Accessible Travel: A Sidewalk Cruise Along St. Petersburg’s Downtown Waterfront
By Janet K. Keeler
St. Petersburg has plenty of shine these days. A burgeoning arts community, a funky boutique scene and multiplying craft beer breweries have brought national attention to the once-sleepy city on Tampa Bay.
The Sunshine City, pop. 255,000, barely sleeps anymore and there’s hardly a weekend where there isn’t a festival, 5K charity run, art show, craft fair, professional soccer game or concert that bring folks to the downtown waterfront. And if it’s not an organized activity, the growing dining and shopping scene fills the sidewalks along Beach Drive NE with locals and visitors.
The one-mile stretch from the Dali Museum north to the historic Renaissance Vinoy Resort is negotiable by wheelchair or a traveler with a guide dog. Trek north on Bayshore Drive NE to the Vinoy, and then return via Beach Drive NE, cutting back toward Bayshore at the St. Petersburg Yacht built in 1917 and one of the last remaining historic buildings downtown. At night, the trees of North Straub Park glitter with twinkle lights and paved walkways wind through the picturesque city oasis. It’s nice during the day, too.
General parking is tough downtown but handicap spots remain attainable in both public and private facilities, and on the street.
There is much to experience along the waterfront, guided by audible pedestrian signals at some major crosswalks. Another alternative to walking and wheels is to get a ride on the St. Petersburg Trolley Downtown Looper, which has wheelchair lifts. It’s no charge to ride in the downtown free-fare zone. Outside of the free zone, it’s just 50 cents.
A day would hardly be enough to enjoy the downtown waterfront if both art and sports are on the agenda. The Dali Museum, the Mahaffey Theater and the Museum of Fine Arts St. Petersburg are all accessible facilities. The Mahaffey is the St. Petersburg home of the Florida Orchestra and has other musical programming. The Dali and MFA, besides their world-class art collections, have regular lectures and other activities for the public. (Events and upcoming exhibitions are on their websites.) Cafes and museum stores are also part of the offerings. The stores are wonderful spots for gifts or souvenirs, and the Dali’s Café Gala features Spanish specialties to honor the homeland of the surrealist painter.
The professional Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer team plays at history Al Lang Stadium. Al Lang, now updated by a recent facelift, was the spring training home for various Major League teams including the New York Mets. You might want to pack some earplugs. These fans are rowdy.
As you head north on the waterfront jaunt, you’ll pass the city marina and lots of bobbing boats, many of them housing live-aboards. The trip on Bayshore to the Vinoy is park- and water-lined (shops and restaurants are on Beach Drive NE).
At the Vinoy, take a breather with a cocktail (or something non-alcoholic) on the verandah facing south. This might be the prettiest spot in all of St. Petersburg with the lush park and fancy yachts in full view.
When you are ready to move on, head west one block to Beach Drive NE and start the journey back toward the Dali. Hopefully, you’ve left enough time to eat. More than anything, Beach Drive NE has become a dining destination.
Restaurant choices include seafood (400 Beach Seafood and Taphouse), charcuterie and cheese (Annata Wine Bar), new American (Stillwaters Tavern), Italian (Bella Brava), traditional American (Parkshore Grill) and French-inspired brasserie (Cassis), among others. There’s gelato and macarons, too, plus places like Tryst Gastro Lounge and roof-top Canopy Lounge where the hip meet at night to mingle. Most have café seating on the sidewalk and many have bowls of water for thirsty canine companions.
Believe what you read about St. Petersburg, especially the lively downtown. This place is booming.