By Lynn Waddell

Take a trip on the offbeat to bohemian Florida spots in St. Petersburg & Tampa.

Being a writer with an unhealthy wanderlust, I’ve always sought unconventional haunts, both in my hometown and when I travel: places where people play twister over coffee, the owner serves my drink, native songwriters play and creations from the artist-next-door cover the walls. Living in St. Petersburg, that’s often meant avoiding touristy places in a tourism-driven area. Now, for whatever reason – the energy crisis, global warming, a commercial backlash or just a cyclical trend – there are more of “my kind” of places and more people who appreciate them. Bohemian Florida, or boho, is back.

Finding Funky

Gulfport is literally off the beaten path. Nestled on Boca Ciega Bay near south St. Petersburg, this tiny town has long been home to lowbrow galleries, shops and restaurants with a sprinkling of dives. In recent years, bungalows and storefronts have been brushed with fresh coats of paint and businesses have sprouted. The colorful corridor is now home to a quilting shop, a holistic food store for dogs, a coffee house and a cereal restaurant along with Backfin Blue – a crab cake-lover’s nirvana. For brew, there’s O’Maddy’s, a Gulfport institution for those who like their drinks strong and their company raw. Park and walk it all. For weekenders, everything’s just steps away from the Sea Breeze Manor Bed & Breakfast, where an easygoing, come-all atmosphere doesn’t break tone with the town.

Jack Kerouac was Here

Whenever I’m in the mood to lounge in an egg chair, see a band like Cake in a small venue or browse all things creative, I head to downtown St. Petersburg. In recent years, the city’s grown with commercialism, but an authentic boho spirit still thrives.

For a newish, quirky artist hub, head to The Studio@620. Shop at Florida Craftsmen for functional art made by Floridians. If you want to see bands up close, go to Jannus Live, an outdoor concert venue. State Theater up the street also hosts local and national alternative acts. Vintage furniture stores, down-to-earth galleries and restaurants are bringing more life to this downtown area known as the Grand Central District, which starts with Haslam’s Book Store, Florida’s biggest outlet for new and used reads and a former hang-out of beatnik writer Jack Kerouac.

Unchain Yourself

Farther north, the progressive, Scottish-heritage town of Dunedin is my new favorite bohemian Florida spot. Park downtown to walk and stroll Main Street, lined with earth-friendly shops, galleries, come-as-you-are restaurants (my favorite, Casa Tina Gourmet Mexican & Vegetarian Cuisine), small pubs and bars – no national chains. Head to Dunedin Brewery to see homegrown rock bands and drink some award-winning ale brewed onsite.

Vagabond Around Town

Tampa’s bohemian scene is more decentralized. Downtown, stop at The Hub, famous for serving its drinks with only a splash of mixer, and the place to go before or after a film or live concert at historic Tampa Theater next door.

Across town near the University of South Florida, there’s Skipper’s Smokehouse, a laidback restaurant and bar known for hosting roots rock bands on its outdoor stage. Ybor City remains a tourist haven, but you can still find idiosyncratic places like La France, jammed with vintage shoes, jewelry and clothes. The real bohemian spots in Tampa are off the main drag, such as the rustic New World Brewery, where you can enjoy beer and live bands. For a living lesson in Sartre, there’s The Castle, a goth dance club.

Sample Bohemian Flavor in the Keys

Key West’s Blue Heaven Restaurant serves fresh American and Caribbean dishes outdoors. 

Where the Bohos Go

Get on the road to experience these Florida Bohemian events:

Nightly Sunset Celebration, Key West Join this carnival of buskers, artists, craftsmen, psychics and more.

May Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival Unjuried shows of theatrical and performance art descend on downtown Orlando.

September MagnoliaFest, Live Oak Enjoy music ranging from alternative rock to zydeco; arts, crafts, food and camping. 386-364-1683.