St. Petersburg thrives on youthful, cultural energy, with explorable sections radiating out from The Pier.
By Chelle Koster Walton
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 new 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, microbreweries, 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 Sundial St. Pete food and entertainment complex.
Start at the new Pier
As Dalia Colon reported for VISIT FLORIDA:
"The $92 million pier, which was completed in 2020, appeals to fishermen and foodies, fitness buffs and families. With dozens of outdoor and indoor attractions, the destination lives up to its motto: a new pier for everyone. Seemingly every square inch of the 26-acre pier district is active space. Kids will make a beeline for the Glazer Family Playground, a sprawling nautical-themed structure full of slides, swings and obstacles courses."
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
Where the pier makes landfall sit four remarkable museums -- the Museum of Fine Arts, the Historical Museum, the James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art, and the world-renowned Dalí -- as well as the Mahaffey, the elegant performing arts venue and home of the Florida Orchestra. Grassy parks line the seven-mile waterfront and host arts, food, and music festivals throughout the year.
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 Sundial, 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.
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.