By Dalia Colón
Describing the new St. Pete Pier as a place to go fishing would be like describing your smartphone as a device for making phone calls. Yes, it is that. But it’s also so much more.
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.
“It’s so completely different” from the old pier, says Leroy Bridges, vice president of digital and communications for Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, referring to the fishing dock and inverted pyramid structure that occupied the site from 1973 to 2015. “People have an experience or an image of the previous pier in their mind, and it’s so different,” Bridges says. “This new pier really activates the waterfront.”
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.
“They really had kids in mind when they built the Glazer Family Playground. I like that it has two parts, one for the younger kids and one for the older children,” writes Tampa Bay blogger Kiva Williams, a.k.a. The Fun Foodie Mama. “Be prepared for your kids to put up a fight when it's time to leave.”
Unless you promise them a visit to the pier’s splash pad or Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center. The center’s “wet classroom” offers a fun way to learn about Tampa Bay’s unique ecosystem, with a touch tank, interactive exhibits and more.
After all that playing, splashing and learning, treat the kids to pizza and an ice cream cone at the walk-up Spa Beach Bistro.
Of course, the pier offers much more than child’s play. It’s also the city’s new go-to destination for couples.
“The pier is a great date spot for gorgeous views, bay breezes and enjoying a rooftop cocktail at Pier Teak,” says Ciarra Luster, social media manager for Tampa Bay Date Night Guide. She notes that the pier is within walking distance of other popular St. Pete date spots, such as the Dalí Museum.
For an active daytime date, Luster suggests riding bikes along the waterfront or taking a dip in Spa Beach—yes, the new pier district includes a small beach complete with a volleyball net, Adirondack chairs and some of the best people-watching in townt—then grab lunch at the lively Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grille.
Bridges, of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater, is a big fan of the restaurant’s signature dish, Yucatan shrimp. “That is a meal worth going to the pier for alone,” he says, noting that the restaurant also sells its bottled shrimp sauce.
For an evening date, snag a table at Pier Teak rooftop bar, located in the sleek building that’s perched at the end of the pier. The menu features items like burgers, mahi tacos and an extensive list of frozen cocktails.
“If you want to skip the long-ish walk, a shuttle will take you from the parking lot to the base of the restaurant,” Luster advises.
Boaters can skip the parking lot altogether, thanks to the pier’s public boat slips. Dock your boat, have dinner and then head back out on the water—no reservations required.
“You pull up, and you pay to park your boat, just like you’d pay to park your car,” Bridges says.
Whether you’re visiting by land or by sea, be sure to linger until sundown; as the sun dips into the Gulf of Mexico, it silhouettes the downtown St. Pete skyline. The gleaming image is a daily reminder of how much the city values its crown jewel: its waterfront.
“Piers have long played a critical role in the cultural landscape of our city—as a place for residents to gather, welcome visitors and celebrate the city’s beautiful shoreline,” says Dr. Kanika Tomalin, St. Petersburg’s deputy mayor and city administrator under Mayor Rick Kriseman. Development of the new pier began in 2014, when Kriseman and Tomalin took office.
“It is the biggest project ever developed by the City of St. Petersburg and was conceived, designed and constructed to serve as a transformational destination and asset—a gift to the people of St. Petersburg, for generations to come,” Tomalin says.
If that gift had a bow, it would be Bending Arc, the billowing netlike sculpture on the edge of the pier’s Family Park. The sculpture is the work of artist Janet Echelman, a Tampa native. The public art was originally planned for the pier’s Spa Beach, but it was relocated to a more central part of the pier.
“I began researching the site, and I spoke with historians and museum directors in the area,” says Echelman, who now lives in Boston. “I discovered that that site was an important historic location in the American civil rights movement. There were no historical markers.”
In the 1950s, Spa Beach was the site of wade-ins that led to the eventual desegregation of public beaches.
“It’s a big deal,” Echelman says. “It blew my mind.”
It also informed her design. The title of Echelman’s sculpture, Bending Arc, references a Martin Luther King Jr. quotation (“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”), which itself alludes to an 1853 sermon by the abolitionist minister Theodore Parker.
And no, the sculpture isn’t meant to look like a fishing net.
“It’s not that literal,” Echelman says. “It’s open to interpretation.”
The pier’s opening in 2020 coincided with America’s racial reckoning, and Bending Arc often served as a destination for social justice marches.
“The entire pier is part of that bending towards justice, because this is a pier that is completely welcoming and embracing of all ages, all races, all backgrounds. It couldn’t be more inclusive and embracing and welcoming,” Echelman says. “So it felt to me that this was the right message, and it really spoke to this place—both its history and its present,” she says of the handmade twine-and-rope structure that changes with the breeze and sunlight.
There is, perhaps, no better symbol of what the pier embodies.
“What’s exciting to me as an artist is that this sculpture is becoming part of the fabric of life, and that is very meaningful because the nature of my work is about interconnectedness. It is a network of knotted fabric,” Echelman says. “It is a physical reminder to all of us of our interconnectedness with one another and with nature.”
It is, indeed, a new pier for everyone.
Know before you go
The St. Pete Pier is located at 800 2nd Ave NE in downtown St. Petersburg. For a full list of attractions, operating hours, phone numbers, special events and other information, visit stpetepier.org.
How to Explore St. Petersburg and Clearwater Beach
- 5 minute read
By Kara Franker From downtown St. Petersburg to the white sands of Clearwater Beach, there's much to do in this sunshine-drenched area of...
Driving to Florida: Philadelphia to St. Petersburg-Clearwater
- 7 minute read
Kevin McGeever Yo, Philly. As your tour guide for the drive from the City of Brotherly Love to the Florida vacation destination of St....
Driving to Florida: Boston to Tampa-St. Petersburg
- 8 minute read
By Kevin McGeever The I-95 odyssey from Boston to Tampa-St. Petersburg is a 1,400-mile commitment on concrete. But this Florida vacation on the...
Florida Stories: A Walking Tour of St. Petersburg
- 4 minute read
Tom Scherberger Want to explore the cultural, historical, and architectural treasures of St. Petersburg and Indian Rocks Beach, Fla.? There are apps...