Since 1969, restaurant, hotel, travel & other witty reviews by a handpicked, worldwide team of discerning professionals—and your views, too.

Vacation Tampa Bay, Florida

Tourist Guide

Double Your Fun
Two Distinct Experiences in One Visit

The nighttime skyline of St. Petersburg, Florida
St. Petersburg skyline


On your second day, journey across Old Tampa Bay to the area's playground of St. Petersburg. If you can start your day with a snack (perhaps a continental breakfast in your hotel room), the rewards of a fuller, more scenic breakfast can be found along St. Petersburg's downtown waterfront.

Getting around Tampa Bay almost inevitably requires renting a car. The municipal bus systems do offer a few connecting routes between the two cities, but the in-city options are limited. Taxis and limos are, of course, a pricey option.

But traffic aside, a car is a good thing to have in St. Petersburg. The city is bracketed between a very stylish and well-developed waterfront on the east and a string of beach communities that line the Gulf of Mexico to the west. This is where tourists come in droves for sun, sand and surf (although not as much surf as the state's east coast beaches).

Downtown St. Petersburg, Florida
A view of Downtown St. Petersburg

It's a fairly easy drive from Tampa to St. Petersburg via I-275 and the Howard Frankland Bridge. (There are actually two other connecting bridges, via Gandy Boulevard and by the Courtney Campbell Causeway in Clearwater, but the Howard Frankland offers the quickest route.) The Howard Frankland takes you over a stunningly scenic look at Old Tampa Bay (and sometimes there's a glimpse of a passing dolphin fin). The interstate will also feed you easily into downtown St. Petersburg.

What the beach communities — from St. Pete Beach northward to Clearwater Beach — may lack in large surf, they more than make up for with expansive white sand. Many of the county's beaches have been named top in the world each year, and there are more than 35 miles of continuous shoreline accessible by foot or boat.

While not technically part of the city of St. Petersburg, the beach communities nonetheless run right up to the city limits, and often the dividing line is invisible and insignificant. Along the beaches, visitors find few of the high-rise hotels that dominate the east coast beaches. Instead, there are numerous condos available for weekly (or longer) rental and a dwindling number of mom-and-pop motels, whose friendliness and hospitality make up for their absence of room service.

But if you want that up market experience, there's no finer — nor pinker — palace than the Don CeSar Hotel & Beach Resort on St. Pete Beach. Unmistakable for its castle-like pink exterior, the Don offers a superb view of the Gulf and the Maritana Grille, one of the finest restaurants on the beaches. Just a few blocks away on St. Pete Beach, one of the best seafood menus waits. It's the venerable The Hurricane. What it lacks in stylish décor it more than makes up for with its down-home seafood menu (and if you hang around until dusk, its view of the setting sun over the Gulf of Mexico). The Hurricane is renowned for its grouper sandwiches, so if grouper is in season (it's a good idea to call ahead), that's a must.

At the other end of the city, on its more developed eastern shoulder, St. Petersburg features a vibrant downtown and waterfront. There are a half-dozen museums that cluster around downtown, connected by the Looper, a trolley service, and more restaurants than can be sampled in a week of Sundays.

The leading stop on the museum tour is the spectacular new $35-million Salvador Dali Museum, featuring the most comprehensive collection (2,000 pieces) of the famous surrealist artist's works. Other close-by museums include the Florida Holocaust Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Dale Chihuly Glass Collection at the Morean Art Center and the St. Petersburg Museum of History.

Within a few blocks of the waterfront are glimpses of the old St. Petersburg where brick streets and tall oaks still reign. And on a nice spring day, visitors to the downtown area can find such a great choice of diversions — from shuffleboard and sailboat regattas to professional baseball to croquet.

Increasingly, St. Petersburg's downtown has a night life. Thanks to persistent expansion by city officials and the expansion of the University of South Florida's St. Petersburg campus, the image of tired and retired has changed. Dinner options are plentiful, including Garden Restaurant on Central Avenue, with great outdoor seating.

The bars and lounges up and down Central Avenue, from Beach Drive westward to around Sixth Street, provide live music and a congenial atmosphere for post-dinner relaxation.

Continue to Day 3


* St. Petersburg image by Jamie Beverly

(Updated: 06/07/13 CT)

Plan a voyage to a tropical paradise aboard one of GAYOT's Best Caribbean Cruises.
Get the 411 on the City of Angels. Find the city's top hotels, restaurants, attractions and more with GAYOT's guide.