Known for its crystal clear blue water, sugar-fine white sand and sun-drenched days, St. Pete/Clearwater, Florida is the ideal place to spend a holiday. But these two connected Gulf Coast cities offer so much more than TripAdvisor's No. 1 (Clearwater Beach) and No. 4 (St. Pete Beach) beaches in the United States. They are home to splendid art scenes and world-class museums, diverse dining, bars and breweries, and natural wonders that stretch beyond the beach. Here are 12 ways to experience the ultimate Gulf Coast vacation in St. Pete/Clearwater.
Visit The Dalí Museum
Address: One Dali Boulevard, St. Petersburg
Hours: 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. daily; open until 8 p.m. on Thursday evenings.
Home to the largest collection of Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali’s works outside of Spain, The Dalí Museum combines mind-bending modern architecture with a massive permanent collection that spans his entire career. There are also rotating exhibits from artists and creatives who were influenced by Dalí in some way. The café and gift shop are both worthy stops for snacks and souvenirs, as is the bubble mirror for a one-of-a-kind selfie.
Downtown St. Pete has a burgeoning street art scene with more than 500 colourful murals painted by local, national and international artists. There’s even an annual mural festival called SHINE that takes place in October, ensuring new street art will continue to pop up across the city. For the best mural-peeping, reference the Ultimate List of Street Art in St. Pete and embark on a self-guided walking tour. Prefer the insight afforded by a local insider? Florida CraftArt offers both walking mural tours, as well as tours by bike.
Meet a (marine) celebrity
Address: 249 Windward Passage, Clearwater
No, not the human kind. We’re talking about the star of Dolphin Tale and Dolphin Tale 2, of course. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is home to Winter, whose story about losing her tail is told in the movies. Both flicks were filmed on location at the Aquarium so visitors can view actual sets and props. The Aquarium operates as a marine hospital with a mission to rescue, rehab and release sea creatures including tropical fish, dolphins, stingrays, pelicans and turtles. Presentations, exhibits and educational games appeal to families and animal lovers alike.
Discover a new (old) game
Address: 559 Mirror Lake Drive North, St. Petersburg
Ever played shuffleboard? Yes, it’s a favourite of beach-loving old timers, but that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy it! The St. Pete Shuffleboard Club is the oldest and largest shuffleboard club in the world so if there’s a better place to learn the game, we don’t know about it. Insider tip: Friday nights are free and you can BYOB. It’s also a great place to meet locals who might share the tricks of the trade.
Be a beach bum
The St. Pete/Clearwater region is home to 56 kilometres of white sand beaches lapped by warm Gulf water, making them some of the finest beaches in the U.S. From famous Clearwater Beach and St. Pete Beach to the lesser-known-but-just-as-beautiful spots like Shell Key, Madeira Beach and Indian Shores, travellers can pick a new spot every day of their vacation, if they please. Most beaches have facilities and offer chair and umbrella rentals.
Nosh on fresh seafood
St. Pete/Clearwater is known as the Grouper Capital of the World – and for good reason. The tasty white fish are constantly caught in the surrounding waters and it’s easy to indulge in a fresh caught grouper sandwich almost anywhere. We like Frenchy’s, which has five locations and is a staple of Clearwater Beach. In St. Pete, try Trophy Fish or Alto Mare Fish Bar for a wide offering of fresh seafood.
Be transported to Greece
Location: Dodecanese Blvd, Tarpon Springs
Just 20 minutes north of Clearwater lies Tarpon Springs and its Historic Sponge Docks. Thanks to Greek immigrants who settled the riverfront city one hundred years ago, the community has a way of transporting you thousands of miles away to a coastal Aegean village. Today's visitors can go on a Sponge Diving Exhibition with St. Nicholas Boat Line to learn the history and technique of sponge diving – and to answer the million dollar question: what are the sponges used for?
Sip the Gulp Coast Craft Beer Trail
Green Bench Brewing Co. | VisitStPeteClearwater.com
Running north to south from Tarpon Springs down to St. Pete, the Gulp Coast Craft Beer Trail includes more than 35 breweries. From Florida’s oldest brewery (Dunedin Brewery) to its smallest (R Bar on Treasure Island), St. Pete/Clearwater boasts the largest craft beer scene in the state, and it only continues to expand.
3 Daughter's Brewing | VisitStPeteClearwater.com
Order the Craft Brewery Passport 2.0 for can't-miss Gulp Coast highlights and the chance to win prizes. (Passports can also be found on-site at participating breweries.) The passport includes recommendations for locally inspired flavours (how does a mango-habanero IPA sound?) and the area's signature brew: the Florida Weisse, a nod to a classic Berliner Weisse but imbued with hints of the tropics. (Think: key lime, dragon fruit or passion fruit.)
Admire sundown like a local
Location: 7 Causeway Blvd. Clearwater Beach
Pier 60 at Clearwater Beach is known as the best spot in the area to observe the coast’s gorgeous sunsets. While you take it in, enjoy the entertainment of street performers, dancers, artisans and crafters. The lively Sunsets at Pier 60 festivals are timed to incorporate sundown and they take place 364 evenings a year (weather permitting). Don’t forget your camera.
Explore Florida’s most visited state park
Honeymoon Island | VisitStPeteClearwater.com
Honeymoon Island State Park boasts more than 6.5 kilometres of beach, along with a 4.8-km trail leading through one of the last remaining virgin slash pine forests. Spot eagles, osprey and great-horned owls in the sky and gopher tortoises, raccoons and armadillos on land. Swimming, fishing, shelling, hiking and bicycling are also popular activities on the island.
In addition to being a great escape, Honeymoon Island State Park is the gateway to Caladesi Island State Park, which is accessible only by boat and has gorgeous beaches of its own.
Wondering how Honeymoon Island got its name? Turns out Life Magazine held a contest for newlyweds in 1939 and the prize was a two-week honeymoon stay on the island. Judge for yourself if it was worth winning.
Stop and smell the 100-year-old flowers
Address: 1825 4th Street North, St. Petersburg
St. Pete's oldest living museum, Sunken Gardens is a botanical paradise right in the heart of the city. The 100-year-old garden is home to more than 50,000 tropical and exotic plants from around the world. Visitors will enjoy strolling its meandering paths, exploring cascading waterfalls, studying its beautiful demonstration gardens, and being surrounded by flitting butterflies in a special exhibit devoted to the colourful creatures. Don't leave without seeking out Sunken Gardens' flock of resident flamingos. Can you spot George and Lucy? The duo are two of the original 17 Chilean flamingos that were brought here in 1956.
Taste the entire world in one place
St. Pete’s food scene is as delicious as it is creative and diverse. With restaurants ranging from fine dining to sandwich joints, and varying from from Cuban (Bodega) to Italian (Il Ritorno) to vegan (Cider Press Café), there’s something for all tastes here. Follow your nose along Central Avenue for real-time inspiration, or for a romantic evening head to Paul’s Landing at The Vinoy for uninterrupted ocean views of the Tampa Bay.
World-class beaches and 24 dynamic communities packed with culture and adventure await in St. Pete/ Clearwater, the jewel of Florida’s west coast. Situated on a sun-drenched peninsula separating the Gulf of Mexico from Tampa Bay, the area has received more than 30 awards in the past decade for its pristine white-sand beaches, including TripAdvisor’s No. 1 Beach in America for Clearwater Beach two years in a row!