Every year I have one BIG week long conference.  Last year it was in San Antonio, Texas and this year was Tampa.  So I recently I recently spent six long and lovely days in Tampa.  Let’s be clear – it’s 12 hour work days – but I always manage to sneak in good food and some fun (this year that fun included a little sun).

My early Saturday AM flight gave me nearly a full day to go play.  I opted for the sun and sand at Clearwater Beach.  It was the best decision I made all week.  Fully relaxed and tan, I went for dinner at The Columbian before returning to downtown Tampa.  The water views (and breeze) were relaxing and the food was fabulous!  Get a mojito and the Gambas “Al Ajillo”!  #GoodFood

Conference Style

Remembering the heat from the last time this conference was in Tampa I opted for dresses rather than suits as my attire for the week.  I knew that cold air conditioning could be a factor so I also included a few jackets and cardigans just in case.  Packing five dresses in my tiny Tumi was way easier than trying to figure out five suit combinations!  It’s an option I highly recommend for your next conference!  #DressesEveryDay

Conference Forward

The Conference “forward” was Sunday.  I never understand why conferences have conferences before the conference (but I keep attending them).  This day is more casual so I opted for a fun dress and sandals.

Ann Taylor Dress (similar here or here | Aviator Glasses | Alexis Bittar Necklace (here or here)

Hinge Cage Sandals (similar here, here and here)

The first day also always includes an evening networking reception.  Folks tend to dress down for this event and are even more casual than they were for the day.  I opted for fun Rebecca Minkoff striped pants and a simple tank.  I wore the same sandals from earlier.  The only picture I have is one I snapped in the hotel mirror before walking out the door.

Rebecca Minkoff Striped Pants (similar) | Ann Taylor Tank

Conference Day One

With the conference in full swing, my plan for dresses every day made getting ready was easy.   First up … this pinstripe number with crossing stripes.  I love the indecisiveness.  Day 1 of the conference was 7 AM to 7 PM of meetings and sessions.  I wore the gorgeous INEZ shoes for their statement making abilities and their comfort!  My feet thanked me at the end of the that long 12 hour day!

Pinstripe Dress (similar here or here) | Givenchy Necklace (alternative) | Chelsea 28 Tote | INEZ Shoes

Conference Day Two

Day 2 of the conference was a similar schedule but my meetings ended at five and then two networking events followed.  I also attended a fabulous Women’s lunch (the one advantage to being the only female on the team) where I was able to hear the Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence (PDDNI) talk candidly about her career path.  If you every wonder if women can’t also be moms … check out here story.  One of the women sitting at my table only knew her as just another “soccer mom”.  For this day I opted for an always classic DVF Dress with Kate Spade Mary Jane’s.

DVF Dress (spendy but similar) | Kate Spade Shoes (similar here or here)

Conference Day Three

After three days on my feet and still more meetings and sessions I was ready for comfort.  Enter my favorite dress of the week! This dress is fully lined and stretchy (very forgiving) and the asymmetrical neckline is just plain fun!  I returned to the INEZ pumps for their comfort factor but they also make quite the statement.  I’m not sure if the shoes or dress received more compliments.  #SoManyCompliments

Maggy London Dress (same color,similar style here or same style, black here) | INEZ Pumps | Jenny Bird Jewelry

Conference Day 4

The final day was an offsite session that lasted most of the day.  I didn’t manage to get any pictures but I wore a Hugo Dress (as seen here in a picture from the conference last year) and the Kate Spade Mary Jane’s.

The next morning I flew home, exhausted and a few pounds heavier. The dining is amazing and I have no doubt the extra pounds came from excessive amounts of cheese (learn about my overindulgence below) and little running (I did manage to sneak one run in along Bay Shore Drive and it was lovely).  #LessonLearned #LessCheeseMoreRunning

Where to Eat

If you are going to go to Tampa leave time for the dining!  There are some gems.  The first few days I tried to stick close to downtown but the final day included a session offsite and I was able to venture a little further.  My main staple for the week was Cheese boards (because I always arrived starving and needing something to accompany my cocktail) but there is plenty of good finds that do not include cheese.  #DoesThatPersonExist?

Boca Tampa

I enjoyed a late lunch, early dinner (and martini) at Boca Tampa before heading to the opening reception.  I failed to snap a picture of their cheese board but you shouldn’t fail to try it.  It included Brunost which I had never had and I’m now obsessed!   #SoGOOD  The Tuna Tataki appetizer and the wall of lettuce which became my farm house salad are both notable as well!  Salad doesn’t get any fresher than picking the lettuce just after you order!

Armature Works

The opening reception was held at the Armature Works.  It is a fabulous little venue and I would have liked to have returned for lunch or dinner another day.  Think food truck meets public market kind of place with lots of open and airy space to enjoy the food and fun!

Edison: Food+Drink Lab

I disappeared to the Edison Lab for more cheese (and bourbon) after a long day of meetings.  After snacking on cheese I was enticed to order their famous Chicken and Waffles (which became breakfast leftovers later in the week).   The waffles are made with coconut and sweet potato flour.  They also had a fabulous beet and goat cheese salad.

Bern’s Steakhouse

For dinner one evening I joined three coworkers for a true dining experience at Bern’s Steakhouse.  The experience included a kitchen and wine cellar tour as well as dessert in a private room.  The menu is amazing!  The steak options were unlimited and the end result fabulous.  The wine menu was literally a encyclopedia and I was thrilled to have a coworker adept and navigating it!  Everything was perfection.  I didn’t take any food pictures but I did manage to snap a few pictures on the tours (apologies for the blur).

On Swann

Dinner at On Swann was served up by the bartenders.  More cheese and martinis but for a delicious alternative to cheese try the Lamb Meatballs – they were yummy!

Rooster and the Till

The Rooster & the Till was exactly what I needed after a long week of being ‘on’.  A little further outside the city,in the Seminole Heights neighborhood, this gem was worth the journey.  I was tempted by their cheese board (of course) but opted to put my dining fate in the hands of the chef.  I did their tasting menu (including the wine pairings) and put my phone away for the day to enjoy good food and company and celebrate the end of a very long work week!