Welcome to Sunshine City
No longer a sleepy town lined with green benches, St. Pete has offerings worthy for a weekend escape.
Nature endowed St. Petersburg, Florida with an embarrassment of riches: a peninsula setting between Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, over 350 days of sunshine a year, a sub-tropical climate, and in the 1920s, some far-sighted city planning that gave its residents the third largest public waterfront park system in the US. All of these assets, combined with dozens of cultural, recreational and culinary attractions, make “St. Pete” one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Southeast, and a terrific weekend getaway for Floridians.
For art enthusiasts, the wondrously designed, recently-constructed Dali Museum houses the largest body of work outside of Europe of Spanish artist, Salvador Dali (1904-89). Famous for his early Surrealistic style and themes, the museum features over 2000 Dali treasures: oil paintings, original drawings, prints, sculptures and archive documents. The building’s interior houses a helical staircase, spacious exhibit rooms, research library, theater, store and Café Gala (named for Dali’s wife). The Dali Museum’s educational workshops, lectures, and family events add another layer of interest to the stunning permanent and visiting exhibits.
Music aficionados will be happy to know that St. Pete is home to the world’s largest record (vinyl) store called Banana’s Music & Movies. Three million Lps, 45s, 78s, along with CDs and movies can be found in an unpretentious downtown neighborhood. There, two warehouses comprising 17,000 square feet of space contain everything from old movie soundtracks to early John Lee Hooker recordings, to Elvis 45s. Entire rows of Frank Sinatra can delight fans of Old Blue Eyes. Owners Doug and Michelle Allen offer a service of copying Lps onto CDs that are not currently in the more modern format. They also do a whopping online business from their site at www.musicfinder.com.
After taking in an art and retail treat, visitors can whet their whistles at one of St. Petersburg’s many bold, innovative craft breweries. St. Pete Brewing at 544 – 1st Avenue North is owned by Tom and Michele Williams, and features Orange Wheat Beer that can be sampled—along with other originals—in their 15-tap tasting room. Green Bench Brewing Company, located in a renovated 1920s warehouse in the Edge District, is owned by Nathan Stonecipher and Steven Duffy. Visitors can enjoy stout, brown ale, IPA (India Pale Ale) or wheat ale in their tasting room or in their outdoor beer garden with bocce ball courts and cozy fire pit. Cycle Brewing at 534 Central Avenue is the brainchild of Doug Dozark. At Cycle, his straw-colored Freewheel Pale Ale made from New Zealand hops can be sampled, along with a caramel malt named Ryerish Red Irish ale. And finally, there’s 3 Daughters Brewing where the Mike Harting family has roots in the Kentucky brewing industry. In their tasting room at 222-22nd Street South, beer fans are treated to such exotic drinks as Beach Blonde Ale, Bourbon Barrel Aged Porter and Summer Storm Stout. They also offer tours to explore their brewing process and craft beer culture.
Friday nights in St. Pete offer an unusual bit of fun: free shuffleboard games at the St. Pete Shuffleboard Club. Recently celebrating its 90th anniversary, this local landmark is the largest shuffleboard club in the world. The 52-feet long, 6-feet wide courts keep 300 serious members in happy play every day of the week. Evenings and weekends also see a number of musical and food events taking place at this fun, wholesome community gathering site.
Saturday mornings, visitors to St. Pete are in for a treat of the senses at the thriving, diverse Saturday Morning Market with both summer (for shade) and winter locations. Starting at 9 am and lasting until 2 pm, 200 vendors sell everything from fresh Aricauna (hormone and antibiotic-free) eggs to Buffalo Mozzarella to homemade chocolates to kingfish steaks, crab cakes and homemade jambalaya. Artisans display their unique crafts alongside food vendors, so the morning and early afternoon are a veritable festival of delights for hungry and curious visitors. There’s also a Story Time venue where families can sit and be entertained by literary readings for children.
For those interested in period architecture, St. Pete is home to Craftsman House in the Grand Central District. Built in 1918, this fully-restored arts and crafts bungalow contains American craft artwork from several hundred local and national artists. Moving from room to room, visitors are treated to a beautiful showcase of blown glass, jewelry, turned wood, and useful pottery in the form of mugs, bowls and plates. There’s a delightful café to relax with a cup of espresso or a smoothie before taking in the carriage house/pottery studio. The Craftsman House is also a local venue for musical events.
Before dining at one of St. Pete’s many first-class restaurants, there’s a special setting for pre-dinner drinks. It’s the Canopy Rooftop Lounge at the Birchwood Inn located in the center of the waterfront district. Replete with living room seating, private cabanas, fire pits and spectacular views of Tampa Bay and downtown St. Petersburg, the Canopy features a colorful variety of specialty cocktails like the Vintage Blackberry Mint Julep or Lavender Dream Martini made with fresh, seasonal fruits. If hunger strikes, there are tempting entrees such as Oysters of the Day, Cape Canaveral Shrimp and Crab Salad, or Duck Confit Crispy Tacos.
To top off a glorious day of entertaining sites and events, consider having dinner at Rococo Steak. Not your traditional steakhouse, Rococo’s setting is a 1920s historical brick building with eighteenth-century art theme décor. Chef Richard Pott creates contemporary cuisine combining Sicilian and Cuban influences. Some examples from the innovative menu include Incan Red Quinoa, Grass-fed Filet Mignon, Apple Cheddar Onion Soup and Truffle Fries. There’s also a gluten-sensitive menu and corn-fed and grass-fed steak options.
The “Sunshine City” with its beautiful vacation setting is sure to tempt the most discerning cultural and culinary palettes. From its inception as a fishing port of 300 souls to its current vibrant population of a quarter of a million, St. Pete has come a long way and grown in rich complexity. What’s great about a visit to this destination is that its many attractions are just a short meander down the road from Gainesville.