Main Street eclectic

The laid-back charms of downtown Gulfport.

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Quaint. Charming. Relaxed. These are the words you hear from residents and visitors alike when they describe the laid-back community of Gulfport.

Nestled between St. Petersburg and South Pasadena, Gulfport has managed to avoid becoming yet another cookie-cutter town with overexposed franchises. Take a drive along 49th Street or Gulfport Boulevard, and you'll find one independent business after another. But the best place to enjoy the city's old-Florida ambience is the area of downtown Gulfport extending south to Boca Ciega Bay.

Cute mom-and-pop shops line the main drag, Beach Boulevard. At the southernmost point of the strip, overlooking the bay, sits the mint-colored Gulfport Casino. At night, palm trees twinkle with green and white lights and the Casino sign is a beacon in red neon. On one recent Wednesday evening, the grand ballroom was filled with dancers of all ages as they twirled to the joyful, energizing sounds of swing and big-band music.

But Gulfport is best appreciated in the daylight, especially in the residential section surrounding downtown with its assortment of candy-colored bungalows. The town has undergone a number of transformations over the years, especially as restaurants have supplanted once-plentiful art galleries; but despite the changes, the city has retained its unique, offbeat identity.

If you've never been there, you'll probably catch yourself saying, "How did I not discover this place sooner?"

See also

The don't-miss list

The top 25 draws in downtown Gulfport.

Local quotable

"It [went from] Biker City in the '70s to an art mecca in the '80s to a restaurant haven..."

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