Porthole’s Five Faves
Five Tampa Must-Dos: Get the best of The Big Guava
Founded by Spanish conquistadors and settled by Cuban revolutionaries, Tampa, Florida, is one of the most diverse cities in the South. It’s also among Florida’s top destinations for foodies, cigar lovers, and beer aficionados.
From Cuban sandwiches to pirate parades, here are five things you must experience during your pre- or post-cruise stay in Tampa.
Visit the Tampa Bay History Center
Get a lay of the land at the Tampa Bay History Center. Here you can follow Tampa’s nearly 200-year journey as it grew from a military outpost to the world’s cigar capital to the bustling city you see today. Explore Tampa’s former cigar-rolling empire, learn about the city’s secret mafia, and see how Cuba played such a big part in shaping the city’s identity.
Participate in Gasparilla
Every year Tampa celebrates the mythical pirate Jose Gaspar with a winter festival that now ranks as one of the largest street parades in the country. The Gasparilla Pirate Fest kicks off when the Jose Gasparilla pirate ship invades Tampa’s harbor. After the mayor hands over the keys to the city, puffy-shirted revelers take over Tampa’s most historic neighborhoods. Residents and travelers alike line the sidewalk, clamoring for the pirates’ beads and bounty.
Eat a Cuban Sandwich at the Columbia
For a taste of history head to the Columbia — the oldest restaurant in the state — and order a Cuban sandwich. The Cuban was invented in Tampa during its cigar-rolling heyday. The hearty mix of preserved meats, pickles, and crispy bread fueled the men, women, and children working in the city’s cigar factories. The Columbia, with its sprawling atrium and mosaic walls, is one of the most opulent places in Tampa to enjoy the historic sandwich. Order it with the 1905 Salad, named for the year the Columbia opened.
Drink a Beer at Cigar City
Tampa Bay is home to more than 40 breweries, one of the largest craft beer concentrations in the state. Many credit Cigar City Brewing for laying the city’s brew base. When it opened in 2009, Cigar City quickly started gaining a reputation for making some of the world’s best beers. Visit the tasting room to sample one — or several — of the 20-plus beers on tap.
Walk the Riverwalk
End your visit with a stroll along the new Tampa Riverwalk. The almost-2-mile trail starts at the popular Curtis Hixon Park and follows the Hillsborough River back to the city’s cruise port. If you’re lucky, you just might see one of the alligators, manatees, or dolphins that call this downtown oasis home.
— Helen Anne Travis
Photos: Sonny SideUp, Visit Tampa Bay(2)