By Chelle Koster Walton

St. Petersburg thrives on youthful, cultural energy with explorable sections radiating out from The Pier.

Footloose & Car-Free

Right smack on Tampa Bay, downtown St. Petersburg thrives on youthful, cultural energy. Its walkable, highly explorable sections radiate out from the landmark Pier in a roughly two-by-two-mile neighborhood on the waterfront that continues to become more and more pedestrian-friendly. From art galleries and museums to movie theaters and major league baseball, downtown St. Petersburg makes it worth a walk.

Early planners laid out downtown in a logical pattern of numbered streets (running north-south) and avenues (running east-west), so it's easy to find your way around. The inexpensive Looper Downtown Trolley and other forms of public transportation support your mission to explore sans automobile. You can also rent surreys or take a Segway Tour from Baywalk.

Parking Zone

I usually park in The Pier's convenient lots as a base for pedestrian exploring. A free shuttle runs between the lots and the end of the pier, where a five-story glass structure in the shape of an inverted pyramid holds all the action. The half-mile-long pier itself is fun to walk with its festively fluttering banners and Tampa Bay views.

Should you decide to stay longer than a day to explore more fully by foot this bustling metro scene, the elegant and historic Renaissance Vinoy Resort, Hampton Inn & Suites and several smaller inns and B&Bs, such as the Mansion House, lie within the downtown zone.

Walk This Way

Here we are at The Pier, downtown's inimitable focal point. Inside, you can shop, grab a bite at the food court or sit down to Spanish fare at Columbia Restaurant, peer at fish in the second-floor Pier Aquarium and take the glass elevator to the top for a sweeping view.

Around The Pier, folks actually fish. Others catch boat tours. Where the pier makes landfall sit two intriguing museums - the Museum of Fine Arts and the Historical Museum. Grassy parks line the seven-mile waterfront and host festivals throughout the year. One park, known as Spa Beach, is sandy and popular for sunning.

A row of galleries and shops selling jewelry, Indian arts, tea and more face the bay along Beach Drive. If you continue straight ahead from The Pier, Second Avenue North takes you past BayWalk, practically a city in itself with some of the town's best restaurants, browseable shops and a 20-screen movie theater complex.

Continue down the block to the American Stage Theatre Company, one of two downtown theaters. When you need to rest, look around for a green bench; they are found throughout the downtown area and have been for decades. Survey the melange of buildings vintage and modern while you relax.

Head one block south to Central Avenue, then west through The Edge - a sports pub and restaurant district - en route to the domed Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays. Ambitious walkers can continue to the Grand Central District between 16th and 34th streets, a design quarter chockablock with shops, galleries and restaurants.

Heading back east on Central Avenue and Fifth Street South, you can visit the Florida Holocaust Museum. As you again near Tampa Bay, notice along Central Avenue, a.k.a. Baseball Boulevard, the home-plate plaques that honor St. Petersburg as the birthplace of spring training. Antique shops and edgy galleries make this a favorite shopper's stroll.

Head south on Third Street South if you feel like a nice long (1.5 miles) walk to Bayboro Harbor and the Salvador Dali Museum. Mahaffey Theater is in the Progress Energy Center on Fourth and Fifth Street. Heading north from the Dali, if you take a right on Fifth Avenue South, you'll hook up with Bayshore, which skirts the marina back to The Pier and onto the striking Vinoy resort. Stop inside for a look around.

This tour covers a lot of territory and you may wish to use the Looper for parts or break it up into two or more days' worth of walking.