Tampa, Florida, the seat of Hillsborough County. It is located near the center of Florida's west coast, on Tampa Bay at the mouth of the Hillsborough River. The city's area is 85 square miles (220 km2). St. Petersburg and Clearwater are just across the bay, connected with Tampa by two bridges and a causeway.
Tampa is the trade and commercial center for much of Florida's west coast. It has long been a leader in the making of cigars and in commercial fishing, especially for shrimp. Brewing, banking, the processing of citrus fruits and other foods, and the manufacturing of metalwares, fertilizers, and pharmaceuticals are also important. Although the tourist industry is not as important in Tampa as it is in many other Florida cities, there is an active tourist and convention trade in the Tampa area. Tampa's port is one of the major ports on the Gulf of Mexico. Tampa has an international airport and is served by two Interstate highways and a railway. MacDill Air Force Base adjoins the city.
Busch Gardens, an animal preserve and theme park with an African emphasis, features animal exhibits and shows, exotic gardens, rides, and live entertainment. It is one of Florida's major tourist attractions. Held in Tampa every February are the Florida State Fair and the Gasparilla Pirate Festival—a mock invasion celebrating the legend of the pirate José Gaspar. Lowry Park has a zoo and an amusement park. The city maintains a fishing pier and several municipal beaches. Raymond James Stadium is the home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers professional football team. The Tampa Bay Lightning, a professional hockey team, plays at the Ice Palace. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays play baseball at Tropicana Field.
Educational institutions include the University of South Florida and the University of Tampa. Among the museums in Tampa are the Henry B. Plant Museum, devoted to the decorative arts; the Tampa Museum of Art; and the Museum of Science and Industry. The Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center is the home of the Florida Orchestra and the Tampa Ballet.
The first European to visit the Tampa area was Pánfilo de Narváez, who sailed into Tampa Bay in 1528. Eleven years later Hernando de Soto started his long journey northward from the Tampa area. Little is known of the area from that time until 1824, when the U.S. Army established Fort Brooke there. A settlement grew up around the fort and in 1855 was incorporated as Tampa; later it absorbed nearby communities, including Ybor City and North Tampa. Rapid growth came after 1880 with the building of railways to the north, the opening of port facilities, and the influx of Cubans to the cigar industry in Ybor City.