A guide to the area’s guided (and self-guided) tours.
People say Florida doesn’t have seasons. That’s simply not true; our seasons may not look like leaves changing color in fall or cheery yellow daffodils announcing spring, but we have seasons. Every fall, shortly after Labor Day, citrus starts to come back into season, temperatures edge back from the high 90s and walking tours resume.
On either side of the bay, such tours abound, and locals and tourists alike fill up the tour spots as quickly as groups make them available. The Tampa Bay History Center is the latest entity to step up; starting next month, the museum will offer walking tours of Ybor City.
“Tampa’s maturing as a tourist destination, and Ybor City and Tampa’s historic neighborhoods are getting a lot more attention than they used to,” says Manny Leto, director of marketing for the History Center. “I think people are curious about Tampa’s history now in a way they haven’t been. As people start to move into the historic neighborhoods, I think that they are then curious about their community’s history.”
Emily Elwyn, president of St. Petersburg Preservation, worked as a tour guide in Atlanta before moving to St. Pete. She started giving tours of her adopted home town about eight years ago.
“St. Petersburg has become a destination,” says Elwyn. “People appreciate a city up close, and you can really experience it up close when you’re walking through it. When tourists come, they want to talk to someone who lives in the city. It connects people with the place they’re visiting.”
SPP runs a different tour each week and recently partnered with the Gulfport Historical Society to add a tour there. The tours often sell out, which prompted the St. Pete group to raise its prices for non-members from $5 to $10. Tampa Bay History Center will charge $20 for its tours; they, too, have sold out previous tours, often within hours of making them available on their Facebook page.
“There’s a demand for it,” Leto says. “People know we have a reputation for quality and accuracy. Adding walking tours to that makes a lot of sense.”
Walking tours offer tourists and locals an alternative — or an add-on — to drinks and dinner.
“You want the bars, you want the nightlife, but that shouldn’t overshadow the history and the architecture,” Leto says. “That’s why people want to be there.”
Downtown St. Petersburg Tour Tour historic downtown St. Pete and learn about the Fountain of Youth (yes, every Florida city has one), the history of the Vinoy and the story behind the most ornate bathrooms in town. Tourgoers also learn about St. Pete’s architectural achievements, like the Snell Arcade and the open-air post office. First Saturday of every month; meet at the entrance to the Saturday Morning Market, 1st St. S. and 1st Ave. S. October 1, 10 a.m. $10; free for members. stpetepreservation.org.
Roser Park Self-Guided Tour This stroll through St. Petersburg’s first historic district takes you along Booker Creek from 4th St. S. to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. St. S. and up Roser Park’s hilly brick streets. The tour, organized by longtime resident Ron Motyka and referred to as the Outdoor History Museum, comprises 28 plaques, covering everything from architecture to the Tocobaga Indians to Charles Roser, who developed the neighborhood in the early 1900s and (legend has it) had a hand in the invention of the fig newton. Find a map at historicroserpark.org/outdoor-museum.
St. Petersburg Waterfront Tour Home to one of the longest waterfront park systems in the United States, St. Pete has a waterfront that’s the envy of many other cities. Learn how city planners created this unique urban amenity on a tour that pokes through the past and also discusses how the city tries to get new buildings to embrace good design. Second Saturday of the month; meet at the entrance to the Saturday Morning Market, 1st St. S. and 1st Ave. S. October 8, 10 a.m. $10; free for members. stpetepreservation.org.
Self-Guided tours St. Petersburg Preservation will also release a self-guided tour pamphlet in print and digital formats. Join them for their launch party Oct. 5 at 5 p.m. at the St. Petersburg Museum of History, 335 2nd Ave.
Walking Mural Tour A tour of almost 40 murals in St. Pete’s Central Arts District, including some created for the 2015 and 2016 SHINE mural festivals. Guides include artists who painted the murals, providing tourgoers with intimate insight into the process of design and execution. Every Saturday morning. Meet at Florida Craft Art, 501 Central Ave., St. Pete. 10 a.m. $19. 727-821-7391. floridacraftart.org.
Westward Ho to Historic Kenwood Tour Bungalows everywhere! This tour highlights some of Kenwood’s most fascinating homes. Tourgoers get to go inside a restored bungalow and, after the tour, linger on the front deck of the Craftsman House, the neighborhood’s original model home, built in the “airplane bungalow” style (so named because the small, multi-windowed second floor kinda resembles a cockpit). Fourth Saturday of every month; meet at the Craftsman House Gallery, 2955 Central Ave, St. Pete. October 22, 10 a.m. $10; free for members. stpetepreservation.org.
Downtown Dunedin Walking Tour Discover Dunedin’s early history and learn about its historic structures, including a home from the 1870s, the oldest structure in Dunedin, the first theater, the first icehouse and the first newspaper. The tour guide also tells stories that reveal the history of the town. Advance reservations requested. Meets at the Dunedin Museum, 349 Main St. October through May on the third Friday of the month, 10 a.m. $15. 727-736-1176. dunedinmuseum.org.
Dunedin Victorian Sunset Stroll Join a tour guide costumed in Victorian-era clothing for an in-depth look at the history of Dunedin’s Victoria Drive and its early 1880s homes. Tourgoers will learn about the families who lived there as well as the history of the homes themselves. On Second Fridays, the guides are costumed in Victorian period clothing. Advance reservations requested. Meets at the corner of Victoria Dr. and Main St. by the Dunedin marina and the Best Western October-May on the second Friday of the month, 5:30 p.m. $15. 727-736-1176. dunedinmuseum.org.
Historic Gulfport Tour Walk through the historic downtown neighborhood and learn about square mullet, the WPA’s impact on the town and its one-time topless bar. Tourgoers will also see a freshwater spring, learn the story of the horse that wandered through downtown a few years ago and why the casino, now on land, used to sit over water. September 29, 6:30 p.m.; thereafter, third Saturday of the month at 3 p.m. Tour starts at Gulfport History Museum, 5301 28th Ave. S.; ends at Pia’s Trattoria, 3054 Beach Blvd. S., a few blocks from the museum. $10; free for members of Gulfport Historical Society. stpetepreservation.org.
Safety Harbor Ghost Tour A two-hour tour of Safety Harbor’s most haunted spots, including the Safety Harbor Spa (we’re not sure whether its ghosts wear sheets or towels). This tour requires advance reservations; the Oct. 29 tour will take tourgoers inside a haunted house. Meets at John Wilson Park, corner of 4th Ave. N and Main St. Thurs.-Sat., 7:30 p.m. $20. 727-687-8785. safetyharbortours.com.
Safety Harbor History Tour This tour goes past the oldest oak tree in Pinellas County, called the Baranoff Tree, the site of the old Safety Harbor Herald building, and ends at the Spa. Advance reservations required. Tour meets at John Wilson Park, corner of 4th Ave. N and Main St. Wed.-Sat., 10 a.m. $15. 727-687-8785. safetyharbortours.com.
Historic Central Avenue District Walking Tour Located slightly north of downtown Tampa, this walking tour takes tourgoers through six blocks of Tampa’s African-American culture, from the historic St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church building to Booker T. Washington Elementary School. Stops include Oaklawn Cemetery (the first person buried there in 1850 was an enslaved African), Perry Harvey St. Park (the historic Central Avenue site), Encore housing development (including Ray Charles Boulevard) and the Robert W. Saunders African American Research Public Library and Cultural Arts Center (named for the former Florida NAACP executive secretary). By reservation only for groups of 10 or more. $15. 813-545-3183. email@example.com.
Discover Ybor Historic Tour This free tour, downloaded to your phone, has three routes from which you can choose: short, medium or long. It also has a scavenger hunt feature, and many of the stops also have audio content. Created by the Ybor City Museum Society. Starts at the Ybor City Museum State Park (the old Ferlita Bakery Building), 1818 E. 9th Ave. Download at savvycard.com/ybor.
Mafia Tour Presented by Cigar City Magazine Scott Deitche (author of The Silent Don and Cigar City Mafia: The Criminal Underworld of Santo Trafficante Jr.) partners with Cigar City Magazine to give tourgoers the colorful underworld history of Ybor City. The tour visits old gambling places and shows where many mobsters met a mobster-riffic ending on city alleys and corners. Tour price includes t-shirt. Meets at King Corona, 1523 E. 7th Ave., Ybor City. Sept. 10 and Oct. 1 (tours run monthly through May; check website for future day), 5:30 p.m. $30. cigarcitymagazine.com.
Walk Tampa: The Ybor City Story Learn about Ybor City’s beginnings and what life looked like at the turn of the 20th century. As Tampa’s sole National Historic Landmark District, Ybor represents the spirit of immigration in America better than any other district in the area, and tourgoers will visit mutual aid societies to learn more. The tour also gives people insight into the people, social life and work culture of early Ybor. Meets at the Cuban Club, 2010 N. Avenida Republica De Cuba. Second Saturday of the month, 10:30 a.m. $20. 813-228-0097. tampabayhistorycenter.org.
Ybor City Ghost Tour Is King Corona haunted? Do the lovers trapped in the Orpheum Theatre’s basement still haunt the theater? What about the child who drowned in the Cuban Club pool? Did he ever find his way home? This tour tells these stories — and others. Reservations strongly suggested. Meets at King Corona, 1523 E. 7th Ave., Ybor City. Nightly, 7:30 p.m. $25. 813-386-3905 yborghosttour.com.
Ybor City Walking Tour Visit Cuban-owned land, learn how Ybor played a central role in freeing Cuba from Spain and discover Ybor’s immigration history. Ybor’s patchwork cultures come together in this tour of the city. Reservations required. Meets at Vicente Martinez-Ybor statue at Centro Ybor on 7th Ave. Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.; Sun., 12 p.m. $20. 813-505-6779. yborwalking tours.com.
This article initially appeared at cltampa.com.