From Art to Aerial Views, What to Do in St. Pete-Clearwater
By Emily Nipps
The St. Petersburg-Clearwater area has it all – award-winning beaches, world-class art and culture, fantastic food and drink, and adventures a-plenty. In fact, there’s so much to see and do that the only problem is figuring out where to begin.
Here’s a list that should help you start exploring the St. Pete scene:
Immerse Yourself in Surrealism – From the sinuous shape of the building designed by noted architect Yann Weymouth to the artwork inside – the largest Dali collection outside Europe – St. Petersburg’s Dali Museum will leave your head spinning (in a good way). The collection includes almost 100 oil paintings and more than a hundred watercolors and drawings, plus 1,300 graphics, photographs, sculptures and objets d'art. The audio tour is a must, as each piece of artwork holds an interesting story. Even those who don’t consider themselves artsy types will walk away amazed and enlightened. Fine out more about the museum at http://thedali.org/
See Winter the Dolphin at Clearwater Aquarium – Meet the marvel of the marine mammal world, Winter the dolphin, whose story of losing her tail in a crab trap accident and learning to adapt to a prosthetic became a top box office hit with the movie “Dolphin Tale.” The charismatic, friendly girl is by far the aquarium’s top attraction, though there are sea otters, stingrays, turtles, sharks and other rescue animals with inspiring stories of rehabilitation too. Visit http://www.seewinter.com/ to find out more.
Go Camping at Fort De Soto Park – Often hailed as being the site of one of the best beaches in the country, Fort De Soto is also an ideal and wonderfully maintained spot for kayaking, fishing, hiking and camping. Sleep among the mangroves, sea grass, egrets and brown pelicans at a well-kept site along the water near clean bathrooms and other amenities. Wake up and spend the day lounging on the white sands, go bird-watching along the trails, or check out the historic forts and buildings from the 1800s. Get more information at http://www.pinellascounty.org/park/05_ft_desoto.htm
Buy a Sponge in Tarpon Springs –Natural sponges are wonders of nature. Harvested from the Gulf of Mexico, Tarpon Springs sponges are durable, long-lasting and naturally mold-resistant, and you can find these once-living creatures in every shape, size and texture in this quirky little Greek-American town. Take your pick of fun souvenir shops – Tarpon Sponge Company, The Sponge Exchange, Spongeorama – and stop somewhere for a souvlaki or Greek salad and some pastries on the way out of town. Get the lowdown at http://www.spongedocks.net/
Eat a Grouper Sandwich at Frenchy’s – Much like the “best Cuban sandwich” debate that rages between Tampa and Miami eateries, the matter of which St. Petersburg-Clearwater waterfront restaurant makes the tastiest grouper sandwich is a touchy topic. Best sandwich or not, Frenchy’s – which now has four locations in Pinellas County – lays claim to being among the best-known, at least, and it consistently lives up to its reputation. Priding itself on daily deliveries of fresh seafood straight from the Gulf, the restaurant’s Super Grouper Sandwich is the real thing, best served all the way with American cheese, lettuce, tomato and tartar sauce. Peruse the menu here: http://frenchysonline.com
Check Out the Chihuly Glass Art Collection – No contemporary artist has made a mark on St. Petersburg quite like the world-renowned Dale Chihuly, whose delicate and majestic glass sculptures grace galleries and museums in Venice, Paris, Jerusalem and London. The Chihuly collection is housed in its own architecturally stunning building on Beach Drive, and includes the famous Ruby Red Icicle Chandelier, Macchia, Niijima Floats and Tumbleweeds, all displayed in unique spaces designed to complement the works with lighting and mood. The studio also offers daily glassblowing demonstrations and private classes for guests to make their own glass ornaments. Find out more at http://www.moreanartscenter.org.
Lose Yourself in Haslem’s Book Store – In Midtown St. Petersburg, at the end of a worn-looking block of tiny businesses, there’s a gem of a bookstore for those who still treasure the printed word. The original Haslam’s opened during the Depression, offering used books and magazines at rock-bottom prices, but the store has moved several times before settling in the current space. The wall outside boasts, in large painted letters, a 300,000-plus book collection, and the inside has the homey, funky smell of paper and book binding. Wander through the rooms, marvel at the selection of odd genres and make sure you check out the glass case containing copies of famous books signed by now-deceased authors and rare first editions of 19th century classics for sale. Learn more about Haslem’s here: http://www.haslams.com/
Watch the Sunset at Pier 60 – Pinellas County beaches are known for their glorious sunsets, and there’s no place that celebrates this colorful closing to each day quite like Pier 60 Park in Clearwater Beach. Every night at sundown, street performers, musicians and crafters gather at the pier as onlookers enjoy the breathtaking view. On Fridays and Saturdays, families can bring blankets and chairs and watch a free movie on a jumbo screen, beginning right after the sky goes dark. Find out more at http://www.sunsetsatpier60.com/
Go Fishing at the Sunshine Skyway – Besides being part of an iconic Tampa Bay bridge, the Skyway Pier is one of the best spots to catch tarpon, kingfish, snapper and other Florida fish, plus it’s an easy one-stop shop. You can drive right up to your fishing spot and bait shops rent $8-per-day rods with buckets and sell live and frozen bait, cold drinks, ice cream and sandwiches. A pier fishing license covers both north and south spans of the pier, so you don’t need your own fishing license, and it’s always open. Start planning your expedition at http://skywaypiers.com/
Ride a Bike Along the Pinellas Trail – Through suburbs, over highways and under tree canopies, the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail spans nearly 40 miles, all the way from Tarpon Springs down to St. Petersburg. Rent a bike at one of the cycle shops close to the trail and take a leisurely ride along the smooth, paved path, which meanders through a few downtown districts and has several rest areas, water fountains and traffic-controlled crossing points to keep you moving along. It’s a fun way to see both Tampa Bay area wildlife and urban hotspots in one day. Visit www.pinellascounty.org/park/12_trail.htm
Learn to Love Shuffleboard – In the rebirth of an aging pastime, shuffleboard could not be any more hip than it is in St. Petersburg. The St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club was founded in 1924 and makes its home in a quaint venue located at the community center in Mirror Lake. In 2013, the club hosted the International Shuffleboard Association’s World Championship, which drew top players from Japan, Germany, Canada, Brazil, Great Britain and other international destinations. Go on Friday for the popular St. Pete Shuffle, a mix of shuffleboard play, music and camaraderie that draws everyone from hipsters to hardcore fans of the sport. For hours and more information, go to http://stpeteshuffle.com/
Sample the Smoked Fish at Ted Peters – A true Florida fish shack, Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish only claims to one thing best – yep, smoked fish! Mullet and mackerel are the classics, but the restaurant also has salmon and mahi-mahi, all smoked for hours in a separate smoking shack. The planks of fish are served to go by the pound, or you can eat it there with a side of slaw and potato salad and a cold beer. Just make sure you stop by the ATM beforehand, as it’s a cash-only operation. Don’t like fish? The burgers aren’t bad either. Scrutinize the menu at http://www.tedpetersfish.com/
Go on a Craft Beer Tasting Tour – St. Petersburg’s craft beer scene experienced a Big Bang expansion in 2013, with the hip Cycle Brewing (www.pegscantina.com/cycle-brewing.html), Green Bench Brewing Co. (http://greenbenchbrewing.com) and 3 Daughters Brewing (www.3dbrewing.com/) all opening up within a few miles of each other in the downtown and warehouse arts district areas. Other Pinellas communities have already made their marks on the local brew scene, with Largo’s Barley Mow Brewing Co. (www.barleymowbrewingco.com/) churning out batches of unique beers in its “nano brewery” and the Dunedin Brewery (www.dunedinbrewery.com/) laying claim as “Florida’s Oldest Craft Brewery” with its founding date in 1996. The Tampa Bay area’s beer community is rich and fiercely competitive, and it’s worth hitting a few breweries to compare the various flavors and generations of pale ales, porters and stouts.
Rent a Beachside Cabana at the Loews Don CeSar – The iconic Pink Palace of St. Pete Beach has been delighting guests since the 1920s, and you can enjoy its beauty and luxury without committing to a night in a hotel room. For about $30 ($100 if you want a luxury beach bed), you can rent a padded lounge chair under an arched blue umbrella and enjoy the soft, white sand and peaceful, blue waves all day. It’s an ideal spot, not only for the view, but because it’s close to the Don’s fine restaurants if you get hungry or its Lobby Bar if you get thirsty. On the weekends, you can enjoy the live music coming from the resort and people-watch from the comfort of your little shaded heaven. Dream a little dream at http://www.loewshotels.com/en/Don-CeSar-Hotel
Lift Off in a Helicopter at Albert Whitted Airport – To get a true lay of the land and a great view of St. Pete’s blue waters and white beaches, take an hour-long aerial view of southern Pinellas County for less than a hundred bucks. There are a couple of helicopter charters to choose from, and all the pilots can tell you something you didn’t know about your next destination in the city. After your flight, order a dish of mussels or a burger at The Hangar Restaurant and walk a block or two to catch a show next door at the Mahaffey Theater. (www.themahaffey.com) or hit the downtown bars.