Whether you are a native to the area or have settled along Florida’s Gulf Coast and Tampa Bay, you are aware of a city enriched with both Cuban and Spanish history. You know that we are a major business hub, and like it or not our region is also a travelers destination since the early 20th century, with our impressive dining and nightlife scene, as well as museum, sports, and other cultural offerings.
We don’t let the distractions of Miami and Orlando eclipse the fact that Tampa, and our surrounding cities like Riverview, Apollo Beach, Ruskin, and South Shore, are some of the most amazing areas in the Sunshine State. We’re pretty sure that you know this too and that’s why you live here along with us, but there may be some interesting facts and history about the area that you have not yet heard, do we decided to dig deep and bring them to you.
Let’s get started with some of the more well-known easy stuff, then we will introduce you to the more obscure things you may have never known about the Tampa area.
Interesting Facts About The Tampa Bay Area
1. Where There’s Thunder…
There’s a reason why the Tampa Bay Lightning are the defending Stanley Cup champs.
There’s a bit more to their name than you may know. Tampa translates to the Calusa native phrase “sticks of fire”, which references the nasty lightning that accompanies hurricane season each summer. The term was first used in 1575 and stuck.
Florida is unique in that it has sea-breezes developing on both coasts. The breezes coming from the east have thousands of miles of open ocean to gather momentum and often sweep across Florida to collide with the Gulf of Mexico westward breezes. This creates large thunderstorms with lightning over the Tampa area.
2. Home Of Champions
If you don’t already know this, you may have been living under a rock, or maybe on a beach without any wifi. Nevertheless, Tampa Bay is home to the second most professional sports franchises in Florida, behind only Miami. Our teams include the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Lightning, and Rays. The area has hoisted four championship banners, including two each in both the NFL and NHL.
The Rays haven’t won a title, although they have competed in two World Series, including the most recent 2020 championship series, where they fell to the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games.
This past year, Tampa Bay was the home of both the Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning, and the 2021 Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, led by MVP and all-time great, Tom Brady.
Let’s move on to the more interesting things about the Tampa area…
3. Sports, Sports, and More Sports
Speaking of sports, Tampa has hosted plenty of historical moments. The Great Bambino himself Babe Ruth launched his farthest homer during an exhibition, sailing the ball 587 feet. Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady simultaneously became the oldest player on a Super Bowl roster and the eldest to win the Vince Lombardi during SB LV at 43 years old.
The area has seen 36 professional and minor league franchises that have folded, including failed stints with the AFL, MLS, and the USFL. We sure do love our sports here and we are willing to take massive risks to get even more teams in our area. Though it hasn’t always worked out, we suspect that area residents and investors will continue to be willing to support even more.
4. Heavy Metal Mania
In case you did not know, Norway is renowned for the heavy metal genre. This may be something that doesn’t interest you, but you will not believe how it relates to our area. Here stateside, Tampa Bay has been the unofficial capital for death metal over the last three decades.
In fact, Morrisound — a recording studio established in the area in 1981 — is mainly the reason for the craze. Death metallers make the pilgrimage to the studio for its stellar (and shredding) reputation to produce their new “music”. Rock on Tampa!
5. Prohibition Central
Livin’ in a gangster’s paradise! Did you know that Tampa was a focal point in prohibition-era alcohol smuggling? In fact, it was one of the “wettest” areas in the country. Bootleggers often ran rum from Cuba, utilizing the city as one of the largest entry points for illegal booze in the United States.
Our location was crucial due to its large natural protected harbor that was spacious enough to avoid the constant threat of the authorities. Locals of Spanish and Italian descent often downed wine with their dinners and were adamant about access to their spirits.
Now we aren’t ones to point any fingers, but maybe this love for the drink way back when is partly why some of us in the area enjoy just a tiny bit of food and drink today. We hope that you are hearing the sarcasm in our voice.
6. Sandwich Makers
Locals claim to have invented and perfected the Cuban sandwich. The creation is a variant on ham and cheese that originated in cafes catering to Cuban workers in the area. Basically, the sammy is put together with plenty of pork, swiss, pickles, mustard, and other exclusive ingredients.
The city shares a long-running rivalry between Miami over their quality of Cubano. In 2012, the Tampa City Council designated the “Historic Tampa Cuban Sanwich” as the “signature sandwich of the city of Tampa”.
Who do you think has the best Cuban sandwich in the Tampa area?
7. Cigar City, USA
Another name for Tampa Bay is Cigar City. The hand-rolled cigar history dates back to 1886, when cigars quickly became the primary industry in the area. Over the next several decades, hundreds of cigar factories rose from the region, employing tens of thousands of locals. At its peak, the cigar industry produced more than 500 million cigars a year. That’s a ton of tobacco!
Whether or not we are still producing cigars at these massive levels, many who live here, not to mention those who vacation here with us love their cigars. In fact, did you know that a new cigar place recently opened up right here in South Shore, Apollo Beach? It’s called “Cigars on the Boulevard” and based on the name, you may have figured out that it is right on Apollo Beach Blvd. Cigars on the Boulevard bills itself as a “premiere Cigar and Cocktail Lounge that offers the finest selection of cigars, signature cocktails, beer & wine. Check them out!
Viva Cigar Revolucion
Some cigar factories served as revolutionary clubs, financing guerilla fighters with earned profits. It’s estimated that the Cuban cigar workers of the region were collecting around $50,000 a month for the revolution, in their plight to gain independence from Spain. Messages were also passed to allies disguised in smuggled, rolled cigars.
After the United States became involved in the conflict in 1898, the Cubans finally attained their ‘Cuba Libre’ four years later.
8. Ybor Haunts
Ybor City, a historic downtown neighborhood founded by the cigar boom, has a long history of strange paranormal activity and is widely considered one of the hauntest locations in all of America.
Another name for Tampa is the “damnedest town this side of Hell.”
Ybor’s Cuban Club was voted “One of the Top 10 Most Haunted Places in the U.S.” by the Travel Channel.
9. Home of the Tiger Queen
“Hey all you cool cats and kittens!”
Those of you who are newer to the area might not know that Tampa will always live in pop culture streaming service infamy. Why? Our area is the prowling grounds to the Big Cat Rescue, one of the tiger sanctuaries featured in the Netflix docuseries “Tiger King”.
Google Carole Baskin for a quick refresher, and good luck not traveling deep down that rabbit hole. The Tampa celebrity will be featured in the upcoming movie “Hidden Tiger”, starring none other than Nicholas Cage.
The local Big Cat Rescue facility generates millions of dollars each year in donations and fees from visitors.
10. Teddy Roosevelt made a historic stop
Did you know that Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders were waiting to join the fight for the Spanish-American War in 1898 while stationed in Tampa? Their numbers measured thousands. After grouping in San Antonio, the Riders trekked to Tampa with meager food and supplies. They were greeted by locals wearing makeshift cardboard spurs in imitation of the cavalrymen; many attempted to enlist in the unit, but spots were all filled. Roosevelt’s stay lasted only four days but is part of the history of the Tampa area that is pretty cool nonetheless.