By Nick Johnson, Times Staff Writer
Published September 30, 2007
Geography: Gulfport is a small beach community nestled between St. Petersburg and Boca Ciega Bay. Beach Boulevard is the main drag, packed with shops, restaurants and galleries. It also takes you to the Gulfport Casino and Shore Boulevard, which runs along the beach. Together they make for an easy walk through a unique bohemian beach town that most people never experience. Anything outside of those two roadways is residential and will likely be far less interesting for beachgoers.
A little history: Gulfport started off as a small fishing village and around 1904 was planned to be a retirement community for Civil War veterans. When no veterans showed up, the town was incorporated in 1910 as the town of Gulfport. In the '20s the town likely got the most use out of its port when it became a hot spot for bootleggers during Prohibition. Most of the homes there were built in the '50s, and the city remained primarily residential until the early '90s when the downtown waterfront district was developed to bolster tourism with art galleries, shops and restaurants.
The beach: With a playground at both ends and plenty of pavilions and shady pine trees in between, this beach was made for birthday parties, picnics and family outings. The beach is short in comparison to most in the area and the water in Boca Ciega Bay is usually not as clear as the Gulf of Mexico, but there are very few shells or rocks to step on and it's usually nice and calm. You will likely never have to fight for a place to put your beach blanket down either since most tourists never make it into Gulfport.
Amenities: There are restrooms and showers located right by the beach. Boats under 17 feet can access the beach via the public dock and there is a fishing pier at the east end of the shoreline. When you're done enjoying the water you can cross Shore Boulevard and easily walk to a string of beach bars. Perhaps you might like to finish out the night singing karaoke at O'Maddy's, a local favorite. If bars aren't your style, head down Beach Boulevard and check out all the quirky shops and art galleries, then choose from a number of unique restaurants. La Fogata is an impressive new addition to the lineup, but don't expect to get in with a swimsuit on.
Some drawbacks: The beach is tiny in comparison to most, only about a quarter mile, and there are no lifeguards. The scenery in not as breathtaking as many of the other beaches in the area and due to the east-west orientation you won't get to see much of a sunset there.
Parking: There is plenty of public parking a stone's throw from the water and best of all, it's free. The main lot is right on the beach and there are plenty of spots along Beach and Shore boulevards if you're headed to the shops or restaurants.
Bottom line: It's quirky, kitschy and probably one of the area's best kept secrets. But if you like long walks on the beach or won't swim if you can't see your toes in the water, it's not for you.