AAA Travel Tips / Spend a Day in Ybor City

Spend a Day in Ybor City

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By AAA Travel Editor Michelle Palmer
September 14, 2021
With the bars that line 7th Avenue, Ybor City is a historic neighborhood within Tampa that has garnered a reputation for being a place to party. However, it’s not the whole of Ybor. I encourage you to spend a day exploring the National Historic Landmark District to learn about its history and Cuban-American culture.
In the 1880s, Vicente Martinez Ybor moved his cigar manufacturing from Key West to Tampa where he oversaw the building of his three-story cigar plant, had affordable houses built, called casitas, that his workers could purchase, and even planned parts of the city infrastructure.
In Ybor City’s heyday, when it was known as the “Cigar Capital of the World,” the population was made up primarily of Cuban and Spanish immigrants, but there were also Italians who mostly worked in the cigar factories as well. When Romanian Jewish immigrants came to the city, they opened shops that served the community, and German immigrants brought their skills in lithography and printed cigar labels.
Cigar manufacturing in Ybor peaked in the 1920s, but the Great Depression took its toll on the industry. Along with advancements in manufacturing, demand for the pricey hand-rolled cigars decreased, and most of the big manufacturers left as the industry declined.
While cigars are no longer the big industry in Ybor, their legacy can be seen today. Many of the original brick structures with their wrought-iron balconies still stand, and several business names allude to the area’s past. Also, historical sites are accompanied by green signs that explain their significance.
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Start Your Day with a Coffee

Start your day in Ybor by grabbing a coffee and pastry at La Segunda Bakery. The bakery opened in 1915 and has been owned and run by 4 generations of Cuban Americans. If the small parking lot is full, there is street parking available nearby along 15th Avenue and 15th Street. With coffee and pastry in hand, head over to José Martí Park. This tiny, 0.14-acre park, owned by Cuba, honors Martí, who played a key role in Cuba’s fight for independence from Spain.
After reading the plaques and looking around the statue, take your attention across the street to Ybor Square, which was once Vicente Martinez Ybor’s factory. This 3-story brick building is now owned by the Church of Scientology. You can’t see how the inside once was, but the size of the building gives an idea of how large his operation used to be.
AAA/Sherry Mims

Explore the Museums and 7th Avenue

Then head to the Ybor City Museum State Park where you’ll learn more about Ybor, the history of the area, and the people who lived here and worked in the cigar factories. Don't leave without touring the reproduction casita.
Grab lunch on 7th Avenue. I recommend getting a Cuban sandwich from Carmine's, considered one of the best Cuban sandwiches in Tampa, and if time allows, meander down the avenue. Admire the architecture and feel the vibe of the area. Stop at Centro Ybor if you want to do a little shopping.
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Tour a Cigar Factory

If you are interested in seeing how cigars are hand-rolled or learning even more about the cigar factories, reserve your spot on the El Reloj factory tour at J.C. Newman Cigar Co. The 75-minute guided tour will take you through all three floors of the 120-year-old factory where you will see machine-rolling and hand-rolling demonstrations. Or you can relax in the lounge of LongAsh Cigars with a Cuban coffee while an expert hand rolls cigars.
After the midday sun has passed, take a stroll through Centennial Park. There are statues and informational plaques around the park, and if you haven’t already seen them roaming around the city, you’re likely to spot some chickens. The feral fowl are treasured by the long-time residents of Ybor and are protected under a city ordinance. Many people believe the birds’ lineage traces back 100 years to the backyard chickens raised by Cuban immigrants. If it’s Saturday, you might catch the Ybor City Saturday Market, held in the park. Take the time to check out the wares made by local artists and artisans.
AAA/Patricia Miller

Dine at Columbia Restaurant

If you’re staying around Tampa and Ybor City for dinner, make a reservation at the Columbia Restaurant. It has been delighting patrons with an array of Spanish cuisine and elaborately decorated dining rooms since 1905. It is a fitting end to a day of exploring the Cuban-American history and culture of the area.
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