St. Petersburg: A Gay Tourist’s Guide
Whether you've lived in the city for five years or have passed through for just five minutes, I think most people will find that St. Petersburg is a very relaxed city.
Having lived there a short time myself and worked there, I found that the people of St. Petersburg love taking each moment as it comes, savoring every experience, and devoting time to stop and smell the flowers (even literally, at the city's own botanical garden!).
St. Petersburg is a bustling city: The fifth-largest in Florida. St. Petersburg actively competes with other major U.S. cities in terms of LGBT rights and protections, and is making great strides in that realm in just a short time. How short? The current mayor of St. Petersburg, Rick Kriseman, only took office in January of this year, and since then he has appointed an official city liaison for LGBT affairs and signed the Mayors for the Freedom to Marry national pledge.
St. Petersburg is a city that not only welcomes gay tourists, but actively caters to them. Let me tell you where to go and what to see while you're in town.
The Flamingo is the largest gay resort in St. Petersburg. The entertainment complex hosts a hotel, an outdoor pool, six gay bars, a dance club, a restaurant, and specialty shops. Whether you want to explore the city and relax at the resort at the end of the day, or you want to stay right where you are and laze about with a drink by the pool, the Flamingo has you covered. (4601 34th St. S, 727-321-5000, flamingofla.com)
Gay St. Pete House
The Gay St. Pete House is an intimate option for people who want the guesthouse experience. Choose from one of six rooms, ranging from cozy interior rooms to a poolside cottage. Continental breakfast and happy hour are served by the proprietor every day. The pool area is clothing-optional, which is great for summer sunbathers! (4505 5th Ave. N., 727-365-0544, gaystpetehouse.com)
Loews Don CeSar Hotel
"The Pink Lady" was built in 1928 as a winter playground for celebrities coming in from New York City. Today it is just as glamorous as it was then, if not more so. Enjoy a night (or more) in their 400 square foot luxury suites, which include a sitting area and a separate TV room. Want a gourmet meal featuring fresh Florida fish? Head for the on-site Maritana Grille. The spa and fitness club are there to boost your health and wellness. (3400 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach, 727-360-1881, loewshotels.com/Don-CeSar-Hotel)
Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club
Right on the water and adjacent to downtown St. Petersburg, the Vinoy is picturesque and luxurious. Their world-class spa is in the process of renovation so it can pamper more people at once; make a reservation and see what they can do for you! Interested in a round of golf? The Vinoy has you covered, better than any St. Petersburg resort. Play 18 holes on their over 6,500-yard course. (501 5th Ave. NE, 727-894-1000, marriott.com/hotels/travel/tpasr-the-vinoy-renaissance-st-petersburg-resort-and-golf-club)
Red Mesa Cantina
Authentic Mexican food for a low price is the name of the game at Red Mesa. They are very popular on most evenings, but they offer courtyard and streetside seating for the influx of customers wanting to try their great food! If you have a big appetite, go for the jumbo-sized El Gordo burrito ($11). Enjoy the hibiscus sweet tea ($2.50) and the Mexican brownie, served with a chocolate chipotle gelato, a unique flavor combination ($6). (128 3rd St. S., 727-896-6372, redmesacantina.com)
The bar and grill inside the Flamingo Resort is open for dinner from Monday through Thursday and for all three meals on the weekends. Recommendations include the hand-tossed pizza (10 inches, $7.95), the Saturday special consisting of a ribeye steak with baked potato and vegetables ($11.95), or country fried chicken and eggs for breakfast ($9). (At the Flamingo Resort, 4601 34th St. S, 727-321-5000, flamingofla.com)
People may know Georgie's Alibi as a great nightlife spot, which it is, but it also serves an inventive food menu. The menu boasts dozens of options that run the gamut from wings and salads to pizzas, burgers, or sandwiches. In the past, I've never gone wrong with the buffalo wings (10 wings for $11), but I really want to try the Cordon Bleu burger, with ham and swiss cheese (with choice of side, $12). (3100 3rd Ave. N, 727-321-2112, georgiesalibi.com)
USA Today recently named this spot one of the top ten "foodie spots" in all of Tampa Bay. The owners promise to "change the way you look at steak," and they succeed with interior design inspired by the 18th century musical movement for which the steakhouse is named. All of the meat served comes from either corn or grass-fed cattle, and they are daring you to savor the tenderness of their seven ounce filet mignon ($28 corn-fed, $30 grass-fed). (655 2nd Ave. S, 727-822-0999, rococosteak.com)
Gay nightlife in St. Petersburg is growing by the day. Options in the Grand Central District include The Queens Head (2501 Central Ave., 727-498-8584), a British-style "Eurobar" and restaurant serving pub grub, which often welcomes live entertainment; The Garage on Central Avenue (2729 Central Ave., 727-258-4850), a large space that has a very down-home feel and will make you feel at home; and the Lucky Star Lounge (2760 Central Ave.), a cozy bar for locals that you might miss if you're not looking hard enough (it is tucked away behind a liquor store).
A few blocks away in Historic Kenwood is Georgie's Alibi (3100 3rd Ave. N, 727-321-2112), which serves dinner in addition to drinks and is open seven days a week. Georgie's is well-known for its fun theme nights (it is very popular on Thursdays, for example) as well as for its drag shows hosted by Kori Stevens. The Oar House Bar (4807 22nd Ave. S, 727-327-4897) touts itself as "the friendly neighborhood bar" and serves food to order on Sundays. The Flamingo Resort (4601 34th St. S, 727-321-5000) is home to six bars, ranging from video bar to leather bar, and a high-energy dance club. Their drag shows, hosted by Tiffany McCray, can be seen multiple nights of the week. A new club, Enigma (1110 Central Ave., 954-599-4085), is located on Central Avenue a little closer to downtown and features a walk-up window so you can enjoy your cool drinks in the outside seating area.
Things to See and Do
"The Trop," as locals call it, is a domed stadium that is the home of Major League Baseball's Tampa Bay Rays. No experience to the St. Petersburg area would be complete without taking in a Rays game, and the baseball season is going on right now, so grab your peanuts and Cracker Jacks and buy yourself a ticket right behind home plate. Tickets can be bought on mlb.com for as low as $16. Home games start again on July 7. (1 Tropicana Dr., 727-825-3137, raysbaseball.com)
Salvador Dali Museum
guide_salvadorThis museum, which moved into a new postmodern building in 2011 (Dali would be proud), houses the works of the late Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali; it is the largest collection of Dali's works outside Europe. In addition to housing Dali's works from the 1930s through the 1970s, the Dali Museum hosts traveling exhibits: the current exhibit is called "Marvels of Illusion" and creates optical spectacles of Dali pieces. (1 Dali Blvd., 727-823-3767, thedali.org)
The Mahaffey Theater
You won't have to go far from the Dali to visit the Mahaffey; just exit the Dali and look to your right and you've found it! The Mahaffey Theater hosts some of the most prestigious concerts and performing arts troupes that Tampa Bay gets to experience. The Mahaffey's schedule is eclectic: recent and future shows range from the Russian State Ballet, to Erasure, to the Miss Florida pageant (beauty queens, not drag queens). (400 1st St. S, 727-893-7832, themahaffey.com)
Sunken Gardens is a 100-year-old botanical garden, sprawling across four acres right in the middle of the city of St. Petersburg. The City is in charge of upkeep of the property, and it invites people to visit for guided tours (at least 15 people needed, $8 per adult, call in advance) and for horticulture education programs. In the fall and winter, Sunken Gardens is the spot for many locals to partake in outdoor yoga classes. (1825 4th St. N, 727-551-3102, stpete.org/sunken)
Read more about St. Petersburg by going to stpete.org or by going to the Visit St. Petersburg-Clearwater tourism website at visitstpeteclearwater.com.
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