Travel Like a Local: St. Petersburg
Words by Tracy McQuaid @tripping.with.tracy
If you crave sunshine, culture, and community, then St. Petersburg, Florida, is the place to visit on your next trip south. Nicknamed “The Sunshine City” because it receives an average of 360 days of sunshine each year, St. Petersburg also holds a Guinness World Record for the longest stretch of sunshine in the U.S.A.. Once considered an ideal retirement destination, this Sunshine City has undergone a renaissance in recent years, with a burgeoning arts, sports, and hospitality scene that appeals to people of all ages, backgrounds, and interests. These options, mixed with the fact that St. Pete is located close to world-class beaches and the ever-popular Disney attractions, make it an ideal vacation destination.
Where to Stay:
Bay or beaches? That is the question. St. Petersburg is home to not just one, but two historic pink hotels. If relaxing and unwinding on the sand is what you desire, then a stay at the iconic The Don CeSar hotel on St. Pete Beach is the answer. Nicknamed the Pink Palace, the Don CeSar has hosted several celebrities and has been featured on the big screen (in “Once Upon a Time in America”) during its nearly 100-year existence.
Alternately, The Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club–the other pink hotel located along the waterfront in the downtown district—has had its own roster of celebrity guests since opening its doors in 1925. Once frequented by Babe Ruth and now the host hotel for MLB teams in town playing the Tampa Bay Rays, guests may catch a glimpse or an autograph from a professional baseball player. The Vinoy hotel also boasts its own golf course and marina, where guests can charter a sunset sail or other boating excursion to view St. Pete by sea. The hotel’s convenient location to downtown makes it a central hub for exploring popular shopping, drinking, and dining destinations along Beach Drive and Central Avenue, as well as other downtown attractions.
What to Do:
For art enthusiasts, take an easy stroll from the Vinoy to The James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art, or walk past Straub Park and play hide-and-seek among the majestic banyan trees on your way to visit the Museum of Fine Arts. If you prefer to mix a little action with your art, book an official Walking Mural Tour of the Arts District along Central Avenue (www.st pete mural tour.com), or rent a bike or scooter and explore the city’s murals at your own leisure. A trip to St. Pete wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the city’s artistic gem, The Dalí, a museum boasting the largest collection of Salvador Dali’s works in North America. You can view masterpieces such as “The Persistence of Memory” and “The Hallucinogenic Toreador,” among many others. Even the museum itself embraces surreal design elements in its one-of-a-kind architecture.
For the sports enthusiast, St. Petersburg and the surrounding Tampa Bay region have sporting events year-round. Visit in the spring to catch a glimpse of the Firestone Grand Prix, an IndyCar Series race that takes over the streets of downtown and fills the air with the hum of revving engines and the smell of burning rubber. Also in the spring, you can watch any one of four major league baseball teams—Yankees, Phillies, Blue Jays, or Pirates—at their spring training games, all within a 30-minute drive from St. Pete. The Tampa Bay area has earned the nickname “Champa Bay” because of its champion sports teams such as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2021 NFL Super Bowl champions), the Tampa Bay Rays (2020 MLB American League Champions and World Series contenders), and the Tampa Bay Lightning (2020 and 2021 NHL Stanley Cup champions). St. Pete even has its own professional soccer team, the Tampa Bay Rowdies (2020 USL Champions, 2021 USL contenders), who fill Al Lang Stadium with an electrifying energy that makes for a memorable experience.
If you’ve come to St. Pete to experience its famous sunshine and want to spend your time outdoors, there’s a plethora of activities ideal for the whole family. St. Petersburg recently completed construction of its new pier, which provides visitors with lush park space for walking or picnicking, a private stretch of beach for unwinding, and a playground and water splash pad for kids (and dogs love it too!). The St. Pete Pier itself is a multilevel building complete with shops, a fine-dining restaurant called Teak, and a rooftop bar, Pier Teaki, which offers an unparalleled view of both the bay and city skyline. Another unique way to take in the city skyline while enjoying music and a refreshing beverage is to charter your own floating tiki bar on water with Cruisin’ Tikis tours (www.cruisin tikis tampabay.com). Tours can be booked privately for up to eight guests, or you can purchase tickets for a public tour.
Where to Eat/Drink:
The St. Pete scene offers an eclectic mix of restaurants, bars, and breweries, catering to both craft beer lovers and foodies alike. For a safe way to explore a taste of the local bars and breweries, book a two-hour PedalPub tour, complete with a pilot who steers the mobile bar on wheels while also giving an overview of the local street art and history. Beloved local breweries such as Green Bench Brewing Company and 3 Daughters Brewing are signature stops to make while in St. Pete.
For dining with atmosphere, book a reservation at The Urban Stillhouse by Horse Soldier Bourbon. This massive restaurant in the Warehouse Arts District offers a menu of American cuisine with a Southern inspired flair. Brick-lined walls and a grand stone fireplace reaching two levels in height greet you upon entering. A swanky dark oak bar, an upstairs library with pool table, and a bourbon tasting/education room makes you second-guess whether you’re in Kentucky or St. Petersburg. Dinner and Sunday Brunch specials feature dishes that are bourbon-infused with their signature Horse Soldier Bourbon.
Other great brunch spots (or anytime spots) to try include The Library, inspired by the George Peabody Library in Baltimore, Maryland, and The Oyster Bar on Central Avenue, where you can select from a hearty Sunday brunch buffet complete with—you guessed it—oysters.