Tampa’s pride: Where to go, what to do during Republican National Convention

Tim Skillern

Order the Cuban sandwich.

If there's one piece of advice Tampa, Fla., residents readily dole out to visitors, it's that.

And, next week, there will be plenty of folks seeking advice.

As many as 70,000 visitors, delegates, journalists and protestors are expected in Tampa next week for the 2012 Republican National Convention. Where should they go? What should they do? Yahoo! News asked Tampanians to boast about their city: the restaurants with best chow, the beaches with the whitest sand, the best ways to soak in local culture and color, the best spots around town to escape politicos and protestors, and more.

"Considered small by some standards, Tampa more than makes up for any size deficiency by packing a punch culturally with a wide variety of museums, performance venues, parks, historic landmarks and events as any rival city," Tampa resident Kelly Novinski says.

"We are forward-thinking, cool and eclectic. Do you really need another reason to be jealous?"

Here, in Tampa residents' own words, are the city's most bragged-about features.

The food--and where to find a good Cuban sandwich

"Be sure to try a Cuban sandwich -- Tampa's official sandwich. The Cuban is an awesome alternative to plain old subs; it is a pressed sandwich with crisp bread, roast pork, ham and pickles. The Columbia is located in Ybor City and makes a great Cuban sandwich, as well as all sorts of classic Latin dishes." -- Mike Stuben

[Photos: See more of Tampa's best spots]

"A discussion of food would be incomplete without mentioning Tampa's signature sandwich: the Cuban. Finding the best one is difficult, but enjoyable. A good short list includes: Brocato's Sandwich Shop, Columbia Restaurant and Wright's Gourmet, which won The Tampa Tribune's best Cuban sandwich contest several years in a row." -- Mark A. Basurto

"For a steak sandwich or a deviled crab, Carmine's is the way to go. If you want to get dolled up, try the original Columbia restaurant and take a step back in time to Ybor in the '40s." -- Evelio Gonzalez

"Catch a tour and grab a pint at Cigar City Brewery. They combine beer with the culture & heritage of Tampa in a unique way" -- Jefe73, via Twitter

"Don't miss Bern's steakhouse." -- Jack Sacco, via email

"Two outstanding establishments are Eddie and Sam's New York Pizza. Don't forget the Hub, where, sold for a mere six bucks, is the best bloody Mary in the state (possibly the world) in a bar that is certainly the best dive bar in all of the state (possibly the world)." -- Morgan Powell

"You got to check out Kojacks House of Ribs. I was in the Air Force there and this place is the best." -- Douglas Hoover, via email

For the beach bums

"Tampa's beaches are particularly noteworthy not just for their natural beauty but for the fact that, east of the Mississippi, they're among the few places you can watch the sun set over the ocean. Dr. Stephen Leatherman (known popularly as Dr. Beach), has proclaimed our beaches some of the loveliest in the nation. In an interview this May, he said it's the 'incredibly clear water and perfect sandy shoreline' that contributed to nearby Sarasota's Siesta Beach earning the No. 1 spot on his America's Best Beaches list last year." -- Kimberly Morgan

"You can start your day of beach-hopping by heading west along one of America's most scenic causeways: The Courtney Campbell causeway is 10 miles of palm-tree-lined natural beauty surrounded by expansive views of the bay's sparkling water. Stay around and catch a breathtaking sunset at the pier, or head south to St. Pete Beach." -- Cristian Feher

"Across the bay, you have your pick of some of the best beaches in the world, including Caladesi Island and Ft. DeSoto State Park, both of which have been voted Best Beach in America by Dr. Beach." -- Elizabeth Miller

"Out of Florida's 825 miles of beaches, we have some of the highest rated in the state. For gulf side access, try visiting the Clearwater beach with miles of sparkling white sand and calm blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Stroll along the pier to view the wildlife in actions. Or, try out Davis Island, located within Tampa Bay." -- Jennifer Hinojosa

Get outside and soak in the sun (if there is some next week)

"The last time it snowed in Tampa was 1989. Need I say more? All those 'summer activities' that people up north do during the summer? In Tampa, we do them all year long." -- Mike Stuben

"Within walking distance from downtown is Bayshore Linear Park Trail. This 4.5-mile trail along Bayshore Boulevard has views of the water, luxurious homes, and the Tampa skyline. It has the world's longest continuous sidewalk and is complete with fitness stations, benches, trail markers and a three-mile on-road bike trail. Have a dog? Visit Davis Island Dog Park. This 2.5-acre park includes an exclusive dog beach with 200 feet of waterfront." -- Mark A. Basurto

"Ballast Point Park is located a few blocks south of Bayshore and Gandy Boulevard in South Tampa, about 10 to 15 minutes from downtown. This park has a huge playground, plenty of shade trees, snack bar, fishing pier, and a spectacular night view of downtown Tampa. The pier never closes, so you can hang out with the friendly fishing regulars, perform your daily exercise routine, or just have a seat on a wooden bench for some people-watching. It's an excellent place to take a breather from the frenetic pace of the RNC schedule." -- Leslie Fletcher

"There's a great hideaway -- not too far from the maddening crowds. Between Jackson and Whiting Streets, right in downtown and right across from Lykes Gaslight Square, are the bubbling fountains and Japanese-style gardens. But be careful: It could lull you into a nap, and you don't want to miss the next speech." -- Morgan Powell

"Curtis Hixon Park is the best park Tampa has to offer. It is eight acres and sits along the banks of the Hillsborough River in downtown Tampa. The park is truly beautiful, and it hosts many free events open to the public. For example, every month you could take a free yoga class, attend a live rock-concert, or watch a classic movie. The first Thursday of every month the park hosts 'Rock The Park,' a free concert featuring the best bands Tampa has to offer." -- Tom Servo

Sunsets and skylines

"Tampa at sunset is spectacular. The spirit of the city lives in the city's rolling skyline, from the elaborate minarets atop University of Tampa's Plant Hall to the distinctive LED lights topping downtown's SunTrust Financial Centre. It serves as a source of pride for the city. The gaps between Tampa's modern skyscrapers and the city's preserved, historically tall buildings create a visual waveform of a dancing skyline." -- Andrea Krass

"While many people may recognize the iconic minarets atop Plant Hall at the University of Tampa, not everyone knows just what lies beneath this beautiful addition to the downtown skyline. Historic Plant Hall harkens back to the days it was the luxurious Tampa Bay Hotel, visited by a number of dignitaries including Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders. Guided tours are available, or you may choose to walk the grounds yourself. (Don't forget your camera!)" -- Katherine Lockwood-Fleming

Etc.: cigars, organized crime, gators and roller-coasters

"My great-grandparents came from Spain and Cuba to work in the cigar industry of Ybor City at the start of the 20th century. They joined Italians, Germans and others who helped the city grow and thrive. Today, Tampa is culturally diverse, with the arrival of recent immigrants adding to the diversity. But it started with the cigar workers. The descendents of those cigar workers have become doctors, lawyers, teachers, skilled workers and businessmen." -- Evelio Alvarez

"Before and after prohibition, Tampa was known as Little Chicago -- a reference to commonplace organized crime, and Ybor City was where it happened. With links to crime families in Chicago and New York, Tampa made a name for itself with the Trafficante family and their direct ties (allegedly, of course) to the JFK assassination." -- Evelio Gonzalez

"Ybor City Museum takes you back into Ybor City's vibrant multicultural history of immigrants from various Spanish communities. The museum includes artifacts from the area, a Mediterranean garden kept up with vivacious greenery and a replicated home of early cigar rollers that established this community in 1886. Your knowledgeable guides also will extend their tour into the city, pointing out some of Ybor's most significant landmarks. Admission is only $4 per person and is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily." -- Charles McGregor

"You cannot talk about Tampa without boasting about Busch Gardens. Today, the park is a major tourist attraction and theme park, but when it was built in 1959, it was solely meant to attract potential customers to the Anheuser Busch brewery. Busch Gardens plays host to some of the world's most famous roller-coasters, including Sheikra, Kumba, Gwazi, Wild Surge, and most recently, the Cheetah Hunt." -- Valerie A. Modreski

"It's no wonder Tampa Bay was recently awarded 'Top Arts Destination' by American Style Magazine. Nearby must-see stops include the Dali Museum, MOSI, the Tampa Bay History Center, and the Tampa Museum of Art." -- Jennifer Hinojosa

"One of the best things about living in Tampa Bay is dolphins. Whether you're five or 55 years old, it's always fun to see one. Keep your eyes peeled and you may see one in the bay at the Convention Center, strolling along downtown's Riverwalk or Bayshore Boulevard, or from one of the many bayside restaurants like Oyster Catcher's or Whiskey Joe's. For an up-close dolphin experience, you're within driving distance of SeaWorld and Discovery Cove. Though a little unnerving, it's always pretty cool to see a gator, too. You may see one hanging out on the banks at one of Tampa's many golf courses or along the nature trails at Lettuce Lake Park or the Hillsborough River State Park." -- Elizabeth Miller