St. Petersburg Spring Break Check-in: 'I Want to Chill and Party'
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Sunday was one of those postcard "winter" days in Florida that has out-of-staters and Quebecois bragging ceaselessly on social media to their snow-bound friends. For Floridians like me, it's pretty standard to have cloudless skies and temperatures pushing 80 in mid-March. But as I strolled St. Pete Beach yesterday and chatted with the spring break crowds, I found a surprising amount of Sunshine State locals out enjoying a perfect afternoon alongside the out-of-towners.
"The beach is beautiful, the people are really chill," said a University of Central Florida student on a week-long hiatus from her biomedical engineering studies in Orlando while strolling the beach in a cherry red bikini with friends, "I'm not looking for the party scene, it's relaxed here and I like that." Her friend Corey Wys, whose spring break at the University of South Florida in Tampa was just ending, was still hopeful they'd find somewhere to cut loose. "I'd like some kind of party scene, not crazy but you know," he said. "I want to chill and party."
And that's exactly what the crowds at Caddy's on The Beach, a popular waterfront restaurant at Sunset Beach, seemed to have in mind. Three friends from Northport, New York – two Lauras and an Alyssa – were ordering vodka drinks at the bar in their bikinis. "I did the whole Cancun Student City spring break thing last year and it's overwhelming, it's hard on your system," said Laura Kovacs who's on spring break from the University of Rhode Island, where she's studying to be a dietician. "This is way more laid back, but a great party scene still. I didn't want to party from 9 a.m. to 3 a.m."
The girls were looking for a destination that offered beach and city fun, and St. Petersburg fit the bill. "Push [a nightclub in downtown St. Pete] has a great dancing scene and a more casual rooftop scene," said Laura Ullenes, who graduated a few years ago but was enjoying the week off from work. And as for Florida boys? "We likey," was the refrain. They're not as high maintenance as New York boys, the girls said, "We're making lots of friends."
The scene at Caddy's seemed to be on a low boil – perhaps it had to do with the classic and oldies music the DJ's were spinning, keeping the vibe mellow as the crowds carried drinks from the bar back to loungers on the sand. "I've got families and kids here and everyone is having a good time," the bar's owner told me, "For the real student spring break scene, go to Undertow's."
I was feeling more in the mellow spring break mood on this day, however (I have a whole week to go, best to start slow!), so I opted for a stroll south on the beach instead. And that's when I bumped into Sunset Suzie (right) – a palm tree trunk turned upside down and glammed up with whatever detritus passing beachgoers donated. Her hair, the tree's roots, was threaded with old sunglasses, gull feathers and Mardi Gras beads. And a hot pink bag bursting with two plump coconuts gave her that surgically enhanced look so popular in these parts. "Two girls just came by and put those leis on her," a tourist from Ohio, coozie in hand, shouted to me from her beach towel on a stretch of wide-open sand. I promised to bring a donation next time for Suzie (maybe a coozie!) and decided to head out for ice cream with my nieces at Uncle Andy's, a cute little creamery inside the Don Cesar Hotel, where the scene was family-friendly to the max. People were playing cornhole on the beach and kids were canoodling with noodles in the pool.
For sunset, I made the short drive south to Pass-a-Grille Beach, one of those classic Florida beach towns where beach cruisers nearly outnumber cars and people actually gather as if by ritual to watch the sun sink into the Gulf. The shapes in the water I initially mistook for dolphins turned out to be stand up paddleboards against the candy colored sky. A string of spectators trained their eyes on the orange orb from the beach, sidewalk promenade and upper balcony of Hurricane as the sun slipped away.
"Five, four, three, two, one," counted my oldest niece, a Floridian who's grown up with beach culture and seen more than her share of pretty sunsets. When everyone around us started applauding, she said, somewhat surprised, "Oh, everyone's watching it too!" At that moment, there really didn't seem like anything better in the world to be doing.
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