The many art walks in the Tampa Bay area offer a great date-night icebreaker. Instead of awkward conversation over dinner and sitting in silence at a movie, you can stroll a funky downtown or hit a beach marketplace full of characters. Chat up the artists, marvel as glass melts into shape, debate whether sculpture or paintings are superior art forms — you get the picture. We hit the art walks around Tampa Bay for this guide.
Ybor City Art Walk
Where & when: First Saturday of every month from noon to 6 p.m. (The next one is Saturday.) The walk is a self-guided tour through Ybor City. Pick up a map at the first stop, Ybor Art Colony, at 1521 1/2 E Seventh Ave. There's a parking garage and signs for $5 parking lots, but it's easy enough to find free two-hour street parking. For more info, call (813) 495-4649 or go to yborartassociation.com.
Number of galleries: That depends on how you define a gallery. There are 19 stops on the tour, showcasing not just art but the arts. These include traditional galleries, photo studios, performance venues, museums and more. The Ybor Art Colony alone houses 11 work spaces.
The scene: Expect to mingle with a friendly crowd of people dining, window shopping and smoking cigars on the street. And yes — tourists. Because this art walk includes a map, it's an ideal place to send your out-of-town guests. Unlike Ybor by night, Ybor by day is kid-friendly; you'll see plenty of folks pushing strollers.
Don't miss: Ybor Art Colony. Located in the former Arturo Fuento cigar factory, this second-story loft space is like a scene out of Rent. The paint-splattered wooden floors will creak as you wander from room to room, checking out paintings, photography, fashion and more. Exposed brickwork and the music of Imogen Heap blasting through the building add loads of character. Also browse the Ybor City Saturday Market; it's like a tour within a tour. The outdoor market sells everything from produce to jewelry; it runs weekly.
Food and drink: You won't find many free eats on this tour, but the map includes a rundown of Ybor restaurants like Acropolis and Fresh Mouth. Along the way, you'll see folks dining al fresco at Gaspar's Grotto and Green Iguana, so check out the specials there. If you prefer fair food, hit the Saturday Market hot dogs, french fries and strawberry shortcake.
— Dalia Colón
St. Petersburg's Second Saturday Gallery Walk
Where & when: On the second Saturday of the month, galleries are open from 5 to 8:30 p.m., many of them offering wine and snacks. (The next one is May 8.) See a map at stpetearts.org or just leave the car behind and prowl Central Avenue, all the way from the Pier on the water to the Craftsman House Gallery Cafe, 2955 Central Ave. The city's Central Avenue Shuttle comes by every 15 minutes. It only costs a quarter to hop on and it runs until midnight.
Number of galleries: The Downtown Arts Association map has 14 galleries, and many other shops are open, too.
The scene: The galleries range from funky folk art to antiques and collectibles to photography and fine art. Afterward, grab dinner in one of many cool eateries that have cropped up, like Queens Head. Do not reverse the order. If you linger too long over dinner, then you don't have enough time for the art.
Don't miss: ArtLofts, the artist enclave on top of the Florida Craftsman Gallery, First Avenue and Fifth Street N, is a hidden treasure. Head upstairs and wander from one artist's workspace to another, often chatting with the artists themselves while enjoying cookies or drinks.
— Sharon Kennedy Wynne
Sunsets at Pier 60
Where & when: The Key West-flavored scene at Pier 60 on Clearwater Beach has been going for 15 years now, with a nightly gathering of artists, crafters, street performers and live music that runs roughly two hours before and after sunset. On weekends the parking is scarce. Bring lots of quarters because you only get 12 minutes per coin.
Number of galleries: This is more homegrown crafters than galleries. The number of people setting up tables varies by the time of year and the weather. A recent Friday night in mid April was packed with more than 40 tables hawking everything from shell night-lights to refrigerator magnets to vibrant paintings by Jamaican artist Lloyd Pecoo.
The scene: This was the least arty, but by far the most family friendly of all the art walks we checked out. Who doesn't love fire jugglers? It's on the beach, for one thing, so you can't beat the setting or the huge playground, but the street performers who pull in kids for breakdance contests or perform magic add to the ambiance.
Don't miss: Nick Liguori and his propane torch. The 10-year veteran of the Pier 60 market will use it to melt glass and create whimsical figurines. In 10 minutes he took a handful of glass tubes and beads and turned them into a flamingo. The art, called lampwork, runs about $20 for glass figurines of tree frogs, sea birds or anything you can think of, because he will make whatever you ask on the spot.
Food and drink: The beach concession stands are nothing to write home about, but you are within walking distance of Frenchy's Cafe and Crabby Bill's.
— Sharon Kennedy Wynne
Where & when: First Friday and third Saturday of every month from 6 to 10 p.m. on Beach Boulevard in downtown Gulfport. (The next one is May 7.) Call (727) 322-5217 or go to gulfportma.com/artwalk.html. Free parking is plentiful, plus a free red and green trolley runs during every art walk.
Number of galleries: It's about sidewalk artisans and vendors more than fine art galleries. A few shops sell artsy handicrafts, such as the Outpost and the Domain, but the bulk of the walk features artists who set up tents along Beach Boulevard.
The scene: This waterfront community takes pride in its eclectic charm and laid-back attitude, hence the Keep Gulfport Weird shirts spotted around town. Vendors sell everything from incense to cigar box purses to hand-knitted shawls, and don't be surprised to see a magician performing for tips on the sidewalk. Starting with the First Friday walk on May 7, a 1 1/2-hour sunset cruise with live music and a cash bar will leave the dock adjacent to Gulfport Casino at 7:30 p.m. Tickets will be $12 in advance, $15 day of the cruise. (727) 360-7411.
Don't miss: Take a breather at the courtyard at Beach and 29th Avenue, where you can grab a beer or ice cream and listen to music by the Urban Gypsies or other bands. Check out the Industrial Arts Center, a glass-blowing studio that offers make-your-own glass pieces on art walk nights. Also, walk around the corner to the beach and Williams Pier. Shore Boulevard has a playground and beautiful views of Boca Ciega Bay.
Food and drink: There's no shortage of quaint places to eat, many of them with lots of outdoor seating. Peg's Cantina brews its own beer and has a large front yard patio for dining. In keeping with Gulfport's quirkiness, Peg's doesn't take credit cards, but it does have an ATM. Next door is Pia's Trattoria pasta and panini cafe, which looks straight out of an Italian countryside. The party crowd might prefer O'Maddy's Bar and Grille around the corner with its large bar and beachfront tables.
— Susan Thurston
Dunedin Wine and Art Walk
Where and when: The second Friday of every month in downtown Dunedin from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. (The next one is May 14.)
Number of galleries: This is more shopping than art, with 33 stops along the way, only a handful of them galleries. Mostly it's funky shops, good food and fun bars.
The scene: A strolling bagpipe band! The picturesque little town with a love of Highland arts and Scottish whimsy provides a pleasant date-night backdrop. The $10 wristband gets you drink specials, shopping discounts and thimblefuls of wine from shop stewards. The night ends with a classic movie in Pioneer Park.
Don't miss: The always-thumping Chic-a-Boom Room makes a good first stop because if you buy your wristband there, you get good drink and food deals and they give you free entry to the nightclub later. Check out all the mom-and-pop shops where you can get anything from a camouflage wine glass koozie (called a "Woozie") to Florida-made wines, jewelry and lovely antique glassware.
Food and drink: You have to cover some ground to make up for the $10 cost of the wristband, but it does balance out and it's kind of an us-against-them adventure. The shops give out tiny shot glasses of wine, but Flanagan's Irish Pub gives out a nice wine or beer tasting, and Cafe Alfresco offers free wine or beer if you buy food. When it's time for dinner, there are lots of good choices: Casa Tina, Black Pearl or Kelly's adjoining the Chic-a-Boom Room.
— Sharon Kennedy Wynne
Towles Court in Sarasota
Where & when: Third Friday of every month from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. in Sarasota's Towles Court Arts District. (The next one is May 21.) For GPS purposes, use the Arts Center address, 1938 Adams Lane. For info, call (941) 365-4222 or (941) 374-1988. towlescourt.com.
Number of galleries: Ten standalone galleries, plus seven more inside the Arts Center.
The scene: Pronounced "Tolls" Court, this neighborhood is super-cute: bungalows-turned-art houses clustered around a central courtyard. Follow the signs to the free parking lot. There are paintings, photography, sculptures, blown glass and jewelry. Live music in the courtyard makes you want to linger with a glass of wine.
Don't miss: Eighty-four-year-old June Amsorge's Works in Clay studio at 238 S Links Ave. The tiny workshop is set back from the street, but you'll want to make small talk with Amsorge to hear her call you "dah-ling." Check out her exquisite ceramic purses, too. Also stay awhile in Clair M. Mitchell Gallery and Studio at 1920A Adams Lane. She welcomes the crowd into her home, offering fresh bread — along with the recipe — to anyone who wanders in. Browse the photography, paintings and sculptures in the "living room" and on the porch, then head to the dreamy back yard.
Food and drink: Most of the galleries set out free wine in plastic cups, chips and salsa and other munchies. For heavier fare, grab dinner at the popular Daawat Fine Indian Cuisine and Wine Bar at 239 Links Ave. Hillview and S Main streets are also a short drive or walk away; both offer a variety of restaurants.
— Dalia Colón