By AMY WIMMER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published July 1, 2001
They call it the "ah" factor.
Beach dwellers have long reported that coming home across a bridge -- any bridge, from the Belleair Beach Causeway to the Pinellas Bayway -- is good for the soul.
The feeling is buoyed if the commuter catches a last glimpse of orange sun fading behind the grandiose Don CeSar, the neon bird of the Thunderbird Beach Resort or Madeira Beach's humble Apple Family Restaurant.
The sigh long associated with returning from the mainland to a home on the beach also feels better when the motorist isn't trapped at a raised drawbridge.
It's part of the "sense of community" in Pinellas County's coastal cities and towns, where residents accommodate tourists for most of the year and try not to complain about the exhaustive array of sunscreen, beach chairs and foam coolers displayed year-round in their stores.
Folks in Gulfport, an old, cozy waterfront city, and South Pasadena, home to high-rise condos, don't cross a bridge to find "home," but their bayfront vistas give their communities personality.
Today's Neighborhood Times explores the quality of life in communities as old as Gulfport and as young as Tierra Verde, as far north as Belleair Beach and as far south as St. Pete Beach, as small as Belleair Shore, with fewer than 100 people, and as large as Gulfport, with more than 12,000.
While life isn't always a beach, most people are proud of the communities they call home.
"Here in 33706," said Treasure Island resident Elena Cox, "we've got it made."