At the end of January each year, pirates invade Tampa! Gasparilla, the area’s largest festival, is essentially Tampa’s version of Mardi Gras complete with bead throwing at the big parade.
The festival is name for pirate Jose Gaspar, who terrorized the coastal waters of West Florida during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Each year, Tampa’s Gasparilla celebration begins with the Gasparilla Invasion. Over 750 swashbucklers invade Tampa Bay aboard the majestic pirate ship “Jose Gasparilla,” kicking off a full schedule of pirate-themed events.
The festival culminates in a four-mile long Parade of Pirates. It is the third largest parade in the United States. About 300,000 onlookers attend, many donning period-themed pirate garb. While the parade is free to the public, you have to get to the route early to claim a spot. We prefer to pay for the reserved bleacher seating to ensure a great view.
Parking is always an issue for festivals, but Tampa provides safe, hassle-free options. One of the best is parking at the Centro Ybor Parking Garage or the Palm Avenue Garage in Ybor City and taking the TECO Line Streetcar into Downtown Tampa. Parking at these garages is only $1.00 for the first three hours and $4 for over 3 hours. An unlimited day pass on the streetcar is only $5. If you try to park in Downtown Tampa, you’ll not only experience heavy traffic, you can also expect to pay at least $10 for most parking garages near the Gasparilla parade route.
Other Local Activities
While you’re in Tampa be sure to enjoy all the area has to offer. Spending time at one of 5 Best Beaches in the Tampa Bay Area is a must! I’ve outlined other great activities in the article, Why We Love Tampa. Winter and early spring is the best time of year to enjoy a multitude of activities from manatee watching and kayaking to attending Major League Baseball Spring Training games at several stadiums in the area.