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Tampa FL

Tampa, FL

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The ethnically diverse Tampa of today owes much to the dreams of two men from contrasting backgrounds. Henry Plant threw open the doors to immigration in the 1880s when he established his Jacksonville, Tampa and Key West Railroad. To attract people to what was then a backwater town, Plant built the Moorish-styled Tampa Bay Hotel, with its minarets and tropical gardens. The other dreamer was Vicente Martinez Ybor, a Cuban cigar maker. He set up shop in Ybor City, now part of Tampa. Soon cigars were the principal industry in the area, bringing in a mix of Cuban, Spanish, German, Italian and Jewish workers.

Although Tampa is no longer the chief cigar-manufacturing center in the world, tourists still look on as tabaqueros, or expert craftsmen, hand-roll cigars in Ybor City. The National Park Service designated this part of Tampa a historic district in 1990. Most of the buildings were constructed during the first two decades of the 20th century. Tampa’s trendy night clubs and restaurants now populate this area, creating a hip blend of historic charm and contemporary energy.

New World Brewery is one of those fashionable Tampa night clubs. Boasting more than 100 beers from around the world, this watering hole features live music that ranges from independent local bands to nationally recognized entertainers. Tourists who prefer harder drinks in a spirited setting may opt for the world-renowned Gaspar’s Grotto, named after a local pirate. An assortment of rums (amid pirate-themed décor) awaits guests at this Ybor City icon.

Electric streetcars connect Ybor City to Channelside, another of Tampa’s top attractions, complete with chic restaurants, boutiques and entertainment. From Channelside, close to Tampa’s port, the trolleys run to Downtown. Among the cars are breezers, or open-air streetcars, and historic replicas. During special events, Tampa’s streetcar system operates one restored car, Birney #163, which makes heads turn and the past come alive.

Busch Gardens, part theme park and part zoo, is one of the most exciting tourist spots in Tampa. Drawing 4.2 million visitors in 2010, the park bears an African theme that showcases its 2,700 wild animals. Extreme rides, such as Cheetah Hunt, a roller coaster whose speeds approach 60 mph, are popular among thrill ride enthusiasts. Visitors with a passion for real cheetahs head to Cheetah Run to watch a live exhibit of these amazing animals up close. Located eight miles northeast of Downtown, Busch Gardens is a must-see stop for Tampa visitors.

Saltwater fishing in Tampa Bay is among the best in the world. Tarpon are plentiful, luring professional and amateur anglers. The brute strength of the tarpon is unmatched among similar-sized fish, while its magnificent acrobatic attempts to break free increase the challenge of catching one. Other targets for sport fishing in and around Tampa Bay include Redfish, King Mackerel, Gulf Flounder and Sheepshead.

Tampa is home to more than a fishing fleet. A million passengers embark annually on cruise ships from the port, which also handles 40 percent of the cargo moving through Florida.

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