There is no shortage of sunny cities in Florida, each with its own unique flair. Amid Miami’s globally-infused sexiness, Orlando’s family-friendly flare, Jacksonville’s vast sprawl and Tampa’s growing hip factor, it’s easy to overlook Tampa’s southwestern neighbor – which shouldn’t be left out of the Florida destination conversation.
St. Petersburg is loaded with pizzazz that spans a bustling arts scene, yummy breweries, outdoor pursuits aplenty and a vibrant LGBTQ+ community. In addition to having plenty to keep you occupied (or relaxed!), you’ll find you have more elbow room to explore the ‘Sunshine City’ than in other hotspots, too.
St. Petersburg’s ‘Central’ hub for arts and culture
An easy-to-remember destination is Central Avenue. The 600 block of this bustling city artery is a majorly visual spectacle alive with color, in some nooks packed with vibrant graffiti art, cozy cafes like Brew D Licious and bars running the gamut from dive (Emerald Bar) to kitsch (Saigon Blonde tiki bar).
Central Avenue’s nearby neighbor, the EDGE District – located just west between Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street South and 13th Street North – offers trendy and eclectic finds like an axe-throwing bar, Latin street food as well as Buya, a ramen-and-whisky joint.
For museum lovers, St. Pete has offerings with global appeal. On Central Avenue, the Chihuly Collection at Morean Arts Center is a permanent assemblage featuring lively pieces by studio glass pioneer, Dale Chihuly. His work is also displayed in such illustrious settings as the hotel lobby of the Bellagio in Las Vegas and the New York Botanical Garden, but this is the first space custom-designed to showcase his large-format sculptures. Chihuly returned the favor – the museum’s Ruby Red Icicle Chandelier was crafted especially for the Morean’s permanent collection.
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While it’s true St. Pete sits southwest of Tampa, you might not expect the coastal Florida city to be a destination for fans of cowboys, gunslingers, and westerns. A few blocks from Tampa Bay on Central Avenue, the James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art features more than 400 pieces, providing a historical view into the American West. In addition to temporary exhibitions, its six principal galleries – spanning Native Life to ‘the New West’ – each offer a different perspective. Its Wildlife Gallery, with paintings and sculptures of creatures galore, will make any animal lover’s heart melt.
St. Pete is also home to The Salvador Dalí Museum (or ‘The Dalí’), which houses the largest collection of the eccentric surrealist’s works outside of Europe. Among the artist’s eighteen masterworks, the St. Pete museum has eight, including the quirkily-named ‘Galacidalacidesoxiribunucleicacid’ and his famous ‘Hallucinogenic Toreador.’ In addition to displaying such iconic Dali works as his lobster telephone, the museum also has temporary exhibitions of other surrealists and master painters who influenced Dali, including Goya.
What’s brewing in the Sunshine City
There is perhaps nothing more refreshing on a sweltering Florida day than an ice-cold beer. Fortunately, in St. Petersburg, you have plenty of options, especially when it comes to craft breweries. St. Pete is booming with inventive brews – the perfect way to cool off after a long day of museum-hopping or lazing around on the beach.
Among the city’s heavy hitters is St. Pete Brewing Company. For a state known for citrus, this spot always serves up an interesting brew, whether it’s an orange wheat, watermelon and blueberry Berliner Weisse or ‘Mangoes Crazy’ imperial wheat.
On the super-refreshing front, 3 Daughters Brewing has an always-changing, diverse menu of fruit-infused ciders and hard seltzers. Once you’ve loosened up, you can play some pinball or giant Jenga, too. Take a walk in the surrounding neighborhood and you’ll encounter colorful murals, charming vintage shops, and even more artists’ haunts, including the nearby Clay Center of St. Petersburg.
Two blocks northeast of 3 Daughters, Pinellas Ale Works is a dog lover’s heaven. In addition to homemade brews, this spot regularly hosts yappy hours benefitting local animal charities and a monthly dog wash in its beer garden, among other pet-friendly activities.
In the EDGE District, Green Bench Brewing reigns supreme, with a massive green outdoor area for lounging. For the IPA aficionados out there, Green Bench won’t let you down, with its Sunshine City brew with notes of tangerine and papaya leading the charge.
Hitting St. Pete’s beaches and beyond
No trip to St. Pete is complete without a day at the beach. And, among the barrier islands that play home to the region’s beaches, there are plenty of white sand paradises to discover.
Starting in the north, Madeira Beach (locally known as ‘Mad Beach’) has a buzzing boardwalk lined with shops and restaurants. John’s Pass Village is always primed for a stroll and, when you’ve worked up an appetite, The Boardwalk Grill, and Dockside Dave’s are your best bets for fresh seafood catches.
South of Mad Beach, St. Pete Beach is hard to miss with its expansive white sand and the towering, pink Don CeSar luxury hotel looming on its shores. For the adventurous at heart, there are kiteboarding, windsurfing and parasailing options scattered about. Suncoast Watersports has a spectrum of rentals and activities, including waverunner and kayak rentals as well as dolphin watch cruises that depart throughout the week.
Fort De Soto State Park is comprised of five islands (or keys) with more than 1,100 acres of recreational space. For a camping adventure, the park has 200-plus camping sites, just make sure to reserve your spot well in advance – and bring your rainfly. This is a hiker’s utopia, too, with a seven-mile paved trail and 1-mile nature trail, plus piers for fishing and old Civil War era military fortifications to explore.
Regardless of where your day may lead you in St. Petersburg, it should end watching the sunset on the beach. And for that, any spectacular spot on the sand that you’d like to carve out and make your own will do.
St. Pete has a thriving LGBTQ community
As a whole, St. Pete is renowned for being a warm and welcoming place, which is certainly inclusive of the LGBTQ population. There is no one gayborhood like South Beach in St. Pete – instead, the queer community is integrated into the fabric of the whole city. More than 250,000 people turned out for St. Pete’s 2019 Pride Parade (the biggest in the state), and the city’s calendar is full of year-round celebrations including a Trans Pride parade, a Hallowqueen drag competition and festival, and a Taste of Pride event that blends St. Pete’s food, beer, art, and queer scenes into one big night.
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St. Petersburg even has its own LGBTQ Welcome Center, which first opened its doors in 2014 and has since expanded to include a cozy ice cream and coffee bar. It’s a true cultural hub – serving as a stellar spot to explore art from local LGBTQ artists, unwind and connect with the town’s various communities and LGBTQ-friendly establishments.