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Through the Lens: Tampa

Our Through the Lens interviews offer a never-before-seen view of our favorite communities. This time we look Through the Lens with Jenn Thai as she captures Tampa.

Lifestyle blogger Jenn Thai has lived in Tampa since she was six. Four years ago she launched This Jenn Girl, a guide to all things Tampa, from food to fashion to photography.

Jenn recently visited the Sheraton to check out the renovation and photograph its brand-new look. Below, she shares her favorite things about the hotel, her city and her thriving community.

Pool with hotel in background

What impression did your visit to the Sheraton Tampa Riverwalk Hotel make on you?

Going inside and seeing the updated design was awesome. I’d actually been there before with a few of my fellow bloggers. It’s very modern and minimal, which I think is a great touch, and I think it’s really good for people my age [27] who are downtown either working or looking for a staycation. This was my first time staying with my dog anywhere, and just the fact they’re dog friendly made the stay really special and unique.

View of hotel lobby

What did you find uniquely Tampa about the hotel?

There’s one specific Tampa tie that I noticed: They have a lobster mac and cheese on the menu, which is a two-time winner of the Mayor’s Mac & Cheese Throwdown, which happens every year here in Tampa. All the local restaurants join the competition and make their own version. And the Sheraton’s version has won the people’s choice award twice, so I think people have a lot of love for it!

What can you tell us about the sense of community you feel there?

The community I live in is very tight-knit. There are a lot of local businesses that people will go out and support, and they’ll host blogger events to get the community together. A lot of those events will happen at a restaurant that’s local, not a chain restaurant, or a local boutique.

Bartender serving cold cocktail

What makes the Riverwalk, where the hotel is based, stand out from other parts of the city?

The Riverwalk is this stretch where people can walk from one end of the city to the other. There are parks in between that make great places to collaborate and get together with one another but also serve as a backdrop for the photos we post on our blogs.

Because the Sheraton is right along the Riverwalk, there’s a sense of easy exploration. The pool bar is open to the public, so if you’re walking by you see people having fun by the pool with live music and drinks — it’s very welcoming and open. The fact that it’s along the Riverwalk gives it a real tie to the community because it’s in one of the major areas where people exercise or go out to find something fun to do at night.

What’s something most people don’t know about Tampa?

Tampa is much more food-savvy and cultural than people think. I love putting together lists of places people can go eat when they’re in the area because if they’re from out of town, they usually come here not knowing what to expect other than really sunny weather and beaches. There is so much to see and do — and eat! Our food culture is really good at staying authentic — whether it’s French, Italian or a really good steak, everyone does a wonderful job of giving people the true experience.

Fish tacos with fries and drink on table

What locations mean the most to you in the surrounding area?

For art, I love Cass Contemporary, which is an art gallery in South Tampa featuring both indoor and outdoor exhibits from local artists; it gives a well-rounded view into Tampa’s art scene. For food and culture, the Wat Mongkolratanaram Buddhist temple has a Sunday Market that features authentic Thai cuisine prepared by volunteers, and proceeds go back to the temple. (Remember that it’s cash only!) And any of the Tampa Bay Markets are a great way to dive into the Tampa culture, with local food, crafts and live music.

How has your creative community shaped your life in Tampa?

We have a lot of local blogger get-togethers, and many are really just an opportunity for us to get to know each other a bit better than just following one another on Instagram. Recently I had a “Friendsgiving” at a local restaurant in Hyde Park Village, and we’re hoping to make it a bimonthly thing. It’s an opportunity for people to talk about their blogs — but since we’re so busy working at events and doing our thing, it’s actually nice to be able to sit down and talk about things that aren’t related to blogging and get to know each other as people.

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Associate opening hotel entrance door