Photo by Ran Allen

A city of champions, Cuban cigars and culture

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Although Spanish explorers discovered and named Florida in the early 16th-century, the Gulf Coast city of Tampa actually inherited its Hispanic culture from Cuba and its name from an early Native American tribe called the Caloosa, whose village was called Tanpa.

Meaning “stick of fire,” Tampa has a rich and colorful history, filled with pirates and gangsters. But the city didn’t actually “catch on fire” until the late 1800s, with the advent of Henry B. Plant’s railroad and many new settlers, including Cuban cigar manufacturer Vicente Martinez Ybor. Cigars became the city’s trademark industry and Plant’s luxurious Tampa Hotel with its shimmering minarets became an exotic resort for millionaires and mobsters of the era, as well as a definitive architectural landmark. Today, the hotel’s historic minarets still define the skyline, as well as anchor the campus of the University of Tampa, and the former home of the cigar industry, Ybor City, gives Tampa a unique Cuban flavor.

In the late 18th and early 19th century, pirate Jose Gaspar, described as “the last of the Buccaneers,” terrorized the west coast of Florida, and today his legacy lives on in Tampa’s annual pirate party known as Gasparilla and in the name of the Superbowl-winning NFL team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In fact, Tampa has an embarrassment of riches in winning national sports teams and is also home to former Stanley Cup winners, the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning. The New York Yankees also maintain a stadium here for spring training and minor league games.

While most of the country is still shoveling snow from their driveways in late February and March, Tampa’s average temperature is 77 degrees, perfect for sitting in the sun and munching peanuts while watching your favorite team begin the baseball season. Golfers also have more than 20 championship courses to choose from including the home of the PGA Chrysler Championship, Copperhead at the Westin Innisbrook and the stunning Tournament Players Club located amidst Audubon-certified and protected wetlands.

Ybor City

Whether you’re in the mood for some crisp Cuban bread, a hot Cuban sandwich, some fiery Spanish food and Flamenco dancing, or a hand-rolled cigar, Ybor City is the heart of Hispanic culture in Tampa. Visit La Segunda Bakery and pick up your own 36-inch loaf of crusty bread hot from the oven to go with your morning café con leche. Many local eateries on the main drag, 7th Street, offer hot, pressed Cuban sandwiches, and Ybor’s Columbia Restaurant has been one of the culinary world’s favorites for more than a century. Since 1905, the Hernandez Gonzmart family has been serving up Spanish classics like Paella a la Valencia and Snapper Alicante, along with authentic nightly Flamenco performances. After dinner, check out the eclectic boutiques and vintage stores on 7th Street.

South Tampa

In South Tampa, Hyde Park and the adjacent SoHo—short for south of Howard Avenue— neighborhood are filled with clubs, restaurants, and shops that cater to the young professional set. The venerable Bern’s Steakhouse is located in this neighborhood, and just across the street, foodies congregate at the Epicurean Hotel, which offers cooking classes and demonstrations, as well as food-inspired spa treatments.

North Tampa

On the north side of town, Busch Gardens has been a family favorite for decades, and heading east on Interstate 4, you can visit two of Tampa’s most popular annual winter events, the Florida State Fair and the Plant City Strawberry Festival, both of which feature concerts by top country artists. If you prefer playing for high stakes, The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino is also on this side of town.

Downtown Tampa

For more urban pursuits, downtown Tampa offers world-class museums, a performing arts center that offers top Broadway shows and a spectacular Riverwalk that runs through the center of the city.

Plan to rent a car as mass transportation is not highly developed, and Tampa is a sprawling metropolitan area, rather than a compact urban hub. But rest assured, that despite a little driving from point-to-point, Tampa has plenty to do for everyone.

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What it Costs

Abstract Pricing at a Glance

Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.

Price ranges are quoted in $US.

See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$$ => Tickets $26 per person

$ => Rooms less than $100 for a double
$$ => Rooms $200 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $300 for a double

$ => $1-15 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$ => $16-40 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$$ => $41 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)

N/A => Not applicable

$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$ => Tickets $26 per person


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