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Your Getaway Guide to St. Petersburg, Florida
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Courtesy: Terry Ward | News Source:

Once in the shadow of Tampa, St. Petersburg has surpassed its neighbor across Tampa Bay in recent years as a hub of world-class art and edgy creativity that, along with its stellar weather and beautiful beaches, is attracting a growing number of transplants from across the country. The Gulf Coast city known as St. Pete is also drawing visitors — more than 15 million a year, according to its tourism board — seeking fun day trips or overnight getaways.  

You could easily spend a few days soaking in all there is to do in the walkable downtown, including the spectacular Salvador Dali Museum, before you even start missing the beach (just 10 miles west, when you’re ready). Even if all you make time for is strolling Beach Drive — the center of the city’s revitalization efforts, fronting the yacht basin and municipal marina — you’ll feel the pulse of the lively place. Just be sure to come hungry: From a gourmet food hall and a South Asian hot spot specializing in street-hawker fare to a hideaway wine bar and a gelateria as good as any in Italy (no joke), delicious options abound.

The guide below focuses on destinations on and around Central Avenue and Beach Drive, which make up the crux of St. Pete’s most pedestrian-friendly zone, plus a few outlying locales worth hopping into your car to visit. Note that though Clearwater, to the north, and St. Pete tend to get lumped into the same tourism tagline, the two are roughly 20 miles apart and totally separate cities with their own personalities.

The New Salvador Dali Museum

Ian Dagnall/Alamy Stock Photo  Salvador Dali Museum

What to Do

Walk: Few Florida cities are as easy and pleasant to navigate on foot as St. Petersburg. Start your explorations near the city’s circa-1925 grande dame hotel, the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club, and stroll south along the bayfront and Beach Drive. The wide pedestrian pathway is lined with urban parks and passes towering banyan trees, a sailing marina and cafes and shops before arriving at the Dali Museum and a tiny public airport where you can watch small aircraft land over the water. Turn your eyes to the treetops, where neon green parakeets are often chattering away. If you like to explore by bike, you’ll find the hybrid-style Coast Bike Share cycles — with wide comfy saddles and baskets for stashing your things — at stations around downtown.

If you have mobility issues, the Downtown Looper electric bus runs every 15 minutes between points all over downtown and is free to ride.

Explore museums: There’s no visiting St. Pete without at least strolling by the eccentric exterior of the Dali Museum, which houses more works by the artist than anywhere outside his homeland of Spain. A new permanent Artificial Intelligence exhibit called “Dali Lives” rounds out his artworks with an uncanny lifelike version of the mustachioed master that interacts with guests ($25/person; $23 for adults 65 and older; wheelchairs are available on a first-come, first-served basis). Equally worthy of a visit is the James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art, a private collection amassed by Tom and Mary James over 40 years that opened inside a beautiful sandstone building in 2018. The museum’s atrium conjures a western canyon, with its angles and shadows. The fact that most of the featured artists here are still living adds to the wonder of the vast and varied collection ($20/person; $15 for adults 65 and older).

Relax: St. Pete’s centerpiece waterfront park is North Shore Park, where people wade into the water on sandy spits fronting the bay, take in the shaded exercise circuit or stroll to admire the lovely homes lining Coffee Pot Bayou and in the historic Old Northeast neighborhood, nearby. It’s a prime spot for a picnic with salty bay breezes.

The dining room at Paul's Landing, the newest restaurant at the Vinoy

ZUMA Press Inc/Alamy Stock Photo Paul’s Landing

Where to Eat

Park your car anywhere along Central Avenue and you’ll have scores of restaurants with outdoor sidewalk seating within a short stroll. Trophy Fish is an open-air seafood spot with a Key West-vibe, where the catch is always fresh from the Gulf of Mexico and might include triggerfish or grouper served up as tacos or grilled. For a sweet little wine bar right off Central Avenue, Lolita’s Wine Market is a great spot to sip worldly varietals while piecing together a small-plate spread that might include create-your-own charcuterie platters and whipped ricotta dip streaked with kale pesto. And a few blocks away, diners go to Hawkers for inexpensive South Asian fare with Indian, Malaysian, Thai and Indonesian influences.

Closer to the Beach Drive end of Central Avenue you’ll find LOCALE Market, a popular grocery and food hall with 11 “kitchens” originally planned to open in New York City. Grab-and-go prepared foods and cheeses are the makings of a perfect picnic. If you’d rather sit and dine there, head upstairs to FarmTable Cucina for seasonal Italian fare (though note that it can be pricey).

A stroll along Beach Drive brings many more options, but I have a soft spot for the citrus-inspired Florida seafood preparations and killer smoked fish dish at Paul’s Landing at the Vinoy, where you can lounge on the elevated deck and watch the boats bobbing in the harbor.

And don’t miss a few outlying spots worth a drive: About four miles from downtown, Mazzaro’s Italian Market is an absolute institution beloved by locals. It’s a temple to all things Italian, with room after room filled with cheeses and cured meats, wine, handmade pasta and prepared foods, sandwiches and that aforementioned gelato, made fresh daily. Closer to downtown, the Left Bank Bistro conjures 1920s Paris inside a restored bungalow, where moules and bouillabaisse are on the menu alongside craft cocktails with names like The Hemingway and The Stein.

Renaissance Vinoy Resort

Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Getty Images Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club

Where to Stay

For a centrally located Miami-style art deco vibe, the Avalon has 34 chic rooms right next door to its deco sister property the Hollander, home to a fun poolside bar (stay at either and get privileges at both). They offer free parking, are pet-friendly and don’t charge a resort fee. You can find lower rates at various chain hotels in and around downtown, including at the new Hyatt Place St. Petersburg/Downtown, Hampton Inn & Suites St. Petersburg/Downtown and the recently renovated Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront. Airbnb and other vacation rental sites have good one-bedroom options in and around downtown starting from around $50 per night.


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