I’m a journalist, a wife, a mom, a runner and a chocolate fiend.
And just as people have different sides, so do neighborhoods. Case in point: Ybor City, a historic district northeast of downtown Tampa. Ybor (pronounced “EE-bore”) is one of Tampa’s most celebrated neighborhoods, and depending on whom you ask, you’ll discover different causes for celebration.
Here are five types of visitors who’ll find something to love about Ybor City.
The History Buff:
Ybor City was founded in 1886, so it has many tales to tell.
● Day at the museum: Inside the historic Ferlita Bakery building is the Ybor City Museum. The $4 admission offers a solid overview of Ybor’s history, starting with Spanish immigrant and cigar magnate Don Vicente Martinez Ybor. It also includes access to the adjacent park. You can also download the museum’s self-guided historical walking tour for $9.95.
● Take the cigar tour: There’s no smoking required on the cigar industry walking tour, which starts inside the Ybor City Museum and includes peeks inside a 19th-Century cigar maker’s house, a labor temple, the opulent Don Vicente Inn and more. The tour takes about two hours and costs $17.95 per person. Your tour guide is Wallace Reyes, a historian at the Ybor City Museum, Guinness World Record holder for the longest rolled cigar (more than 196 feet!) and author of Once Upon a Time in Tampa: Rise and Fall of the Cigar Industry. To book, call Reyes at (813) 428-0854.
● But wait… There’s more: The Tampa Baseball Museum and a law enforcement museum are slated to open in 2014.
The Art Aficionado:
Whether you prefer to look at, make or wear your art, Ybor City will challenge your definition of a masterpiece.
● Everywhere you look: If you’re feeling formal, browse Hoffman Porges Gallery or swing through the art gallery inside Hillsborough Community College Ybor City Campus. If you prefer outside-the-box art, consider participating in the Ybor City Architecture Hop. Also take note of the colorful clothing on passersby and in Ybor’s vintage shops like La France and Revolve Clothing Exchange.
● Take a class: Nestled beneath the shade trees of Centennial Park is Ybor Art Studio, where you can peer inside to see adults trying the art of metalsmithing, teenagers throwing clay on a pottery wheel or children learning to sew. Classes start at around $10 per session, plus materials. Just across the street from the park is Singing Stone Gallery and Studio, a family-friendly bungalow offering daylong workshops that give an introduction to silversmithing. You leave with a pendant, ring, dogtag or other item of your own creation. Advanced classes in soldering and stone-setting are also available. $225 includes all supplies.
● Put it in ink: Ybor City comprises only about 300 acres, but it packs in eight tattoo parlors. “I think this has always been a place where subcultures have thrived… whether it was cigar rolling or mafia activity,” says Ari Pimsler, manager of Ybor City Tattoo Company. If you’re looking for a permanent souvenir from your visit, you’ll find plenty of places to get tattooed and pierced.
Culinary institutions and annual events anchor Ybor’s dining scene.
● History in the eating: Begin at the beginning, with a traditional Cuban sandwich. The menu staple takes its name from the immigrants who sustained Tampa’s cigar factories in the early 20th Century. These days, the Cuban sandwich is a staple on Ybor City menus, including La Tropicana Cafe, Carmine’s Seventh Avenue and the Florida’s oldest eatery, the original Columbia Restaurant.
● Food, folks and fun: Ybor is ground zero for gastronomic gatherings, including annual festivals celebrating the Cuban sandwich, cupcakes and flan, to name a few. Check ‘em out on the district’s list of annual special events. There’s also a tapas trail during the annual Ybor Aficionado Days in April. “It’s kind of like a bar crawl, but it’s based on food,” says Tom Keating, president of the Ybor City Chamber of Commerce.
● Potent potables: Speaking of bars, even your beer can be local in Ybor. Tampa Bay Brewing Company is a microbrewery and restaurant on the ground floor of the dining and entertainment complex Centro Ybor.
The Night Owl:
By day, professionals take up residence in Ybor’s historic office buildings. But after dark, its myriad nightclubs attract partiers from across Tampa Bay and beyond.
● Try something different: Locals love showing off the Columbia Restaurant’s flamenco show to out-of-town visitors; $6 gets you a seat to the dance treat. Or laugh your way through the evening with a round of drag queen bingo at Hamburger Mary’s, followed by a standup comedy show at Tampa Improv.
● Late-night eats: During my years as an entertainment reporter for the Tampa Bay Times, I often found myself in Ybor City in the wee hours. At the end of the long night, I relished stopped by the Market on 7th to grab a slice of crispy, bubbling pizza for my ride home. It’s just one of the many places to grab a bite after the clubs let out.
With its reputation as a party town, Ybor City isn’t exactly Candy Land. That said, there’s plenty to entertain the kiddos for a day or two.
● A streetcar named TECO: The TECOline Streetcar System spans about a 2-mile trek between Ybor City, downtown Tampa and the Channelside District. For kids, it’s endlessly entertaining to ride an old-fashioned streetcar complete with capped driver. One-day unlimited ride fare cards cost $5 per person or $12.50 per family.
● In the market for family fun: Every week, the Ybor City Saturday Market transforms Centennial Park into a vibrant gathering place with live music and visitors of all ages. Browse rows of vendors selling artwork, plants, gift items, fresh produce and prepared foods. (I can never resist the banana bread and friendly conversation at the Happy Baker booth.) The market is open yearround; hours vary by season. Admission and parking are free; pets welcome.
● Mark your calendar: Seems like every weekend there’s a different celebration happening in Ybor, from Art in the Park to the Children’s Gasparilla Parade. Check the calendar at yborcityonline.com.
● Game on: GameTime has a little something for everyone: 163 video games for kids (and kids at heart), pool table and two full bars for the grown-ups, plus a restaurant for the entire family. Games cost 50 cents to $3 each.
● Little people, big screen: If all else fails, see if there’s a kid-friendly flick playing at Muvico Centro Ybor 20.
Okay, so this was just the tip of the iceberg. What are your favorite spots in Ybor City? Let’s compare notes on Facebook and Twitter. For more tips to help you make the most of your Florida visit, check out my Smart Travel page.