When you see that the Tampa Bay Lightning are playing a Saturday night home game on New Year’s Eve, you kinda have to plan a weekend trip to Tampa for some NHL hockey to help ring in the new year and get in some more exploring of the local dining scene and of course some local breweries.

The trip started off at home in Brevard County then my wife and I picked up our son in Lakeland along the way to our first stop at the Keel and Curley Winery which is located west of Plant City.

There we ordered both a beer flight and a wine flight.  There’s a decent selection of beer that they produce on site as well as a similarly wide selection of the fruit wines they’ve been making for years.

They have a good selection of food as well, but we were going to be heading to another spot for lunch so we opted for a snack of their fried gator bites.

While the tasting room has plenty of room for a large crowd, there’s an even larger covered patio as well as another separate bar and covered sitting area a short walk out behind the tasting room.

You can explore the grounds which include a strawberry field along with a garden where they grow lettuce and peppers, but you also get to walk by the pair of goats and pig that they have on the property.  Beyond that is a huge chicken run and you’ll also see the production facility.

There’s also a playground for the kiddos and this should be on your list of wineries/ breweries to visit if you’re in the area.

We knew there was some rain moving into the area so we packed up and headed into Tampa for lunch and a couple other stops before checking into our hotel to get ready for the Lightning game.  That lunch was at Louis Pappas Fresh Greek on Bay to Bay Blvd. and we went with a sampling of several items on the menu from their Trio of Spreads (we opted for the freshly fried pita chips), dolmades, The Greek flatbread and a traditional gyro.  They have several other locations in that part of the state and we’re likely to be visiting one or more of them at some point.

One of the types of businesses that is a must on any trip that includes my wife or one of our kids is any local coffee shop that might be in the area.  There happened to be a Buddy Brew Coffee just down the street so there you go.

When it comes to me, the type of local business I’m looking for on our adventures is any local doughnut shop and even though I’d been to Dough before, it was too difficult to pass by.  The doughnuts are not inexpensive and the cupcakes are pretty pricey, but they sure know how to make your sweet tooth go quiet.

Finally it was time to check into our hotel which for this trip was the Aloft at the corner of Kennedy and Ashley in Downtown Tampa.  If you’ve never stayed an an Aloft (this was our second), the lobbies are pretty open with plenty of space for guests to mingle.  The two we’ve stayed at had full service bars and even a pool table with a lot of seating options throughout the lobby.

The bar isn’t open all of the time, but when it is there’s typically a few hotel guests enjoying an adult beverage.

You wouldn’t think that a hotel lobby is the place for a pool table but it sure fits at Aloft just fine.

The hotel staff had decorated the lobby so that guests could ring in the new year.  They even had a DJ playing later and he sure drew a crowd as midnight neared.

Hanging out at the hotel wasn’t why we were in Tampa and while we typically stay within a block of the Amalie Arena for Lightning games, the prices at those hotels on this night pushed us farther up into downtown.  It’s always exciting walking up to the arena to go cheer for the Bolts!

Yes we tend to sit up in the rafters and that’s okay.  We’re there like everyone else and enjoying the game just the same.  I like to say there’s no bad seat at a hockey game.  It helps when your team takes the win and the Lightning held off the Airzona Coyotes tonight.

After the game ended, we walked across the street from the arena to the Greenwise Publix where yes, you can get flights of craft beer!

Chill Bros. Scoop Shop has four locations and we paid a visit to the one on Water Street (a block north of the arena) where we enjoyed an ice cream “flight”.  You get to pick six flavors (and these are decent sized scoops) which easily was enough for the three of us.

Realizing that we hadn’t had dinner yet and with somewhat limited options nearby since it was New Year’s Eve, we ended up at the Four Green Fields Irish Pub beside Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park (which was also only a block north of our hotel).  We had a sampling of their Shepherd Skins, Pub Spuds, Guinness Stew and mac & cheese.  Of course a pint or three was enjoyed and they had live music playing which made the visit pretty enjoyable.

It was nearing midnight so we figured a stroll along the Riverwalk to our hotel would be nice and from the patio at Aloft, we watched 2022 turn into 2023 as the fireworks south of downtown lit up the sky.

After a late night (or would that be early morning since it was well after midnight before we all made it to bed), and after a rare morning of sleeping in, it was time to check out and go enjoy Sunday brunch at Cigar City Brewing.  Their beer menu is heavy with IPAs, but there are other options and this first exploratory visit of their menu didn’t disappoint.

The only place you can enjoy Joffrey’s Coffee & Tea other than at Walt Disney World is at their coffee shop at Midtown Tampa and yes that was our last stop in Tampa on this trip.

Now you might think (and rightfully so) that food in a shopping mall is something to avoid at all costs, well there’s a place inside the Lakeland Square Mall called Teppan Express and they make a pretty delicious teppanyaki style meal prepared right in front of you after you order it.  It was a wonderful discovery when our son moved to Lakeland almost two years ago.  It is also a must visit for some take out to bring all the way back to Brevard whenever we go see him.

That wraps up this weekend’s visit to enjoy another Tampa Bay Lightning game as well as trying some more locally owned restaurants and breweries while we were there.  What a spectacular way to end 2022 and to kick off 2023!

Next up is a weekend trip to Manhattan with my son.

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