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I've been living in the Tampa area for coming on to five years now and I only recently got the chance to stop and explore one of the city's most notable historic districts, Ybor City. There are many things to do in Ybor City including sightseeing, historic tours, and plenty of food options, but I can't help but feel like there's a lot of this particular neighborhood that could (and should) be improved upon -- like, to the point that by the end of my trip my boyfriend and I felt like we couldn't get out of the area fast enough.
But let's back up a little and explain how it got to that point.
First and foremost, I do have to say that Ybor City is a charming area with a lot of gorgeous infrastructure and tons of potential. The free roaming chickens and roosters that patrol the streets are a welcomed surprise and there are supposedly several great eateries (and Cuban cigar shops) in the area -- though, we didn't stop in at any since we only had an hour on our parking meter.
That being said, it's also very obvious by the amount of homeless people on the streets begging for money, run-down shacks with barred windows and deserted storefronts on nearly every corner that Ybor City is centered in a low-income area, which in itself isn't a bad thing -- except that it's obvious that the city is doing a questionable job taking care of their locals. Considering that Ybor City is often touted as a "tourist town" it made me wonder where all this tourism money is going since it didn't seem like it went back to improving the local area.
But I digress.
Beyond the empty stores, homes with bars on entry points and quiet alleyways, there wasn't much to see in the "city" on that particular Saturday afternoon other than the main street strip and a few businesses here and there. The history museum was closed when we were there, so I can't attest to whether it's good or bad.
Overall, there wasn't much that kept us entertained since most of the open businesses during our visit were bars and cigar shops. Considering that it's a tourist destination, I was really surprised by how sparsely populated the strip was and how few businesses on the main drag were open on a weekend. Despite the lack of tourists, I'm glad I went with my boyfriend because it was not an area I, as a petite woman, would have felt safe in on my own.
Even the nature park near the city, McKay Bay Nature Park, left a lot to be desired as it was littered with trash, overgrown foliage and swarmed with mosquitos like I've never experienced before (and I've experienced some pretty bad mosquito-populated areas).
Like, no exaggeration, the mosquitos were so bad that I made it no more than 100-feet onto the trail before running back to my car, only to be followed by at least a dozen of the little predators who snuck in with me.
Both my boyfriend and I, then covered in what felt like hundreds of mosquito bites decided it was time to skedaddle.
By the end of our trip, I was really surprised to have had this experience since I've seen Ybor City featured in so many tourism books. It was my pure astonishment that prompted me to look at real reviews and perhaps unsurprisingly, both the city and nature park's online pages are abundant with people noting the same sort of things that I did above.
I included two such reviews below:
"Really fascinating location with truly unique flora and fauna under the shelter of a beautiful mangrove sanctuary. Unfortunately this particular property really could benefit from regular maintenance and more frequent upkeep. I suspect significant underfunding which is a pity for such a beautiful public space. Many of the trails are desperately overgrown. In some places overgrown branches have been cleared, but were just cast to the side rather than being chipped or hauled away properly. Far too much aging litter strewn about everywhere. If the City of Tampa can't take care of this park they should donate it to the county so it gets maintained," a recent 2-star Google review on McKay Bay's Nature Park page reads.
A recent Trip Advisor 2-star review of the historic district reads, "This was my first visit to Ybor and I was very disappointed. Ybor's architecture is beautiful no doubt, and I'm sure some of the restaurants are great. But I felt very nervous walking around. There were homeless people all over the streets, enough to shame NYC (I would know I am in NYC a lot). They're barely any stores worth going into, mostly bars, tattoo parlors, and cigar shops. There were also numerous people smoking weed on the sidewalks. Some of the woman were wearing what could barely be considered clothes. Then there were the militant BHIs screaming on the streets. Needless to say this is not a place to bring a family."
But, to be totally fair, there are way more positive reviews of the historic district than negative, so please don't just take my word for it and you are welcome to disagree. Maybe I went on an off day, or perhaps my expectations were just too high.
Overall, I do believe that Ybor City would be a great spot to visit for those who really enjoy nightlife, cigars and history (and bug spray), it just didn't appeal to me.
I, personally, would love to see the town cleaned up a little with better arrangements for those who are struggling and homeless. I feel as though city council could definitely do better with managing funds for this particular issue -- and even mosquito control.
So, until that happens, I'm pretty certain I won't be returning to Ybor City anytime soon! Instead, I will stick to Hyde Park and Downtown to fulfill my wanderlust.