Last week my wife and I visited St. Petersburg for the first time and let’s just say… It’s basically a livable vacation paradise. The salty air, cool breeze and white beaches are something from Hemingway’s dreams. Despite its busy history of fishing, railways, and urban development, this growing city has practically been overlooked by mainstream America. Tucked into Pinellas Peninsula on the west coast of Florida and a population of only 250,000, the city feels more like a remote island town than the fifth largest city in Florida. Despite it’s small size, St. Pete boasts a myriad of activities for the casual visitor and longtime resident alike.
St. Pete’s food scene is a direct reflection of its thriving population. Coupled with its loving embrace of small business, the city really treats visitors to great food. You can find any number of styles from Afro-Caribbean to Italian to your run-of-the-mill American cuisine. To get a head start on your food tour, start with the following must-eats.
Urban Brew & BBQ
Urban sits in the heart of St. Petersburg Grand Central District, a thriving area chocked with cafés, art galleries, and boutique stores. With a full menu of scratch-made barbecue dishes, Urban reminds you that despite the tropical climate, you are still in the South. Order the Urban Sampler and take your taste buds on a journey through barbecue heaven, for the huge portions will surely kill you. Urban also vies for a top spot in the local craft brew scene with 18 different beers on tap – and they’re not all IPAs! For more info, visit their website.
Bodega Comida Cantina Café
Have you ever been out for a night on the town, found yourself rather buzzed and thought, Damn… I need a cubano right now… Whether the answer is yes or no, you need to drop what you’re doing and hit up Bodega immediately! Also located in the Grand Central District, Bodega is one step up from a food cart in size and about 1,682,039,463 steps up from a food cart in cuisine. Enjoy their cubanos in tropical revelry as they only offer outdoor seating. Fear not, the atmosphere is fun, yet unobtrusive and any aversion to outdoor eating or long waits will be curbed by the deliciousness of your meal.
O’Maddy’s Bar & Grill
Typically a beachside, open-faced, wood-paneled bar & grill would impress me as much as a sheep farm in mainland China (did you know mainland China has more sheep than anywhere else in the world?), but St. Pete isn’t a typical beach town and O’Maddy’s isn’t a typical beachside, open-faced, wood-paneled bar & grill… Other than its looks and the fact that it was blasting Margaritaville when we walked up… I know. I rolled my eyes super hard too. But after you eat their food, you’ll eat your words too (or thoughts, depending on how assertive you are). Their fish is insanely fresh, their lobster mac & cheese is probably the best you’ll ever have in a restaurant, and its location in Gulfport is just too darn adorable! Do yourself a kindness and make your way here if you’re in the area. Ignore the music at all costs.
St. Petersburg has been known as a retirement community. How much culture can a millennial looking to get away from whatever bullshit city they’ve tricked themselves into being the new up-and-coming city really find here? I’m so glad you asked! To answer that question, let’s revisit the retirement community statement. Yes, it has been known for that. Now, St. Pete hosts one of the most thriving arts scenes in the Southern United States. We have an influx of millennials moving to the area and government grants for the arts scene to thank for that. Because of this, St. Petersburg has, oh, about 7 distinct arts districts. Wow. Please keep throwing money at the arts so we can all continue to thrive in the glory of culture. And now my, “Oh, hey I’ve been to St. Pete once and like to act like I know what I’m talking about” list of artistic places to go while you’re there.
The largest collection of Dalí’s original work IN THE WORLD! That’s right. The prolific Spanish surrealist’s cerebral, and sometimes nightmarish, work found its way to small-ass, never-heard-of-it-before St. Petersburg, Florida. How can this be? That question I will leave up to the very awesome, and very lazy, (but still very convenient) audio tour to answer. What I will tell you is that The Dalí houses 96 original oil paintings, 7 masterworks, over 100 watercolors and drawings, and blah blah blah – basically a bunch of cool shit. Perhaps the most prominent, if not most intriguing, feature that you’ll see is the glass sculpture contrasting the square building called The Enigma. 1,062 glass triangles make up this surreal blob-like architecture that seems to be either oozing from the heart of the museum or consuming it. Dalí-ma, amirite?! If you’re not a fan of pretending to be artsy, there are plenty of other interesting experiences in the area such as…
The St. Petersburg Saturday Morning Market
Just down the street from The Dalí, and situated right next to the Tampa Bay Rowdies stadium, lies the quaint, yet growing, Saturday Morning Market – but only on Saturday mornings. The rest of the time it’s just a parking lot. Enjoy a variety of shops, food trucks, locally grown produce and live music. The cool, summer breeze of the early morning doesn’t quite kill the humidity, but it helps if you pretend it does. Grab some bbq, some locally produced ginger beer, pull up next to a busker and people watch while you enjoy the adorable, yet appropriately sized, famers market.
Despite its small stature, St. Petersburg offers a booming nightlife on the weekends. Remember the stupid amount of arts districts? Yeah, those all come alive with the moon, much like a werewolf that’s cute and doesn’t want to kill you. Downtown you will find your fist-pumping, tight-shirt-exhibiting, vape-heavy clubs interspersed with divey music venues. Make your way closer to the bay and you can find yourself on an overcrowded rooftop bar enjoying a cool beverage whose price and alcohol content are inversely correlated. If that’s not your scene, hit up Grand Central for some poppin’ cafes, and of course Bodega! Seriously though, I jest but St. Pete’s nightlife is actually pretty cool and there is enough variation for everyone to find somewhere to be for an enjoyable night.
You’ve found yourself in St. Petersburg and you’re asking, “What the hell do I do for fun out here?” If the answer isn’t blatantly obvious to you, then you’re probably reading this article and I’m here to tell you what that obvious answer is. Beach it! Go sailing! Tune into nature, man! St. Petersburg offers so many outdoor activities that you won’t be able to tackle them all in one trip. From parasailing and kayaking to hiking (umm, nature walking?) and novelty pirate ship rides – get out and find some adventure!
Have you been landlocked your whole life? Have you recently watched Captain Ron and thought, I wish I could be a goofy, but loveable con artist sailor? Well, St. Petersburg can help you with your life long dream (let me know if I’m just projecting here). A simple Google search will show at least 4 highly rated sailboat charter companies that are happy to take your money and show you the ropes. Get it? The ropes… Seriously though, there was nothing more rewarding than being in tune with the wind and the water. The bay is huge and spotted with small islands and sandbars; the possibilities range from a couple hour joy ride to overnight sailcations. Around 7:00 p.m., heave to and enjoy a dip in the stupidly warm water as the sun engulfs the skyline in burning majesty.
You can’t talk about St. Petersburg without talking about its beaches. I’ve been to quite a few beaches in my day, and I must say that the St. Petersburg area offers, hands down, the best beaches I have ever been to in the United States. White sands, turquoise water, sand dunes, you name it. And they are so clean! I can’t think of a bigger bummer on a beach trip than a disgusting beach – other than a shark attack, or an exploding whale, or jellyfish stings, or an oil spill, or a racist tirade from an ignorant asshole that thinks that Americans aren’t immigrants themselves. But littered beaches pretty much top the charts other than those things. If you’re looking for the beach life, look into Clearwater, St. Pete Beach, and Madeira Beach – all of which are gorgeous, offer stunning sunsets, tons of activities, and vary in popularity. Possibly the best part of Florida is the ability to see the sun rise over the Atlantic and set over the Gulf in one day. How many places offer such an opportunity?
Florida is known for its swamps and gators and cannibals and backwards politics. My solution is to hang out with the first two and ignore the second two until the cannibals eat the politicians. In St. Pete alone there are at least three nature preserves that offer various activities. Weedon Island preserve in North St. Petersburg is a 3,100-acre natural area that offers paddling, walking trails, and fishing across various ecosystems. If history and archaeology strike your fancy, explore the history of the Weeden (yes, the spelling is different) culture that grew from the ancient inhabitants of the island and dominated the area for 800 years. Perhaps you are more physically adventurous. If that’s the case, paddle through the natural mangroves and witness the circle of life around you – no need to worry about gators, though. However, if gators are your thing, then make your way to Boyd Hill Nature Preserve and witness the boring stillness of alligators lying in wait. Nothing says awesome like a lazy ass alligator refusing to put on a show.
Don’t let St. Petersburg’s small size fool you. This is a booming city with more to offer than one trip can explore. I think the best part is the fact that it is hidden from the American people. Seriously, no one in Oregon that I’ve talked to about this place has ever heard of it. With the amount of economic stimulus and growth it is enjoying, the flourishing arts and food scenes, and the coveted climate, I am expecting St. Pete to be the next up-and-coming American city. Get it before it’s too late.