- Cigar aficionados can enjoy a smoke and a Cuban coffee in Tampa Bay's historic Ybor City
- Tampa's residents love its miles of white sandy beaches and gorgeous sunsets
- Charlotte's NoDa neighborhood features restaurants, a lively music scene and art galleries
- Charlotte has the U.S. National Whitewater Center and the NASCAR Hall of Fame
Why wait for the election in November? The political convention host cities are already going head-to-head as part of our Destination USA project pitting rival cities against each other. Tampa, Florida, will host the Republican National Convention August 27-30, while Charlotte, North Carolina, will host the Democratic National Convention September 3-6.
In our smackdown's early returns, Charlotte handily won the vote. The North Carolina town earned a definitive victory with 66 percent of the more than 1,900 votes collected in our unscientific poll. More than 2,100 people recommended the story on Facebook and nearly 100 comments were logged on that story.
"Charlotte, to me, is the best of both worlds," says commenter Tim Hass, who works in marketing/advertising in North Carolina's largest metropolitan area. "It's a major city, so I've got all the amenities of city life combined with the slightly slower pace of a smaller town. The weather is perfect for me, there are a lot of tree-lined streets and natural areas, and enough of a foodie culture that you can pretty much find anything you want if you put some effort into it."
The Tampa Bay area lagged behind with more than 660 votes, or 34 percent of the total. About 40 comments were filed, and the story was shared over 350 times on Facebook.
That doesn't mean Tampa lovers weren't enthusiastic about their home. "You have it all here in TB: the hustle and bustle of a large city yet the pure peace of the white sandy beaches and nightly sunsets," says iReporter Krista Kleman, a hotel executive. "What do you love? Well, good luck not finding it here in Tampa Bay."
Both towns clearly have plenty to offer the convention goers who will pack their cities to celebrate their candidates' nominations. Hopefully, they'll also have a bit of local fun. Here are some recommendations from the people who call these politically connected towns home.
Both cities are blessed with food scenes that make choosing where to go your only conundrum. Hands down, Tampa locals recommend you get reservations at Bern's Steak House. When you head to Bern's, "make sure you ask to take the tour," advises commenter Paula Vann, a resident of nearby St. Petersburg. "The tour will take you to their impressive wine cellar and then into their kitchen area. They grow their own produce and age their own beef. Also at Bern's, the dessert is an experience in an upstairs part of the restaurant."
Make sure to stop by Ybor City, where there were many recommendations for Carmines and the Columbia Restaurant (the oldest restaurant in Florida). Their menus aren't exclusively Cuban but they are "the best for authentic Cuban food," says iReporter Matthew Eaton, a cigar company employee. Eaton also recommends stopping by King Corona for a Cuban espresso and cigar and taking a stroll down 7th Avenue to see roosters and hens strutting around.
Tampa resident and fellow iReporter Eduardo Jany also recommends Datz deli, Ella's Americana Folk Art Cafe, Sophie's French Bakery, Ceviche and Burger 21.
Charlotte residents can provide similarly long lists of restaurant recommendations. iReporter and videographer Scott Lazes loves the Common Market, Phat Burrito, Soul Gastrolounge and Harvest Moon Grille.
Commenter Joel Thomas says Cabo Fish Taco is one of his favorite restaurants. "Located in the artsy NoDa area near Uptown, it is an awesome Baja style restaurant with funky decor and amazing cuisine," Thomas says.
iReporter Ted Boyd, whose day job is to promote the city's South End neighborhood, clearly loves food. A few recommendations from his South End list: Mac's Speed Shop and Sauceman's for BBQ, Price's Chicken Coop, The Liberty, Pike's Old Fashioned Soda Shop and Food Truck Friday (Camden and Park Ave).
In Uptown, he also likes the King's Bakery, Rooster's and the new 5 Church. In South Park, he recommends Paco's Tacos & Tequila and Terrace Cafe.
The water's the thing in the Tampa Bay area, where miles of sandy beaches and a beautiful riverfront are available for swimming, picnics and play. Tampa resident have their favorites. Medical resident and iReporter Rainy Betts recommends the location for her daughter's third birthday party, Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park on the Hillsborough River.
"We also have the most beautiful Tampa Bay, where large tropical birds fly overhead as your eye moves down the city skyline, or the long stretch on the waterfront lined by multimillion-dollar mansions and green space" called the Bayshore, Betts says.
"We have Clearwater Beach, probably the busiest of beaches," says iReporter Mike Kramer. "We have Honeymoon Island, Fort DeSoto, Caladesi Island, St. Pete Beach and even smaller beaches like Howard Park in Tarpon Springs."
Charlotte resident and iReporter Jody Mace likes to recommend free and nearly free events at her website, Charlotte on the Cheap. "I've celebrated Day of the Dead at Pura Vida Worldly Art in NoDa, listened to a harmonica concert at Amelie's bakery as I sipped coffee, heard some fine storytelling by members of the community at Crossroads Charlotte's 'the Cankerworm" event,'" she says.
The NoDa neighborhood (named for North Davidson Street) is the place for some Charlotte residents. "NoDa has some great music at the Evening Muse and the Neighborhood Theatre, amazing pizza at Revolution, and a couple of outstanding new microbrews at the NoDa Brewing Company and Birdsong," Tim Hass says.
"One of my favorite areas of town is NoDa, where I often go with a group of friends to see bands or go to a gallery crawl," says iReporter Edward, a student who didn't want his last name published.
For those with a great sense of adventure and a little more to spend, locals recommend the U.S. National Whitewater Center, where actor Woody Harrelson was known to play during filming of "The Hunger Games." The non-profit, a U.S. Olympics training site, also hosts evening events such as flatwater paddle sessions followed by microbrew tastings.
What's next in this political battle?
Despite the early loss, Florida's boosters aren't giving up so easily. They're already creating lists of recommendations for conventioneers that include diving with the sharks at the Florida Aquarium and feeding the giraffes at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. In the months leading up to the Republican convention, Florida's tourism bureau will post video and blog recommendations for Tampa Bay convention attendees on its website.
Not to be outdone by the Sunshine State, North Carolina already has a three-day "City of Culture" Charlotte excursion on its website, and tourism officials are making plans to show off Charlotte to conventioneers come September. They're guessing some politically competitive attendees will enjoy the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Charlotte Motor Speedway and team race shops.