after 4 p.m. plus extra charges for 3-D and reserved seating. But the AC is free.

Go: 1609 W Swann Ave., Tampa, (813) 514-8300; 6333 Wesley Grove Blvd., Wesley Chapel, (813) 948-5444. cinebistro.com.

Cobb Tyrone Luxury 10 Theater

Main event: Pinellas County’s latest addition to the dinner-in-a-movie trend takes a less upscale approach than Cinebistro, in menu and prices. The movies and climate control are pretty much the same. Plus, recliner seats!

How to stall: Cobbster’s Kitchen & Bar offers full-service dining, or you can take entrees inside the auditorium. Prices top out at $12.95 for a well-rounded assortment of burgers, sandwiches, salads, soft tacos, pizza and flatbreads. Desserts include sweet potato hush puppies with marshmallow dip.

Go: 2998 Tyrone Blvd. N, St. Petersburg. (727) 209-1950. cobbtheaters.com/tyroneluxury10.


BOOKS

The Bookstore at the Oxford Exchange. (Times files, 2013)
The Bookstore at the Oxford Exchange. (Times files, 2013)

Oxford Exchange

Main event: This space was built in 1891 as a stable for Henry Plant’s Tampa Bay Hotel (now part of the University of Tampa); it opened as the Oxford Exchange in 2012 so gorgeously redone that a visit feels like walking into an issue of Architectural Digest.

How to stall: On any given day, half the population of South Tampa is doing just that at OE. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea in sunny rooms, but the area around the Buddy Brew Coffee and Tebella Tea Company counters, furnished with an assortment of easy chairs and tables, is more conducive to long-term lounging and people-watching. You can shop for Warby Parker eyeglasses or adorable home goods, or visit the nicely curated bookstore for something to read.

Go: 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. 420 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. (813) 253-0222. oxfordexchange.com.

Largo Public Library

Main event: This spiffy, spacious 90,300-square-foot facility opened in 2005, set amid the 70 green acres of Largo’s Central Park.

How to stall: Libraries expect you to linger. This one offers plenty of space for research and reading, on paper or online. There’s an entire children’s wing with activities to keep the little ones busy, too. Idle away some time in the library’s cafe over a book and a cup of java. Or browse in the book store to add to your permanent collection. For something other than books, check out the IdeaLab and try your hand at robotics, 3-D printing, videography and more.

Go: 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday. 120 Central Park Drive, Largo. (727) 587-6715. largo.com.

Nelson Poynter Memorial Library

Main event: Students, faculty and staff of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg get full access to the campus library’s resources, but anyone can enjoy its airy open space and comfy study areas, some with lovely views of Bayboro Harbor.

How to stall: Browse the stacks for something to read for an hour or two — a collection of short stories or essays, perhaps. Track down one of those seats with a view (easier to find in the summer, when the students thin out) and relax in that blessed library quiet.

Go: 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday. 140 Seventh Ave. S, St. Petersburg. (727) 873-4405. lib.usfsp.edu.

Colette Bancroft, Times book editor


GET ACTIVE

Vertical Ventures in St. Petersburg. (Times files, 2018)
Vertical Ventures in St. Petersburg. (Times files, 2018)

Rock climbing

Main event: In pancake-flat Florida, it’s tough to find a way to get a little vertical distance. The Vertical Ventures Rock Climbing Gym, with locations in Tampa and St. Petersburg, gets you off the ground and across man-made rock walls. The difficulty ranges from walls tilting slightly inward for beginners to all-the-way-upside-down challenges. It’s not just a place for kids — though it is amazing to see a 5-year-old scramble up a wall past a slow adult. All ages are welcome. For adults who aren’t crazy about heights, you can let the kids climb without you, though those younger than 13 have to stick to stations with pre-hung safety rope and machines that slowly lower them to the ground.

How to stall: The lobbies of both locations have comfy couches and TVs, though the newer St. Petersburg gym is more expansive. Grab a cold drink and let the kids ask the helpful staff questions about how to improve climbing skills. Watch some of the master climbers who use “boulder” as a verb.

Go: $15, $12 for kids 12 and under. That allows you to use the climbing gym all day and includes a rental harness. The “1 Hour Quick Climb” deal for $10 is a good place to start for beginners. There are daily specials at each location and frequent coupon offers. St. Petersburg: 9 am.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-12 a.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday, closed Monday. 116 18th St. S. (727) 304-6290. Tampa: 12-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 12 p.m.-12 a.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday, closed Monday. 5402 Pioneer Park Blvd. (813) 884-7625. verticalventures.com.

Ice skating

Main event: Sure there are plenty of indoor play spaces, but how many are so cold you need to pack a scarf and gloves? Going ice skating is the ultimate way to forget the oppressive heat outside, and Tampa Bay has four ice rinks to choose from, including one inside a mall.

How to stall: Put your own two feet to the test, or see if you can catch figure skaters or hockey teams practicing on the rinks. Warm up with a cup of hot chocolate or grab a bite to eat. Each of these rinks also has big screen TVs, so you can catch a game in the rink-side lounge.

Go: Tampa Bay Skating Academy has two ice rinks — Clearwater Ice Arena, 13940 Icot Blvd., Clearwater, (727) 536-5843; and Tampa Bay Skating Academy, 255 Forest Lakes Blvd. N, Oldsmar, (813) 854-4010 — and also runs the one inside Countryside Mall, 27001 U.S. 19 N, Clearwater, (727) 723-7785. See tampabayice.com for schedules. Public sessions tend to run about $11 with a $5 skate rental, and there are “cheap skate” public sessions on Mondays for $6. Across the Skyway Bridge you’ll find the huge Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex, where public sessions run $10 with $5 skate rental. 5309 29th St. E, Ellenton. (941) 723-3663. ellentonice.com.

Bowling

Main Event: Splitsville, the Tampa location of the upscale bowling alley, recently underwent some renovations and changes to their food menu. While you bowl, grab a beer or cocktail and something from the menu created by celebrity chef Art Smith (the fried chicken is a must). Plus, it’s located right next to Sparkman Wharf, the outdoor food court populated by kiosks from some of Tampa Bay’s most notable chefs. Or go more kitsch at a local bowling spot like Seminole Lanes or Tampa’s Pin Chasers, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.

How to stall: These alleys have more than bowling. Look for other games at Splitsville like lawn and feather bowling, ping pong, billiards, foosball, darts, and shuffleboard, and a solid arcade at

Go: Splitsville, 615 Channelside Drive, Suite 120, Tampa. (813) 514-2695. Seminole Lanes, 8668 Park Blvd N, Seminole, (727) 392-2271. Pin Chasers, 4847 N Armenia Ave., Tampa, (813) 877-7418.

Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Times staff writer


OFF-BEAT

Passengers walk into Cafe by Mise en Place in Terminal F at Tampa International Airport. (ALLIE GOULDING  |   Times)
Passengers walk into Cafe by Mise en Place in Terminal F at Tampa International Airport. (ALLIE GOULDING | Times)

Tampa International Airport

Main event: You don’t have to buy a ticket or take your shoes off to hang in the main terminal. There are shops, restaurants (lots of local spots represented here), public art installations, comfy places to sit and free Wi-Fi, plus TIA’s gleaming restrooms were hailed among the Best Bathrooms in America in 2013. And just recently, the airport launched an all access program, where anyone can sign up to hang out amid the restaurants and shops in the different airsides even if they don’t have a ticket to fly anywhere. It’s been quite popular.

How to stall: Grab a Starbucks drink and stare out the window at planes taking off. Get your shoes shined. Go to the newsstand and browse the extensive selection of magazines. Watch strangers tearfully reunite after long trips. Take your time gazing at the music memorabilia at the Hard Rock Cafe or the handwoven tapestries from Swaziland at baggage claim. Look for live music and other events via the airport’s Facebook page.

Go: 4100 George J Bean Parkway, Tampa. (813) 870-8700. tampaairport.com.

Big box stores, like Ikea

Main event: There are hours to be killed wandering those big, cool, fluorescent-lit palaces known as Sam’s Club, Target, Barnes and Noble or, the biggest, most labyrinthine of them all, Ikea.

How to stall: One great thing about big box stores: It’s easy to go unnoticed. Unless you’re actively seeking help or lounging in a kiddie pool a la Al Bundy, you can probably hang at Best Buy playing video game demos all day without anyone saying a word. Browse Target DVDs for ideas on what to stream. Try every food sample at Sam’s. At Ikea, spend a morning telling yourself you really could live in a 270-square-foot apartment if only it was organized with Ekby Bjarnum shelving, eat some $4.99 Najad salmon in the cafe for lunch, then wile away your afternoon downstairs among the modular can openers, corkscrews and clocks.

Go: 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday. Ikea, 1103 N 22nd St., Tampa. (888) 888-4532. ikea.com.

Hotel lobbies

Main event: Hotel lobbies are designed to feel welcoming, with the comfiest couches, the best decor, outlets to plug in your phone and perhaps some big-screen TVs tuned to whatever big game happens to be on. There’s almost always a bar nearby, and sometimes even a gift shop or a game room.

How to stall: The historic Vinoy Renaissance Resort on the St. Petersburg waterfront has a really long common area you can stroll through while feeling like a fancy 1920s person. At one end, you can study a photo display detailing the hotel’s 92-year history, including its jaunt as an army training facility. At the other end, get a grapefruit jalapeno margarita, or a massage in the spa. Across the bay, downtown Tampa’s boutique Le Meridien hotel opened in 2014 in a century-old former courthouse, renovated in lavish modern design. You can hang at the bar, or get something sweet and French from the bakery. Or go a few blocks toward the water, where the sleek Aloft hotel on the Hillsborough River has a pool table and hosts DJs at the W XYZ Bar.

Go: Vinoy Renaissance, 501 Fifth Ave. NE, St. Petersburg. (727) 894-1000. marriott.com. Le Meridien, 601 N Florida Ave., Tampa. (813) 221-9555. lemeridientampa.com. Aloft, 100 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. (813) 898-8000. aloftdowntowntampa.com.

Christopher Spata, Times staff writer


ART

A group follows a tour through the Tampa Museum of Art. (CHRIS URSO   |   Times)
A group follows a tour through the Tampa Museum of Art. (CHRIS URSO | Times)

Tampa Museum of Art

Main Event: View a range of antiquities, modern and contemporary art, including works in new media, in the museum’s ever-expanding permanent collection, as well as special exhibitions. The contemporary building features an elevated box-like structure covered in a metal mesh, the facade of which is the site of Leo Villareal’s LED art installation, Sky (Tampa). In the cool white galleries with polished stone floors you’ll find a rotating selection of special exhibitions.

How to stall: Take an hour-long docent tour, which must be arranged in advance. Peruse offerings at the museum store, and dine at Sono Cafe, which overlooks the Hillsborough River and the University of Tampa’s famous minarets.

Go: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday, 11a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. $15; $7.50 seniors, groups; $5 students; university, college and higher education students with IDs; 6 and under free. Free on Fridays from 4-8 p.m. 120 Gasparilla Plaza, Tampa. (813) 274-8130. tampamuseum.org.

Dali Museum

Main Event: The museum holds the largest collection of art by Spanish surrealist Salvador Dalí outside of Spain. You’ll immediately feel the whoosh of air as you step through the doors, where you’re greeted by the double helix staircase, which echoes the DNA theme so prevalent in Dali’s works. The permanent collection contains 2,000 works from Dali’s career, including some of his most famous oil paintings, drawings, sculpture and photos.

How to stall: Stretch your viewing time with complimentary audio guides, available in a variety of languages, as well as a special “Mr. Moustache” version for kids. Or take a docent tour. Take your time eating tapas and drinking cafe con leche at Cafe Gala, in the lobby. Wind your way around the epic gift shop.

Go: 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. $24, $22 seniors, $17 students and children 13-17, $10 children 6-12. $10 after 5 p.m. Thursdays. One Dali Blvd., St. Petersburg. (727) 823-3767. thedali.org.

Leepa Rattner Museum of Art

Main Event: The museum nestled on the campus of St. Petersburg College in Tarpon Springs was established by a gift of works from abstract expressionist Dr. Allen Leepa; the works of his stepfather, figurative expressionist Abraham Rattner; Esther Gentle; and their contemporaries. The summer-themed special exhibition, “Paradise Found,” will make you appreciate air conditioning even more, while “Working in Paradise” and “Postcards from the Edge” with Allen Leepa offers a glimpse of the artist’s life.

How to stall: Kids and adults will enjoy the Challenge of Modern Art Interactive Gallery, where you can literally step through a painting, make your own masterpiece or explore the language of art. Families can also get a free treasure hunt map from the front desk, which encourages viewing the art together, gallery by gallery.

Go: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday and Saturday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday, 1-5 p.m. Sunday, closed Mondays. $7, $6 seniors, free children/active military. Admission is by donation Thursdays from 5-8 p.m. 600 Klosterman Road, Tarpon Springs. (727) 712-5762. leeparattner.org.

Maggie Duffy, Times staff writer

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