While many towns around the nation are revamping to be more walkable, downtown St. Petersburg is tailor-made for pedestrians.
No matter the time of year, the Sunshine City in the Sunshine State is bursting beyond the sidewalks with people from all over the globe -- particularly on weekends.
So join a couple of locals offering tips for navigating the streets of St. Pete for 24 hours as they recommend new spots and old favorites for eating, drinking, and exploring the ‘Burg, a town in the midst of an art and commerce renaissance.
Saturday 12:45pm — Welcome to the Historic Old Northeast Neighborhood
A horse and buggy click-clacking along red-brick streets lined in giant oaks with Spanish moss drapery resemble a Southern romance novel, but locals say that not too long ago the Historic Old Northeast seemed more old than historic, and it was a bit sketchy too.
Now it has rebounded to become one of the most sought after ‘hoods in St. Pete. Sure, there are hotel options ranging from cheap to chic just a few blocks away in the heart of downtown, but staying in an Old NE AirBnB
lets you feel like a local and offers flexible check-in times.
Park the car and hide the keys because downtown is made for walking, biking, trolley-ing, or even horse-drawn carriage-ing, but not driving. It’s a small town packed with weekend festivities and foot traffic often flows faster than cars cruising Beach Drive.
Slackline at Saturday Morning Market.12:50pm — Stroll downtown, skirting crowds and sampling the market
Beach Drive is the main drag for museums, shops, and restaurants with plenty of people-watching to be done. Just keep in mind that you’re on a mission; market tamales wait for nobody.
Stroll on the park side of the street watching the hustle and bustle from a more serene vantage enjoying North and South Straub Parks and Pioneer Park before arriving at The Saturday Morning Market
(230 1st St. SE). The market is definitely no secret. In fact, it’s packed, but all of St. Pete is on a sunny Saturday.
Work the edges for more people-watching and music ranging from a toe-tapping fiddler along the shady sidewalk to the Bus Stop Band
funking it up as the main event. Watching senior citizen June Ilardo shake her groove thing is worth wading into the crowd for a bit, but the food at the far end of the market is the real payoff with more than 20 Tampa Bay food stands in one spot.
An international plate develops with pork, shrimp and crabmeat appetizer dumplings ($5) from Thai Gourmet Market, a lentil sambusa ($3) from Taste of Ethiopia and a fantastic green chili pork tamale plate from Azteca Rojo served with refried beans, pico de gallo and a refreshing sliced carrot salad ($8) which contends for best dish in the market and sells out frequently.
Slip away from the crowd and enjoy the samplings in the shade of Al Lang Field watching kids, dogs, and slacklining daredevils playing between the palms.
1:45pm — Dally at The Dali
Stroll south taking in the less crowded scenery along the waterfront to The Dali Museum
(1 Dali Blvd.). While museums on a Saturday may seem more assembly line than a fine art-viewing, consider popping into the large gift shop to get a feel for the work and gauge your interest.
Dali was a genius and it’s a rare opportunity to view such a collection, so if it’s your only opportunity, queue up and go with the flow. Consider the complimentary audio tour to block out the crowd (there’s a “Mr. Moustache” version of the tour for 5-13-year-olds) and learn how Dali hid underlying meaning and math throughout his work.
If artistic-mad-scientist-genius is not your thing, there’s no admission required for Café Gala, named after Dali’s wife and muse. Grab tapas or drinks or just gawk at The Enigma, a surreal serpentine glass structure entwining the otherwise simple concrete block exterior as guests climb the impressive helical (think DNA double-helix) staircase.
Also, admission free, outside the café is a playground for all ages getting lost in the “Avant-garden” labyrinth, searching for the golden ratio spiral and making awkward photos with a giant mustache.
Side Trip -- If you skip The Dali, consider The Hangar Restaurant
and Flight Lounge (540 1st St. SE) at Albert Whitted Airport, which offers an interesting combination of tasty food like chicken & waffles, burgers, and drinks from a balcony overlooking the runway as small aircraft come and go.
For the adventurous diner, place your food order and hop on a quick helicopter or biplane tour over downtown, returning to earth just in time for lunch.
2:10pm — In search of rejuvenating liquids
You’re no Ponce De Leon, but you can discover The Fountain of Youth at 4th Avenue South & 1st Street Southeast. Feel free to plant a selfie flag on social media, a conquest sure to earn a comment or two. Take a couple of sips for hydration then venture for another magical liquid as you walk past the Starbucks and take a left for some local coffee.
Coffee is a Tampa Bay Area roaster and St. Pete favorite that has several strategic locations around town so you can map out a coffee crawl to keep you moving. This location, often referred to as Kahwa South (204 2nd Ave. S.), features local artwork and feels like a small gallery other than the office-less young professionals tapping away on laptops.
2:30pm — Hang out with Ringo
Cross the bridge to Demens Landing, named after city co-founder Peter Demens, to find winding pathways, waterfront picnic shelters and if you’re lucky, a local celebrity named Ringo. According to John “Skip” Brihn, Ringo was dropped off in a box about 10 years ago and has been a fixture at Demens Landing ever since. Ringo is a motley colored kitty that moves in slow motion, casually approaching strangers to make friends.
“Even the bums all love Ringo,” says Brihn, “They used to compete with each other to try to get Ringo to sit next to ‘em.”
Brihn claims joint custody of Ringo along with a marina live-aboard. The two keep Ringo fed and in good health, making sure he sports his collar that indicates Ringo is no stray, he lives on a boat.
Brihn laughs, “He’s actually gone in the water a couple of times after the fish. It’s so f***ing hysterical, ‘cause as soon as he hits the water he realizes what a piss poor idea it was. I go down on the rocks and yank him out and dry him off. (Then) he’s looking at me like why didn’t you stop me? …I love him,” he sighs.
Lay in the grass with Ringo and watch puffy clouds and planes fly by. A relaxing trend is developing.
3:15pm — A taste of high society in a pink palace brought back from the dead
North along the waterfront is the big pink beauty known as The Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club
(501 5th Ave. NE). The Vinoy is swanky with several dining options open to the public but the Lobby Bar and Veranda Patio are as far as you need to go for a taste of high society while maintaining a laid-back atmosphere.
The long porch offers rocking chairs, cushy group seating, and an outside bar. A lobster grilled cheese sandwich ($18) made with Havarti on brioche bread with a lobster bisque shooter and chips is a unique experience, or you can simply grab a coffee and snack at the tiny Veranda café at the west end of the porch.
Take a few moments to go inside and get a quick history lesson in the lobby. At the west exit to the Tea Garden, the walls tell the story of St. Pete in a timeline since 1900 and pictures showing how today’s symbol of high society in St. Pete was brought back from the dead. The display reads, “For eighteen years, The Vinoy Park Hotel remained closed. During that time, it was occupied by the homeless; picked over by scavengers; and invaded by insects, vermin and floods.”
4:20pm — Loving the ‘Burg
Vinoy Park is a postcard in motion. Against a backdrop of the St. Petersburg Pier and Tampa Bay, beach cruisers rest against palms trees cradling swaying hammocks as couples stroll the seawall watching for dolphins swimming underfoot.
Michelle Bakowski and Esther Kim have proclaimed this “the best day ever.” Yoga downtown with Lululemon Athletica
started their day before breakfast at Central Coffee Shoppe, then Saturday Morning Market shopping and biking around town.
Now, it’s time for hanging out in hammocks on the waterfront as Kim throws out the city’s unofficial tagline, “We love the ‘Burg!”
5:45pm — Hippies in the trees, ride The Looper
Hop on the open-air Downtown Looper Trolley
. The 50 cents would be well spent on just the transportation and scenery, but the knowledge of the trolley driver is the real deal.
A native St. Petersburger, he points out that the hippies playing music in the giant banyan trees next to the Museum of Fine Arts
are regular performers in the area, then helps steer a tourist conversation that’s way off course, placing Babe Ruth in the ‘burg in the 1960s, though he died in 1948.
He gets the conversation back on factual track just in time to roll by Al Lang stadium where The Bambino became a prominent part of St. Pete history, training here with the NY Yankees in the ’20s and ’30s. The stadium is now home to the Tampa Bay Rowdies
professional soccer team, but March 10th is still Babe Ruth Day in the ‘Burg.
The trolley is great for watching the city in action, which this evening includes a celebrity sighting of former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a St. Petersburg resident, walking into Ceviche Tapas Bar & Restaurant
(10 Beach Drive), a Tampa Bay favorite for tapas, especially on Thursday nights with Flamenco music and dancers.
6:20pm — Last light scene from The Canopy
Though the sun sets over the Gulf of Mexico, the pastel palette that develops over Tampa Bay is spectacular in its own right and best seen from The Canopy Rooftop Lounge
atop The Birchwood Inn
(340 Beach Drive NE.). The aerial view showcases St. Pete’s waterfront with giant banyan trees standing below you as the dipping sun cools Tampa Bay from pink to twilight blue.
6:45pm — Annata
One of the newest food options on Beach Drive is a cozy wine bar called Annata
(300 Beach Dr. NE) from Kurt and Mary Cuccaro, co-owners of the popular Mazzaro's Italian Market. In fact, everything served at Annata can be created from items available at Mazzaro’s Italian Market. The cheese and charcuterie is a must, with a choose-your-own-adventure approach allowing you to pick three ($12), five ($18), or seven ($25) items from a great lineup of cheeses and prepared meats.
Tonight’s winning combination of Chorizo from La Rioja Spain, Cana De Oveja (sheep milk cheese from Spain) and Prosciutto Di Parma, from Parma, Italy is garnished with French whole-grain mustard, Valencia herbed almonds, dried apricots, quince paste, seasoned olives, cornichons, micro basil sprouts, honey, savory crisps and fresh-made bread from Mazzaro's. It’s simple and fantastic, tempting for another round, but there’s more food fun ahead.
8pm — Sundial, a new dawn for the former Baywalk
A year ago, the shops formerly known as Baywalk were a ghost town. Aside from the movie theater, it was a mass exodus of retail. Now it’s renamed and fully remodeled as Sundial St. Petersburg
(153 2nd Ave. N.) and the new tenants have it buzzing with activity.
Restaurants are the headliners with Seasalt
and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse
in the spotlight, but Locale Market
, from chefs, co-owners, and now local celebrities Michael Mina and Don Pintabona, is stealing the show.
Locale is an amusement park for food lovers. As soon as you enter, grab a single beer from the library of local brews. Most are $2.99 and they’ll crack it for your enjoyment during culinary explorations, turning one of the most upscale spots in St. Pete into a beer-drinking bargain more exciting than sitting at a bar.
There’s a wine bar upstairs with a more restaurant-like feel, but this is a low-key Locale tour, so jump in line to order some gourmet grub from the grill before wandering. Your buzzy-thingy will signal your order’s up right about the time you finish exploring. Check out interesting Florida seafood fare like Tampa Bay clams, local hogfish, and invasive Lion Fish, giving you a unique opportunity to eat the enemy of our native Florida fish species. There’s plenty of handmade pasta and sauce, and keep an eye out for Mozzarella stretching time.
Butchers present unique items like house-made alligator andouille and meats hanging for dry aging in a salt block showcase. Wanderlust complete, The St. Petersburger is served up tall, juicy & fantastic, made with dry-aged beef, double smoked bacon, gouda, onions, and mushrooms. It would've been nice if it came with fries or chips for the $13.49 price tag, but there is no denying, it’s a damn tasty burger. The Peanut Crunch burger with bacon jam, pimento cheese, potato chips (on the burger), and crunchy peanut butter is an interesting alternative for $11.49.
Locale is pricey but top-notch. It’s St. Pete’s version of Seattle’s Pike Place Market, but much more intimate, sophisticated, and truly local.
TIP -- Grab your beer, burger (and some fries), and go to the second floor past the formal dining area to enjoy your bounty on the balcony.
9:30pm — The Edge District
A Chad Mize/Blue Lucy
curated show of art on skateboards called Shifty Tricks has drawn a crowd to The Amsterdam
bar (1049 Central Ave.), which has become a community gathering spot by hosting groups ranging from The Sierra Club to the Church of Nintendo in the past few weeks.
There are 24 beers on tap and a boxer named Spartacus hangs out behind the bar, the owner’s canine companion. The permanent art lining the walls is by Dan Painter, an urban legend of an artist whose work is well-known for someone who refuses formal gallery shows. While words don’t serve his work justice, the phrases “demon safari” and “scary amazing” come close.
Art talk stops when Los Diablos Blancos
belts out enthusiastic if not polished punk, exactly as it should be. It’s a great place to get lost in the crowd inside with the option to slip outside and collect your thoughts while admiring their large and often changing wall mural as the ringing in your ears begins to fade.
10:45pm — Last set, Green Bench bluegrass
Green Bench Brewing Company
(1133 Baum Ave. N.) is one of four (soon to be six) breweries within walking distance of each other in the downtown vicinity. Its name derives from green benches that once lined Central Avenue. The building is a true brewery and tasting room set up with a wonderful outdoor addition that gives it the feel of a neighborhood backyard barbeque.
It’s a hot spot for beer lovin’ parents to bring their kids until night falls, then the kiddos disappear and the twinkling strands of Christmas lights set a low key, casual ambiance. Tonight Gypsy Wind
wields bluegrass to the audience lounging in the green grass, on plastic Adirondacks, and at picnic tables sipping brews named with locale homage. One favorite, The Happy Hermit Pale Ale is named after The Happy Hermit of Cabbage Key, one of the first settlers in the area who lived in a thatched hut on a beach.
11:40pm — Central Ave stagger, enjoy the grit, and ignore your better judgment
Back on the 600 block, heavy metal and smoke pour from The Local 662, rap flows from FUBAR & techno wafts from Johnny Vapors vape lounge. There’s a pretty good crowd at The Local 662
(662 Central Ave.) rocking out to the metal, though the bartender doesn’t know the band nor seems to really care as she shrugs shoulders responding “there’s been so many.”
At this point a smart plan would be to choose a St. Pete staple to finish off the night:
A. The pioneer of craft beer in St. Pete is The Ale & Witch
(111 2nd Ave. NE). Before The Witch, the phrase variety on tap usually meant Bud Light, Bud Heavy, and Bud Lime, but when Brett Andress opened up shop, good beer flowed from 32 taps and there was live music nearly every night, not to mention a bartending queen named Vicki Moran who, despite weeks and months between visits, can remember your name and pick your favorite new brew from the menu before you even know it. They even update their tap list in real-time via their Twitter feed, now that’s serious.
B. Started in Gulfport at Peg’s Cantina, Cycle Brewing
(534 Central Ave.) moved to St. Pete and is home to a calmer crowd and makes great beers including one of the tastiest in town, a sweet, dark pint of porter love named Cream and Sugar Please.
C. Another logical choice would be closer to your pillow and a good night’s sleep, a place that actually deserves the overused title neighborhood bar: The Old Northeast Tavern
(718 2nd St. N.). Nestled among the homes of the Historic Old Northeast Neighborhood, there are 31 taps and good food, not to mention if you only have one drink you might even wake up early enough to watch the sunrise over Tampa Bay, doesn’t that sound beautiful?
D. Or you can sacrifice the sunrise and follow the green glow of a neon shamrock luring barflies to its flame. Entering its stone facade with a cage-like wrought iron door feels like bumping into an ex-whatever and saying hi when you know you should have just kept walking. Welcome to The Emerald.
Undisclosed Time — Endearing and dangerous, dance at your own risk
(550 Central Ave.) is one of those places that seems to never have the last call, and if you ever do experience one, there’s going to be trouble in the morning.
The décor is a dive bar at its best; fake wood panel, dim yellow lights, and lots of darkness. A tall can of the champagne of beers and discussion over the “DANCE AT YOUR OWN RISK” sign near a dartboard leads to talking with a couple who proceed to buy more beer and mystery shots.
The evening then takes a turn involving secrecy and signatures scribbled across a reporter's notebook that is probably not legally binding, but it’s understood that the world is better off following any non-disclosure agreements that are born at The Emerald.
9am — Shake off the night with a heavy dose of sunshine
A sunny spot in an Adirondack chair is the perfect spot for blue skies, swaying green palms, and yellow polka dots of ripening fruit hanging in the trees. Lizards shuffle through fallen leaves and bob their heads approving the sunning technique.
10am — Parrots and espresso
Stroll back through the ‘hood along 2nd Street North past the community garden and fight off the what-might-have-been feelings as you pass the Old Northeast Tavern. Stop and check out the bird feeder frenzy as brightly colored wild parrots squawk and co-mingle with squirrels and pigeons, the wild kingdom version of regulars bellying up to the neighborhood bar. Kahwa
Coffee to the rescue, this time at 475 2nd St. N. for a shot of espresso to fuel your footsteps.
10:30am — Breakfast with Marilyn Monroe
Central Coffee Shoppe
(530 Central Ave.) has been blessing Sunday morning hangovers with old school diner food and coffee since 1975, but the décor goes back to the ’60s with images of Marilyn Monroe wallpapering the joint. Holes worn well into the floor are a good sign for business and the best seat in the house is a high top stool at the bar.
Under the glow of pink neon, cooks and servers choreograph a diner dance in the small space behind the counter. The air is thick with the sound of clanging plates and the smell of butter. The fried catfish ($7.95) and biscuits and gravy ($4.95) breakfast plates would make any Southern granny proud.
Noon — Daddy Kool Records
Daddy Kool Records
(666 Central Ave.) has been in St. Pete since 1999 slinging vinyl and promoting shows at The State Theater
(687 Central Ave.) a few doors down. It’s part record shop, part ticket venue, and all fun.
Stop in to grab goodies including posters and T-shirts and unique toys including Breaking Bad’s Walter White action figure wearing his trademark tighty-whities amongst a selection of albums old and new representing popular music and art icons that should be a study requisite for every local high schooler.
12:25pm — One last sunbathing and people-watching session on the waterfront
They’re not quite Hell’s Angels, but keep an eye out for roving packs of Segways on the sidewalks, St. Pete’s snowbird sons of anarchy, as you find a shady spot along the seawall.
Locals playing bongo drums and woodwinds may serve as the St. Pete soundtrack of your memory, but keep an ear open for an often seen power-walker calling “Hey doggy-dogs!” as he strolls, handing out peanuts to squirrels chasing him down the sidewalk in pied-piper fashion.
Soak up your weird and wonderful last moments in The Sunshine City as the sea breeze sways palms and lifts laughter and kites up to the sky.
Other lodging options
Ponce de Leon Hotel
, (95 Central Ave.)
Middle of it all, above Ceviche Tapas Bar & Restaurant
The Hollander Hotel
, (421 4th Ave. N.)
A few blocks off Central Ave. downtown, a one-stop-shop for fun, food, and brew thanks to the taproom and coffee shop on site
The Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club
(501 5th Ave. NE.)
The fancy pink palace
Prefer pedaling to walking?
Consider renting a bike at St. Pete Bicycle & Fitness
(1205 4th St.)
Editor's note: Have a Kahwa coffee drink on us! 83 Degrees has hidden a message at one of the 24 Hours locations mentioned in this feature story so that a geocache loving reader will be compelled to find the message using GPS coordinates 27°46'14.3"N 82°37'41.0"W. Send the winning message to [email protected] to be eligible for a $5 Kahwa gift card.
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