City to Shore

By: Samantha Crespo

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In St. Petersburg and Clearwater, world-class museums meet acclaimed beaches, communities share their heritage and water is (nearly) all around.

Go sandy-toed on the beach and well-heeled in the city – all in the same day. Pack your walking shoes to experience arts and heritage inside intimate downtowns. With the Gulf of Mexico and bays nearly omnipresent, beaches and waterfront districts bustle with activity in this region of Florida's central west coast, just 90 minutes from Orlando.

Acclaimed Beaches

Though each area beach shows a distinct personality, acclaim is a commonality. Take the ferry to remote Caladesi Island State Park (named America's No. 1 Beach in 2008). Its un-groomed palms, heaping sand dunes and abundant wildlife invoke pre-civilization and set the quintessential beach day of sunning, snorkeling and shell collecting. At Fort De Soto Park (named America's No. 1 Beach in 2005), fishing piers and recreational trails complement more than seven miles of pillow-soft sands punctuated by wispy sea oats.

Clearwater Beach, top-ranked for city beaches along the Gulf of Mexico, is a whirl of activity with sunset celebrations on its pier; fishing charters, sightseeing cruises and watercraft rentals from its municipal marina; and beachfront eateries like Frenchy's, famous for its grouper sandwich. Take a walk along Beach Walk, a newly developed winding beachside promenade, to see all the action. Most area sands include playgrounds for young beachgoers, but John's Pass on Madeira Beach proves to be a complete family destination with its boardwalk-style atmosphere (plus choices for waterfront dining).

Accommodations are as varied as the beaches themselves. The pink-hued symbol of luxury presiding over St. Pete Beach is the circa-1928 Don CeSar Beach Resort, A Loews Hotel; Clearwater Beach's high-end options include the casually elegant Sandpearl Resort. Throughout the beach communities, rental cottages, condominiums and hotels (both name-brand and family-owned) abound.


Neighborhoods to Discover

As the sun sparkles on Tampa Bay, so does downtown St. Petersburg. Museums – including the Salvador Dalí Museum, the largest collection of the surrealist's work outside of Spain, and the Museum of Fine Arts – bring the masters to town. Beach Drive reveals shops, restaurants and parks (that frequently host festivals) with a view to the bay. Bay Walk and The Pier each wrap shopping, dining and entertainment into one. Nearby, the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team brings Major League Baseball excitement to the area. Where to stay? Consider the Renaissance Vinoy Resort, grand in 1920s Mediterranean Revival style. You'll also find bed-and-breakfast inns and large and small hotels.

In Gulfport, the backdrop is Boca Ciega Bay. Restaurants are original and internationally inspired, though you'll find ample opportunity to enjoy fresh seafood or a cocktail on decks overlooking the water, often accompanied by live entertainment. Shops verge on the eclectic and artsy (even the buildings, mailboxes and landscaping here explode with color); rental cottages and bed-and-breakfast inns provide cozy accommodation.

Before jumping off to its well-visited Honeymoon Island State Park, walk downtown Dunedin. Unique eateries, whimsical gift shops and art galleries line Main Street. Try lighthearted Kelly's Restaurant and the Chic a Boom Room for food and live music.

In the historically Greek community of Tarpon Springs, tour the sponge docks and savor ethnic cuisine.


Active Pursuits

Forty miles long, the Pinellas Trail winds through much of St. Petersburg and Clearwater, glimpsing the water, beaches and downtowns – as well as bike and skate rental outfits – along the way.

Golf and tennis practitioners will enjoy area resorts, including Palm Harbor's Innisbrook Resort & Golf Club, Clearwater's Belleview Biltmore Resort and St. Petersburg's Renaissance Vinoy Resort.

For eco-sports enthusiasts, Weedon Island Preserve presents a pier and oyster bars for fishing, self-guided paddling trails and birding hikes.

This article is brought to you by the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. For information on planning your trip to the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area, call 1-727-464-7200 or 877-352-3224 and visit www.visitstpeteclearwater.com.

Sponsored listings by VISIT FLORIDA Partners

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