This year I was invited to have Thanksgiving with my boyfriend's family in Tampa Bay, Florida. On second thought, I may have actually been bribed to have Thanksgiving in Tampa. That's because my beloved Seattle Seahawks were scheduled to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that weekend. And Matt's older brother Chris not only found us free club seats to the game, but also managed to acquire field passes to see the players warm up before the game (!).
After maybe the most hellish redeye flight I've ever endured, I arrived in Tampa and Matt took me immediately to St. Petersburg for Cuban coffee... which was an excellent idea, because apparently this Cuban coffee had 5 shots of espresso in it. Five.
We ate Cuban sandwiches sitting at a table under some trees on the sidewalk in front of Bodega, and as someone who never thought she liked Cuban sandwiches I was proven very, very wrong. The temperature could not have been more comfortable, the coffee had me perfectly buzzed, and the afternoon drifted by us.
Across the street from Bodega on Central is Green Bench Brewing Company. As dutiful beer snobs, we checked it out and ordered some flights (heavily skewed to IPAs on my side). Green Bench has a large open grassy side area where they project movie screenings on the wall during the summer. I concluded that my favorite Green Bench beer was the aptly named Sunshine City IPA.
After beers (which effectively cancelled out the Cuban caffeine buzz) we wandered down Central Avenue to see downtown St. Petersburg. Matt told me how much the neighborhood had changed, how it had become hipster and trendy in the last two or three years. We walked by outdoor concert venues, colorful typographic murals, and art museums.
That evening we drove with Matt's parents out to Clearwater Beach (fun / scary fact: this is home to the biggest Scientology community in the country!) to have dinner on the beach at the famous Frenchy's Café. We sat on the outdoor patio right on the sand and ate grilled grouper sandwiches as the sun went down. It was the kind of sunset that lingered in the sky, moving through the entire spectrum of reds and pinks before finally dipping below the horizon.
We had a quiet and intimate Thanksgiving dinner at Matt's parents house, watching football and telling stories. The food was delicious, and the company was friendly and very enjoyable. Matt's older brother Chris came with his wife Ellen and her parents, plus the cutest French Bulldog in the world: Lola (aka Stinker).
The next morning we went on a turkey-antidote run around the neighborhood before gearing up for our adventure of the day: Longboat Key. Matt's family used to make the 90-minute drive south over the Skyway Bridge for family vacations on the beach, and I could see why. It's a perfectly sleepy holiday town that combines tourist attractions with stunning natural scenery. The center of town is a picturesque shopping circle full of art galleries and upscale boutiques, behind which is a long, uninterrupted stretch of white sand beach. Even in late fall it was warm enough to sit on the beach in a sundress, digging my bare feet into the sand and listening to the waves drift in and out. Matt told me the story of Chris proposing to Ellen on this beach, and I had to commend him on his choice of location.
When we returned to St. Petersburg, we met up with Chris and Ellen to play shuffleboard and go bar crawling through the downtown area. We posted up at a loud and crowded cocktail bar called Cask & Ale, and Matt's high school acquaintances started trickling in.
We planned our Saturday around the college football schedule (which we tend to do during football season). After lunch at a regal-looking historic Cuban restaurant called The Colombia, we wandered through Ybor City – where, for some reason unknown to me, there are groups of wild roosters roaming the streets – to find a good Irish bar to watch Notre Dame play USC. We took over the central table and the biggest TV at James Joyce Irish Pub and our group slowly grew from 6 to 14 as the game wore on. For the next shift of games (Florida State vs. Florida) we wandered down to 7th Street and posted up at a place called The Bad Monkey (yes really). The nightlife along 7th heated up as the night wore on, and Matt told me about how Ybor City used to be known for Cuban cigar factories back in the day. Now it's full of broken down manufacturing buildings, quickly becoming trendy for the twenty-something crowd in Tampa.
Sunday was the big day: possibly the most enticing reason for coming to Tampa over Thanksgiving weekend. It was the Seahawks vs. Buccaneers NFL game. Chris and Ellen had season tickets, but managed to get us all box seats from a friend who works as the team accountant. As if box seats on the 50 yard line weren't fabulous enough, he also scored us field passes for before the game. That's right, I got to walk along the sidelines as the teams warmed up, standing just 5 yards away from RICHARD SHERMAN. Please see adjacent photo of me freaking out and being a huge dorky fangirl.
I seem to have forgotten the results of the game (something to do with selective-Seahawks-win memory.... it's common among Seattleites), but with a gorgeous sunset and a warm night, it was impossible not to have a good time. I highly recommend attending a game at Raymond James Stadium, if not for the weather then for the supercool giant pirate ship in the endzone.