Soak in Sun and Culture in St. Petersburg

1. Where to Stay

Sleep next to the water at the palatial Don CeSar.Photo: Courtesy of Don CeSar

Sway between palm trees on a hammock at the Postcard Inn (from $99), a mod 1957 Travelodge converted to a high-design hideaway in 2009, with spacious rooms featuring longboards and pinup collages of surfing photos.

Watch a Gulf sunset from your room at the Don CeSar (from $199), an Old Florida palace on St. Pete Beach that’s ornamented with Moorish chimneys and dramatic double-arched windows. The massive, pink Jazz Age hotel that once hosted the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and FDR underwent its most recent renovation in 2010; it now boasts an $11 million spa with treatments like orange-blossom-and-sand foot scrubs and juniper-and-citrus wraps (90 minutes, $225).

Cozy up in a wicker rocker on the breezy veranda at the Vinoy Renaissance (from $259), a lavish property where visitors come to moor their yachts on the 74-slip marina and take advantage of the exclusive golf course, heated pools, and tennis courts.

2. Where to Eat

Peg's Cantina offers fresh Mexican food and a wide selection of beer. Photo: Courtesy of Peg's Cantina

Order off-menu at Wildwood BBQ and Burger, a satellite of Gramercy Park’s popular ’cue pit, where secret standouts include a bacon trio ($5.95), buttery kernel-studded skillet cornbread ($4.50), and the Pitmaster Combo ($34.95) with three kinds of ribs, sliced brisket, pulled pork, and a half chicken. Skip the beer and peruse the excellent wine list, which lists a full-bodied 2007 Hangtime Pinot Noir ($36).

Dine among Pinellas County’s young, upwardly mobile set at Cassis, downtown’s new brasserie outfitted with leather booths, tiled floors, and tables that sprawl out onto the sunny street corner. Tender scallops with smashed peas ($25) and juicy duck confit ($22) are tasty options, but no trip to Florida would be complete without an early bird special—here it’s a flexible three-course menu for $20.11 available from 4 to 7 p.m.

Nurse a home-brewed Square Dancing IPA ($5) and munch on wild mahimahi tacos ($15) and sugarcane shrimp skewers ($15) at Peg’s Cantina, a woodsy, relaxed bungalow surrounded by sand pines and native Florida palms. The sprawling cedar deck is a great place to watch time pass slowly in the overlooked Gulfport neighborhood.

3. What to Do

Peruse the world's most comprehensive collection of Salvador Dalí's works at the Dalí Museum. Photo: Courtesy of the Dalí Museum

Browse 96 oil paintings and more than 100 watercolors and drawings at the otherworldly Dalí Museum ($21), a striking $36 million building that opened in January. The collection—which includes famous paintings like The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus and lesser-known works like Lobster Telephone—complement the architecture’s discreetly sunlit galleries and theatrical helix staircase. Don’t miss the eye-popping screening of Dalí and Luis Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou, which plays continuously in the southern gallery.

Dodge the blue-haired ladies and sleepy Impressionist paintings at the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts and instead witness the thriving music scene at Jannus Live, where raucous live acts spill onto the sidewalks all weekend long. The restored alley turned concert venue has hosted big-name acts like Vampire Weekend as well as local rock bands like the Orange Hour.

Admire the urchinlike Ruby Red Icicle Chandelier at the Morean Arts Center’s Chihuly Collection ($15), where the glass sculptor’s only permanent collection landed in July 2010. Cuban-born architect Albert Alfonso’s gallery space sublimely showcases the work in jewel-box vestibules—one lined with cypress walls, another with blue Venetian plaster.

4. Insider’s Tip

The Suncoast Beach Trolley is an easy way to get around Tampa Bay's beaches.Photo: Courtesy of Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority

Going carless in St. Pete is surprisingly easy. Shuttles between downtown and Tampa International Airport cost $25 each way on Super Shuttle. Downtown is large but walkable, and cabs are virtually everywhere and generally don’t run more than $15. If you prefer biking around, Wheel Fun rents beach cruisers for $8/hour and surreys for $20/hour at the St. Pete Pier. On the water, there’s Free Beach Ride, which operates both cars and golf carts for free under the premise that you’ll tip the driver. Finally, the Suncoast Beach Trolley ($2) connects downtown St. Pete to all the cities and beaches along Tampa Bay with connecting service available to Clearwater.

5. Oddball Day

The five-story St. Pete Pier features fishing and biking activities, along with boutiques, restaurants, and an aquarium.Photo: Flickr/texxsmith

Embark on a tour of St. Pete’s idiosyncratic architecture, full of design hits and misses from the last 90 years. Start with a retro plate of S.O.S. (cream-chipped beef on toast, $6) at fifties roadside Biff Burger, a fifteen-minute drive northwest of downtown and the last remaining branch of the once-widespread chain known for its uniform Googie-style lines and upswept canopy roofs. Head ten minutes east to Sunken Gardens, a Depression-era roadside attraction stuffed with fountains and flowers that’s been recently updated with the addition of yoga and hoop-dancing classes ($12 to $15). Meander back downtown to the iconic 1973 inverted pyramid that is the St. Pete Pier, constructed with a tubular steel framework built to last forever but that is now sadly under review for demolition. The nearby 600 Block, home to the historic 1926 Crislip Arcade, received a critical renovation in 2010 after almost being razed by condo developers and is now filled with galleries, studios, shops, and design firms. Head to neighboring Pasadena, twenty minutes away on the beach, for an old-school lunch at open-air fish shack Ted Peter’s Famous Smoked Fish (1530 Pasadena Ave; 727-381-7931). Next, faux house-hunt amid emerging Kenwood’s low-priced bungalows and split-level ranches before moving on to sunset drinks on the revolving rooftop lounge at Spinners, where you can sip strawberry-and-whipped-cream-topped Bahama Mamas ($7) while taking in the 360-degree view of the city formerly known as “God’s Waiting Room.” End the day at Queens Head, a gas station turned alfresco gastropub where you can nibble on toasted baguette slices with pumpkin hummus ($8) and sautéed mussels with bacon in clove-and-chablis cream ($18), followed by generous pours of chardonnay by the outdoor fire pit.

6. Links

Creative Loafing is Tampa Bay’s alternative weekly and the place to go for music, arts, and culture listings, not to mention snarky local news coverage.

The Downtown Arts Association is a handy resource with gallery maps and listings of art walks, museum lectures, events, and tours.

Browse through the local festival and cultural listing of Pinellas County Cultural Affairs, which also has a downloadable cultural map of the county.

The St. Petersburg Times is an excellent Pulitzer-winning newspaper known for tackling serious local and international stories.

Soak in Sun and Culture in St. Petersburg