Out and About in St. Petersburg and Clearwater
The next time you're thinking of a Florida getaway, go west. Head for the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area on Florida's Gulf Coast.
Most of the lesbian and gay people who live here will tell you it's paradise. With superb weather, strong community and neighborhoods, world-class cultural institutions, lots of great restaurants and clubs, and miles of white-sand beaches, it's a marvelous place. Accessible airports and affordability make traveling here a breeze.
St. Petersburg/Clearwater's greatest attraction is its award-winning coastline. Caladesi Island State Park was #1 on Dr. Beach's list of America's top beaches in 2008. The coastal expert's top beach in 2005 was Fort De Soto Park, equally pristine but with more action and amenities. The shore of choice among GLBT folk is Sunset Beach on Treasure Island. Go to the south end to swim and tan with "family." Stay late and watch the sun go down in a riot of coral, mauve and lavender. It's one of the few beaches where alcohol is allowed (no glass please).
The region has over 300 sunny days a year so don't feel you have to rush straight to the beach. Downtown St. Petersburg has some great museums. The most popular and unique is the Salvador Dalí Museum, where you'll find the most comprehensive collection of work by the legendary Spanish surrealist. It's easy to get lost in the hallucinogenic canvases – you may find yourself mesmerized for 20 minutes by one masterful painting.
Nearby, the Museum of Fine Arts boasts a collection of 4,600 works extending from antiquity to the present day. Monet, Gauguin and O'Keeffe are just some of the artists represented.
Two great places to stay in downtown are both gay-owned. Dickens House B&B is a lovingly renovated Arts & Crafts house with private baths and whirlpool tubs. (Dickens House proprietor Ed Caldwell will happily provide you with chairs, umbrellas and towels for your day at the beach, which is only about 20 minutes away.) The Pier Hotel is a charming boutique hotel built in 1921 and recently restored to its period glory. Other gay-friendly options include Mansion House, La Veranda and Inn at the Bay, all close to center-city restaurants and attractions.
Many of the best restaurants are a short walk from downtown hotels and guest houses. Ceviche serves tapas among lush Spanish-inspired décor; gay-owned King and I does excellent Thai cuisine and Bella Brava is a trattoria specializing in fresh flavors. A Taste For Wine is the place for wine and small plates. At Savannah's Café, you'll see lots of same-sex couples enjoying updated Southern cooking. Café Alma is a great choice for a metro-style Saturday brunch.
The number-one club, Georgie's Alibi, entertains men and women with multiple bars, a dance floor, live shows and patio. Detour is also multi-venue and multi-gender. Farther away from downtown are Haymarket Pub and The Hideaway; Christopher Street Bar in Largo and The Pro Shop, in business for over 30 years in Clearwater. Dunedin's Chic-a-Boom Room is a favorite for martinis.
The town of Gulfport is a sleepy village of pastel cottages, working artists, eclectic shops and a range of great eateries. Two years ago its residents passed one of the first and most comprehensive anti-bias ordinances in Florida. It bans all forms of discrimination including sex, gender and family status. If you're around the first Friday evening of the month, come to the artists' gallery walk and then eat at one of Gulfport's outstanding restaurants such as Blackfin Blue or La Fogata, then drop into Bellini's lounge.
The heart of GLBT St. Pete is the Grand Central District and the adjacent Kenwood neighborhood (which locals call the "gayborhood"). Kenwood is chock-full of Craftsmen-style homes from the 1920s being brought back to life by the area's resurgence.
Grand Central is made up of Central Avenue, plus First avenues North and South – from 16th to 34th streets. This commercial district features more than 70 GLBT-friendly businesses including antiques stores, collectibles, home décor, galleries, salons, boutiques, bars and restaurants. It also hosts one of the largest Pride celebrations in Florida. About 75,000 people attend the annual Pride in Paradise on the last Saturday in June (www.stpetepride.com). Whether or not this event is going on when you visit, it'll be easy to make yourself at home here.
For more information on planning your getaway to the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area, visit www.floridasbeach.com.