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Move over Mardi Gras, It’s Gasparilla Season in Tampa! Day 167

When we arrived in Tampa, we had no idea what Gasparilla meant. In fact, it wasn’t until we asked someone why traffic was bad around the downtown area that we first heard “It’s Gasparilla season”.

After traveling through the gulf coast areas, we became well aware that Mardi Gras is not an event, it is a season.

And although Tampa doesn’t necessarily celebrate Mardi Gras in the intense ways of those other Gulf Shore cities, it has its own season.

Gasparilla Season

And that season is called Gasparilla. Named for pirate Jose Gaspar, who terrorized the coastal waters of West Florida during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Tampa’s annual Gasparilla celebration begins with the Gasparilla Children’s Parade.

boats at Gasparilla
Many boats line up along the route of the Pirate Invasion that kicks off the adult celebration at Gasparilla!

This family friendly parade is designed to get even the youngest pirates involved in Gasparilla season. It takes place one week before the more famous Pirate Invasion and Fest.

But the following week is when the primary attraction, that brings visitors from all over the world, begins. Here is where over 750 swashbucklers invade Tampa Bay aboard the nation’s only fully functional pirate ship “Jose Gasparilla”. This event is the unofficial start of a 3 month schedule of pirate-inspired events.

Once the pirates overtake the city, the captain and his Mystic Krewe celebrate by leading a four-mile long parade down Bayshore Boulevard.

Gasparilla parade
The Gasparilla parade is the third largest parade in the country and has nearly 100 floats.

However, this isn’t your average, local parade. In fact, it is the third largest parade in the United States! The Parade of Pirates is attended by 300,000 onlookers, many donning period-themed pirate garb.

And yes, just like they do at traditional Mardi Gras Parades, there are beads and other treasures flung into the crowd.

The festivities continue into the evening at the Gasparilla Pirate Fest Street Festival with live music, food and entertainment.

Sant’ Yago Knight Parade

After a week or two of recovery, the next parade begins around the first week of February.

Yes, there are even Gasparilla decorations that line the streets of Tampa.

The Krewe of the Knights of Sant’ Yago has hosted it every year since 1974, and it is considered the largest of its kind in the Southeast.

The parade attracts spectators of every age. In fact, the entire Ybor City area of Tampa comes to life the night of the historic parade.

The Parade itself is an illuminated, colorful celebration with costumed participants, and lots of music and dancers in the streets. It truly is a colorful display of civic pride and of course, lots and lots of beads.

Even the spectators are encouraged to get dressed up to watch the events.

Distance Classic

However we learned about Gasparilla because of the annual Gasparilla Distance Classic.

This event is a series of races held this weekend in downtown Tampa. From a 5K walk to a half marathon, the participants race to the finish for a purse totaling more than $40,000! The entry fees are donated to benefit charitable youth organizations in the greater Tampa area.

And since 1978, the Gasparilla Distance Classic Association has donated over $3.9 million to these organizations.

Gasparilla runners
From a 5K walk to a half marathon, there are runners all over the city this weekend.

So after we learned why we were stuck in a little bit of traffic, we realized it was for a good cause.

And The Fun Continues

Over the next few weeks the fun of the Gasparilla season will continue. There is an art festival next week. And after that there is a huge music festival with several musicians set to perform on two different stages.

And to wrap it all up, is the International Film Festival.

So if you are ever in Tampa to soak up a little sun in the middle of winter, remember, there is something for everyone to enjoy during Gasparilla Season!

Happy Traveling! Jim and Mary


  • Day 167 of 365
  • States : 21/50
  • National Parks / Monuments : 20
  • Stayed In : Tampa, Florida
  • Miles Driven : 86.8
  • Total Trip Miles To Date : 17,945.5
  • Total Gallons Used : 1291.04
  • Biking Miles : 3.1
  • Biking Miles To Date : 161.5
  • Hiking Miles : 1.8
  • Hiking Miles To Date : 377.8