What's life like in St.Petersburg/Tampa, Florida?
August 4, 2010 12:30 PM   Subscribe

What's life like in St.Petersburg/Tampa, Florida?

For better or worse, I'm looking for testimonials such as novels, blogs, personal experiences, songs, great journalism, videos, movies. Sorry, I just have no use for Creative Loafing or the St. Pete Times--a little too official for my tastes. It's not hard to find good, current accounts of life in say, Seattle, Miami, or Houston. Why is it so hard to find something on St. Pete/Tampa bay?
posted by caveatz to Travel & Transportation around St. Petersburg, FL (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I live in the Tampa area - and I think it is a wonderful area. I love it here. Though the sun can be a bit brutal in August.

As to finding a blog about Tampa - sorry, can't help you there.
posted by Flood at 12:51 PM on August 4, 2010

I visited Tampa a few times during my tenure in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and WPB, so my perspective is by way of contrasts.

It's hotter. Prevailing winds cross over the peninsula from the east, so you get the heat blowing off the land that West Palm Beach avoids. You also get funky smells from the Everglades sometimes.

It's a working city. The east coast has a deserved reputation for being a party zone, and while real business does go on where I used to live, no one really takes it seriously seriously. Tampa/StPete is much more traditional in this aspect.

The cultural scene is better. Most of the big shows we wanted to see never came to the east coast, we had to go to Tampa for them.

I'd say Tampa is kind of unique in the state, but then again there isn't really a stereotypical Floridian city anyway, as depending on which city you're talking about there's a whole different history and culture driving things forward.

Tampa reminds me a lot of Houston, which seems to be an odd thing to say, but there it is.

I'd take Tampa over Orlando, though. Orlando is brutally hot, and you can't get away to the damn beach without a long drive.

Hope you get better data. If you'd asked about the east coast I would probably have typed a few pages....
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:07 PM on August 4, 2010

Best answer: A number of people in this previous thread had various things to say about the area.
posted by Askr at 1:10 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Hi. I lived in Tampa Bay for 11 years and often visit - as that's where most of my family resides now.

The reason why it's probably hard to find as many blogs (and the like) is because the majority of residents are a lot older, immigrants and less technology-inclined. It's also full of people like myself - who are constantly moving to and from there.

I just recently moved to Knoxville - and it's the same here. Even the reviews on sites like Yelp are next to nothing. Being from Boston, I'm used to the same type of media you are about the place I live - so it's difficult.

Questions: Why are you looking for testimonials? Are you thinking about moving there? So you already live there?

There is a blog that I used to frequent that is active here: http://community.livejournal.com/tampa/

here's some tampa bay related books:

one song:

Also, there are facebook communities that include Tampa Bay as well.

that looks good.
posted by KogeLiz at 1:15 PM on August 4, 2010

I meant to say "that looks good" in reference to the second book link.

If you specific questions about the area - members on this site, facebook communities, city-data.com, tripadvisor can help to answer them
posted by KogeLiz at 1:17 PM on August 4, 2010

Why is it so hard to find something on St. Pete/Tampa bay?

This is a stereotypical answer, but it's probably true: because most people living in St. Pete are elderly and aren't internet users. I would summarize the Bay area as slow, with the occasional gem like Haslam's or Ted Peter's or the Dali Museum, but mostly sinking into a cesspool of underclass. One of my cousins used to be the head of the narcotics division in the SPP. He was a racist sonofabitch. There's a lot of that down there (still). On the other hand, there's a shitload of small-time crime as well. It should come as no surprise that the area is one of the most popular places to do ride-alongs for the TV show COPS.

/former Tampa resident
/parents & grandparents from St. Pete
/uncle in Gulfport

They are positively spoiled with perfect beaches, though.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:18 PM on August 4, 2010

I spent summers and Christmas break there as a kid, until I was about 14, and have been back to visit family there many times in adulthood. Here's how I remember it.

The good -- beaches, great parks like Ft. Desoto, interesting architecture to be found hidden among the condos and McMansions. Also they have one of my favorite bookstores in the country, right up there with Powell's in Portland: Haslam's. And a Salvador Dali museum.

The bad: It was humid and hot as balls in the summer. There appeared to be only two types of people there: retirees and tourists. There seemed to be no kids anywhere in the residential areas -- maybe that's what you're going for! I also recall tacky tourist-oriented retail without areas of town that were "cool," or frequented by interesting locals -- this is something I've noticed even in recent visits. And lots of awful beach-front development, some of it in decline. In a way, though, that's sort of cool to look at and explore in its own right.

I have a friend who went to Eckerd. She says I have it wrong, that the beach culture was awesome. This pale, scrawny Ohioan was never able to tap into that, but she's probably right!

Nearby Tampa, however, was cooler in my recollection.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 1:28 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: thanks for all the responses. my partner's job may be taking us to st. pete/tampa in winter. I've lived everywhere from NYC to the rural Deep South but never had any experience with Florida which seems quite different from anything else in the US. Early 30s here but I love to party like a 20yo and read, gallery-hop and birdwatch like a 60yo, I'd love a city that combines the blue-collar ballsiness of Chicago with the hipster-DIY ethic of Portland and perhaps the raucous, party feel of New Orleans or Miami. However all those cities come with lots of people making mythologies about them, online or elsehwere--as for Tampa/St. Pete, it seems to be a blind spot on the internet and in bookstores---which both scares and intrigues me. maybe it's all about the beach and my landlocked self just can't wrap my head around that.
posted by caveatz at 1:44 PM on August 4, 2010

You'll have fun in Ybor if you like clubs & bars
You will find very little of the whole "Hipster I-Make-These-At-Home" movement. But you will find people who do live that lifestyle and have their whole life.
But you will find that it's a party state for all ages. It took me some time, but I found a few clubs/bars that were more my style and fun sarcastic people to hang out with.

It took me about 4 years to get used to it because I had lived outside of Boston my whole life. When you get down there and start meeting people - you realize that half of the people living there are from other parts of the country... and a lot of people from different countries. I had friends from so many places - so that was cool.

I also learned to appreciate nature more.

There's less nanny laws than other states/cities like California/Chicago/NYC
posted by KogeLiz at 2:04 PM on August 4, 2010

Agreed, you'll like Ybor. I was raised in Tampa and my parents still live there... they're in their 40s and 50s and still party pretty frequently. It's just a matter of finding a scene, but most people do.

Gasparilla is one of the few "Tampa" traditions, and it's worth a try, but the shameless displays of South Tampa affluence/alcoholism can get old.

If you like indie films, check out Tampa Theatre downtown... it's pretty much all we've got since Sunshine closed, but it's fun.

Hyde Park used to be cool but it kind of died. It still has Indigo Coffee though, which is a nice Starbucks alternative.

I don't know how to describe life in Tampa... I don't really think there's an accurate stereotype for it. It's a weird mix of urban and suburban, and your activities will be directly influenced by who you choose to socialize with.
posted by SputnikSweetheart at 2:29 PM on August 4, 2010

Check out the local community radio station, WMNF.org
It's been around for 30 years.

I lived in St Pete for 4 years, moved away for work last year. Made wonderful friends, both young and old. I lived in a well-integrated neighborhood on the southside where everyone got along.

Lots of opportunities for nature exploration, birding, kayaking, etc.
posted by mareli at 3:26 PM on August 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I really have to disagree that awesome stuff is hard to find here. I've lived in Saint Pete for awhile now (I just graduated from Eckerd), and within the past 5 or 6 months there's been such a huge shift towards a younger/arts oriented culture than I've ever seen before.

If you're skeptical of CL, try looking into the Studio@620 Review. The Review is run by a younger crowd, so all the events are smaller and more focused on art and music within the community. Right now the 600 block of Central Ave. has been revamped so there's a lot of new art galleries (check out Blue Lucy or the Vitale Studio) and vintage stores (Misred, but mostly for lady clothes). There's also the new clubs and bars like Local 662, Rex (great craft beers), and Sake Bomb, which are great for meeting new people (and they have great drink specials).

IMHO, the best way to see all the amazing stuff that St. Pete has to offer is to get out and meet people. The community is so small and friendly that once you meet one person, you're immediately introduced to someone else, and because a lot of the coolest stuff runs by word of mouth, pretty soon you'll hear about everything you need to know.

Hope this helped!
posted by _superconductor at 4:21 PM on August 4, 2010

Oooh I forgot about WMNF. Their annual Heatwave concert series (in Ybor every May) is fantastic.
posted by SputnikSweetheart at 5:33 PM on August 4, 2010

I lived in Tampa for a year. What I remember is that goths seemed to be the major subculture there, Ybor City was fun, the Tampa Theatre was gorgeous, the sex industry was big and there was a really cool record store called Vinyl Fever. Also, if you do decide to move there, the south end of town is a lot more attractive.
posted by Jess the Mess at 6:27 PM on August 4, 2010

Husband lived there for a long time and now we take longish vacations there every year. It is by far my favorite part of Florida (and Florida is an amazing, wacky state).

St. Pete is full of awesome old mid-century buildings, great dive bars, beautiful beaches in Treasure Island, and is close to crazy roadside pop-culture places like Weeki Wachi, Tarpon Springs and more. (See my pictures.)

The demographic seems to be either retirees or 20-somethings with few in-betweens. The entire city of St Pete feels both hip AND laid-back in that beach bum kind of way. There's not always Something To Do, but there is always "something to do." It's a make-your-own-fun kind of place.

I'd move there in a heartbeat, and that's saying a lot. I've lived in and traveled to a lot of places, and I love my currect city.
posted by Brittanie at 6:36 PM on August 4, 2010

Best answer: I lived there for many years, return for business almost monthly. My opinion, YMMV.

If your life revolves around the ocean (think "I wish I was Jimmy Buffet"), it's paradise. Beaches are lovely and close by, fishing is excellent, huge social scene around boating & jet skiing. To a somewhat lesser extent, it's a great place for golf and general outdoor kinds of things. As long as you can put up with the oppressive heat in the summer and the bugs. I do miss playing golf on Christmas Eve every year.

If that's not your gig, it's kinduva cruddy city. While there are a few non-outdoor related things that are fun (Ybor, some of my fav dive bars on the planet, cuban and south american cuisine, etc.), it's aging (both population and infrastructure), has little or no distinctive culture to set it apart, and, as mentioned above, there's a reason that every 3rd Cops episode is in Hillsborough county. Not just crime, lots of really stupid drunks/stoners/meth heads/rednecks/tards.

And...the water tastes awful. :-)

I would never consider moving back, myself. After a couple of days to a week, I've hit all the stuff I want to do, am sunburned, and tired of seafood. That said, many folks love it and wouldn't imaging living anywhere else.
posted by kjs3 at 10:20 AM on August 5, 2010

I lived in Tampa during my teens and early 20's and still visit family there. I have to confess that I wouldn't want to live there again permanently, but it's not a bad place to live for a few years, just to have the experience. I think it depends a lot on what you like to do and how you like to live.

There's the whole beach/bay/weather/laid back vibe. It's a relaxed lifestyle and there's lots to do outdoors (if you can take the heat). We had a boat for a while and went fishing and waterskiiing on weekends. There's sailing and diving and snorkling. There are many, many different beaches and waterfront destinations within an hour's drive. If the beach is your thing, you can feel like you are on vacation all the time.

There's quite a wealth of culture to be found, if you know where to look. Arts and performance is well-represented for a city its size. There are a number of interesting ethnic communities. As a teen/young adult I enjoyed a really great underground music scene with plenty of bars, clubs and concerts. I know people who still live there and take part in vibrant local arts/music/jazz scenes. But they are a little more hidden than in some bigger cities and you have to seek them out.

Cuban food. Seriously, this is one of the highlights that draws me back for regular visits. It's not easy to get good Cuban food in other parts of the country and it's wonderful to have this cuisine so available. To me, it's one of the things that makes Tampa Tampa. As soon as I arrive at the airport, I head straight to La Teresita for a cuban sandwich. Also, if you speak spanish or want to learn spanish, this is a good place to immerse yourself in Latino culture.

It's a car-centric place. You cannot do anything without a car, and it often feels like one continuous sprawl of strip malls and subdivisions. I hated the way I felt trapped by being a minimum 20-minute drive from anything, and often drove 45 minutes or more each way for work or entertainment. Traffic is pretty horrible too. Forget about walking or cycling. You are treated like a freak if you are not in a car.

Being Florida, where developers rule, there's a lot of issues around the lack of city planning and urban sprawl. Kids ride buses halfway across town to go to school and many areas lack any kind of neighborhood or community feel. Subdivisions all look the same, and there is a lack of character that you get in older cities with more variety in architectural styles. There are no sidewalks, except in the older parts of town. Very little in the way of public spaces, unless it's a mall or the beach.

Corporate culture. It's often really hard to find a restaurant or shop that isn't a national chain, but I think this is true of many US cities. In some ways Tampa can be quite soul-less this way. It's also a very sports-heavy town, and it often seems like the city invests too much into the whole sports thing. It's very one-dimensional.

Climate: It's hot and humid most of the time. I always found it humorous that people move down from the north where they don't like to spend the winter running from their house to their car and from their car to the office to avoid the cold/snow. But you do the same thing in Florida from May to October just to escape the unbearable heat. You have to use air conditioning all the time and everything develops the funk of mildew. Oh, and the bugs. Lot's of 'em. Big ones too.

Lastly, to answer your question about why it's so hard to find the inside scoop on Tampa, I'm not sure about the reason, but I agree with the observation. I think it might have to do with a number of factors: Almost no one who lives in Tampa is from Tampa originally, so there is less of a sense of connection and local pride. Many young people move away, looking for more urban experiences or better job opportunities (ie, not retail/service industry). Until recently the economy was pretty dependent on two things, tourism and and the air force base, which kind of fosters a sense of transience. I think it's just not a place with a strong self-identity, for many of the reasons listed above.
posted by amusebuche at 8:51 AM on August 6, 2010

I just saw your in-thread update. As for gallery hopping, I want to reiterate that there is a pretty groovy local arts scene with lots of DIY-type galleries and happenings. It all has kind of an underground feel to it, though, because Tampa is not a city known for strong arts patronage (though I think that is changing). The University of South Florida has a good arts program and that also feeds the local scene. And St. Pete has some cool alterna-stuff happening too.

And you'll be in luck with the birdwatching. My mom was/is a serious birder and was very active in Audubon, Sierra Club, Florida Trails, etc. There's lots of native species that will be really different from what you may know in northern climates, plus a lot of migrations that move through during fall and spring and a few species who winter there. In other words, good birding year-round.
posted by amusebuche at 9:16 AM on August 6, 2010

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