We know Beach Drive is a popular place in the evening. It’s time to recognize the beauty of mornings on the strip. You’ll catch a few rare sightings. First, is plentiful parking. I mean this in the nicest way. When people complain about parking in St. Pete, I point out that countless establishments will park your car for about the same price as pumping coins into a meter. Some people just don’t like valet parking, but I take pleasure in unloading my family in front of a restaurant and handing my ten year-old Jeep with Cheerio-powdered interior to an out-of-breath kid and saying, “No joy riding, please.” For those that don’t take the same joy, come on down in the morning where you can bust out your coins or your phone and pay the meter.
The second rare sighting for me one January morning, was fog. A light cloud rested on the bay, holding itself in place, just off shore. We get so much sunshine in St. Pete, I always enjoy whatever change of pace the weather brings. Our January/February fogs offer a backdrop that conjures memories of trips to San Francisco (summer, of course) and Maine. I picked a table in front of Paciugo Gelato and Caffé and ordered a coffee and a bagel. A peloton of cyclists had descended upon the place for a post-ride refuel. Runners criss-cross my view while a dinghy runs out to a catamaran bobbing in the basin. I like a busy, cramped, coffee shop with tattooed baristas who play the espresso machine like a church organ as much as the next guy, but spending a morning on Beach Drive feels a bit like vacation.
The Annex offers bottled drinks for those who don’t drink coffee. Cassis will give you the French Café vibe. Turn the corner for an indulgent crepe at Wooden Rooster. Enjoy the parade of condo dogs getting in their morning stretch.
It can be easy to forget that this is a neighborhood. No one is working. No one is hurrying. The sidewalks here don’t get hosed down with bleach. No leaf blowers. No commuters. Just a quiet park and the ubiquitous faint smell of saltwater that locals don’t even notice anymore.
If you draw your morning out long enough, you can be first in the door at the Museum of Fine Arts at 11:00. Don’t forget to extend your parking, because spaces will be getting scarce. By 11:30, the lunch crowd will begin building and Beach Drive will host another day’s meals and fêtes, embraces and adieus.