Gasparilla: History, parades, culture, events and everything you need to know

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Posted at 1:09 PM, Jan 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-21 13:13:50-05

If you're new to the Tampa Bay area and see a bunch of pirates walking around in the beginning of the year, don't panic! It's all part of Gasparilla, a more than century-old tradition in the Tampa Bay area.


Gasparilla is a pirate-themed celebration spanning several months in Tampa. It includes several parades, but the season also pays tribute to Tampa's rich history and culture.


Gasparilla's origins lie with a mythical pirate named Jose Gaspar. There is no evidence such a person ever existed, but he is rumored to have plundered over 400 ships in his pirating career. Before he died, Gaspar is said to have left treasure somewhere along the Florida coast, which to this day has not been found. A society editor for the Tampa Tribune first came up with the idea for a pirate-themed festival in 1904. The early members of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla planned to surprise citizens with a mock pirate attack on Tampa. They arrived on horseback and captured the city during what was the first Gasparilla Parade of Pirates. Tampa has upheld this tradition by celebrating Gasparilla every year since then with only a few exceptions.



There are three parades in the Gasparilla season: the parade of pirates, the children's parade and the knight parade.

The children's parade is the first to happen, and on January 18 the parade took over Bayshore Blvd. The day started with a bicycle safety rodeo, followed by an air invasion, a preschooler's stroll and ultimately ended with a fireworks show.

The main parade that draws 100k+ is on January 28. The Gasparilla Invasion will start at 11 a.m. when the world’s only fully-rigged pirate ship, the Jose Gasparilla, sets sail at the south end of Hillsborough Bay and travels north to Seddon Channel to dock at the Tampa Convention Center. You can find all the information on parking, road closures and schedule here.

The 2020 Sant' Yago Knight Parade is in Ybor City on February 8. It includes more than 100 floats, 1,000+ pirates and more than 100k attendees. This parade has been going since 1972 and rolls down 7th Ave. every year. It starts at about 7 p.m. and is free to attend. Here are some parking options:

  • Fernando Noriega Jr. Garage – 2010 North 13th Street
  • Centro Ybor Garage – 1500 E. 5th Avenue
  • Park downtown and ride the free trolley to Ybor.
  • Private lots will also have parking available.

RELATED: Krewe of Sir Francis Drake builds first ADA-compliant special needs parade float in U.S. history

While the Gasparilla parade is what you hear the most about, there are some other huge events that happen in the months surrounding Gasparilla; events designed to highlight the rich culture and history of the Tampa Bay area and showcase local talent. Gasparilla season includes:

Gasparilla Distance Classic - (Feb. 22-23) The Distance Classic is a huge race event with events for walkers, serious runners, families, groups and more. There is a 5k, 8k, 15k and a half-marathon spread out over two days. Proceeds from the event go to charitable youth organizations and running programs in the local community. For more information, click here.

Gasparilla Festival of the Arts - (Feb. 29-March 1) The Gasparilla Festival of the Arts is celebrating its 50th year in 2020. It will be held at Julian B. Lane Park for the first time, allowing more space for the exhibitors. You can see a wide variety of art here from painting to sculpting, mixed media and beyond. It's non-profit, volunteer-run and the proceeds go back to the artists. For more information, click here.

Gasparilla Music Festival - (March 7-8) The Gasparilla Music Festival is a weekend full of a wide variety of music at Curtis Hixon Park. Many of the proceeds from the event go to the Gasparilla Music Foundation, which supports music education through its Recycled Tunes program. So far this year, we know the festival will be headlined by Brandi Carlile and Portugal. The Man. For more information, click here.

Gasparilla International Film Festival - (March 17-22) The Gasparilla Film Festival features more than 120 films over six days. The event has been running since 2007 and brings the arts, education and quality films to the Tampa Bay Area. It is also run by a nonprofit organization that works to inspire, educate and entertain the Tampa Bay Area's population through celebration of film, community outreach and social awareness. Anyone can enter the festival. For more information, click here.

Gasparilla Concours d'Elegance

Gasparilla Concours D'Elegance (April 17-19) - Concours D'Elegance is a unique event that brings some of the most luxurious and rare cars to the forefront. Proceeds are donated to Shriners Healthcare for Children-Florida. There is a red carpet ceremony, silent auction, and a "Cars in the Park" cocktail party and charity auction where you can see classic cars you may never have seen before set up on the lawn at Curtis Hixon Park. For more information, click here.