From Dale Chihuly to Salvador Dali there are some pretty big names drawing attention to downtown St. Petersburg, but it’s the boutique hotels and shops that add local charm and warm hospitality.
“As a visitor to any city, you want to go where the locals go. You want the flavor, the essence of that city,” says Olga Bof, founder of Keep Saint Petersburg Local. “I think that those independent businesses in our city really create a unique spirit that you won’t find anywhere else.”
WHERE TO REST YOUR HEAD
Rich appointments and thoughtful details are revealed at every turn in The Birchwood. Guestroom hallways echo stories of St. Petersburg’s past with photos of Model T cars parked on the beach and two baby banyan trees that have since grown gargantuan across the street. Four-poster beds and claw-foot tubs add romance to the inn’s intimate accommodations. Up top, The Canopy cocktail lounge is one of Beach Drive’s most buzzed-about hangouts.
A few blocks off Beach Drive and still in the heart of downtown, The Hollander Hotel’s massive front porch, coffee bar, taproom and lobby seating vignettes are as inviting as a warm breeze.
“It’s kind of relaxed and inventive at the same time,” Creative Loafing Editor David Warner says of The Hollander, “and I adore the beer cocktails.”
“The porch is the only place where you’ll find an elderly couple, some international students, a few locals and a drag queen conversing together,” beams General Manager Nick Herring.
At the far end of Beach Drive, closest to the Salvador Dali Museum, history meets location, location, location at the Ponce de Leon Hotel. The rooms are a bit tired but perfect for waking up to a waterfront stroll and the Saturday Morning Market. Murals by local artist David Hernandez are featured on every floor of this hotel, originally built in 1924.
WHERE TO SHOP ’TIL YOU DROP
Beach Drive real estate is mostly consumed with museums, luxury high-rise condos and chic eateries but you will find a few indie fashion boutiques sandwiched in with them. Shooz is one that people flock to and Bella Moda’s selection of Brazilian fashion meshes with the area’s resort culture.
Local favorites like ARTpool Gallery, Little Brooklyn Vintage and Rehab Exchange dot the downtown streetscape. The greatest concentration of such shops exists on what’s known as The 600 Block of Central Avenue. Get there on foot, by bike, car or trolley and you’ll be rewarded with a collection of cool shops.
STOPS ALONG THE 600 BLOCK
Strands of Sunshine makes it possible to return from a Florida vacation with sunshine in your suitcase. The itty-bitty storefront features dainty jewelry that’s big on personality.
Next door, Sleeperwoods carries fair trade imports from Africa, and together with the equally colorful Treasures of Morocco around the corner, comprises a cornucopia of culture tucked into one city block. Peek around the side of Sleeperwoods and find one of St. Petersburg’s most famous murals.
Before The 600 Block became a destination, Misred Outfitters staked its claim on the street as a vintage/buy/sell/trade store. Shop owner Sara Stonecipher is regarded as one of the area’s most stylish women and many of the finds at Misred are plucked from Sara’s own closet.
All Sewn Up houses an eclectic mix of street and club-wear. A cool selection of graphic leggings is a draw at this store.
Anchoring one side of the Crislip Arcade, Cozette’s Boutique carries local and international artisan fashion with emphasis on emerging Indian and Parisian designers. Across the Arcade, Bijou’s Boutique offers the most mature fashion on the block with colorful resort-wear and chunky costume jewelry.
The Trunk Stylists packs a fun, flirty collection of contemporary clothing and accessories. Rumor on the street is they are adding menswear soon, too.
Graphi-ko Gallery is part art gallery, part jewelry store with owner Wilmer E. Vergara Homez’s original jewelry and paintings mingling alongside pieces his imports from exotic locales.
Ramblin’ Rose Upcycle is like finding a great garage sale with vintage fashion, art and oddities. Sift through a nostalgic assortment from decades gone by.
With its urban energy, it’s surprising to find a bridal design house on The 600 Block. Anglo Couture features wedding gowns by local designer Vicky Anglo. Also adding a touch of polish to The Block, El’s Menswear is a haberdashery for stylish gentlemen. If wedding bells play a part in your vacation, these two stops could be a hit.
Vinyl is back in fashion so skip across the street to Daddy Kool Records and pick up your favorite tunes.
Pssst: Don’t miss the art galleries sprinkled all around downtown, on The 600 Block and lining the Crislip Arcade. You could get lucky and stumble upon Free Art Friday when area artists scatter their work around town, free for the taking.