If you’re looking for a day trip off the beaten path, Gulfport is a destination worth your time and travel.
It is a town with a sense of place rooted in Old Florida and often described as “a hidden gem.”
But, this quaint historical fishing village on the Boca Ciega Bay is far from hidden these days.
With a reviving waterfront district, a historical casino ballroom, art galleries, neighborhood bars and gourmet dining spots, Gulfport is being discovered as the place to enjoy the old, and the new.
Rainbow-colored shops, boutiques and restaurants along and around Beach Boulevard add texture to subtropical Florida, evoking another historical town to the south.
“I think what most come here for is the Key West lifestyle, before Key West became commercial,” said Scott Linde, president of the Gulf Port Merchants Association. “It conveys remembrances of old Florida. It has an artsy feel to it. We have all ages, all lifestyles here.”
Gulfport’s downtown charms are apparent during the community’s First Friday Art Walks, which are year-round on the First Friday and Third Friday of the month, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Beach and Shore boulevards are alive with activities, as artists, crafters and live performers give visitors a chance to browse, shop and be entertained.
The next First Friday is May 6 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Parking is free, and trolleys also are available for this pet and family friendly event.
Something is always happening at Gulfport, a town where the cheeky, fun-loving gecko is the year-round mascot. He emerged into the Gulfport spotlight in 2001 with the GeckoFest and Mullet Mutiny.
In 2004, the gecko partnered with the Gulfport Merchants Association to keep the annual party rolling.
On Aug. 5, there will be a Gecko Art Show; on Aug. 13, the Gecko Pub Crawl; on Aug. 27, a ball with the theme “20,000 Geckos Under the Sea”; and, on Sept. 3, a blow-out street festival.
But, there is no need to wait for Gecko festivities to make a trip to Gulfport.
On an ordinary day, the town rolls out the welcome mat.
Every Tuesday, fresh produce, cheese, honey and shrimp are on sale at the Fresh Market, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., on Beach Boulevard by the waterfront. Arts and crafts, live music and more than a dozen restaurants add to the fun. Summer hours from June through September are from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Clothing swaps are on the second Tuesday of each month from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., as part of the Fresh Market.
In the fall, the Gulfport Historical Society celebrates the town’s history with a month of activities including the Flying Mullet 5K. The nonprofit also operates the Gulfport History Museum at 5301 28th Ave., S.
The history museum is open to the public, with no admission charge, and features an impressive display of historical documents and photographs from the town’s history and its families, dating to the 1880s.
The museum also hosts occasional exhibits and walking tours of the town’s brick-lined streets, and historical homes and businesses.
Other special events during the year include Spring Fest to celebrate the changing seasons; Get Rescued, an animal rescue festival; and, the Pink Flamingo home tour.
In Gulfport, it seems, there really is something for everyone.
Daniel Hodge found that out when he moved from San Francisco to Gulfport nearly a decade ago to live near family.
The freelance writer and disc jockey is now vice president of the merchants’ association, and a Gulfport fan.
“It was a great move for a lot of reasons,” he said. “(Gulfport’s) charm has really gotten a lot of notice and respect. We want to keep it small, quaint and colorful.”
To find out more about Gulfport, visit VisitGulfportFlorida.com.
Gulfport First Friday Art Walk
What: Artists, crafters and live entertainment will offer visitors plenty to see, enjoy and perhaps even buy during First Friday Art Walk festivities.
When: This takes place year-round, on the first and third Friday of each month, from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. The next one is May 6.
Where: 3007 Beach Blvd., Gulfport, 33707
How much: Free parking, free trolley rides, pet-friendly
Published May 4, 2016