TAMPA Fla. (Reuters) - Sunshine and more than 35 miles (57 km) of white-sand beaches have long lured tourists to the Tampa Bay area on Florida’s Gulf of Mexico coast, where an infusion of arts and hipster-friendly culture is livening up options once you hang up your bathing trunks.
Beyond the beaches, the region’s largest city, Tampa, is outgrowing a reputation for sleepy suburban sprawl, while neighboring St. Petersburg enjoys an urban renaissance that defies its onetime image as the epitome of gray-haired Florida, for which it was good-naturedly dubbed “God’s waiting room.”
Waterfront museums, funky coastal towns with an artsy vibe and an eclectic night life that includes retro shuffleboard (yes, shuffleboard can be trendy) have some calling the region a New Yorker’s answer to life in Florida.
Here are tips for getting the most out of the Tampa Bay area from Reuters, whose 2,600 journalists in all parts of the world offer visitors the best local insights.
The crown jewel of St. Petersburg’s mile-long waterfront museum corridor is the Dalí Museum, the largest collection of works by Salvador Dalí outside his native Spain, housed in a newly constructed building featuring a 75-foot (23 m) geodesic glass bubble known as “the enigma.”
Now through February, enter the museum to see the only U.S. stop for the “Picasso/Dalí, Dalí/Picasso” exhibition with rarely loaned works by the two artists before it heads to Museu Picasso in Barcelona.
Another must on the city’s waterfront arts tour, a short park stroll past the banyan trees straddling the Museum of Fine Arts, is the building housing the glass-blown masterpieces of Dale Chihuly at the Morean Arts Center’s Chihuly Collection.
For edgier artisans, St. Petersburg’s Second Saturday ArtWalk features more than 40 galleries and studios, all connected by a free trolley.
At the stop for the Grand Central District near downtown, you will find dozens of independently owned galleries, cafes, antique shops and restaurants: places to try your hand at painting, jewelry-making and pottery.
Listen to big-name folk artists such as Cheryl Wheeler at the Craftsman House, a restored 1918 bungalow and cafe displaying paintings, sculptures, photography and clay pottery.
A worthy side trip, an hour’s drive to the south you will find nearly two dozen galleries at the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota.
The collection by the founders of the famed circus includes a large trove of Old Masters paintings, including significant works by Rubens.
There is also a museum dedicated to circus memorabilia, live music performances and tours of the Ca’ d’Zan, a 56-room palace that was the Ringlings’ family home.
‘SENDING THE BISCUIT’
Just east of downtown Tampa, the historic Latin Quarter of Ybor City remains the region’s night life capital, a gritty entertainment corridor that has breathed new life into the former cigar factory district along the city’s Seventh Avenue.
With restaurants, shops and nightclubs, Ybor pulses long after the stroke of midnight with events catering to same-sex couples, earning the district the nickname of GaYbor (www.gaybor.com).
For those preferring drinks with a view, the Canopy Rooftop Lounge atop the Birchwood on Beach Drive in St. Petersburg is the new spot to see and be seen, sipping cocktails on couches and private cabanas, all overlooking the water.
Or ditch the high heels to join a hip crowd at the free Friday night Shuffle, hosted at the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club, the biggest and oldest of its kind, on Mirror Lake Drive.
Its 70-plus shuffleboard courts, once the backdrop for the movie “Cocoon,” now draw couples on dates, college-age friends and groups of bungalow-dwelling neighbors, often pulling coolers of wine or beer up to their court.
Testimony to the trendiness of a pastime nicknamed “sending the biscuit,” the St. Petersburg club inspired the opening of indoor shuffleboard courts in Brooklyn earlier this year.
Many glossy tourist maps have yet to keep up with several trendy neighborhoods beloved by locals.
In the funky enclave of Gulfport, just south of St. Petersburg, mom-and-pop restaurants and cafes overflow during twice monthly art walks. Dress according to the town’s unofficial motto: “If you’re too weird for Gulfport, you’re just too weird!”
The similarly artsy town of Dunedin, located north of St. Petersburg, features eclectic restaurants on a downtown strip, where you may also stumble on a movie-in-the-park night.
And do not miss Nitally’s Thai-Mex Cuisine in St. Petersburg’s Grand Central District, where the blending of the two cultures turns up menu items like Thai Peanut Chicken Tortilla Wraps, or Panang Mole.
After an unforgettable meal, head across the street for team trivia nights led by Trixie the Tranny at the upscale, gay-friendly Queens Head Eurobar and Restaurant.
In Tampa’s rapidly gentrifying Seminole Heights neighborhood, a high-brow foodie scene is taking off between the used car lots on Florida Avenue.
Current hot spots include the Rooster and the Till, a farm-to-fork concept, and the newly opened Ulele, offering native Florida-inspired dishes like chili with alligator and guava pie.
Editing by Letitia Stein, Michael Roddy and Mohammad Zargham