The City of Gulfport is a small incorporated city in the heart of the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan area. It is in Pinellas County, and its southern border fronts on Boca Ciega bay.
It is surprising to find a piece of Old Florida right in the middle of this busy urban environment.
This small town of 12,000 is nestled along Boca Ciega Bay not far from where you take the impressive Sunshine Skyway across Tampa Bay down into the Bradenton and Sarasota region.
The town is actually a tad older than St. Pete because a railroad man named Peter Demens built his Orange Belt Railway from Central Florida to this location.
It was originally named Disston City in 1884 after Hamilton Disston, an early northern businessman who had purchased millions of acres of Florida land.
Demens pushed the railroad on south and in 1888 named the end of the line St. Petersburg after his home town in Russia.
Disston City was renamed Bonifacio, then Veteran City, and finally in 1910 it settled on the name Gulfport.
In 1930 the citizens built the Gulfport Casino as a community center and entertainment venue.
Gulfport has an "Old Florida" feel to it, especially around its waterfront district.
Many of the original old cottages still remain, and the neighborhood is sprinkled with charming little shops and restaurants.
You won't find big chain stores here, just an eclectic mix of independent shops.
In fact, there are no parking meters as the town wants to keep that small town yet "big heart" friendly feeling.
The streets are lined with ancient oak trees and some of the residential areas still have brick streets.
It's not surprising that Gulfport attracts the creative crowd - many local artists, musicians, craftspeople and even local authors.
These people are fascinated by Gulfport's charm and tropical ambience and the many events that take place. Almost every day is a "celebration."
Locals and tourists crowd the streets on the first Friday and third Saturday of each month for a family-friendly celebration called the "Gulfport Art Walk".
In recent years they've added a "fresh market" every Tuesday and Saturday featuring local produce, crafts, and live entertainment.
There are no admission fees, parking is free, and the city runs free trolleys throughout the city for easy access to everything.
(Note: during Covid outbreaks the trolley is sometimes shut down.)
The center of community activity is the old Gulfport Casino Ballroom located on the waterfront at the base of the city pier.
This is not a gambling casino, but a throwback to an era when casinos were places to gather and socialize.
The Casino dates back to the early days of the city and hosts various dance events five days a week on its 1930s era dance floor.
These events are well attended by fun lovers from St Pete, Tampa, Clearwater and the entire Tampa Bay area.
The historic building and grand ballroom are steps away from the white sand of the Gulfport beach.
In addition to dance lessons and events, many people find it's the perfect place for a beach wedding and reception or other large event.
There are even boat slips to allow visitors to arrive by water, along with a full service bar.
Fishing is one of the favorite pastimes of locals and visitors and the area provides this as well.
Williams Pier is a prime example, having been built in 1907 and fully remodeled to include an extension of over 500 feet to allow for deeper fishing, exterior lighting, seating and a fish-cleaning table.
There are several nice smaller parks to enjoy in the area, including Clymer Park, which has a sculpture garden, a recreation center and a large skate park.
Also popular is the larger Clam Bayou Nature Park, with it's 10 acres of peaceful nature preserve, walking trails, canoe/kayak launch and beautiful views of Boca Ciega Bay.
Gulfport is also famous for its many good restaurants. Several travel magazines have voted the town as one of the best food cities in Florida.
The small city area is less than 4 square miles, and more than a dozen restaurants and small local businesses line Beach and Shore Boulevards, running along the waterfront.
There are a couple that are fine dining although many have a more laid-back atmosphere. A great way to spend an evening is strolling through the area enjoying live music and the tropical scenery.