St. Petersburg, Florida, has been called many things. Years ago, it was known as God’s waiting room. Last November, Men’s Health magazine called St. Petersburg the saddest city in the United States. Had the writer paid a visit to the vibrant downtown and the beautiful beaches nearby, he would most certainly have drawn a different conclusion.
I fell in love with St. Petersburg’s downtown when I cruised into its harbor one March several years ago. Museums, parks, marinas, restaurants, walkways, and bicycle trails dot the lovely waterfront overlooking Tampa Bay. The arts scene has exploded in St. Pete over the last two years, from the addition of the Chihuly Collection to the new and stunning Dali Museum. Readers of American Style magazine noticed. They voted St. Pete the No. 1 arts destination among mid-size cities in the U.S. two years in a row. No longer is St. Pete God’s waiting room. If the recent renovation of the lobby at the historic Vinoy Resort is any indication, it is that St. Pete’s population is getting younger.
Here are some suggestions for things to do on your weekend getaway to St. Pete:
Saturday Morning Market
Skip breakfast Saturday morning and take a leisurely stroll over to the Saturday Morning Market, located at First Avenue and First Street. Choose among the myriad vendors for breakfast or lunch and for unique gifts to bring home. There’s usually a band playing, so you can enjoy the music while watching the locals converge around you.
The candle makers of the St. Pete Candle Gallery at The Pier always dazzle me; they are so skilled at carving out specialty candles. Stop by the Spanish/Cuban Columbia Restaurant for a fabulous lunch. Not only is the food good (excellent Cuban bread, always served warm), the ambiance is unique (a sweeping 360-degree panoramic view of Tampa Bay), and the prices are very reasonable. After lunch, take the elevator to the top floor and venture outside to see the beautiful skyline of St. Pete. Back on street level, you can fish, feed the pelicans, or take a carriage ride. Sadly, the inverted pyramid that has been the icon of St. Pete downtown for almost 40 years is scheduled to be demolished in 2014. Rather than fix the costly structural damage to The Pier, the St. Pete city council voted to replace it. Until then, it’s business as usual at The Pier.
800 Second Ave. NE
The Dali Museum
If you have time for only one museum, choose the Dali Museum. The 1-year-old Dali Museum not only houses the largest collection of Dali’s work outside of Spain, it is also an architectural gem. The sleek building with a geodesic dome was designed by Yann Weymouth, who was the chief design architect for I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid addition to the Louvre Museum in Paris. The awe-inspiring building has created so much buzz that it is now on AOL Travel’s list of “One of the top buildings you have to see before you die.”
1 Dali Boulevard
Shops and Art Galleries
Spend some time window-shopping the unique stores and art galleries along Central Avenue and on Beach Drive. If you happen to be in St. Pete the second weekend of the month, you can participate in the Second Saturday Gallery Walk. The event is free and gives you the opportunity to meet on-site artists and see their work. Some galleries you won’t want to miss are the Morean Arts Center, The Chihuly Collection, and the Florida Craftsmen.
Morean Arts Center
719 Central Ave.
The Chihuly Collection
400 Beach Drive
501 Central Ave.
No getaway to Florida would be complete without a trip to the beach. If you like quieter beaches, consider Pass-A-Grille or Fort De Soto Park, both a short drive from downtown. Shelling is also great on these two fabulous beaches.
Don’t let the Men’s Health article deter you from visiting St. Pete. Come for a weekend getaway and see St. Petersburg for yourself. I bet you’d be not only impressed, but also inspired.