tampabay.com

Hi, summer. Bye, tourists.

This is the season for locals to enjoy the sea and the sun without all the crowds, the cars and those pasty Yankees.

By CRISTINA SILVA
Published June 20, 2007


ST. PETE BEACH - There were no children flinging handfuls of sand at places where adults do not wish sand to be thrown. There was no time wasted sitting in a hot, sticky car waiting for the masses to move across the Pinellas Bayway.

In fact, there was hardly anyone around to witness Tonie DeZutter's perfect Tuesday morning at the beach. Exactly how she wanted it.

"This is my idea of peace and tranquility," said DeZutter, 46, of Valrico.

Thursday marks the summer solstice, often called the first day of summer. The season is the one time of the year when, for just a few months, Tampa Bay residents have the beaches all to themselves.

In the winter and spring months, pasty-skinned Midwesterners and New Englanders fleeing brutal weather crowd into hotels and condominiums across Tampa Bay and infiltrate local beaches.

But by June, the snowbirds are nearly all gone.

The down season translates into woeful sales for businesses and hoteliers, but for locals, it is a time of celebration.

In the summer, parking near the shore becomes plentiful. A game of beach soccer suddenly is possible. And waterfront watering holes are no longer crammed with sunburned sunbathers from Ohio. Your server will seat you now.

During the tourist season, Melina Valdes, 39, likes to notice the different license plates. Ohio. Michigan. Massachusetts.

In the summer, all she sees is Florida, Florida, Florida.

It's true. As Valdes ate breakfast at the Seaside Grille in Pass-a-Grille on Tuesday morning, all of the license plates in the parking lot read "Florida."

"As soon as it starts to get hot, the snowbirds leave immediately," Valdes said. "As soon as the water gets warmer, all the locals are out here."

It's the only time when she can leave her Pass-a-Grille home on a weekend without being boxed in by tourists.

John Bruels, 63, relishes this time of year.

The retiree bikes the 20 miles from his house in Gulfport to Pass-a-Grille three times a week. There, he orders a mug of coffee and some eggs at the Sunset Grill and takes the time to stare out at the quiet shore between bites.

Now that the tourists have left for the season, he can see straight to the waterfront.

"Instead of seeing a sea of humans, you actually see sand," he said. "It's really peaceful."

Business owners lament summer's effect on their bottom lines, but they, too, enjoy the calm.

Bruno Falkenstein, whose family owns the Hurricane Restaurant in Pass-a-Grille, said his customer base is 80 percent tourists most of the year, except for in the warmer months, when locals take advantage of the longer days and head to the waterfront bar to catch the sunset.

"This time of the year there is not a lot of traffic on the beaches," said Falkenstein in a telephone interview on a recent afternoon. "I'm driving down the road, and I'm getting ready to get on the Bayway, and there is one car in front of me and no cars behind me. When does that happen at 6 p.m. any other time of the year?"

Cristina Silva can be reached at 727 893-8846 or csilva@sptimes.com.