Historic Ybor City

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As long as I can remember, my husband and I have enjoyed exploring neighborhoods wherever we travel. In our early years, we spent a lot of time in Pittsburgh, exploring Squirrel Hill, Mount Washington and the Golden Triangle. Today, we share our love of exploration with our kids, most recently in Tampa, Florida and historic Ybor City.

Street view of historic Ybor City.

We enjoyed Tampa’s downtown area and Channelside, but our favorite neighborhood is historic Ybor City. Located just a few blocks northeast of downtown, Ybor City maintains much of its Latin cigar-making heritage.

The area’s development was influenced by Cuban, Italian, German and Spanish immigrants in the late 1800s. Though the neighborhood fell into neglect and decay from the 1960s-1980s, the neighborhood is recovering, thanks to an influx of artists. Today, Ybor City retains its historic, multi-cultural flavor through historic sites, festivals, ethnic restaurants and clubs.

So, if you’re looking for the best things to do in Tampa, add a day at Ybor City.

Ybor City’s La Tropicana

La Tropicana restaurant is a cornerstone of the community.

Start your day in Ybor City with café con leche at La Tropicana, and don’t let the decor fool you! The food here is amazing.

At first, we wondered what we had gotten ourselves into as the place obviously has not been remodeled in decades. Yet, it was packed with locals who obviously enjoy the food, the café con leche, and the fellowship. Then we found out the restaurant only takes cash, a serious throwback! After a quick run to the ATM, we ordered the café con leche. Delicious!

An ornately carved table sitting in the corner piqued our interest. The table is permanently reserved for the family of Roland Manteiga.  Our server, Patty, who has worked there since the 1980’s, filled us in. Roland Manteiga, the quiet editor of ‘La Gaceta,’ held court at that table for more than 50 years. He was influential with congressmen and governors and influenced Florida politics throughout his life, all from that little table. Patty also told us about the red phone, but you should visit La Tropicana when you’re in Tampa to learn about that one yourself.

Gate at La Tropicana restaurant parking lot.

 Ybor City Saturday Market

Since visiting Paris in 2012, we can’t say no to an open air market. So, we visited the historic Ybor City Saturday Market. We enjoyed fresh bread, locally grown produce and the relaxed atmosphere of the market.

Ybor City Saturday market vendors and shoppers.
Close up of fresh tomatoes at the Ybor City Saturday Market.
Our daughter testing the hula hoops for sale at the Ybor City Saturday Market.

Ellie demonstrated her hooping prowess at a hula hoop vendor’s tent. Not only were these hand-crafted hoops sturdier than store-bought hoops, they were clearly created with love. Caroline, the hoopcrafter, and her assistants made Ellie feel so special.

Centro Ybor

Originally a neighborhood centered on cigar manufacturing, Ybor City has revitalized itself as an entertainment district, called Centro Ybor. It includes movie theaters, an improv comedy club, restaurants and bars.

TECO streetcar stop at Centro Ybor.

The Centro Ybor walkway over the city street and streetcar line.

One of the many entertainment venues in Centro Ybor.

Look — I exist! I finally made it into a photo 🙂

Architecture in Centro Ybor and palm trees along the street.

Ybor City architecture.

Getting to and from Ybor City

While the streetcar doesn’t run around the clock, the TECO Line Streetcar System offers easy transportation to Ybor City from downtown Tampa. And, it’s free!

Speaking of history, the streetcar system was essential to Tampa business from the late 1800s through the 1920s. After World War II, the streetcars were eliminated. Thankfully, the streetcars returned to Tampa. Today, they provide easy, inexpensive transportation between Tampa and Ybor City. Not only that, but it’s fun, too!

Sitting on the streetcar in Ybor City.

One of the streetcars in downtown Tampa.

The end of the line in downtown Tampa. History meets the 21st century!