We’re spending quite a bit of time in Gulfport trying to decide what our next move will be, road trip-wise. We’re having a pretty good time down here so we thought we would share the hits with you guys, in case you ever end up in the Gulfport/St. Petersburg/ Tampa area of Florida. Basically, Will and Olivia, this one’s for you for the next time you visit Mom and Dad. You’re welcome.
Things to know. Gulfport is a quirky little town on the beautiful Gulf Coast of Florida. It’s basically right next to St. Petersburg which is extremely close to Tampa. Very confusing. Anyway, it’s a beach town with a sort of shabby-chic Golden Girls vibe. Think hippie-meets-hip-hop-meets-hip replacement. With lots of random strip malls, gorgeous bays, carpet stores, independent motels and palm trees. Needless to say, I can’t get enough of it. Here’s some stuff to do and/or eat:
Dali Museum: Yes, as in Salvador Dali. So random that it’s here- but it is. It’s right on the water in downtown St. Petersburg and the building itself is incredible. We’ve seen the permanent collection, which is impressive, as well as a temporary exhibit about the relationship between Dali and Disney. Totally fascinating. Next up is an exhibit revolving around the food of Ferran Adria (El Bulli) and how he transformed gastronomy in the way Dali transformed art. You see how this works. They’re doing a good job over there, keeping it interesting. Plus, there’s a very solid Spanish-centered cafe on the ground floor.
Tarpon Springs: This is a little cuckoo. It’s a town settled by Greek sponge-divers. It’s still very Greek. People speaking Greek, Greek restaurants everywhere, Greek coffee. It’s like a legit, cheesy, tourist town in Greece with no passport required. Not a bad little day-trip. We heard good things about the whole fish dinner at a place called Hellas, but didn’t get a chance to try it. About an hour away from Gulfport. Take alternate Rt. 19 for a nice drive.
Ringling Museum: Yes, Ringling as in The Circus. This place is so spectacular I don’t even know where to begin. We actually became members. Not even kidding. There are basically three attractions at the Ringling campus: The Circus Museum, The Art Museum, and John and Mabel Ringling’s fully-restored 1920’s palacial Florida home which is called Ca’D’Zan. It’s bananas. In case you were wondering, Ca’D’Zan means John’s House in some obscure Italian dialect. John Ringling was a big fan of naming everything after himself, which I enjoy immensely.
Anyway, make Ca’D’Zan your focus and do it first. Definitely do the tours (get the whole package so you get into the third floor and onto the roof). This is not a huge commitment, maybe an hour and a half total, but you get the whole history of the Ringlings (who are now solidly placed on my mental list of The World’s Greatest Childless Couples) and really sets you up to appreciate the whole campus.The guides are stellar. Ours was dressed up and kept insisting it was 1924, which was a little awkward because the only other couple on the tour clearly wasn’t that into him. Luckily, they cheaped out on the extended tour so we ended up with a private guide after the 2nd floor.This happens to us a lot. Don’t cheap out.
After Ca’D’Zan, definitely walk over and check out the art museum, it’s beautiful. It’s another John Ringling creation. He built a world-class art museum in a swamp in the twenties, basically as a gimmick to get people to buy real estate in Sarasota (my interpretation). I love everything about that.
Finally, swing by the Circus museum. I thought this would be my favorite part of the whole thing, and it definitely is cool, but it kind of gets overshadowed by the other stuff. (This might be because part of the Circus museum was closed when were there because of some HVAC crisis.) The one real “can’t-miss” exhibit at the Circus Museum is the miniature circus. It sounds ridiculous and boring, but it’s weirdly fascinating. This guy, who’s name I forgot, has devoted many years of his life to building a complete model depiction of the circus in it’s heyday. Every detail is covered. The big tops. The stables. The commissary. The backlot. I know this is a tough-sell, but really- go.
Bodega on Central: Cuban coffee and sandwiches served from a walk-up window in the very cool Central Arts District of St. Petersburg. Definitely trendy (there’s a juice bar), but the Cuban sandwiches are Sofa King amazing and the staff is top-notch. Seriously. They know what they’re doing and they crank it out. I love it. I’m very tired of going to too-cool-for-school places that have great food and an absolute inability to make change, keep a line moving, or wipe a counter. Also, all the seating is outside and it’s dog-friendly.
Mangia: healthy lunch option in Gulfport. Good salads, lots of vegetarian options, dog-friendly patio. It is our go-to lunch pick because it’s close to home and we never feel gross after eating here. This can be sort of a french fries and cole slaw town, and after a while those just don’t count as vegetables. Mangia is our solution.
Locale Market: This place is basically a gourmet food-court/grocery store combo. My suspicion is 95% of their patrons are there for the prepared food and the groceries are mostly for decoration. It is very hip, and very confusing and almost impossible to actually buy something. Still, we went a bunch. High quality meats and seafood. Also, it’s right next to the movie theater.
Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish: Weird roadside fish stand, very close to Gulfport. Apparently, it’s a Florida tradition. They basically have platters of smoked fish, german potato salad, and beer. You should have lunch here.
Fort DeSoto State Park: Huge state park with an amazing dog beach. They have very nice human beaches, too. And an interesting fort. But really, it’s like dog paradise. In addition to the dedicated dog beach, there are couple of enormous, fenced dog parks with dog showers. Love it.
We had a lot of fun. Thanks Mom and Dad!
*Sorry for the long post. Turns out we probably should have posted as went. The youth are trying to sell us on using Instagram. We’re considering it.