St. Pete: A Florida City That Outshines Them All

by Kelsy Chauvin

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday September 4, 2017

On my first trip to St. Petersburg, I found myself sitting under the Florida moon meeting the nicest people in a combined open-air bar and dog park. I was sipping a cocktail with a band of ladies who frequent The Dog Bar because it has craft drinks and giant patio; a room dedicated to games like Skee Ball and ping pong, and it's a great place to relax with a drink and breathe in the warm Gulf air. And to top it off, it's lesbian co-owned, and thus the go-to spot for queer ladies.

You might say that The Dog Bar captures the spirit of lovely St. Pete. It's fun and breezy, with a hint of gayness all around.

The town itself is sometimes overshadowed by its big-city neighbor Tampa and shares the spotlight with Clearwater, with which St. Pete shares the Tampa Bay Peninsula. It claims just over 250,000 residents, who love that the "Sunshine City" averages around 361 days of sun a year.

For travelers, those beaming rays are the big draw, and locals know how to soak them up on the beaches, rooftop terraces, parks, sidewalk cafés, and oh so many other open-air establishments. Fortunately, when it's time to head into the air-conditioned indoors, there are several remarkable cultural attractions.

Dali, Chihuly and More

Thanks to enthusiastic collectors who found St. Pete to be a perfect home for their institutions, I discovered the stunning Salvador Dali Museum, where hundreds of his surrealist masterpieces are housed in a $30 million, hurricane-safe building. The Morean Arts Center, meanwhile, anchors St. Pete's Central Arts District with the only building ever erected expressly to exhibit artist Dale Chihuly's spectacular glass works.

The district takes its name from Central Avenue, the boulevard through town where you can find almost anything. In the "600 Block" of the Arts District, that means eateries like sushi-and-tapas restaurant The Lure, gourmet ice-pop emporium The Hyppo, cute shops inside the Crislip Arcade, and locally made wares at Florida CraftArt.

St. Pete's central area is pretty spread out. You can easily walk to most places from the waterfront to the Arts District. Alternately, ride gratis in the "free fare zone" on the Downtown Looper Trolley (just 50 cents to travel outside the zone), or download the app to check out a convenient Coast bike share cycle by the day or week.

The latter is the rendezvous point for the St. Pete Mural Tour every Saturday morning, where I discovered that commissioned murals by Florida artists helped revitalize this gritty area years ago. Today it's essentially an open-air gallery of public art lining alleys and back-lot walls.

Where to Stay

Accommodations span big luxury hotels, like the Vinoy Renaissance Resort & Golf Club, with its spacious rooms, pool, and large, shady porch lined with rockers and sofas facing the Bay. Or try a smaller boutique hotel like The Birchwood Inn on Beach Drive, which is gay-friendly, home to a solid restaurant plus romantic The Canopy rooftop lounge.

West of St. Petersburg proper is Treasure Island, a barrier island that's the major beach and coastal-attraction area, though you'll need a car or 20-minute cab ride to reach it. Here you'll find the iconic pink Don CeSar resort, along with sandy beaches, promenades, and loads of quintessentially Floridian beach-gear shops and ice-cream and seafood shacks.

When the Sun Sets (and Rises)

Drift a bit north to Sunset Beach, where LGBT sun lovers swim, flirt, and frolic. But leave time to pass through Gulfport on your way back to St. Pete. It's technically a separate town and worth the jaunt if only to kick back at lesbian-centric Salty's, with its laid-back atmosphere and famously strong drinks.

But the main gay cluster is the Grand Central District, where Punky's Bar & Grill and Enigma call for a late night out. Head to Clearwater for drag-queen brunch and other weekly events at Hamburger Mary's. Or check into the gay-owned, adults-only Flamingo Resort and high-energy nightclub.

One of the beauties of St. Pete is that it's not trying to be anything in particular, which makes it more appealing overall. After casually polling lots of locals on their favorite places to eat, drink, and recreate, it seemed like every person had a unique roster, which rarely happens, and speaks to the array of great choices in this surprisingly vibrant (and affordable) city. It makes sense to me now why St. Pete has such a welcoming motto: "always in season." Just don't forget your sunglasses.

St. Petersburg recently hosted the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association's annual conference. For more information on IGLTA's work click here.

Kelsy Chauvin is a writer, photographer and marketing consultant based in Brooklyn, New York. She specializes in travel, feature journalism, art, theater, architecture, construction and LGBTQ interests. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @kelsycc.

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