Ybor City is a “city within a city” in Tampa, Florida. As soon as you enter this vibrant neighborhood, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to Cuba.
In the daytime, it’s a place for lounging on outdoor patios sipping coffee and smoking cigars. In the evening, it’s a lively playground – so bring your dancing shoes!
The Story of Ybor City
In the 1880s, cigar manufacturer Vicente Martinez-Ybor founded Ybor City as an independent town.
Along with a few other cigar companies, the industry employed thousands of well-paid workers. Tampa grew over the next 20 years from a small and economically depressed town to a bustling, thriving city.
Ybor City was a unique place in the American South when it was first founded – a successful neighborhood almost entirely populated and owned by immigrants. The original population were the Spanish and Cuban immigrants who worked in the cigar factories. Eastern-European Jewish and Italian immigrants followed shortly afterward and established retail shops, print shops and much more.
The city began to decline in the 1930s when the Great Depression reduced the demand for fine cigars. It didn’t begin to recover again until the 1980s, when it became a bohemian haven for artists and a popular nightlife district.
These days, Ybor City has been revitalised and is a beautiful area of Tampa – full of character, life and history. It’s a must-see during your stay in Tampa vacation rentals.
What to Do in Ybor City
Here are just a few of the great things you’ll discover when you explore Ybor City.
Visit the Ybor City Museum
Delve deep into the history of this fascinating part of Tampa at the Ybor City Museum. For only $4 admission you can learn about cigar magnate Don Vicente Martinez and the early dates of Ybor City. The museum is located within the 1920s era Ferlita Bakery building.
You can also relax in the shade of the lush Mediterranean-style garden and see a reproduction of a ‘casita’ – the typical home for a cigar worker.
Grab a Snack at La Segunda
This bakery has been operating since 1915 and is the largest producer of authentic Cuban break in the world. It was originally opened by Juan More, a Spaniard who fought in the Spanish-American War in Cuba.
Juan passed down his recipe to his descendants, who have been running the bakery ever since. They still use the same recipe and techniques as they did over 100 years ago. It’s one of the only remaining places where Cuban bread is made the traditional way, split down the middle with freshly-cut palmetto leaves.
Check Out the Wild Chickens
Did you know that Ybor City has a population of wild chickens and roosters? They are the direct descendants of the chickens that once lived in the backyards of the residents of the neighborhood, over 100 years ago.
These chickens are protected by a city ordinance – which technically makes the city of Tampa a bird sanctuary. You can find the proud roosters strutting and hens clucking all over town. (And, of course, they have their own Instagram page!)
If you want to support these birds, you can donate to the Ybor Chickens Society. This non-profit protects the chickens and enlists volunteers to scrub away the bird poo from porches of local businesses.
Have Lunch at Columbia Restaurant
This stunning restaurant is the oldest in Florida – as well as the oldest and largest Spanish restaurant in the USA. It was originally founded in 1905 by a Cuban immigrant named Casimiro Hernandez Sr. and it is still owned by his descendants.
Not only is the history quite amazing, the food is truly superb. The dishes are fresh and prepared table-side. Columbia Restaurant should definitely be on your list.
Take a Cigar Factory Tour
Since cigars are such an important part of Ybor City history, taking a cigar factory tour is absolutely a must during your visit. Tabanero Cigars offers a 45 minute tour that will show you the complete process of cigar-making, from raw leaves to the finished product.
You’ll get a chance to go into the walk-in humidor and learn about the aging process. With your tour you’ll also receive a complimentary cup of Cuban coffee. The tours take place on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 3pm and they cost $15 per person.
Catch Some Live Music
When the sun goes down, the streets of Ybor City come to life with music and dancing. So, take the chance to kick up your heels and dance the night away during your stay.
When it comes to bigger-name acts, you can check out the Orpheum – which has been showcasing great bands for almost two decades. It’s located right in the heart of the entertainment district and has also hosted dance competitions, charity fundraisers and more.
The Ritz Ybor is also a great place to go if you’re in the mood for live music. It has been around since 2008 and it’s one of the best special event and concert venues in Tampa. It features music from some of the local entertainment scene’s top acts.
Why Not Explore Ybor City?
These are just a few of the great things you can see and do when you explore the unique Ybor City district of Tampa. So, get out there and enjoy!