Millions of tourists flock to the beautiful beaches of the St. Petersburg area each year. Yet by dedicating all of their time to the Gulf Coast shore, many miss out on really experiencing one of the most vibrant cities in the U.S. With that in mind, I present to you twelve more reasons to visit St. Pete.
1. The Arts Districts
Did you know that there are seven arts districts in St. Petersburg, Florida? St. Pete is home to many highly-acclaimed museums, and for art lovers, the opportunity to visit the Dali Museum is reason enough to prompt a trip to St. Pete.
The Dali Museum building designed by Yann Weymouth is befitting the surrealist focus of the museum. The building’s addition to the waterfront skyline in 2011 helped to fill the modernist gap left by the demolition of the iconic mid century Inverted Pyramid Pier that was demolished in 2013. The 137,000 square foot Museum of American Arts and Crafts Movement – scheduled to open December 2019 – continues the modernist construction trend in downtown St. Pete.
Other St. Pete museums include:
- Museum of Fine Arts
- James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art
- Morean Art Center & Chihuly Collection
- Florida Holocaust Museum
- Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame (inside Tropicana Field)
- Great Explorations Childrens Museum
2. Take a Walk along the St. Pete Waterfront
One of my favorite Florida activities is a stroll along the downtown St. Pete waterfront on a sunny day. Walking north on Bayshore and then North Shore Drive, to your east are a string of beautiful Tampa Bay-side parks, yacht basins, and marinas, and to your west are the waterfront museum district, more parks, and historic commercial buildings, including the Vinoy Resort – a fabulous 1920’s pink hotel. Along your route, be sure to see the giant pair of Banyan trees in North Straub Park.
If you aren’t up for a walk, hop on the FREE Downtown Looper trolley or electric bus.
3. Historic St. Pete Neighborhoods & Public Art
One could spend days exploring St. Pete’s historic neighborhoods. Some of our favorites for walking, biking, shopping, dining, taking in the architecture, and in some cases water views are: North Downtown, Kenwood, Grand Central, Historic Uptown, Historic Old Northeast, Historic Old Southeast, and Roser Park.
One contribution to St. Pete’s reputation as an arts/cultural mecca is the public and street art you’ll find throughout the urban neighborhoods.
4. Dog-Friendly Breweries & Watering Holes
St. Pete has its fair share of tasty local breweries and fun drinking hangouts. If you’d like to bring your pup along – something I’m really into since we adopted Juniper a month ago – drop into the beer garden at Green Bench Brewing Co for a pint or two.
Offering a more interactive experience for your pup, The Dog Bar in the Kenwood neighborhood gives your dogs a chance to be social and work off a little energy. Tip: Bring a copy of your dog’s vaccination records, required for admission.
So you say you are in the mood for something a little less alcoholic, or perhaps just hungry for unique eats? Your pup is invited to the patio for tea at Pom Pom’s Teahouse & Sandwicheria. That’s right, a Sandwicheria. A word of warning, one look at their “breakfast” menu (served 11-4 on weekends only) and you’ll be planning your schedule around a meal here.
5. Celebrate Jack Kerouac
Writer/Beat Poet Jack Kerouac spent the last three years of his life in St. Pete before his passing in 1969. Kerouac lived in a modest ranch home with his third wife Stella and his mother. The home has been vacant since Kerouac’s widow passed away in 1990, however the house is still owned by a family member and maintained (as much as the owner allows) by the non-profit Friends of Jack Kerouac House. The group hopes to purchase the Kerouac home and restore it.
Kerouac’s favorite St. Pete watering hole was the Flamingo Bar. While it is, I’m sure, frequented by Beat Poet pilgrims, the Flamingo still appears to be kind of a local dive, though an inviting one. We were in the area a bit too early to try Kerouac’s infamous “shot and a wash” (1 shot + a small draft beer for the dangerously low price of $2.50).
6. Haslam’s Books
Continuing the Kerouac St. Pete tour, Haslam’s Books is worthy of specific mention not just for its most notable regular customer, but also for its age, immense size, and immense selection of new and used books. Haslam’s opened its doors in 1933, and is still owned and operated by the members of Haslam family.
Legend has it that Kerouac now haunts the bookstore.
7. Retro Beach Motels
I love to walk or drive the strip of a mid century beach town and try to envision what it was like to vacation here in 1965. The Southern Pinellas County coast offers up some great examples of retro beach motels. In St. Pete Beach you will find the Bon Aire Resort, the Plaza Beach Hotel, and St. Pete Beach Suites (aka The Dolphin).
There are also some fun time capsules to be found on Treasure Island: The Thunderbird Beach Resort, Bilmar Beach Resort, and budget-friendly Sands Motel. Bonus: Treasure Island is only 20 minutes from downtown St. Pete, and has an unbelievably wide sandy beach.
8. Cuban Sandwiches. Also, Black Beans and Rice.
While you are visiting Treasure Island, do yourself a favor and stop off at The Floridian Restaurant for what has been voted the “Best Cuban sandwich in Tampa Bay”. I whole-heartedly agree that this the best authentic Cuban sandwich I’ve ever had. Skip the chips and get a side of black beans and rice, another can’t miss food when visiting St. Pete. The sandwich and a side are big enough to share, but you won’t want to. Confession time: we do like to make one non-authentic addition. On our first visit to The Floridian Cafe in 2013 we discovered Matouk’s Hot Pepper Sauce (Salsa Picante), which we are still obsessed with.
I made special mention of The Floridian Cafe serving the best authentic Cuban sandwich because there is a sandwich shop in St. Pete that makes the biggest, drippiest, most wonderful, not-so-traditional Cuban sandwich I’ve ever had. I actually dream about this sandwich! Prompted by the recommendation of a neighboring camper in Cedar Key, we went looking for Simply Delicious Country Market & Deli.
This tiny restaurant with only two tables looks a bit dive-y from the outside, and at first some may be a bit overwhelmed by the warm, boisterous family who owns the place. However, by the time you leave, and even moreso after you eat that incredible sandwich, you will want to move to St. Pete so you can eat here weekly and be a part of their circle of customer friends. What makes this sandwich so good? Among other things, the house-smoked pork. And that comes from someone having spent 35 years in the South eating the world’s best pulled pork. The Cuban is also dressed with a house sauce that is quite unique. Simply Delicious is a cash-only joint, and crazy inexpensive for the obscenely huge portions.
And while we’re talking food…
9. Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish
A St. Pete institution, Ted Peters Smoked Fish dates back to 1951. The rustic open-air restaurant is a time-capsule on this highly developed stretch of Pasadena Avenue. Although the prices have increased over the years, the menu hasn’t changed much, which is a good thing.
Every region in Florida puts a different spin on smoked fish dip. Our favorite is smoked mullet dip. Ted Peters Smoked Fish Spread (which tastes like a mahi-mahi/mackeral blend with pickle relish) is pretty addictive too, and even more tasty when eaten by the water.
10. Camping at Fort De Soto Park
Arguably the prettiest place in Pinellas County, Fort De Soto County Park offers a huge variety of activities for the day visitor or camper. There are not many options for tent camping in the Clearwater/St. Pete metro area, which makes this park even more of a rare gem. Fort de Soto Park’s campground is among the most beautiful I’ve ever had the pleasure of spending a night in.
Full disclosure: I was hesitant to post my Camper’s Guide to Fort De Soto Park because selfishly I know it will make it even harder to snag a campsite in the future!
11. Antique Hunting
The sunshine state isn’t always sunny, so a great option for those rainy days is to do a little antique hunting. From high-end modern in pristine condition to funky only-in-Florida finds, there is truly something for everyone.
While there are a number of great stores in St Pete (and you can certainly fill a day or two browsing them), it’s worth driving a few miles north to Belleair Bluffs to visit Provence Art and Antiques. Not mentioned in the store’s name are the selection of beautiful plants that are also offered. This shop and its surrounding garden are an absolute treat to walk through, as was the conversation we had with the delightful owner. She even offered us coffee! The store hosts special events too, so before your visit to the area, be sure to check out their facebook page.
12. Take in a Tampa Bay Rays Baseball Game
In spite of the collective loathing of Tropicana Field’s dome you will still experience the joy of watching live baseball! In Florida! And even better, in downtown St. Pete! Whether you end up loving or hating the dome, do try to have the Tropicana Field experience while you can, as a new ballpark will likely be built in the next few years, and then you will probably have to drive to Tampa to see the Rays play. And because the Rays play in a dome, this makes for another great rainy day activity.
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