Photography by inazakira, flickr

The aftermath of Hurricane Isaac may leave Tampa, Florida, with a spotty weather forecast this week. So if you’re in town for the Republican National Convention or any other event, you may have to rethink your list of outdoor activities. But fear not: In a city with a history that stretches back 500 years, there’s no shortage of culture to entertain you. Check out our list of things to do in the Tampa Bay area this week, whether the sun peaks through the clouds or not.

Explore Ybor City by Day
Tampa’s prized historic district, Ybor City, is just a 5-minute drive from downtown Tampa and the Tampa Bay Times Forum arena. A lot of Ybor City’s allure lies in its cigar-making past: Beginning in the 1880s, cigar manufacturers set up shop in Ybor, attracting immigrant workers mainly from Spain, Italy and Cuba. At the industry’s peak, Ybor City was home to 200 cigar factories, with 700 million cigars hand-rolled each year!

Get a taste of this history at Columbia Restaurant, a Ybor City landmark that’s been in business since 1905, earning it the nickname, “Florida’s oldest restaurant.” It’s also the largest Spanish restaurant in the world, with 52,000 square feet that cover an entire city block.

Inside, the prized dish is the Original Cuban Sandwich. The “Mixto,” as it was called in its heyday, was created by cigar workers in the 1890s. As the name implies, the sandwich includes a smorgasbord of cultural influences, piled high into one bite: ham (courtesy of the Spanish), Genoa salami (thanks to the Sicilians), marinated roast pork (Cubans), Swiss cheese (from Germans, actually), along with pickle and mustard — all packed between freshly baked Tampa Cuban bread. The restaurant uses the original 1915 recipe from Cuban immigrant and Columbia Restaurant founder Casimiro Hernandez Sr.

And if you’ve got a hankering for a nice hand-rolled cigar: Head to the gift shop at Columbia Restaurant — you can see professional cigar rollers carry on the fine trade.

And by Night …
Come nighttime, the music goes up and the lights go down in Ybor City: Start out at the massive Centro Ybor entertainment complex. Improv comedy, dinner at the Tampa Bay Brewing Company and a movie enjoyed with your favorite cocktail are among the options.

Swing around the block and explore Seventh Avenue, the main strip of Ybor City. One of the avenue’s star attractions is Club Prana, where you can dance the night away to hip-hop music. If you’re looking for a more relaxed, intimate vibe, head to The Boneyard where you can enjoy billiards pool and a beer.

More Tampa Indoor Activities
If the spotty weather continues through the remainder of the week, you’ve still got plenty more fun indoor options to keep you entertained.

At the Museum of Science and Industry, enjoy an IMAX movie — think ancient Egypt, polar bears and flying monsters all in 3-D.

Shopping on the brain? Head to International Plaza and Bay Street, a large upscale shopping mall in Tampa’s Westshore business district. Have a cocktail, hang out for the evening; you’ll find plenty of bars and restaurants to choose from.

More an art lover? Pay a visit to the Tampa Museum of Art, which showcases 20th century art, as well as Greek, Roman and Etruscan artifacts. In between your art tour, relax at the museum’s SONO Café, where you can enjoy gelato and wine. If you’re still hungry for more art, head about 45 minutes on Interstate 275 South to downtown St. Petersburg — you’ll find the new Salvador Dali Museum, which features one of the largest collections of the famed, irreverent artist’s works.

And if the sun does come out to shine? Then Bayshore Boulevard — the world’s longest sidewalk, with 4.5 miles of pavement — awaits your arrival.

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3 Responses

  1. Reina says:

    I was born and raised in Tampa, so it warms my heart to see that my hometown/city is appreciated and has a lot of culture to take in. :-)

  2. Steve Murphy says:

    I just moved to Tampa in February, and worked Downtown for the first 3 months. I have been so impressed with the community, especially downtown! You could really spend a weekend downtown and still not get to half of the things it offers!

    In case you have seen all the displays, Friday Markets etc., and want to know when everything goes on, the city offers a great program called the Tampa Downtown Partnership, which is such a great resource on all the downtown events and a great directory of things to do, places to eat. They are in charge of all the yellow shirt guides downtown too!

  3. If you are looking for an indoor activity, in the heart of Channelside in Downtown Tampa, there is the Florida Aquarium! One of the best "living exhibits" there is to interact with the penguins, at at the penguin experience in Tampa, at the Florida Aquarium. You would like more information, click here: http://www.flaquarium.org/explore-the-aquarium/ba… Definitely worth the trip!

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Lisa SinghLisa Singh is an Interactive Producer at TravelChannel.com. Her multimedia career has spanned print and online publications. One of her first stories involved following a convicted felon into the Mexican...

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