Known as the cigar capital of the world for many years, the century-plus-old Latin district in Tampa, Florida known as Ybor City has much to offer the urban traveler. Having recently undergone a fair amount of preservation and restoration work to bring it back to some of its former glory, efforts are still underway to continue the process. A cultural treasure for the Tampa Bay area, there are many fun things to do when visiting Ybor City. Here are my top picks.
Formerly a cultural club back in the district’s cigar heyday, Centro Ybor has been redeveloped as a dining, entertainment and business venue. This historic brick structures are connected by an over-the-street walkway and house Ybor City restaurants, office space and a variety of shopping and entertainment spots. They even provide $3 valet parking if you can produce a movie ticket or other Centro Ybor receipt for $25 or more.
Free History Videos at Ybor City Visitor Information Center
Near Centro Ybor, you’ll find the free-to-visit Ybor City Information Center, which offers free historical videos detailing the cigar heritage of Tampa’s Latin quarter, walking tour maps and information about a variety of venues in the area. They’re quite interesting to watch, and provide a nice air-conditioned break from the streets if you’ve been strolling for a bit in the Florida heat.
Ybor City provides one of several Tampa Bay walking tours that are worth your tourist time. If you love the historic charm and atmosphere of Tarpon Springs and Largo’s Heritage Village, then this area of town will definitely float your boat. Brochures with must-see sights are available at the information center for a self-guided experience, and for-fee cigar history tours can be booked as well. For those who prefer touring by Segway, this option is also available.
Book an Evening at the Ritz
This circa 1917 private entertainment venue brings historical theater charm to modern-day Ybor City residents and visitors. The recipient of a multi-million-dollar renovation facelift, the Ritz has intimate stage-front seating and is known for its retro style and atmosphere.
Ybor City State Museum
Technically a state park with its grounds and explorable cigar workers’ casitas, the museum is an affordable $5 activity to check out if you happen to be in the area. That being said, if you have a moderate-sized family, you may be better off with a state park pass for value’s sake. There are chairs and tables in the garden area, making it a great place to have a sandwich or get off your feet for a few minutes with a book before you gear up for round two of your sightseeing adventure.
Ybor City Improv
Comedy fans will love the chance to check out television-worthy acts at the Improv in Ybor City. Arrive early and check out their menu, or grab sushi at the balcony bar above in Centro Ybor. This is a fun venue to get your laugh groove on that’s located near other fun places to hang out. So if a morning walking tour isn’t your speed and you want something a little more hip, head down later in the day for cocktails, an perhaps a movie before your laugh-in.
Meal at the Columbia
While this family franchise may have grown to several other locations around the state, the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City is where it all started. Experience a phenomenal meal in the original restaurant, which has been around for more than one hundred years. Keep it casual with their award-winning Cubano, or dress it up a bit with their elegant eggplant entrée. As Ybor City restaurants go, this one is a must-see.
Pets on the Patio at Gaspar’s Grotto
If you’re looking for a little Gasparilla atmosphere year round, check out the party fare at Gaspar’s Grotto. Since they also allow Rover to dine outside with you, it’s one of the more enjoyable pet-friendly Tampa dining establishments.
Take a Trolley to Channelside
If you’re staying in Ybor City while visiting Tampa, or looking for a way to break up your day between the morning tour and evening comedy performances, try taking the historic trolley from Ybor City to Channelside and back. You’ll be able to check out the aquarium, a variety of museums, the Tampa Riverwalk, and a variety of fun restaurants on the other side of town, and catch an affordable ride back to Ybor for a night at the Improv.
Stroll & Snack
If you simply want to stroll and take in the nightlife, visiting Ybor City on a weekend evening is a great way to do that. It’s an affordable date with built-in conversation starters from more than a century ago. There are plenty of coffee and snack shops, as well as wide-open selection of fun bar venues for the club crowd. One thing I’ve noticed in particular about the Ybor City bar scene is how clever some of the club owners are with using alley space. It was something we saw a great deal of in Bangkok, but not so often back here in the States really. So it was neat to see this going on there, and it adds a really fun vibe to the street-strolling experience in Ybor.
Travelers who love historical urban ambiance are sure to enjoy a visit to Ybor City in Tampa. Cigar fans, Latin history buffs and comedy fans will have even more to love.
Photo Credits: These pictures of Ybor City were photographed by the Trekhound.com team, and are available for creative commons use through our sister site, Picturesoftravelplaces.com.