The oppressive summer heat has cooled (slightly), the soup-thick haze of humidity has lifted (a little) and the daily thunderstorm drenchings are over (fingers crossed, pleeaase, no hurricanes).
Welcome to November in the Tampa Bay area, when you might be able to give the air conditioner a rest and you can finally venture outdoors mid-day without a spare shirt to replace the one you sweat through.
You're going to want to get outside as soon as possible, so here are our recommendations for events, activities and restaurants that will let you enjoy the great outdoors.
International Folk Fair: Travel the world without leaving Pinellas County at the 39th annual installment of this St. Pete tradition. Visit the fair's ethnic villages to see the clothes, experience the culture, and most importantly, sample the cuisine of more than two dozen diverse nations, from Italian to Cambodian to Jamaican; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Vinoy Park, St. Petersburg, $10, $6 students, 5 and younger free.
Zombie Run 5K: Get your adrenaline pumping in a way that your normal jog will never be able to, as flesh-hungry “zombies” chase you through 3.1 miles of obstacles and forest trails. Flag football style flags are attached to the runners. Make it through with all three intact, and you've survived the apocalypse. Join the zombie horde and get a discount. Nov. 9, Noon to 4 p.m., Lake Park, Lutz, $35 to $90.
Coastline Festival or Ribfest: Outdoor concerts meet good eats on both sides of the Bay the same weekend. At Ribfest, you can chow down on barbecue by award-winning chefs from as far as Australia, and see performances by REO Speedwagon, Gin Blossoms and Justin Moore. At Coastline Festival, happy-high-energy indie-pop acts Passion Pit and Matt & Kim headline, while gourmet food trucks serve grub to be washed down at the “craft beer cove.” Coastline: Nov. 9, MidFlorida Amphitheatre, $20 to $55. Ribfest: Nov. 8 to 10, Vinoy Park, St. Petersburg, $16 to $20.
Chillounge Night: Slick furniture, velvet ropes and lots of mood lighting transform Straub Park into an upscale South Beach-style nightclub and lounge under the stars, for this annual, adults-only event that includes Brazilian dancers, a fashion show, live music, fireworks and a sexy daybed parade. Nov. 23, Straub Park, St. Petersburg, $25 to $90.
Jim Beam's Bourbon & Brew Fest: Liquor-themed festivals are definitely trending in Tampa, with inaugural margarita and rum festivals drawing big crowds already this year. Now bourbon fans get their turn, with a sprawling waterfront fest offering more than 40 varieties, from craft distiller Angel's Envy to mainstay Maker's Mark, plus country bands, barbecue and fireworks, all with a gorgeous view of the downtown skyline. Nov. 23, 3 to 11 p.m., The Heights, $25 to $75.
Canoe on the Hillsborough River: Be prepared to see alligators — lots of alligators — in the water and along the banks of the Hillsborough River as it snakes through Lettuce Lake Park, just north of the University of South Florida's campus. Rent a canoe and leisurely paddle your way through this slice of untouched old Florida, where you'll see herons, osprey, turtles, and again, GATORS. Prefer dry land? The park has a 3,500-foot boardwalk through the forest. 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Lettuce Lake Park, 6920 E. Fletcher Ave., Tampa, Entry $2, canoe rental $25
Outdoor markets: Weekend markets across the Tampa Bay area have returned from their hot-weather hiatuses to offer all sorts of local produce and handmade crafts in the open air. At the huge, downtown St. Pete, and somewhat smaller Tampa markets, you'll find hundreds of vendors hawking everything from goat milk bath soaps, to Italian truffles to back massages. If you're seeking a Zen atmosphere (and some inexpensive Pad Thai), visit the market outside the Wat Mongkolrata Buddhist temple. St. Pete, Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., 230 First St SE, St. Petersburg. Tampa: Saturdays, 10 a.m., 601 N. Ashley Drive. Thai market: Sundays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., 5306 Palm River Road.
Giraffe Ranch: Feed a lemur by hand, pet a free-roaming giraffe or ride atop a camel's hump or inside a safari vehicle for an expedition offering up-close encounters with the ranch's zebras, antelope and pygmy hippos. Animals from four continents have room to roam at this 46-acre wild game preserve in Pasco County, which sprawls under 400-year-old oaks and across swampland filled with nesting sandhill cranes. Bonus: the ranch is also a working organic farm, so you can bring home free-range eggs and grass-fed beef at the end of your adventure. Daily tours, call (813) 482-3400 for reservations. 38650 Mickler Road, Dade City, $19.99 to $150.
Courtney Campbell pedestrian trail: It can be difficult to really take in the gorgeous panoramic view when you're zooming over the Courtney Campbell Causeway by car, but the newly opened, $14 million pedestrian trail along the south side of the causeway is a different story. You can walk, skate or bike across the bridge, and at the highest point the Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater skylines are all visible across the water. With Gandy Boulevard's Friendship Trail closed since 2008, it's the only bridge over Tampa Bay dedicated solely to pedestrians. Although fish can be spotted in the water below, there's no fishing on the bridge (and no worries about getting snagged with a hook).
EAT OR DRINK OUTSIDE
The Birchwood: It's hard to argue there's a better view in St. Pete since The Canopy lounge opened on the roof of this new boutique hotel and restaurant, offering views of The Pier, Tampa Bay, Straub Park and the nearby Renaissance Vinoy Resort. The lounge has a South Beach-style, with private cabanas, living-room-comfortable couches and fire pits (which are perfect for cool fall nights). Sliders, flatbreads and cocktails, such as the bar's specialty blackberry mint julep, are served until midnight (1 a.m. Friday and Saturday). 340 Beach Drive N.E., St. Petersburg
Fly Bar: Urban pioneers and hip diners looking for an upscale downtown feel flock to Fly for its small plates, serious cocktails and artful collision of rustic and contemporary design. You can share truffled mac and cheese or their excellent shrimp and grits with chorizo at one of the tables along the broad, brick sidewalk out front, or take your drink to the rooftop deck and watch the sun set over the Hillsborough River. 1202 N Franklin St., Tampa.
Hula Bay Club: One of Tampa's few waterfront restaurants is all about the island vibe. Inside it's upscale, but the casual outside seating and bar, where it's flip-flop and dog friendly, are the real attraction here. There's a stunning view to take in while enjoying sushi and other seafood. Plus there's a huge floating dock that attracts a crowd of boats on weekends — and you don't have to drive all the way to the Gulf. 5210 W. Tyson Ave., Tampa.
The Refinery: The eclectic, locally focused menu changes every week, but the rustic atmosphere under the strings of white Christmas lights on the covered roof deck at this former Seminole Heights home remains inviting. Don't sweat that changing menu, the restaurant and chef Greg Baker have been nominated for prestigious James Beard awards on multiple occasions. 5137 N Florida Ave., Tampa.