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The Tampa Bay area takes center stage this week, as the Florida region's beloved Rays battle for baseball supremacy in this year's World Series. But while the action inside Tropicana Field may be what's hot at the moment, Tampa's white sandy beaches and seaside highways and byways offer a perfect destination to get out and drive any time of the year.
And if you're wondering if it's convertible weather, high temperatures over the weekend are forecast to be in the 80s. So get yourself down to Florida and check out this drive to the sea. If you're quick enough, and the World Series makes it back down to "The Big Guava" next week, you can couple a gorgeous day out with a raucous evening inside watching the sporting event of the fall.
If you do want to try to catch the Series, cross your fingers that the Philadelphia Phillies and the Rays battle their way to a Game 6, which would take place Wednesday, Oct. 29, if necessary. Game 7 would be Oct. 30. You can still get last-minute tickets from Web sites like stubhub.com, which is advertising Game 6 tickets starting at $200 and going all the way up to $12,000. Tickco.com has Game 7 seats starting at $299 each.
Whether you go to the Series or not, you'll want to devote a whole day to checking out the scenery of Central Florida. Here's a route recommended by Tampa Bay and Co., along with some hot spots to hit along the way.
Get in your car on Seventh Avenue, smack dab in the middle of Ybor City, the colorful Latin Quarter of Tampa Bay. If you want to check out the Series next week, why not hurry down this weekend, bring your costumes and check out Guavaween on Saturday? This music masquerade party attracts about 80,000 revelers. Or stop and grab a Cuban sandwich at Florida's oldest eatery, Columbia Restaurant.
Continue down Seventh for about a mile, then turn left onto the Nuccio Parkway, to the Channelside Drive. If you're in the driver's seat, take advantage of the seaside scenery as you pass the city's port, which contains cruise ship after cruise ship nestled in along the docks, awaiting departure to destinations across the Atlantic.
Next you'll pass the Florida Aquarium, the state's largest, where you can see more than 20,000 aquatic plants and animals. Bring your suit and your daring nature, and swim with the fishes, promenade with the penguins or go shark-diving.
Just beyond the aquarium, you'll drive by the St. Pete Times Forum, where hockey's Tampa Bay Lightning ply their trade. The Lightning are now playing home games for the 2008-09 season. Upcoming dates include Oct. 25, Nov. 1 and Nov. 13.
Channelside Drive then becomes Bayshore Boulevard, where you will find what the Guinness Book of World Records deems the longest continuous sidewalk in the world, at about 4.5 miles. Gaze in envy and/or awe at the multimillion-dollar beachside homes to your right, then turn to your left and enjoy the beauty of the sun sparkling on the water of the bay itself. But keep one eye in front of you so you can dodge the bikers, joggers and skaters out for their afternoon exercise.
At Howard Avenue, turn right, and you're into the historic neighborhood of Hyde Park, which features oak-lined drives dotted with bungalows dating to the 1920s. If you're hungry, stop in for dinner at Bern's Steak House, which boasts one of the largest wine collections in the world, or keep moving, turning right on Swann Avenue and into Hyde Park Village.
The village is the perfect place to get your shopping on, as it features art and jewelry galleries, men's and women's fashions, home furnishings, health and beauty boutiques and more. Live musicians and children's festivals add to the fun if you time your visit right.
Once you've driven through Hyde Park, keep on Village Circle back to Bayshore Boulevard, which continues to wind along the water to Gandy Avenue. At Gandy Avenue, turn right and head west about three miles to Westshore Boulevard.
Turn left onto Kennedy Boulevard to the Courtney Campbell Causeway, a Florida Scenic Highway that traverses the Old Tampa Bay as it meanders the Rocky Point area of Tampa and into Clearwater. The waters along the Causeway are home to crabs, shrimp, herons and egrets, as well as the endangered West Indian manatee. Time your passage for twilight, and see a glowing sunset over marsh grass and mangrove trees, and keep an eye out for a passing Great Blue Heron.
Once in Clearwater, take the Mandalay Avenue exit to enjoy beachfront dining or a nightcap at the Palm Pavilion Bar and Grill on Clearwater Beach. Turn left onto Bay Esplanade and you're there. Try the grouper prepared the way you like it, and finish up with the key lime pie. Or just lounge back and sip on a tropical drink as you let the night roll in. You can even stay at the Palm Pavilion Inn and make this your stop for the evening.