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St. Petersburg-Clearwater

7 Ways to Love Gay St. Pete/Clearwater

7 Ways to Love Gay St. Pete/Clearwater

Visit St. Petersburg–Clearwater for some of Florida's sunniest, gayest, friendliest beaches.

Beachside Pride, anyone?

Surrounded by the clear blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay, the blissfully sunny, famously friendly St. Pete/Clearwater region has emerged as one of the nation's favorite LGBT beach getaways in recent years. It's been long appreciated by gay locals and visitors for its well-attended Pride celebration, abundance of LGBT-welcoming bars and hotels, and consistently warm and sunny weather. Here are seven ways to enjoy this vibrant jewel of Florida's Gulf Coast.


1. Attend Florida's largest Pride celebration!
Drawing more than 250,000 enthusiastic participants and spectators, the annual St. Pete Pride is the state's largest such celebration. Taking place over three days from June 22-24, Pride in St. Pete opens with a Friday night benefit concert featuring a wide variety of talented area bands. On Saturday, a massive Pride party takes place throughout the day along the downtown waterfront and culminates with the state's only nighttime Pride Parade, which kicks off at 6:30 p.m. There's also St. Pete Pride TransPride March that same evening.

On Sunday from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., the fun continues with the St. Pete Pride Festival Street Fest, held along an entire city block in the bustling and eclectic Grand Central District--home to the region's LGBT Welcome Center--and features food, music, art, family activities, and more. The whole weekend offers a fantastic opportunity to get acquainted with St. Pete's diverse and dynamic LGBT community.


2. Get your toes in the sand
You'll discover 35 miles of beaches in "Sunshine City," including some that are regularly ranked among the best in the country in various magazine and web reader polls, strung like jewels along the Gulf of Mexico barrier islands. LGBT folks maintain a notable presence at several of them, in particular Sunset Beach, a swath of sugary sand at the southern tip of Treasure Island that cultivates a lively scene (alcohol is permitted), especially on weekends--also a great time to book a cabana or picnic table on the sand at Caddy's Waterfront, a rollicking bar and grill with colorful frozen drinks and great seafood-driven comfort fare.

Families also gravitate toward the tip of laid-back Pass-A-Grille Beach and to 1,236-acre Fort De Soto Park, a breathtaking stretch of largely undeveloped keys at the very southern tip of Pinellas County. Nearby Shell and Egmont keys are also stunning: both require a short boat ride to reach, making them a true island experience. Wherever you set down your towel in this part of the world, you're apt to encounter eye-popping views, powdery soft sand, and abundant wildlife sightings. Another gem in the area is Clearwater Beach, a stunning stretch of sand that TripAdvisor travelers voted the No. 1 beach in the country (St. Pete Beach earned No. 7), and where you'll a wealth of fun diversions, including nightly entertainment and a crafts market at Pier 60.


3. Eat your way through St. Pete
With access to fresh-caught seafood, a climate in which just about every type of produce thrives, and a growing population of devoted farm-to-fork foodies, St. Pete has rapidly emerged as one of Florida's most exciting culinary hubs. The biggest challenge you'll face in tapping into the city's food scene is deciding where to start. If you're just setting out in the morning, consider fueling up on caffeine at one of the city's coffee hot spots, such as Black Crow Coffee, which focuses on single-origin beans, or Craft Kafe, which also turns out tantalizing gluten-free baked goods and breakfast fare.

For a stellar midday meal, sample deftly prepared seafood like the sublime yellowfin tuna crudo, squid-ink tagliatelle, and Florida grouper BLT sandwiches at the trendy FarmTable Cucina, a stylish but casual Italian eatery that's part of the famed Michael Mina restaurant group. In the LGBT-popular Grand Central District, festive and easy-going Casita Taqueria earns raves for its made-from-scratch Mexican fare, including slow-roasted pork carnitas tacos and spicy braised-beef barbacoa sandwiches. (Also note the extensive beer list and cheerful outdoor seating.) Great bets for dinner include the upscale tavern Stillwaters, helmed by out culinary wizard and former Top Chef contestant Jeffrey Jew and featuring East-meets-West treats like pan-fried ramen with smoked pork and blue crab spaghetti, and The Mill, a hip farmhouse-contemporary go-to for astoundingly good mid-Southern cuisine, including classic shrimp and grits and a dazzling array of cheese and charcuterie plates.

If you still have room for a sweet ending, duck into the snazzy downtown dessert bar Swah-Rey for its famed banana cream "pie in a glass" or a slice of Miss Scarlett's Red Velvet cake.


4. Go gallery-hopping
Sure, it's a big deal that St. Pete is home to the largest collection of Salvador Dali paintings outside Europe--at the stunningly designed Dali Museum, naturally. And it's pretty cool that you can explore the permanent exhibition of internationally renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly at the world-class Chihuly Collection. (You can watch glass artists at work in the neighboring Glass Studio & Hot Shop in the Morean Arts Center).

But the city's visual arts chops extend well beyond these iconic attractions, including the downtown waterfront's fabulous Museum of Fine Arts with its collection of 18,000 objects by luminaries ranging from Gauguin to O'Keeffe; the new James Museum of Western + Wildlife Art, which opened downtown in April 2018 and features more than 400 works from the private collection of Tom and Mary James; and several neighborhoods with emerging art-gallery scenes. Of particular note are the Central Arts District just west of downtown, home to the Morean Arts Center and Florida CraftArt, as well as the new Imagine Museum--devoted to America's studio-glass movement over the past half-century--and the fast-growing Warehouse Arts District, where a monthly Second Saturday Art Walk "open house" provides the chance to check out some of the city's cutting-edge galleries.

Don't have time to visit a gallery? Don't sweat it. St. Petersburg is home to more than 70 colorful murals found throughout the Central Arts District and Downtown.


5. Dance the night away
Not only does St. Petersburg have one of the livelier LGBT nightlife scenes in Florida, this urbane and youthful city has a number of mainstream venues--from live-music clubs to craft-beer bars--popular with night owls of all stripes. Make your way to the diverse Grand Central District for LGBT bar-crawling hot spots like Punky's Bar and Grill, which often features live bands; Queenshead Euro Bar and Restaurant, which also turns out tasty food, The Garage, which has a great happy hour; and the lovably dive-y Lucky Star Lounge.

Closer to downtown in the trendy Edge District, see-and-be-seen Enigma is one of the hottest gay dance clubs in the state. You're also assured of a good time at the seven bars located in the city's 120-room LGBT resort, The Flamingo, which offers late-night dancing and poolside partying during the day.

You'll find several other friendly neighborhood hangouts around the area, from Hamburger Mary's and the Pro Shop Pub in Clearwater to Kelly's, The Chic A Boom Room in Dunedin to Quench Lounge in Largo and Salty's in Gulfport. St. Petersburg has also developed a seriously impressive craft beer and cocktail scene of late. Hops and Props, Cycle Brewing (try one of the seriously impressive barrel-aged stouts), and 3 Daughters Brewing are all musts among suds lovers, while the Reading Room and Intermezzo Coffee & Cocktails have first-rate cocktail programs.


6. Check into and check out one of the many hip and historic hotels
You'll find two of the state's most storied grand dame hotels in the area, downtown's stately 1925 Mediterranean Revival Renaissance Vinoy Resort and Golf Club overlooking Tampa Bay and St. Pete Beach's legendary 1928 "pink palace," the Don CeSar. These plush LGBT-welcoming hideaways are popular for gay weddings, honeymoons, and romantic vacations. Even if you don't spend the night, drop by the Vinoy for drinks or a bite to eat in elegant Marchand's Bar & Grill, or the Don CeSar for the grand Sunday champagne brunch at the open-air Sea Porch Cafe.

Downtown has several other trendy, design-minded accommodations, including the Miami Beach-style art deco Avalon Hotel and the intimate, neighboring Hollander Hotel. The posh 18-room Birchwood overlooks downtown's leafy North Straub Park and the North Yacht Basin--the rooftop Canopy Lounge is a swanky spot for sunset cocktails. Other notable hostelries out near the Gulf include the sleek and contemporary Kimpton-brand Hotel Zamora and the retro-chic surfer-inspired Postcard Inn on the Beach, both of which are in St. Pete Beach.


7. Pick from countless ways to get out on the water
In St. Pete/Clearwater, which occupies a nearly 300-square-mile peninsula surrounded by Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, you're never far from water. Just steps from downtown hotels, you can rent electric boats, charter a sailboat from Simple Sailing or book a sunset cruise with Sailing Florida Charters.

For a more relaxing but still spectacularly scenic outing, rent a kayak from Sweetwater Kayaks and paddle through the pristine mangrove swamps of Tampa Bay's 3,000-acre Weedon Island Preserve, or from Sail Honeymoon in Dunedin, where you can explore the secluded and stunning beaches of Caladesi Island and Honeymoon Island state parks, both of which abound with opportunities to view dolphins, herons, flamingos, and other colorful wildlife.

Check out St. Pete/Clearwater and watch the video below for more information.

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Andrew Collins