Where do Germany, Cuba, Italy and Israel intersect? Ybor City, to be exact, which explores the rich and international history of Tampa and its Cuban roots. While there are many public parking garages available in Ybor City, why not park near The Florida Aquarium and enjoy the free and breezy 10-minute streetcar ride north to the end of the line at Ybor Centennial Park on 8th Avenue? The city-protected roosters, chickens and chicks welcome your arrival.
Once you arrive, walk one block north to the Ybor City Museum State Park, the original site of the Francisco Ferlita Bakery, which at the height of its production was baking 35,000 loaves of Cuban bread weekly in its large, hand-laid brick oven. Today, the bakery is a charming museum highlighting the internationally colorful history of Tampa and Ybor City.
While touring the state-run museum, with a small $4-per-person entry fee, you will learn about the history of Ybor City and its founding in 1886 by Vicente Martinez-Ybor, who left his native Spain for Cuba when he was just 14 years old. Successful in the tobacco trade, he chose Tampa as the site for his new industrial city, based in cigar making. Immigrants from Germany, Italy and even Israel arrived in the 1800s and worked in cigar-making-supported businesses, such as textiles and cigar box design. You will also learn the international influence on the Cuban sandwich, which has ingredients representative of Tampa’s multinational immigrants (Cuban roast pork, German pickles and mustard and Italian salami).
Many of the original cigar factories are still in Ybor City and have been repurposed over the years. Explore the eclectic shops, restaurants and even breweries along 8th Avenue as you stroll to nearby Jose Marti Park on the corner of 8th Avenue and 13th Street. Named for Jose Marti, a poet and a writer who was instrumental in the success of the Cuban War of Independence from Spain, you enter through the gates and quite literally walk on Cuban soil. Your streetcar picks you up at the Centro Ybor station for a quick ride back to your car, with a new appreciation and fondness for your city.