Our friends up North have long ago put away their patio furniture and pulled out their coats and sweaters, but this is the time of year when we Floridians can finally head outside without fear of melting. Even with the occasional cool snap, we know it's just a matter of time before warm weather returns. What better way to enjoy these times than with an umbrella table with a view of the water? Here are a few choice spots for doing just that. — Tom Scherberger, Anne Glover, Kim Wilmath and John Hill, Times staff writers
Tradewinds Island Grand Beach Resort
• 5500 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach, (727) 367-6461
Pretend you're a tourist outside the Flying Bridge cafe. The food is standard beach fare — nachos, wings, burgers, grouper sandwiches — and the drinks frozen or on the rocks (the signature Island Escape comes with a tiny umbrella, natch). But the setting is pretty sweet: On one side the sun sets beyond sand dunes covered with sea oats and sea grapes, on the other swans and paddleboats meander through a narrow canal. If you really get in the resort mood, chaise longues and hammocks beckon.
Tate Island Grille at Sandpearl Resort
• 500 Mandalay Ave., Clearwater Beach, (727) 441-2425
Two things make this umbrella mecca worth a visit: a fire pit and the beach. At sunset, they fire up the pit (weather permitting). The resort, on north Clearwater Beach, is a short walk across the sand from a public parking lot and the raucous Frenchy's Rockaway Grill (a nightcap option). Tate backs onto the sugary sand, with umbrella tables on a boardwalk. Inside the small bar area you'll find a menu of wings, quesadillas, crab cakes and sandwiches. Imported beer in cans for $6.50 (no glass on the beach), and large drafts of Kona Brewing's Longboard and Abita Summer Lager for $8 ($5 for small). Try a Dirty Banana if you're splurging with friends (a little more than $9).
The Columbia Café at the Tampa Bay History Center
• 801 Old Water St., Tampa, (813) 228-0097
One of the most picturesque dining spots on the downtown Tampa waterfront, the cafe has indoor and outdoor seating overlooking Garrison Channel separating downtown from Harbour Island. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., the cafe serves the most popular dishes from the restaurant's flagship in Ybor City, including the Original 1905 salad and chicken and yellow rice. The cafe also serves cocktails, beer and wine, including the Spanish cava sangria made tableside.
Island Way Grill
• 20 Island Way, Clearwater, (727) 461-6617
Sure, you love the stone, glass and hardwood floors inside this spacious, upscale Clearwater Beach restaurant. But the outside deck offers a lovely setting with plenty of tables overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway, a stone's throw from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, home of Winter the Dolphin and setting for the filming of Dolphin Tale. Even if Hollywood isn't spicing things up, this is a primo spot to savor the aromas of the restaurant and bask in the setting sun. Try classic cocktails with appetizers like pot stickers, grilled prawns or jalapeno conch fritters. The deck has fans and outdoor heaters to deal with temperature fluctuations.
Taste of Boston
• Ballast Point Pier, 5314 Interbay Blvd., Tampa, (813) 831-2112
With its meaty seafood chowder and steamed lobster bake, the name says it all. Sitting at the umbrella tables at the edge of Ballast Point Park's picturesque pier only adds to the appeal, the downtown skyline looming in the distance across Hillsborough Bay. Watching fishermen pull in their catch seems fitting entertainment when nibbling on Boston scrod and grilled basa. Fried plantains on the menu remind diners that they are, in fact, still in Tampa, but they make for a yummy appetizer nonetheless.
Renaissance Vinoy Resort and Golf Club
• 501 Fifth Ave. NE, St. Petersburg, (727) 894-1000
The historic hotel on the downtown St. Petersburg waterfront opened a courtyard next to its popular veranda in April. There's a view of the water from the comfy seating around tables under oversized umbrellas, with cocktails and appetizers. Two fire pits were recently added in case of cold snaps. Free snacks will be served from 5 to 6 p.m. during December.