The don't-miss list

The top 25 draws in downtown Gulfport.



1. Art walks. Every first Friday and third Saturday of the month, businesses along Beach Boulevard host an art walk. Sidewalk vendors also set up along the strip to sell their wares, and the free Gulfport Trolley runs for the durations of the art walk, from 6 to 10 p.m.

2. Fourth of July celebration. Gulfport puts on its annual Spectacular Fireworks Display along Beach Boulevard. Call 727-893-1067 for more information.

3. Gecko Fest. Gulfport's artsy, quirky personality finds its ultimate form of expression in Gecko Fest. Held every Labor Day weekend along Beach Boulevard, this celebration of the end of summer features artisans, live acts, a children's area, unique vendors and much more amid a spirit of whimsy. Spectators are encouraged to be participants by dressing up in colorful hats and costumes, and bringing musical instruments and noisemakers to, as its website says, "celebrate the colors of the Gecko." This year's event is scheduled for Sat., Sept. 6, from noon to 8 p.m.


4. Bert and Walter Williams Pier. This ideal spot to get a romantic, panoramic view of Boca Ciega Bay is also a popular spot for fishing. Located at the east end of Shore Boulevard at 54th Street S.

5. Catherine A. Hickman Theater. This 173-seat theater, sitting just to the north of the Gulfport Library, is the great place to catch concerts, film series and theater productions in an intimate setting. Check the website for current or upcoming shows. 5501 27th Ave. S., 727-893-1070,

6. Gulfport Casino. If you have boogie-woogie shoes and ants in your pants, then head over to the Casino, where swing's the thing, and so are salsa and ballroom dancing. Each Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, the Gulfport Casino offers themed dance nights, with lessons for beginners. All dances are $7. 5500 Shore Blvd. S. Check the City of Gulfport website at for more details, 727-893-1070.

7. Gulfport Municipal Beach. Take a dip in Boca Ciega Bay, just west of the Casino. There's a playground area for the kids, as well as benches and shelters for a relaxing picnic.

8. Gulfport Recreation Center. This hub of exercise and hobbies offers an impressive slew of activities and classes, including basketball, gymnastics, tot time, dance, fencing, watercolor, tennis and tai chi, to name just a few. Fees are according to resident and nonresident status. Except during daylight savings time, the city also hosts Theater on the Bay every Friday, in which popular films are screened outside at the Recreation Field. 5730 Shore Blvd.S., 727-893-1068,

Cool shops

9. Art Village Courtyard. Some of the shops that were once tenants in the courtyard have left due to rising property taxes, but the Village is still a prime spot to soak up Gulfport's bohemian flavor, especially during the twice-monthly art walks. Grab a cup o' joe at Java Nirvana Coffee & Sweets, and watch bands perform on the courtyard riser. Other businesses include The Art of Massage and The Perfect Ten nail salon. A Fresh Market and Boardwalk are held every Saturday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and also include live entertainment. 2900-2914 Beach Blvd. S.,

10. Beach Bazaar. Shelves and aisles are filled with tchotchkes rendered in typical Florida themes (think mermaids, dolphins and pirates), as well as apparel and a post office in the back. 3115 Beach Blvd. S., 727-381-8548.

11. Hula Hula. Featuring Floridiana and Hawaiian-themed art, Hula Hula is a treasure trove for those seeking cool, kitschy retro pin-ups, signs, antiques, island decor and more. Definitely the kind of place you'll want to spend some time browsing. 2902 Beach Blvd. S., 727-321-8454,

12. Reef Dog Gifts and Grooming. All the necessary doggy accoutrements for pampering your pooch, plus grooming services, priced according to the breed of dog. 2820 Beach Blvd. S., 727-323-7007,

13. Small Adventures Bookshop. This dainty bookstore has been around since 1992. It isn't big, but it is packed — and I mean packed — with pre-owned paperbacks, as well as hardcovers. 3107 Beach Blvd. S., 727-347-8732,

14. Stillwagon Gallery. Gulfport resident Keith Stillwagon's acrylics feature goddesses, mythical figures and landscapes, all rendered in vivid colors. 5501 Shore Blvd., no. B, 727-415-4935,

Food & drink

15. Backfin Blue Café. A quaint café housed in a 1920s-era cottage, Backfin serves up classy fare, but is best known for its crabcakes. Very popular with locals, laid-back, casual and definitely tasty. 2913 Beach Blvd. S. 727-343-2583,

16. Habana Café. Over the years, this eatery has earned numerous accolades for its Cuban food. Owner Jo Hastings' Habana Café Cookbook was named the Best Latino Cuisine book for 2004 at the 10th Annual Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in Sweden. The Habana Cigar Factory now occupies the space next to the cafe that was once home to a laundromat, Charlie Bubbles. 5402 Gulfport Blvd. S., 727-321-8855; Cigar Factory, 727-362-0001,

17. La Fogata. This entry into the popular, all-you-can eat Brazilian churrascaria craze is decidedly upscale for its casual, Gulfport locale. Still, the meat is incredible, the sides are better than most and the service top-notch. La Fogata's attached bar — Bellini's — also has surprisingly good small plate food, from albondigas to bacon-wrapped fried figs (Brian Ries). 2832 Beach Blvd. S. 727-327-4200,

18. O'Maddy's. It seems the outdoor deck at this popular bar and grille is always packed, and for good reason: The view alone is worth it. Facing Boca Ciega Bay, O'Maddy's has digital karaoke seven nights a week, and hosts Texas Hold 'Em tournaments every Monday at 8 p.m. 5405 Shore Blvd., 727-323-8643,

19. On the Rocks. Located right next door to O'Maddy's, On the Rocks is where you can belly up to the bar and feel like a true local. You'll often find motorcycles parked out front, belonging to the bikers who frequent this establishment. 5413 Shore Blvd. S. 727-321-8318.

20. Peg's Cantina. Tasty Mexican fare and thin-crust pizzas served up in a cozy bungalow by academics-turned-restaurateurs Tony Dodson, his wife Peg Wesselink and her son, pizza-master Doug Dozark. There's an extensive list of beers from around the world, plus a tasty alternative for the soft-drink fan who resents Coca-Cola dominance: Boylen's soda, which is made from real cane sugar and contains no high fructose corn syrup. Outdoor dining is available; cash only. 3038 Beach Blvd., 727-328-2720,

21. Pia's Trattoria. Besides the gorgeous Gulfport ambiance, focus is the reason why Pia's is so popular and why the place has garnered a passel of admiring reviews. Pia's doesn't try to meet the need of every fan of Italian cuisine. It's just a neighborhood trattoria — Florence via Beach Boulevard — with Pia doing what she does in a surrounding that manages to distill Gulfport's relaxed neighborhood aura (Brian Ries). 3054 Beach Blvd. S., 727-327-2190.

22. TLC Foodmart. Why a food mart? Because this cute convenience store sells slush puppies, and nothing beats a blue raspberry slush puppy on a hot Florida day. 2822 Beach Blvd. S., 727-321-2833.

23. Water Witch. A recent addition to Gulfport's dining scene, Water Witch is an offshoot of Pia's (which means it has very good genes). It's already building a reputation for delicious food (especially breakfast) and unfussy atmosphere. 5519 Shore Blvd., 727-346-2444.


24. Peninsula Inn & Spa. Elegant both inside and out, this historic inn is decorated in British Colonial style. Amenities include the Seven Springs Spa, The Palm Lounge, and Six Tables, which offers a six-course meal five days a week (reservation only). 2937 Beach Blvd., 727-346-9800,

25. Sea Breeze Manor. This Tudor-style inn was built in 1923 and remained a private residence up until 2002, when it became a luxurious bed and breakfast. Overlooking Boca Ciega Bay, this all-suite property has a Caribbean-island ambience. Also offers spa services. 5701 Shore Blvd., 727-343-4445,

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