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5 ways to see Tampa's history and heritage

We've got your guide to exploring Tampa history through the coastal Florida city's rich cultural and heritage sites.

Florida is a relatively young state, but what it lacks in old buildings it makes up for with plenty of cultural history. You’ll find plenty of cigars and even a slice of Havana in Tampa, particularly in vibrant Ybor City.

Have a cigar

We knew we were in the right place at the first whiff of the aromas emanating from Tabanero Cigars.

Ybor City in downtown Tampa is known as the cigar capital of the world, with a number of old school shops where stogies are hand-crafted. Our favorite is Tabanero Cigars, which offers an array of quality smokes. Located in the heart of Ybor on Seventh Avenue, the microfactory (just six rollers at the front of the shop turn out its stock) is renowned for the quality of its tobacco and the skill of its artisans. We enjoyed the Maceda Press, a rich cohiba, which is potent but not overpowering. There’s nothing like sitting on a couch with your feet up while puffing away indoors.

Experience old-timey Tampa

After finishing off our stogies, we wanted to learn more about cigars, so we trekked to the Tampa Bay History Center, which features a reproduction of a 1920s cigar store.

Details of the rise, fall and re-emergence of the cigar and Tampa are covered, along with a sprawling 12,000 years of Florida history. As much as we love cigars, the section of the museum chronicling the Spanish conquistadors is the most fascinating and worth the visit. Much like the rest of Tampa, the History Center is expanding: An $11 million addition will open by autumn, with a promising first exhibit called “Treasure Seekers: Conquistadors, Pirates and Shipwrecks.”

See the original Magic Kingdom

Well before Disney World, there was the Tampa Bay Hotel. The first building to be electrified in the Sunshine state attracted the elite, who vacationed in opulence at the turn of the 20th century.

The hotel, which had an indoor pool, a casino and a racetrack, among many other amenities, shuttered during the Great Depression. However, you can see what life was like at the hotel, which is a U.S. National Historic Landmark, by visiting the Henry B. Plant Museum that’s now housed in the same building. It’s worth checking out the site, which is now part of the University of Tampa, just to eyeball the artifacts (luxurious furniture and revealing photos) and the striking Moorish Revival architecture.  

An offer you can’t refuse

Walk right into mob history on one of author Scott Deitche’s Mafia Tours of Ybor City. See where George “Saturday” Zarate and Charlie Williams were gunned down, learn where the made men hung out and more evidence of an as dangerous and colorful as Chicago’s. Deitche’s 90-minute tour is inspired the book and film “Live By Night,” which Ben Affleck directed in Tampa.

Visit Cuba without leaving the country

In 1951, a Cuban couple decided to donate their Ybor City property to the state of Cuba as a memorial to the poet and revolutionary Jose Marti. Newly free and independent Cuba accepted, and Tampa has a small patch of Cuban land, a serene and well-maintained plot open to the public. Marti, a provocative 19th-century philosopher, would be pleased that so many picnic in his bucolic park.