There’s a whole new side of Florida that you just haven’t seen yet and even if you’ve been to St. Petersberg (St. Pete for short), cast aside your pre-conceptions of a boring old retirement village for snowbirds. Like Buffalo’s revitalization, St. Pete’s is going through its own little reinvention. Slow walkers are being traded in for kayak paddles and sleeping early is cast aside for late nights out on the town.
I was impressed with what I saw in my recent trip to St. Pete. From food to beer, art, and nature reserves, there’s something for everyone here. Check out what’s causing all the buzz.
The booming art scene
I’ll be the first to admit that art galleries aren’t my thing. I don’t know if it’s just me but big art galleries are overwhelming. Being as far from a student of art that one can be, I’ve always found it hard to appreciate art. Is that bad of me to say?
Good news. The art that St. Pete is anything but dull or boring. You won’t believe which two artists have big galleries in the city.
The man behind the melting clock
Surrealism is the style and Salvador Dalí is the man behind the famous works on display at The Dalí Museum. Now it may seem strange that St. Pete is home to the second largest collection of Dalí works in the world but it’s all thanks to the A. Reynolds Morse and Eleanor R. Morse. In 1942, they started a 40-year relationship with Dalí as both friends and patrons and built up an extensive collection of original Dalí works.
Just as Dalí pushed the boundaries of surrealism, so too is the design and architecture of this museum. Built by the waterfront of St. Pete, The Dalí Museum opened in 2011. Composed of concrete, glass skyways, and a giant spiral staircase, it was a joy just to roam around the museum.
While I’m not familiar with all of Dalí’s works, I was mesmerized by the evolution of his art. Listening to the free audio guide, I was able to decode otherwise complex and fiercely technical pieces. My favorite has to be the double entendre piece “Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea”. Move your eyes back from the screen and tell me what you see.
At the back of the museum is the tranquil garden where you’ll find a giant #dalistache, a tree full of dangling wrist bands, a melted clock bench, and great example of the blending of art and math.
While I visited, I was lucky enough to experience the Picasso and Dalí mash up where the two legends and friends have their works compared and contrasted. I thought this exhibit was well put together and fascinating.
The Bellagio glass artist
Yeah that’s pretty much how we all know this master glass artist. His name is Dale Chihuly and surprise, he’s not Venetian even though he’s a master of Murano glass. He’s actually American and resides near Seattle. Walk into the Bellagio in Las Vegas, look up at the ceiling in the main lobby and you see a prime example of his work but there’s so much more.
Introducing the Chihuly Collection, another gallery by the waterfront. This isn’t a big gallery but in my opinion is the perfect size meander through and get up close and personal with each piece commissioned for the museum. The glass masterpieces here are ridiculously spectacular. Feel your jaw drop with large scale installations like “Ruby Red Icicle Chandelier” which has the power to pierce or the larger than life glass marbles of “Iwo Jima”.
I had the opportunity to join a guided tour while I was there and had the pleasure of learning about how Chihuly creates his pieces and the story behind each one in the collection.
A new meaning to the farm to table experience
In the heart of downtown St. Pete is a truly unique marketplace experience. Locale Market is the brainchild of celebrity chefs Michael Mina and Don Pintabona.
I say that it is unique and an experience because it’s so much more than your regular old market. Locale Market is immersive, personal and adaptive to how you want to experience it.
Stopping by for lunch or needing some food on the go? Locale Market has an extensive of selection meals that are cooked fresh right in front of you. Feeling Italian? Fresh pasta is cooked to perfection. Feeling a burger? You have to try their St. Petersburger.
If you’re more of a do-it-yourself kind of person, locals can stop by and pick up the absolute freshest ingredients to take home. Locale Market didn’t stop there though. As a big believer in empowering customers with the power to make that perfect dish at home, each station has all the necessary ingredients laid out and instructional videos are provided via QR codes.
For a culinary experience, they have that too. Up on the second floor is the wine bar where celebrity chef worthy meals can be had. If I’m to make one suggestion, you MUST to have the oak-fired octopus. It’s the most tender octopus you’ll ever have. Looking for something even more exclusive? The FarmTable Kitchen tasting menu experience allows you to savour 10-12 courses of the chef’s selection that includes the best of the market at that particular time.
What impressed me the most was Locale Market’s mission to deliver local and freshest foods. As a result, what’s on the menu one month may be entirely different the next month.
If you’re looking for a delicious meal with a happening atmosphere, stop by Locale Market. You can thank me later ;)
Craft beer trail
I’ve always said that you can tell how well a city is doing by their craft beer scene. St. Petes is one such cities where the scene is booming. There are so many breweries popping up that there’s even a St. Pete/Clearwater Craft Beer Trail. I had a chance to visit Green Bench Brewing Company on my latest visit.
Taking over an old garage, the folks at Green Bench Brewing have converted the space into an eclectic, kitschy, and conversation inducing bar with the brewing happening behind the clear paned glass. There’s a solid collection of beers to appeal to all taste buds. Infusing local character into their beers, each brew is named after a part of St. Pete’s history.
Green Bench Brewing is the perfect place to go along Central Ave. and hang after dinner at a place like Bogeda across the street.
Arguably the best beaches in Florida
So what about the big elephant in the room? St. Pete is absolutely known for its beaches and did not disappoint. Staying at Sirata Beach Resort (my review is coming out soon), there’s nothing better than camping out at a cabana to soak in the sun, listen to the crashing waves, and watch the perfect sunset.
So what makes St. Pete’s beaches awesome?
- Cast your shoes away and feel the sugar-soft white sand beneath your feet.
- The walk from parking lot/property are nice and short. No need to trek massive distances.
- Not overly commercialized. You won’t find loiters here.
- The left coast is definitely better. The sun sets the proper way here.
Adventure in Fort De Soto
For the adventurous ones, things may seem a little slow-paced for you so far but once you head down to Fort de Soto, you’ll discover whole new side of St. Pete’s that you never thought they had.
Fort de Soto is a county park on the southwest corner of Mullet Key. If you were glossing over a map of St. Pete’s, you might skip this partcompletely but I was so glad I had this in my itinerary.
What first grabbed my attention was the fact that this island used to be the site of a war fort during the Spanish-American war, hence the name. While it was never the site of any major battles, today you’ll find the remains of the grass-covered fort complete with bunkers, cannons, and mortars.
From there, the five off-shore keys that compose the park is yours to discover. Anyone that travels with dogs will go absolutely nuts here because they have a dedicated dog park where dogs are able to go out on the beach.
Kayaking is another activity you can do. Right across from the dog park is Topwater Kayak Outpost where you can backwater kayak through mangrove forests. Although I didn’t spot any manatees and dolphins that are known to hang out in the area, I had a blast exploring the waters and watching fish jump out of the water left, right, and center. Just remember to put on sunscreen beforehand because there is no cover out there.
There are also some great hikes here. Where the kayak rentals are, there’s a fabulous Soldier’s Hole hike that takes you into the mangrove forest, giving you a totally different perspective of the same waters that are kayaked through. Another great hiking trail can be found near the Arrowhead camp grounds.
For those that love to bike, the park has a paved path that loops around the entire grounds which make it a great circuit to cruise around or blast through.
If you enjoyed St. Pete’s beach, Fort de Soto was named to have the best best beach in the US in 2009 and after seeing it first hand I can see why. Completely undisturbed by outside interruptions, the completely natural white sand is the prefect place to get your beach on.
If fishing is your thing, there is an abundance of fish all around. While you do need a permit to go boat fishing or fish off the side of the road, thanks to the Friends of Fort Desoto, they’ve purchased a blanket fishing license so anyone can fish from the pier for free.
Lastly, there are several popular campgrounds at Fort De Soto that book out months in advance.
There’s a heck of a lot to do in St. Pete’s. Whether you’re looking to relax, enjoy a culinary experience, get active, or receive a dose of art sophistication, you won’t be disappointed. I came out of my trip, refreshed, recharged, and amplified and isn’t that what a vacation is all about?
This trip to St. Pete’s was sponsored by the Visit St. Pete Clearwater, however the opinions expressed in this post are my own.