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Tampa is the perfect city for repeated road trips

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Our neighbor to the South is in many ways as much a study in contrasts as Orlando is. Both a college town (home of the University of South Florida and University of Tampa) and a tourist destination (visitors flock to Busch Gardens and the French Quarter-esque Ybor City) Tampa holds just as much local charm and hidden treasures as we do. The quirky Seminole Heights neighborhood is a hub for local creativity and diversity up there with our own Mills 50 and Audubon Park areas, not to mention myriad furiously talented local bands and performers. At a drive of a little over an hour – Disney traffic permitting – it's a perfect city for repeated trips.The Castle

2004 N. 16th St., Tampa, 813-247-7547, castleybor.com

For a truly unique weekend outing in the bustling epicenter of Ybor City nightlife, you can't go wrong with this imposing gothic (in every sense of the word) edifice. Hosting goth, industrial and old wave nights, the Castle has been ground zero for darker music going back decades. See the place that no doubt inspired SNL's Goth Night skit; spankings are (we kid you not) on offer too.

Cunst Haus

4634 N. Florida Ave., Tampa, 813-340-9056, tempus-projects.com/cunsthaus.html

Forward-thinking nonprofit women-run art collective and gallery space that regularly holds challenging and completely engaging art exhibitions, installations and multimedia shows. One of the original members of the collective was Florida Prize winner and OMA exhibitor Noelle Mason.

CW's Gin Joint

633 N. Franklin St., Tampa, 813-816-1446, cwginjoint.com

Hotly tipped new downtown craft cocktail bar with an ornately grandiose interior matched by their mammoth "gin matrix" cocktail menu, which they ably execute. The hype is real.

Oxford Exchange

420 W. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa, 813-253-0222, oxfordexchange.com

Impressively metropolitan in appearance and vibe – an 1891 building updated for the 21st century – the Exchange is a combination coffee shop and bookstore that goes far beyond usual café offerings with their breakfast, lunch, brunch and afternoon tea menus.

Steelworker Records

708 W. Doctor M.L.K. Jr. Blvd., Tampa, 813-666-4933, steelworkerrecords.com

For a relatively new store, Steelworker has quickly become one of the best record shops in Florida for fans of metal, noise, hardcore, experimental music and everything in between. Low on battered old Billy Joel LPs and high on world music rarities, Steelworker is a hidden gem. Pro tip: Wander over to Grindhouse Video next door to have your mind blown by a mountain of obscure horror and B-movie weirdness.

La Teresita

3248 W. Columbus Drive, Tampa, 813-879-9704, lateresitarestaurant.com

A local institution since the early 1990s, this family restaurant is a must-visit for hungry diners interested in cheap, amazing Cuban food. Crucially, open late most nights.

Xtreme Tacos

310 E. Waters Ave., Tampa, 813-570-6407, xtremetacos.com

"Mexican-American fusion with West Coast flair" is the mission statement of this new taqueria that's angling to bump the mighty Taco Bus off its throne. The menu overflows with creative twists on tacos, tostadas, tortas, quesadillas and more.