Kids from St Pete used to call their hometown ‘God’s Waiting Room’. They never expected it to become cool.
But now it has – a mixture of artists, hipsters, visionaries, LGBTIs have reinvented St Pete and the balmy Florida air gives even the city’s oldest citizens a youthful vigor.
Here are our St Petersburg highlights:
Our favorite: The LGBTI area of the St Petersburg Municipal Beach on Treasure Island is an essential. The long, pristine stretch of white sand is particularly popular on weekend afternoons as clubbers recover with a sun bathe and a refreshing dip. The city’s facilities include showers and toilets.
Also try: Ft DeSoto Beach is ranked the number one beach in the United States. And it’s way more than just a beach. Five islands make up the 900-acre country park. It boasts miles of nature paths, running tracks and canoe trails.
Claims to fame
The first ever scheduled passenger airline service was opened in St Petersburg in 1914, flying to Tampa across the bay. The maiden flight attracted a crowd of over 3,000 and the former mayor of St Pete’s bid $400 to be the first ever passenger.
St Pete’s alternative vibe is perhaps not a big surprise. Jack Kerouac, the leading figure of the beat generation and still one of the coolest novelists ever, was born here.
Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales was also born in St Pete. And Hulk Hogan, the world’s most famous wrestler, now lives there.
Our favorite: The Dali Museum hosts the best collection of works outside Spain by the world’s most famous surrealist artist, Salvador Dali. With 94 original oil paintings and over 2,000 works overall, it’s provides unparalleled insight into this artistic icon. It’s all set in a stunning new building by the bay.
Also try: Dale Chihuly is the creator of the most beautiful and spectacular glasswork in the world. And the Chihuly Collection at the Morean Arts Center showcases his creations – from intimate detail to large scale installations – in the best possible light. Watch how glassblowers make these objects at the nearby studio and buy their work in the Hot Shop.
The Museum of Fine Arts in Beach Drive offers more inspiration, boasting 20 galleries and a sculpture garden. Or if street art is your thing, check out the murals a new generation of art lovers are creating on walls around the city.
There’s also a host of commercial galleries. No wonder AmericanStyle Magazine ranks St Petersburg as number one ‘America’s Arts Destination’ for mid-sized cities.
St Pete Pride
St Pete Pride is the largest Pride celebration in the state and is the unmissable date in the city’s LGBTI calendar.
The colorful parade runs along the side of the bay at night, ending with a fireworks display. Get a flavor of it here:
But St Petersburg is gay-friendly all year round. It’s just hosted the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association’s annual conference with many venues joining in. And a surprising three members out of eight on the city council are LGBTI.
Our favorite: The Locale Market was dreamed up by chefs and is the home of fantastic ingredients in the city.
It’s arranged like a market, with eleven chefs each having their own kitchen. They make food in front of you to eat now or you can buy the ingredients to cook yourself at home.
Choose pizza, meat, burgers, seafood, cheese, charcuterie, juices, coffee, sandwiches, sushi, ice cream, pastries, patisserie, tarts, cookies or brownies. There’s a bar, bakery and even a cook bookshop. Choose dry-aged meat, alligator sausage or lettuce that’s so fresh it’s sold still growing in a pot.
The Farmtable Kitchen is upstairs, offering an informal gourmet dining experience, making the most of the market’s wide range of choices.
Also try: Gay former Top Chef competitor Jeffrey Jew is the incredibly youthful-looking star behind Stillwaters Tavern on Beach Drive. He blends American classics with old-world flavors, served with regionally produced beers and excellent wines.
Our favorite: The Dog Bar. A bar for dogs. And created by a lesbian. Love it.
Really, there’s no better way to spend an afternoon drinking a cool beer in the sunshine while the friendliest dogs in the city play at your feet. They just love spending time with each other and revel in all the petting they get. It’s incredibly joyful.
The St Pete’s branch is the second. The original was set up when a North Carolina doggy daycare center owner realised her clients weren’t picking up their dogs on time because they were stopping off at a bar first. She figured, if you can’t beat them, join them. All of which proves at least one good thing has come out of North Carolina.
Also try: If you love oysters as much as me, feast on them at the Oyster Bar on Central Avenue. The friendly staff shuck and serve mounds of molluscs to a relaxed crowd.
The area immediately outside the bar is closed to traffic on the evening on the first Friday of the month for St Pete’s best block party. We soon made friends with some total strangers in the everyone-welcome atmosphere.
And if you like your beer particularly fresh, buy it straight from the brewery at Green Bench Brewing Company, one of many boutique brewing operations in the area.
Many venues are LGBTI-friendly. And there’s also a small gay scene, with Enigma being the inevitable end-place of your night out.
Our favorite: The Vinoy Renaissance Resort and Golf Club is the grand-dame of St Pete’s hotels. Built in 1925 in a Mediterranean Revival-style you’ll be wowed by the grand lobby and wide veranda.
It’s rich past has seen it added to the US National Register of Historic Places. And some people even claim there are ghosts. Don’t worry, we slept soundly without any spectres bothering us.
Amenities include a gym, large swimming pool, spa and golf. A double standard room starts from $169 and can be booked via the Marriott site.
Our favorite: ZaZoo’d on Central Avenue is an emporium of amazing – and wonderfully kitsch – furniture and decorations for your home. Need a stone lion for your garden, an anchor-shaped light decoration or a flamingo ice-box for your Prosecco? The LGBTI-friendly staff will help you find it here.
Also try: Central Avenue is packed with boutique, independent shops full of art, fashion and homeware.
And check out the St Pete Indie Market on the first Saturday of every month. It’s a home for designers, horticulturalists, artisans and vintage sellers.
St Petersburg basics
Find lots more visitor information about St Petersburg-Clearwater here.
Virgin Atlantic flies daily from London Gatwick to Orlando, from where you can transfer to St Pete’s. It offers Economy fares from £520 per person. For further information visit the Virgin Atlantic site or call 0844 2092 770 if you are in the UK.