By Donna Carter
Visit St Petersburg/Clearwater
Sun, sea, sand and a bounty of outdoor activities are a given for this pair of communities that occupy a peninsula on Florida’s central West Coast. Rimmed by Tampa Bay on the east and the Gulf of Mexico on the west, the area’s sub-tropical climate has long been an attraction for Canadian snowbirds and vacationers. Moreover, this is a destination that seems to have understood the theory that not moving forward means falling behind. Consequently, a focus on development and expansion over the past several years has significantly elevated the communities’ overall appeal with one of the particularly affected areas being arts and culture. In this regard, both cities now boast an abundance of world-class entertainment including everything from excellent museums to live theatre, opera, music and cultural historic sites.
Salvador Dali Museum, Inc. St. Petersburg, Florida
Widely referred to as St. Pete, the city’s greatest boost in public awareness came with the 2011 opening of the Salvador Dali Museum named after the Spanish artist considered the greatest surrealist painter the world has ever known. Dali died in 1989 and today the largest collection of his works outside of Spain is housed in a stunning new US $36 million Dali Museum. Located on the downtown waterfront, the 6,317-square metre facility contains 96 oil paintings, at least 100 watercolours and drawings, and more than 1,000 sculptures, photos and other objets d’art.
Next door to the Dali museum is the Mahaffey Theatre that hosts the Florida Orchestra plus a year-long roster of acts that includes such highlight performances as Broadway musicals, high profile solo entertainers, the Moscow Ballet, Canadian Brass and Cirque Chinois, one of the most distinguished circus troupes in China. In fact, every single month includes an exciting collection of world-class shows. Furthermore, there is no shortage of city theatres including the American Stage Theatre in its new building where performances range from Shakespeare to contemporary playwrights.
Less light-hearted but nevertheless an important cultural facility is the Florida Holocaust Museum. Using historical photos, original artifacts and recorded text, the museum’s permanent collection documents the tragedy of the Holocaust while memorializing both victims and survivors. On display is one of the few remaining railroad boxcars used by the Nazis to transport Jews to infamous prison camps such as Auschwitz and Treblinka.
One of St. Pete’s greatest cultural icons is The Pier, originally established in 1899 and rebuilt in 1973. It’s impossible to miss this city landmark stretching several thousand metres into Tampa Bay where it houses restaurants, five storeys of shopping, live music, an observation deck and the Pier Aquarium. Open year-round, it’s a popular gathering place and entertainment arcade for adults and families alike.
Also important to the city’s cultural scene are the Museum of Fine Arts (West Coast Florida’s only comprehensive permanent collection ranging from antiquities to contemporary art) and the St. Petersburg Museum of History, a small repository that highlights the fascinating history of the city.
Visit St Petersburg/Clearwater
Although Clearwater’s Pier 60 does not have a history nearly as long as St. Pete’s famous pier, it is nevertheless a landmark on its way to becoming a city icon. It’s a popular gathering place open 365 days a year around the clock where sunsets at the pier are a Clearwater tradition. Measuring 329 metres long, Pier 60 features shops, restaurants, fishing and a variety of spontaneous entertainers including artists, musicians, jugglers and magic acts.
Tapping into the city’s arts and culture scene is as easy here as in St. Petersburg. A treasure of modern architecture, The Ruth Eckerd Hall is arguably Clearwater’s finest performing arts venue. An exciting roster of performances is presented year round including entertainers such as Golden Globe and Grammy winner, Queen Latifah, who will appear in concert there next March. An extensive monthly schedule includes everything from Broadway and theatre to comedy, pop, rock and jazz.
Said to be Florida’s oldest, the Royalty Theatre is the pride of Clearwater where its stage has seen world famous performers such as Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Bob Hope and Elvis Presley. Reminiscent of a classic Hollywood theatre, this beautifully restored facility with large mirrors, sparkling chandeliers and a polished wood-plank stage create a splendid ambience for performances covering all genres of live entertainment. Following countless sightings, what also comes with the territory is the claim the theatre has been haunted for decades by at least two ghosts, one an old sea captain and the other a young girl.
The Francis Wilson Playhouse is another venue that enhances the community’s cultural image. Visitors here can expect to see such Broadway musicals as Fiddler on the Roof, Crazy for You and Plaza Suite.
Visit St Petersburg/Clearwater
Sharing the peninsula with St. Pete and Clearwater are the smaller, adjoining communities of Largo, Dunedin, Tarpon Springs and Pinellas Park. Together, their additional attractions help make the area one of the most important arts and culture destinations on the Gulf Coast. Sandwiched between St. Pete and Clearwater, Largo has the eight-hectare Heritage Village, a living history museum that brings to life the early days of Florida through pioneer craft demonstrations and a variety of 1800s buildings including the oldest lived-in house in the region. The community also boasts the Gulf Coast Museum of Art, a contemporary museum featuring a collection of Florida art, fine crafted items, sculpture gardens and special exhibitions.
Largo also has the Armed Forces History Museum, an award-winning 4,645-square metre facility that employs animated dioramas, authentic memorabilia, war machinery and unique displays that portray the history of some of the world’s major conflicts.
Tarpon Springs has a special cultural cachet – namely its long-standing association with the sponge industry. A town once known as the “sponge capital” of America, it was made famous by Greek immigrants whose offshore sponge diving put the community on the map. Sponge harvesting today is less important than it once was, however, tourists can still witness dive exhibitions, visit the town’s old sponge market, and take sponge diving excursions.
For more information see www.visitstpeteclearwater.com