Gulfport Florida is Old Florida
If you look up the word eclectic, the dictionary says the meaning is “deriving ideas, style, or taste from a broad and diverse range of sources”. That is a perfect way to describe Gulfport Florida.
A quick stroll down Beach Blvd. in Gulfport will affirm the town’s charm is truly a mixture of styles, ideas, and cultures all within a short 5 blocks. The homes and businesses are as diverse as the history of Gulfport. This town makes a great Florida day trip.
Where is Gulfport Florida
This city of 12,000 people seems to get overlooked by the big waterfront towns around Tampa Bay. A general location of Gulfport is between St. Petersburg and St. Pete Beach. The town sits on Boca Ciega Bay with water access to Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
It is easy to forget Gulfport because of Tampa is 30 minutes across the bay, and Clearwater Beach is just 30 minutes north. St. Petersbugh is just on the eastern border of Gulfport and St. Pete Beach is across Boca Ciega Bay, just 5 miles away.
The town is surrounded by famous tourist destinations. See the map of Gulfport below or check out Florida Travel Blog to plan your day trip in Florida.
The History of Gulfport Florida
The History of Gulfport dates back thousands of years and many cultures of Native Americans. Modern history starts in the late 1800s. The first recorded family was named Barnett. They named the area Barnett’s Bluff in 1868.
By 1880 other homesteaders had started to move in and they changed the name to Bonifacio.
In 1890 the name changed again to Disston City after a developer by the name of Hamilton Disston. Disston was a land speculator and developer from Philadelphia who was well-known in central Florida.
In 1905 the town again changed its name to Veteran’s City. One man named John Chase had visions of the city becoming a retirement village for retired Civil War veterans. His great intentions were short-lived, but there is a Veteran’s Park in the middle of the downtown area that reflects his thoughts.
In 1910 the name was finally changed to Gulfport. The name accurately reflected the town’s reputation for being a reprise for boating and fishing. There was an electric trolley that once brought visitors from St. Petersburg to catch a ferry to islands in the Tampa Bay area.
The Gulfport Casino
You cannot talk about the History of Gulfport without including the history of the Gulfport Casino. Originally built on the waterfront in the center of town, the Gulfport Casino was the heart of activities for townspeople.
One thing that persists are questions about gaming at the “Casino”. There has never been any Las Vegas style gambling here. The Latin-based term “casino” is a home of gathering.
Still today, this is a place where events, festivals and weddings are commonplace – gatherings that bring people together were the intent of the town’s founders.
Our last visit was on April 15, 2023. The Casino was a venue for the annual Floridania Fest where vendors offered thousands of items in recognition of two centuries of Florida’s memorabilia and history.
The Gulfport Casino has been rebuilt numerous times from hurricanes. The most recent was a WPA project in 1935.
Next to the Gulfport Casino is the public pier stretching 700 feet into Boca Ciega Bay. The pier was once a ferry stop where people could head over to Pass-A-Grille for the day. That was, of course, before any bridges were built.
In 2015 the Gulfport Casino was placed on the Department of Interior’s National List of Historic Places.
What To Do in Gulfport Florida
Gulfport is old Florida. Perhaps one of the last communities holding on to the values and culture of a time when neighbors and family were the center of attention.
Take a walk down Beach Blvd. you see mom-and-pop businesses mixed with homes built in another era. Slate siding, colorful artwork, inviting porches, and the occasional plastic pink flamingo in the front yard tells you this is what Florida used to look like.
The narrow sidewalks are full of tourists and locals visiting the many shops and restaurants. Sidewalk merchandise displays compete with restaurant tables for the attention of passing foot traffic.
As you approach the waterfront, the Gulfport Casino looms as the end of the street, but the beginning of waterfront activities. The volleyball courts in the sand, sailboats moored in the harbor and the Williams Pier all get their share of attention.
The Williams Pier extends over 500 feet into Boca Ciega Bay. It’s free, fun and full of fishermen. Williams Pier in one of the few big public piers in the Tampa Bay area that is free. Your Florida Day trip could include some fishing from the pier.
Your walk through town is therapeutic and nostalgic. You know you are walking through a town that is part of Florida’s colorful history. You also wonder how long this little corner of the earth can keep the developers away.
The Restaurants of Gulfport Florida
For such a small town, the community has a wide selection of food choices. Most are small restaurants without competition from cookie-cutter chains. The one exception is Caddy’s, a local St. Pete Beach-based small chain of watering holes.
At the corner of Shore Blvd. and Beach Blvd. is Neptune Grill, a Greek restaurant. Along Beach Blvd. it seems everyone has breakfast at Stella’s. Pia’s Trattoria has a huge location with an excellent reputation.
It seems every city in Florida has a brewery and Gulfport is no exception with the Gulfport Brewery and Eatery. You have the Wine House and Siri’s Pizza & Burgers just a few paces down the street. The colorful Drunken Taco is across the street. One of the places that intrigued us the most is the Historic Peninsula Inn.
The Peninsula Inn serves lunch on its large veranda. The Inn reminds you of a modernized historic building where you could see people pulling up with their horse and buggy back in 1905 when it was built. Today it appears to be the heart of Beach Blvd. and Gulfport.
Not Many Places Like Gulfport Left
In our travels around Florida, you don’t find many of these pockets of old Florida left. Most have given way to commercial developer(s) who remove the trees, widen the streets, puts 50 units where an old cracker house stood, and the character and culture give way to fanny-pack-carrying tourists who consider this progress.
Gulfport has survived the onslaught of brick and mortar. Take a day trip in Florida to Gulfport, Florida. You will be glad you did!