Tampa Bay fall festivals you can't miss this year

Here's what we think you shouldn't leave fall in Tampa Bay without doing.

click to enlarge FESTIVAL FRENZY: It’s a nonstop parade of fests, theater and art starting... well, now. - Cathy Salustri
Cathy Salustri
FESTIVAL FRENZY: It’s a nonstop parade of fests, theater and art starting... well, now.

Around here it won’t start to feel like fall until after Halloween. So how do you know it’s fall? When the festivals fire up. Below is a list of don’t-miss fall festivals, starting Saturday. Don’t blame me that almost all of them are on, ahem, the west side of the bay; Tampa saves all its festival mojo for the spring with Gasparilla and Sunscreen (sounds like a cocktail) and big shows in Curtis Hixon Park. So east-siders, gas up the car and get ready to hit the bridge, and keep an eye on cltampa.com/arts for stuff hitting your side of the water, too. Here’s what you’ll see us at in the next few months: 

August/September

This Is Not a Selfie, Aug. 25-Nov. 25, St. Petersburg Guess who didn’t invent the selfie? Us. Guess what? We didn’t used to call them “selfies” and here’s why — this stunning collection of self-portraiture, pre-duckface and #nofilter, only at the Museum of Fine Arts for a few months. mfastpete.org. —CS

Wearable Art, Aug. 25, Dunedin The name really says it all. The Dunedin Fine Art Center turns the neighboring community center into the funkiest fashion runway you’ll ever see — and it’s delightful. dfac.org. —CS

GeckoFest, Sept. 1, Gulfport Warning: My wife and I once went to GeckoFest in the funky village of Gulfport and we ended up buying a house. Gulfport will charm you into a 30-year mortgage. Why geckos? Why not? If I try to describe GeckoFest, I’ll get it wrong. It’s colorful, it’s family-friendly, it’s art, it’s music, it’s how a 151-year-old city of boaters and artists says “we’re different.” geckofest.com. —JK

Yayoi Kusama: LOVE IS CALLING, Sept. 26-Feb. 14, Tampa Infinity rooms like you would not believe, plus a vaguely octopus-like feel to the exhibit. You have to see it to get it. Really, you do. tampamuseum.org. —CS

October

SHINE St. Petersburg Mural Festival, Oct. 6-14 Now in its fourth year, this festival crept up out of nowhere and has grown into a world-class affair, with muralists coming from all corners to leave their mark on the city. The best way to see it is to hop on a bike (bring your own, or rent a Coast Bike) and cruise around downtown and watch the artists at work. Along the way, you’re bound to stumble across a new brewery or sandwich shop that sprung up over the summer. The great thing about heading to downtown St. Pete is you don’t need to check the calendar because something’s always happening and murals will remain. shineonstpete.com. —JK

Edgar & Emily, Oct. 12-Nov. 4, Tampa I love Edgar Allan Poe. Emily Dickinson? Not so much. But they’re together in this play, and it’s my fondest hope that Poe can up Dickinson’s likability for me. For other viewers, I’m sure it’s the opposite and some of you might love them both. S'OK either way, because Jobsite never disappoints. No pressure, guys. Pro tip: Skip the previews and head to opening night. The cookies are amazing, and so is the post-show party. jobsitetheater.org.—CS

Clearwater Jazz Holiday, Oct. 18 - 21 Jazz..zzzzzzzz. Nope, this isn’t easy listening. If I’m heading to downtown Clearwater, it’s for Clearwater Jazz Holiday or a show at the Capitol Theatre. This year’s lineup includes George Thorogood (still “Bad to the Bone”), the Doobie Brothers (still… together?), Prince proteges Sheila E. and Morris Day and The Time (Oh Ee Oh Ee Oh), and JJ Gray and Mofro (still underrated). Bands up and down the bill will surprise you, from the top local voice Betty Fox's Band to the bluegrass-y Devil Makes Three. clearwaterjazz.com.—JK

John’s Pass Seafood and Music Festival, Oct. 25-28 Every time I visit John’s Pass, I remember why so many people come here to visit. John’s Pass is a fishing village adapted to tourism, but it still feels like Florida. The Seafood Festival is a gem. No admission fee, free concerts, a 5K and the best in local seafood. And the late-October date means it’s still warm enough to hit the beach without dying of heat stroke. johnspassseafoodfest.com. —JK

Open Streets St. Pete, Oct. 28 Ever wonder what it would be like if everyone left their car at home for a day? Open Streets commandeers a stretch of normally busy road and opens it to walkers, runners, bikers, skaters, dancers and all things non-motorized. The concourse is lined with activities for all ages, food trucks, and for one blissful afternoon, the street is your playground. This year, the free event closes Bayshore Dr. from Al Lang Field down to Albert Whitted Park. openstreetsstpete.wordpress.com. —JK

November

The Redemption of Rube Moats, Nov. 2-18, LAB Theater Project at Silver Meteor, Ybor City LAB’s the latest, greatest theater group Silver Meteor’s incubating. Redemption’s a WWI-era story of brothers, baseball and life — and if SMG believes in them, well, we do, too. labtheaterproject.org. —CS

Conga Caliente, Nov. 4, Tampa Tampa Bay’s largest Hispanic heritage festival hits Al Lopez Park. This year’s lineup isn’t out yet, but this huge free event has food and music celebrating Cuban, Puerto Rican, Columbian, Panamanian, Argentinean, Uruguayan, Mexican, Spanish and Dominican cultures. Don’t pack a lunch. congacaliente.com. —JK

Dogtoberfest, Nov. 10, Dunedin Look, there’s no denying we have a crapload of fests revolving around dogs, but if, for some weird reason, you can only attend one, make this the one. Dachshund bonus: Running of the Wieners. suncoastanimalleague.org. —CS

RibFest, Nov. 9-11, St. Petersburg Like the Jazz Holiday, RibFest is known for bringing out A-List classic rockers each year. This year has something for every white rockin’ dude, from Police and U2 tribute bands to Kansas and Canadian '90s-rock gods The Barenaked Ladies. Vinoy Park is a great outdoor concert setting. Boaters who drop anchor near the seawall can turn off Yacht Rock Radio and listen to the real thing. And you can have any food you want as long as it’s ribs. I think they can smell RibFest in Tampa. ribfest.org. —JK

December

Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, Nov. 28-Dec. 30, St. Petersburg Why do you want to see this? One, because it’s the first time in many years American Stage has varied from either Santaland Diaries or It’s a Wonderful Life, and we want to support variety. Two, because it’s Pride & Prejudice (zombie-free, no less). Three, because who hasn’t wanted to see Mr. & Mrs. Darcy as newlyweds, where we can assume they’ll argue over why Mr. Darcy can’t load the dishwasher the right way? Merry Christmas! americanstage.org. —CS

About The Authors

Cathy Salustri

Cathy's portfolio includes pieces for Visit Florida, USA Today and regional and local press. In 2016, UPF published Backroads of Paradise, her travel narrative about retracing the WPA-era Florida driving tours that was featured in The New York Times. Cathy speaks about Florida history for the Osher Lifelong Learning...
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