Gay and Lesbian St. Petersburg Florida, Our Savior
|Host of Florida’s biggest Gay and Lesbian Pride and the perfect destination anytime|
|by Paul Rubio|
St. Petersburg, Florida enjoyed its first golden age in the 1920s as a campground for baseball legends, politicians, and Hollywood divas. The blustering pink Vinoy Hotel was the heart and soul of the young town during the Big Boom Era. The Mediterranean revival masterpiece charged $20 a night for its all-star cast, including Babe Ruth, Herbert Hoover, Calvin Coolidge, F Scott Fitzgerald, and Jimmy Stewart. Miraculously, the city survived the atrocities of the Great Depression and resurfaced as a stylish vacation destination following the New Deal.
Nevertheless, the advent of air conditioning in the 1950s permanently altered the landscape as northerners flocked down to retire in the Florida sun, and vacationers began to go elsewhere. By the 1970s interest in St. Petersburg had completely waned, the Vinoy was literally deserted, and the streets lacked rule of law. The city suffered through a very painful and economically distressing time for nearly 20 years before the community grabbed the city by the balls and fought to bring back the glory of the 1920s.
The perseverance, investment, and determination paid off. By the dawn of the millennium, St. Petersburg was entering a second golden age, fresh from Florida’s finest face-lift and offering a pedestrian-friendly downtown, beautiful waterfronts, 370 cultural events and 361 days of sunshine per year, spectacular beaches, an exploding arts scene, and museums on par with New York.
The relaxed, artsy, beach feel of St. Petersburg now entices tens of thousands of gays and lesbians to make St. Pete their home. To this day, most of these individuals constitute an “invisible” gay community, enjoying married life with two pets and adopted children while tending to the garden on Sundays. Contrary to life in the gay ghetto, the LGBT community of St. Pete focuses much less on segregation and more on integration. The dwindling obsession with gay versus straight means that more restaurants and bars are mixed, and boundaries are fading.
However, every June, St. Pete gently reminds the world of its gay power and presence through its phenomenal St Petersburg Gay Pride. What began as an amateur festival in 2003 with 10,000 people has grown into a massive affair with over 100,000 attendees! From June 24– June 28, 1010 St. Petersburg and neighboring Tampa will grow louder and prouder, hosting dozens of events centered around the actual festive street parade on Saturday afternoon St Petersburg Pride. Yet before and after the rainbow flags are erected around town, St. Petersburg stands out as an ideal vacation destination, - an unexpected cultural hub in Florida, home to two of the country’s top 10 beaches, an easy place to meet some awesome people.
St. Pete, the Beachy
St. Pete’s beaches are ranked some of the best in the country. In 2008 Caladesi Island was rated America’s #1 beach. Accessible only by ferry from Honeymoon Island, Caladesi offers picturesque sunbathing opportunities, snorkeling, a three-mile nature trail, and the added bonus of good shelling. In 2007 nearby Fort de Soto beach held the crown as #1 beach in the USA. The county park is jam-packed with families and couples, a historic fort, ferry services to Egmont Key (for snorkeling), boat ramps, kayaks, bikes, and canoes for rent. Though de Soto no longer sports a gay beach, its still boasts 7 miles of refined quartz, winding trails, two fishing piers, and a campground. An undisturbed barrier island, Caladesi offers more seclusion than Fort de Soto but the two are nearly indistinguishable. Both are ideal on weekdays when crowds are nonexistent. (www.floridastateparks.org/CaladesiIsland, # 1 Causeway Boulevard, Dunedin, (727) 469-5918; www.fortdesoto.com, 3500 Pinellas Bayway, Tierra Verde, (727) 582-2267)
Those searching for Florida’s west coast gay beach will revel in the delights of Sunset Beach, located on southern tip of St. Pete’s Treasure Island. The strip of beach once famous for housing double-story foam parties at the club Bedrocks now keeps the gay momentum alive with regular Sunday beach parties. Parties are most intense on Sundays between Memorial Day and Labor Day when Tampa hot spots even set up beachfront booze outlets. The crowd at the only LGBT beach in the Tampa Bay tends to be young, hot, somewhat cliquish gay men peppered with butch lesbians and Miller Lites. Beyond Sundays, Sunset Beach is hit or miss, but almost always occupied with a few stragglers.
St. Pete, the Comfy
In the wake of Suncoast Resort’s demise and the gay guesthouse fever in South Florida, the Gay St. Pete House pioneers the gay guesthouse experience in St. Petersburg. Entering the market at an exceptionally affordable price point, St. Pete House is a great deal—comfortable rooms, a clothing-optional pool and hot tub, a full bagel breakfast, beer and wine, and a relaxed, homey feel complemented by the extreme kindness of owner Brian Longstreth and his crazy dog, Urban (who recently ran away but was found!) It’s also just down the road from the St. Pete outpost of the wildly popular Georgie’s Alibi. My personal favorite Alibi in the US (editors note: the other two are Georgie's Alibi Fort Lauderdale and Georgie's Alibi Palm Springs), every night draws a decent crowd but Long Island Iced Tea Thursdays and Saturdays are busiest.
The Flamingo Gay Resort is the modern re-incarnation of Suncoast, a former 130 room motel renovated as a gay resort. Flamingo has weekly pool parties, entertainment, and all the shenanigans that come with putting lots of gays in close quarters.
Those looking for something a bit more low key and more refined should consider checking into the Dickens’ House. A top pick by other travel guides, Trip Advisor (and myself), owner Ed Caldwell deservedly takes pride in his award-winning B and B, which caters to a large LGBT following. Ed offers “casual refinement” in his downtown oasis, a restored 1912 arts and crafts home with modern comforts in a traditional B and B setting.
Big hotel whores will love the classic Vinoy Hotel. The arduous $93 million dollar effort to restore a living piece of history from the Great Gatsby era combined with an acquisition for Marriott Corporation has met great success. This Renaissance property offers all the amenities of a 4-star hotel with the grandeur of the 1920s (including the authentic Augusta Block bricks lining the front driveway).
If you can’t make it to
St. Pete Pride in late June, two other awesome Florida pride
events in late spring/early summer are
Aqua Girl (mid-May) and
Sizzle (Memorial Day Weekend). The official Aqua Girl host
Doubletree Surfcomber, is sold out! However, rooms are still
available at the second partner hotel,
The National hotel. The year’s host hotel for Sizzle is the
Hyatt Regency Miami, by far the best place to stay to get the
most out of your fierce five-day party session. The Courtyard by
Marriott Miami Downtown is also a partner hotel for this event.
If you can’t make it to St. Pete Pride in late June, two other awesome Florida pride events in late spring/early summer are Aqua Girl (mid-May) and Sizzle (Memorial Day Weekend). The official Aqua Girl host hotel, the Doubletree Surfcomber, is sold out! However, rooms are still available at the second partner hotel, The National hotel. The year’s host hotel for Sizzle is the Hyatt Regency Miami, by far the best place to stay to get the most out of your fierce five-day party session. The Courtyard by Marriott Miami Downtown is also a partner hotel for this event.
Select portions of this guide were originally published in the award winning, The Out Traveler: South Florida, copyright Alyson Books and Paul Rubio.
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