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Skip the Beach in Tampa


5. Oddball Day

The Tampa Theatre, built it 1926, is a prime example of the idiosyncratic Florida Mediterranean style.  

Spend a day exploring Tampa’s vibrant Cuban culture in and around Ybor City, the former cigar-manufacturing capital of the world. Start with a café con leché (from $1.25) at no-frills La Tropicana Café (1822 E. Seventh Ave.; 813-247-4040), and the scrambled egg, ham, and chorizo sandwich (from $3.25) comes served on toasted Cuban bread from nearby La Segunda Bakery. Next, stroll north on 19th Street to explore La Casita, a restored cigar worker’s bungalow at the Ybor City Museum State Park ($4), which also includes the historic 1923 Ferlita Bakery building and adjacent Mediterranean-style gardens. Return to Seventh Avenue (La Septima) and stop into the many smoke shops where cigars are still rolled on site to this day. Grab a copy of La Gaceta, America’s only trilingual newspaper Italian, English, and Spanish and head to Carmine’s (1802 E. Seventh Ave.; 813-248-3834) for a Cuban sandwich ($7.99), which many say was invented in Tampa as a quick lunch for cigar rollers. (Ybor City’s version often adds Genoa salami to the traditional lineup of roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, mustard, and dill pickles as a nod to the neighborhood’s Italian influences.) Hop aboard the yellow TECO Line Streetcar (one-day pass, $5) and head downtown. Step off at stop No. 9 to check out the world’s largest collection of cigar memorabilia at the Tampa Bay History Center ($12.95), then ride the trolley to the end of the line and follow Franklin Street north to the elaborate Tampa Theatre (new releases, $10), built in 1926 in the hodgepodge Florida Mediterranean style with Spanish, Italian Renaissance, Baroque, Byzantine, Greek Revival, and English Tudor influences. The theater is meant to evoke a Mediterranean courtyard under a ceiling of twinkling stars, and each movie begins with a performance on the Mighty Wurlitzer pipe organ. End the day with dinner back in Ybor City at Columbia Restaurant, which opened in 1905 and now ranks as Florida’s oldest restaurant. Order sangria, made tableside with Spanish red wine or cava (pitchers from $18.95), and then make a dinner of paella (from $24) or more local Cuban-American specialties, as you watch one of the two nightly flamenco shows ($6 cover, 7 and 9:30, no shows Sunday).

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