Having lived north of Tampa for nearly 3 years, I’m quite embarrassed to admit that I never took the opportunity to visit St. Petersburg. When the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) announced their 34th annual global convention would take place at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort & Golf Club, I knew I had to attend.
Flying to Tampa International Airport is a painless experience. The airport is small enough not to warrant the extensive lines and delays of major cities, but large enough to accommodate international flights. The first noticeable ‘wow’ moment is the drive from Tampa to St. Petersburg along I-275 over Tampa Bay. Surrounded on both sides by water, this scenic adventure is an experience of its own.
St. Petersburg is divided into three main sections: the Tampa Bay side, Downtown and the beach. Each has a different flavor and personality. Our hotel was located on the Bay side of the peninsula, adjacent to one of the local marinas and in walking distance to many wonderful shops, art galleries and restaurants. My favorite being LOCALE Market/FarmTable Kitchen. LOCALE Market is a one-stop destination for fresh meat, seafood, and other gourmet items all under one roof and manned by a team of dedicated chefs who are on hand to answer any questions customers may have about the products.
FarmTable Kitchen is a, full-service restaurant located on the second floor of LOCALE Market offering casual gourmet dining and an acclaimed 8-course tasting menu. We were able to sample a bit of the menu at FarmTable, which changes regularly.
After dinner, explore some of St. Pete’s LGBT nightlife. Head over to Enigma Bar & Lounge for one of the best happy hour’s in the city. From 12pm until 9pm, guests will enjoy 2-for-1 cocktails, beer and wine. Chat with the locals as the DJ spins today’s hottest tunes along with the classics we grew to love.
For a different experience, swing by Hamburger Mary’s for Drag Queen Bingo, hosted by Stephanie Shippae every Tuesday night. If you get hungry, Mary’s also offers a full menu. I’d recommend starting with an order of Macho Nacho’s or their famous Fried Pickles. For your main course, you can’t go wrong with one of their gourmet burgers. My favorite is the Proud Mary (mostly because I love Tina Turner) – a perfectly cooked double patty burger topped with grilled onions, bacon, mushrooms and two types of cheese. This burger should have been featured on an episode of Man vs. Food. Just don’t forget to schedule a gym appointment the next morning.
For my arts and culture buffs, St. Petersburg has two destinations that should not be missed. The first, of course, is the Salvador Dali Museum. The museum celebrates the life and work of Salvador Dali (1904-1989) and features over 2,100 works from every moment and in every medium of his artistic career, including oil paintings, original drawings, book illustrations, sculptures and photos.
A few blocks away is the Chihuly Collection at Morean Arts Center, a breathtaking permanent collection of world-renowned artist Dale Chihuly’s unique glass artwork. This is the first installation of Chihuly art in a building designed specifically for that purpose. Designed so that the art and architecture work together to create a visitor experience unlike any other exhibition of Chihuly’s art. The centerpiece of the collection is an iconic 20 foot sculpture created especially for the site.
St. Petersburg has something for everyone and for every budget. I was pleasantly surprised at the diversity of offerings and regret having not visited many years ago. I will however plan to return in the near future to soak up some more sun, fun and culture.