by Kathleen Marie
For those lucky travelers who know what is ahead of them, life’s stresses begin to melt away as they travel the three-mile bridge from Tampa, surrounded by spectacular water views of Tampa Bay, to reach the peninsula of St. Petersburg.
Thanks to its unique location nestled between the bay’s sparkling waters along its downtown and the Gulf of Mexico along its beaches, the city offers that hard-to-find mix of urban vibrancy, resort town flavor, and to-die-for beaches. When, in 2014, the NYTimes named the city “one of the top places to go” in the world, St. Pete residents and visitors simply smiled and thought, “What took you so long?”
Downtown St. Pete’s energy is contagious. Celebrating its outstanding year-round weather (the Sunshine City averages 361 days of sunshine annually), the streets are alive day and night. Open-air dining is everywhere. The breeze on Beach Drive off the water, coupled with a vibrant nightlife, shops for every interest, and outstanding dining creates magic. Visit the Canopy Rooftop Lounge at the Birchwood to enjoy its breathtaking views. Casual night out or dressed-to-the-nines, there’s a spot just waiting for you. Lucky visitors will be in town for the Craft Beer & Food Truck Festival, or the Grand Prix, or Mainsail Arts Festival, Saturday Morning Markets, or First Friday Block Parties.
More than once, American Style Magazine awarded St. Petersburg #1 Arts Destination for Mid-Size Cities. The Dali Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the most recent addition the newly completed Pier District are just the beginning. There are art studios, galleries, and independent artists on every block. Throughout the downtown, there are urban murals by local artists who use buildings’ entire walls as their canvases.
Since its street network is a grid, car travel is easy. Or, for more local flavor try The St. Petersburg Trolley. Its downtown route includes stops at major museums and attractions. The Trolley also crosses the city to the beaches and continues north and south along the beaches via Gulf Boulevard.
Travel the few minutes from downtown to the Gulf of Mexico to soak in the sun, sand, and sparkling clear blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The award-winning beaches boast sugary fine, soft sand. Small beach communities, each with its own character, are nestled between the gulf and the intracoastal waterway. Whether you seek quiet relaxation or a bit more activity, you can find it. Dining and entertainment options abound. Spectacular sunsets are the norm; beach walkers are a constant; and dolphin watching is a daily event. There are bikes and kayaks to be rented, cruises for all times of the day, and deep seas to be fished. Try snorkeling off Egmont Key or camping in Fort DeSoto Park or bird watching and beachcombing on Shell Key. Or, simply sit on your balcony with a beverage of choice and relax to the gentle surf.
Got sports fever? The greater St. Pete area is host to all major professional sports - baseball, hockey, soccer and football all within an easy drive. St. Pete is also home to the Tampa Bay Rays of Major League Baseball; and let’s not forget major league baseball spring training.
If biking is your preferred way to tour and travel, St. Pete’s bike map offers a variety of trails including along 7 miles of downtown waterfront parks, a Downtown-to-Beaches Trail, and the Historic Booker Creek Trail. The 45-mile Pinellas Trail travels through the county’s Gulf Coast towns from Tarpon Springs to downtown St. Pete’s Beach Drive and is enjoyed by cyclists, joggers, walkers, and inline skaters.
Venture south just beyond St. Pete across the Sunshine Skyway to visit the Ringling Winter Home and Museum or St Armand’s Key in Sarasota. Or travel back in time to the Edison, Ford, and Firestone winter homes in Fort Myers. Feel like gambling? Try the Seminole Casino Hotel in Immokalee or the Hardrock Casino in Tampa.
So, when your thoughts turn to warm climates and you’re looking for that combination of perfect beaches and downtown vibe, head for St. Petersburg. Likely you’ll agree, St Pete is Hard to Beat.