By Nancy Foster
Gulfport is the perfect example of a hidden gem. A short 15-minute drive inland from its famous neighbor, St. Pete Beach, Gulfport is a tiny 2.8-mile hamlet. This scenic community on Boca Ciega Bay’s waterfront is considered by many to be a modern day throwback to the Florida Cracker days when life was simple, towns had a sense of togetherness and people never moved away. This is Gulfport today, home to “Old Florida” charm, where you won’t find a parking meter anywhere and friendly greetings from residents and merchants alike are the norm.
You’ll discover lots to see and do along Gulfport’s bustling, historic, waterfront village. A colorfest of brightly painted buildings entice you to browse, dine and explore funky boutiques, contemporary galleries and locally owned shops. Be sure to check out eclectic Gulfport Beach Bazaar, home to over 20 unique vendors. A small strip of beach and the 470-foot Williams Pier overlook scenic bay views, and the historic Gulfport Casino, now regularly used for public dances and special events, makes for an interesting photo op.
For food and drink, the choices are many—and good. Try Stella’s if you love big breakfasts (and fried green tomatoes). O’Maddy’s Bar and Grille is home to a come-as-you-are attitude, open-air bar overlooking the waterfront and really awesome pub grub, including local favorites such as Michael’s Mussels and Ashley’s Lobster BLT.
Gulfport is seen as a jaunt for day-trippers for the most part, although there are several bed and breakfast lodgings. One particular beauty is The Historic Peninsula Inn, where owner Veronica Champion’s 1905 charmer has been transformed into 12 beautiful suites and rooms (do ask about the reported ghost). The comfy veranda beckons you to relax with sweet tea before dining on “Southern cuisine with a modern twist” at on-site Isabelle’s Restaurant. Live music entertains guests in the bar Tuesday to Saturday.
Gulfport is known for its recurring and special events. On Friday and Saturday evenings, Gulfport Art Walk blazes a path through its cultural side, and the weekly Tuesday Fresh Market entices with produce, local honeys, gourmet foodstuffs and specialty handcrafts. The funky Gecko Fest is a legendary feast of fun held each September right before Labor Day. The merriment includes a parade, street performers, costume contests plus the quirky Gecko Ball and pub crawl.
For area info, visitgulfportflorida.com.