January 9, 2022: Tampa Bay´s Sleeper Pick
St. Petersburg aka St. Pete is Florida´s 5th most populous city. It is located on the western shore of Tampa Bay across from the city of Tampa. Is is named after the city of Saint Petersburg, Russia´s 2nd largest city.
The city of St Pete is universally known around Tampa Bay for being as a nice place to visit. I picked to visit it over Clearwater Beach because it was a really nice day and I figured that the beach would be packed. St Pete is also close to the Tampa airport, where I was flying out from that evening, so I would get more time to explore. Finally, my Tampa hosts, Jimi and Sidney, had never been. This seemed like a good opportunity for all.
We drove from central Tampa to St Pete took about 30 minutes along a ridiculously long bridge across Tampa Bay. We immediately headed to the city´s star attraction, the Salvador Dali Museum.
You may be asking yourself, why is there a Salvador Dali museum in Florida? Well, it turns out that Cleveland couple Reynolds and Elizabeth Moore saw a Dali exposition in 1942. They were so inspired by the art that they started buying lots of Dali´s work and eventually became good friends of the artist. After 25 years of collecting Dali´s art, they decided to open a museum attached to their business in Cleveland. However, they soon ran out of room and went on a national search for a new home for the artwork. The most compelling offer was to take over an abandoned warehouse in St Pete´s. That warehouse became the Salvador Dali Museum.
A larger, more stormproof and architecturally impressive Salvador Dali Museum was built in 2011.
The museum apparently contains the second-largest collection of Dali paintings and drawings in the world (after the Dali Theater-Museum in Figureres, Spain which Dali built himself). The collection is arranged chronologically starting with paintings from when Dali was a teenager. The collection has several masterpieces and monumental paintings.
While I love Dali´s work, the museum was a bit of a letdown. The museum building is gigantic but Dali´s art takes up only a fraction of the building. The rest is a lobby, café, classrooms, and offices. Maybe I was spoiled by the Picasso Museums around Europe, but I was expecting more art.
Additionally, the museum costs a steep $29 for entry. For comparison, New York´s Metropolitan Museum of Art (aka The Met) only charges $25. So, I would say that the museum is not a great value.
Luckily, St Pete´s has a whopping 7 art museums, so there are options if you want to see art.
It was now lunchtime and we headed to Central Avenue a bit west of the downtown, just north of Tropicana Stadium. This is supposed to be the cool place to be and indeed it was!
The strip had tons of cool restaurants, bars and coffee shop. By Florida standards, it was packed with cool-looking young and middle-aged people and their dogs. We ate lunch at a Cuban sandwich spot called Bodega on Central. It has a reputation for having the best Cubano in Florida…and it just might.
With limited time, we then drove to downtown St Pete, which is beautiful. It had an established, old Florida feel with plenty of tree cover. After downing some water, we headed out to the newly renovated pier. The $92 million renovations were completed in July 2020.
While technically everything was floating on water, the St Pete Pier felt more like an entertainment district. The pier has so many attractions such as a flea market, fake beach, history museum and grassy lawns. The pier is also concrete instead of wood, making it feel even less like a pier.
At the far end of the pier is a conspicuous futuristic 3-story building. At the top of this building was a tiki bar! The bar was comfortably busy. I ordered a reasonably priced $11 frozen margarita and soaked up the perfect views of the city.
It was then sadly time to head to the airport.
St Petersburg is awesome. The city is beautiful and has a lot to do. With 7 art museums, there is far more culture than most American towns of its size. The pier is a world-class destination and is rightfully deserving of the crowds.
But more than just the sights, I got the feeling that the community in St Pete´s is strong. The Saturday farmer´s market reportedly attracts people from all over Tampa Bay. The crowds in the neighborhood west of downtown indicated that there is a strong young professionals and creative class. Many cities in Florida are tacky, but I did not get that vibe in St Pete.
The city also boasts MLB´s Tampa Bay Rays, although the stadium is supposed to be terrible.
As it is on the bay instead of the ocean, there are no beaches. However, the city of St Pete Beach is just 15 minutes away.
If I had to pick a city to live in Florida, St Pete is sure high up on the list. I would highly recommend it for a visit.