I feel the warm froth of the Gulf of Mexico as it spills onto the shore of Clearwater Beach, kissing my toes and tickling my ankles. This is one of my favorite places to go as the sun retreats for the night. If you’re lucky, you can see the wrinkled noses of manatees peeking out from the waves. I’ve been living in the Tampa Bay Area for ten years now, but I have yet to find a better place to watch the sun set against a sky bleeding purple and orange.
In the middle of the calm stretch of sand sits a whole different world. Pier 60 is the opposite of tranquil, drawing crowds as acrobats breathe fire and men pound ferociously on buckets instead of drums. There is a guy who dresses up like Captain Jack Sparrow each evening, right down to the thick eyeliner and braided beard. Airbrush artists. Row after row of vendors selling shell art, sea glass lamps, shark tooth necklaces. On some nights they play movies on a big blow up screen further down the beach.
While these festivities are exciting, sometimes I like to peel away from the crowds and wander down to the quiet end of the pier. I close my eyes and breathe the salt air in, listening to the waves crash forward to hug the shore, over and over again. There is always the same lonely gentleman playing the saxophone at the end of the pier, dreadlocks swinging in the breeze night after night. From the end of the pier you can see the whole hotel-peppered stretch of sand. This is the place where I feel most at peace.
This is my home. I’m lucky to live just minutes from the beach, but there’s even more to see here—like Downtown St. Petersburg. You can easily spend all day here, bouncing from museums to shops to food trucks. On warm afternoons, Vinoy Park is a wonderful place to relax and watch the sailboats bob along the waves of the Tampa Bay. I also love to come see concerts here when the weather is nice.
During the summer months when afternoon storms arrive unexpectedly and the Sunshine State fails to live up to its cheerful name, Daddy Kool Records is a good place to visit. I’ve spent many rainy afternoons here sifting through bins of used records with my older brother. They also sell cute toys and concert tickets for all the local music venues, such as the State Theatre that sits just across the street.
In St. Pete you can stand just inches away from the painting The Persistence of Memory at the Dalí Museum or watch as artists melt molten-hot glass to form sculptures in the Morean Art Center’s Hot Shop. If you’re hungry, I invite you to nibble your way through the Beach Drive row of restaurants. You can sample everything here—from sweet, creamy desserts at Paciugo Italian Gelato to spicy, invigorating beverages at the Hooker Tea Company to fresh, savory dishes at the Beach Drive Seafood and Tap House.
For the past ten years, the strange and beautiful place known as the Tampa Bay Area has been my home. There is always something going on—a concert to attend, a gallery to visit, even a manatee to meet. In fact, I’m still finding new things to see. I can’t think of a better place to spend a decade. Here’s to another ten years.
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