Unknown to most people, Florida natives and tourists alike, in the year 1528, Pánfilo de Narváez led the first European expedition of what would become the United States. And his expedition was followed by Hernando De Soto in 1539. These journeys ashore marked the start of the discovery of this continent. The new Tampa Bay History Center presents this story of the oldest recorded history in the United States, before the Jamestown settlement and Plymouth Rock (our history beats them by 80-90 years.) The museum was built very near the location of the U.S. Army’s Fort Brooke where Tampa began as a military outpost and settlement at the mouth of Hillsborough Bay. The Tampa Bay History Center, the fantastic design on the right in the photo, is the first regional history museum of its kind on Florida’s west coast - on the left in the photo is the St. Pete Times Forum, home to the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team and a terrific, year-round concert venue. The 60,000 square foot, four-story museum opened its doors this past January during a fun, weekend-long celebration which included grand opening ceremonies with its board of trustees, staff, government officials and hundreds of friends and donors. There were lots of activities for members and the public inside the museum and outside in Cotanchobee/ Fort Brooke Park. They had music, flamenco dancing, cigar-rolling and historic re-enactments plus really delicious food from the Columbia Café. The museum is located on Old Water Street on the Garrison Channel in Tampa’s Channelside district. The History Center features over 40,000 items in its collection and covers the area’s 12,000 years of history including our area’s first native inhabitants, the first exploration of the region by Spanish conquistadors and our fascinating and colorful story in the 400-plus years since the Spanish first set eyes on our shores. The exhibitions include a 1920s cigar store, cattle drives and branding, cigar label art, our military history and so much more. The story is told with incredible artifacts, theater presentations and interactive exhibits and displays. On the first floor as you enter the three-story atrium (which you can visualize by looking at the photo,) is an extremely nice visitors services team who will greet you and sign you up for a membership and the famous Columbia Café. It serves their authentic, award-winning Spanish cuisine from the family-owned Columbia Restaurant’s delicious menu. The restaurant’s history and heritage in Ybor City is a great addition to the museum experience and stomach. Believe me. (And be sure to have their sangria, OK?) You can dine inside in the café or outside on the patio facing the park and water. A must-shop museum store and meeting and event space is also on the first floor. The museum contains important maps and charts representing four hundred years of Florida’s history, from 1513 to 1913. Named by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon in 1513, Florida can be seen as map-makers saw it or often envisioned it to be. The collection is extraordinary. Aside from the fabulous collection (which is growing every day), café, gift shop and its friendly and professional museum staff, the Tampa Bay History Center has a superb waterfront location in Tampa's downtown. It’s within walking distance of the port and cruise ship terminals, major hotels and is even on the trolley line. It’s a must see in Tampa.