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Winter 2008 | Three Gay Days: Tampa

Winter 2008 | Three Gay Days: Tampa

The Sunshine State’s second largest metropolitan area, Tampa–St. Pete–Clearwater, is basking in an artsy urban upswing -- with LGBT flair.

As if waking up from a long winter?s nap, the Tampa-St. Petersburg?Clearwater area is shaking off its sleepy, retiree-driven image and staking its claim as Florida?s go-to gay Gulf Coast destination. In convention-driven Tampa, urbanites LGBT and otherwise are snapping up new high-end condos around the Channel District, part of a downtown riverfront redevelopment effort that includes the new 2.4-acre Tampa Bay History Center (opening December 2008) and the Tampa Museum of Art, with its futuristic skin of pierced aluminum, due in April 2009. More arts-minded buzz is building 30 minutes west in downtown St. Pete, where a new bayside facility for the city?s world-class Salvador Dal? Museum and a permanent 32,000-square-foot Chihuly glass exhibition at the Arts Center on Central Avenue are slated for 2010.

During its short five-year history, St. Pete?s pride festival, staged in the city?s gentrifying Grand Central Avenue district, has become the state?s largest, drawing an estimated 80,000 participants and spectators. And in August 2007 the GaYbor District Coalition -- now 106 business partners strong?formed to cement a rainbow presence in the still-rough-around-the-edges historic area of Ybor City. Florida?s conservative political leanings have made progress slow in gay rights, but in April 2008 the Pinellas County Commission -- encompassing the municipalities of St. Petersburg and Clearwater?added sexual orientation protection to its human rights law; the city of Tampa already had similar protections and extended health benefits to same-sex partners of city employees in 2004. Think of Florida?s second largest metropolitan area as yin to Miami?s brash Euro-style yang, making it an enticing choice for laid-back queer travelers who value its 35 miles of white-sand beaches and 300-plus days of sunshine annually over partying all night.

Located four miles west of the city center, user-friendly Tampa International Airport (813-870-8700) is no tiny-town operation: 19.1 million passengers passed through in 2007. Southwest Airlines (800-435-9792) handles the most business there, but all the major U.S. airlines have a presence. Once here, a car is a must; a half dozen major rental car companies have desks at baggage-claim level. Go for a convertible if you?re aiming for St. Petersburg?s heavenly beaches, about 26 miles southwest.

For small-town charm, don?t miss gay-owned Dickens House (335 Eighth Ave. N.E.; 800-381-2022), a lovingly restored 1910 craftsman B&B with six rooms and a bamboo-strewn back garden, nestled on a quiet residential street adjacent to downtown St. Pete. Go luxe at a pair of palatial, pink, gay-friendly hotels: the Don CeSar Beach Resort (3400 Gulf Blvd.; 866-728-2206), built on powdery-white St. Pete Beach in 1928 to resemble Waikiki?s Royal Hawaiian, is home to the new $11 million, 11,000-square-foot Spa Oceana; or downtown St. Petersburg?s 1925 Mediterranean revival Renaissance Vinoy Resort (501 Fifth Ave. N.E.; 888-303-4430), a celeb fave overlooking Tampa Bay with a private marina, wide patio perfect for sunset cocktails, and an overstuffed Sunday brunch that includes caviar service and chocolate fondue. Or stay within two blocks of Ybor City?s bustling gay nightlife at the 16-room Don Vicente de Ybor Historic Inn (1915 Republica de Cuba; 866-206-4545), an 1895 oasis of marble and antiques.

Part One | Part Two | Part Three

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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