While you might think only think of Orlando or Miami as a Florida destination, the St. Petersburg/Clearwater region offers fun and sun—and delicious gluten-free food!—for everyone.
Sports fans flock to the area for the Outback Bowl and the spring training homes of the Toronto Blue Jays, New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies. Those who visit between April and September can watch regular-season Tampa Bay Rays games at Tropicana Field, which features a live stingray tank. The Firestone Grand Prix, an exciting Indy car street race through the streets of St. Petersburg’s downtown, draws crowds from around the world. Tampa Bay’s professional soccer team, the Rowdies, also play here. And if you’d rather exert a little energy of your own, hit the links at one of several award-winning golf courses.
St. Pete is rich in cultural diversity and a delight for art lovers. From museums like the Salvador Dali Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts to the Chihuly glass exhibit and powerful Florida Holocaust Museum, visitors can cool off indoors while they immerse themselves in art and history. Nearby Lowry Park Zoo, Great Explorations Children’s Museum, and Busch Gardens and Adventure Island offer more active destinations for families with children to entertain. If you visit between late June and early August, be sure to take advantage of Summer Nights at Busch Gardens, which features extended hours and special live entertainment.
The seasonal home to dolphin tours, fishing excursions, pirate festivals, chalk art festivals and lovely, meandering farmers markets, St. Petersburg features miles of award-winning beaches. It is also a treasure trove of vintage and handmade furniture, crafts, clothing and art.
But what you really want to know about is the food in St. Petersburg/Clearwater. The seafood is, of course, outstanding. But there is an eclectic range of choices here that can match that of just about any big city while satisfying any preference, sensitivity or allergy.
When you arrive in this quaint small-town/big-city hybrid, you’ll have plenty to keep you going from morning till night. The moment you wake up, head straight to Craft Kafé, a dreamy little hot spot specializing in “gluten-free artisan fare.” You’ll have trouble believing that every flaky, warm, gooey or savory baked good is free of gluten and made with in-house stone-milled flours. Order a muffin, a cupcake, a fluffy slice of quiche or a savory flatbread. Try a latte with house-made almond milk or a locally grown salad, grilled cheese sandwich, hazelnut cake or plate of pancakes. Or let loose and order one of each. New York native and owner Teddy Skiadiotis dreamed of opening a gluten-free restaurant for years, and his baked goods have been such a hit with locals that he is planning a relocation/expansion in 2017.
When you want something different, head to Alesia Restaurant, a delightful rustic-modern spot serving French-Vietnamese fusion. While the designated gluten-free menu is limited (be sure to tell your server about food allergies), all you really need to order is a hearty bowl of pho, the traditional rice noodle soup. If you like, ask to replace the noodles with bok choy. I truly have never found a pho to match the one at Alesia. Now, just thinking about that healing and heavenly dish has this Florida native, since transplanted to the northeast, ready for a road trip! True story: I was once fighting a killer cold with a looming wedding to photograph. I called Alesia on the way, explained my plight and flat-out begged for a to-go order of pho. Asked if I had a few minutes to spare, I arrived to find a corner table set for me and my business partner/husband. Within seconds, two piping-hot bowls of soup were brought out, filling our bellies and priming us for a long day of work.
Whether you soak up some sunshine, hunt for vintage treasures, history or fine art, or relax to live music while tucking into crab legs and a fruity drink at a rooftop bar, St. Petersburg/Clearwater is a culinary and cultural Florida paradise for the young, the young-at-heart and families of all ages.
-Written and Photographed by Angela Sackett