Since I live in the middle of Florida, I rarely get to see the ocean, let alone go to the beach. Hot weather also hampers this; I function best in weather that has other Floridians wrapped up in layers and praying to the Sun God for some superheated rays.
With rainy weather coming our way in 48 hours, it seemed a great day to head south. I ended up in St. Pete for no other reason than I wanted to see the old Don Ce-Sar Hotel, now renamed The Don CeSar, A Loews Hotel. I’d seen a picture of it somewhere and imagined it to be an enormous building that took up several city blocks and probably the best beachfront as well. The “Pink Lady” opened in 1928 as a luxury Gulf-side resort. After the death of its original owner and an unbecoming slide into disrepair, the Army bought the hotel and turned it into a military hospital during World War Two. By 1945 it was a VA Regional Office.
The hyphen was lost in the 1970s, when the hotel was purchased from the government and returned to its original function.
The Don CeSar didn’t quite loom the way I thought it would. It’s a large hotel that looked smaller than I had envisioned. It’s down near the tip of the St. Pete Beach and it doesn’t have the best beachfront. All of the beachfront is excellent, and on this March day I was one of only a handful of cars in the parking lot.
Of note was how placid the Gulf water is, and how easy it is to walk across the sand. This is a contrast with the beaches on Florida’s Atlantic side, where the surf rages and the sand is like a treadmill set at a high resistance. I went onto the sand in bare feet and marveled at how many different states Florida really is. Looking at the wide stretch of beach, the glamorous hotel, and the charming historic district of Pass-a-Grille, I could see why the northern part of the state has such trouble attracting tourists. St. Pete Beach had some of the Deco flourishes of South Beach, along with funky beach houses, aquamarine water, and lots of sea birds. I didn’t have to watch where I walked as vigilantly as I do back in Alachua County. This was a freedom of a different sort. Better yet, there was not a clip-joint bar in sight. I left St. Pete Beach having spent $1.50 for parking.