The Sunshine State's Sunshine City
Photo courtesy of St. Petersburg/Clearwater Visitors & Conventions Bureau
If you aren’t familiar with St. Petersburg, Florida, the time is ripe for a visit. In fact, nearly any time of year is ideal because rainy days are few and far between. The Sunshine State’s Sunshine City, St. Petersburg’s highly appropriate nickname, averages 361 days of sun-filled skies each year. In fact, St. Pete’s (another moniker) actually won the 1967 Guinness World record for consecutive number of days with rays—a whopping 768 of them.
Located on Florida’s gorgeous Gulf Coast, St. Pete’s, a city of approximately a quarter of a million residents, sits on a peninsula across from Tampa. Its almost perfect weather, award-winning beaches and exceptional aquatic activities make it a popular destination. While the beach alone is a draw, St. Pete’s also boasts phenomenal art, pretty parks and an outstanding downtown district with fine shopping and delectable dining options.
Breathtaking Beaches Receive
Consistently, St. Pete’s Gulf of Mexico-side beaches and Clearwater Beach, the neighbor to the north, earn top billings from experts and visitors alike because of the sugary white sand and wide beaches coupled with water so clear that you can see straight down to the gulf’s floor. Named by Travel + Leisure as one of its Top Five U.S. Summer Trip Ideas, this region has become “one of the most desirable summer getaways.” Trip Advisor just ranked these beaches as #1 nationwide and #5 internationally.
It can be enjoyable to beach hop, for each location has its own appeal and natural beauty. Mr. Beach, America’s leading beach expert, frequently lists Fort Desoto Park Beach as a “Top 10” and praises the natural wilderness. The park consists of five separate islands, totaling over 1,100 acres. Mr. Beach is fond of Clearwater Beach too, highlighting that its “exceptionally wide beaches are a favorite for family vacations…” There’s even a commercial district along Clearwater Beach, complete with a trolley and Pier 60, perfect for gazing at the gulf while watching the sun melt into the horizon. Last, but not least, for more remote beachcombing, take a short ferry ride to Caladesi State Park, a tiny wild barrier island nearby, where you can kayak through the mangroves.
Award-Winning Art All Around
When taking a break from designing decorative sand castles, St. Pete’s offers magnificent choices to learn about and be inspired by art. This beach-going community is home to some of the world’s finest art. Be sure to set aside a day (or more) to visit several outstanding museums.
My favorite pick is the Salvador Dali Museum, home to the largest collection of the surrealist’s works outside of Spain. The building itself is a masterpiece, and the interior architectural design is jaw-dropping. Within these walls, pop on a headset and enjoy the self-guided tour of some of Dali’s most famous works. Since his work is so unusual and complex, the tour provides a deeper understanding of each piece. The museum’s Café Gala here is lovely, too.
Another magical artistic experience can be found at The Morean Arts Center. Many of Dale Chihuly’s colorful glass sculptures are beautifully displayed and, if the kids are interested, the glass-blowing studio offers sessions to create your own delicate piece for a keepsake
For additional exposure to creativity and color, take a pedestrian stroll on the Mural Tour throughout the streets of St. Pete’s, which are jam-packed with hundreds of murals, graffiti and street art.
Downtown: A Plethora of Parks
Lonely Planet gushes about St. Petersburg in appropriate fashion. “Spurred on by awe-inspiring downtown murals, a revitalized historic district and the stunning Dalí Museum, the downtown energy is creeping up Central Ave, spawning sophisticated restaurants, craft breweries, farmers markets and artsy galleries…” Within the district, visitors can enjoy a plethora of parks along the waterfront. St. Pete’s has the third-largest dedicated public waterfront park system on the continent, spanning approximately seven miles.
Of particular interest is the open garden at The Gizella Kopsick Palm Arboretum. Covering two acres, the park is home to more than 800 marked palm trees, indicating their species. The surrounding brick path and grounds are beautifully landscaped.
Another notable downtown park is Vinoy Park, adjacent to the historic Vinoy Rennaissance Hotel Resort and Golf Club, a pink flamingo-colored Mediterranean waterfront resort. If nothing else, dine at the hotel, for it’s a terrific people-watching spot serving up a momentous view.
Another park worth noting is Coffee Pot Park, which sometimes becomes a temporary spot for manatee sightings.
For added fun, rent bikes—-an easy way to get around downtown and the park system.
Sunshine City serves up so much to continually entertain from sunup to sundown that there won’t be much time to spare beyond slumber. When not swimming or sunning, checking out incredible art or playing in the parks, there are plenty of shops and restaurants to enjoy and a nice array of lodging to choose from in St. Petersburg or along St. Pete’s and Clearwater beaches. Tulsans can fly in and out of Tampa, which is about 45 minutes from St. Pete’s.
For more details, check out www.visitstpeteclearwater.com. This website contains great information and has helpful videos and links to Sunshine City!