St. Petersburg, Florida, holds Guinness World Records’ mark for the most consecutive days of sunshine, clocking in at a staggering 768 days of uninterrupted rays. So it’s no wonder that the Gulf Coast city’s unofficial mascot is Mr. Sun, a bespectacled cartoon ball of light whose glasses have been updated over the years to keep up with the times (these days he’s often depicted rocking a pair of thick-framed hipster specs).
But while the enviable expanses of pristine beach are surely what lure hordes of snowbirds to the shore every winter, it’s the city’s arts scene that has culture vultures flocking there year-round. About a half-hour drive from Tampa, St. Pete is home to a bustling arts district that hardly resembles the kitschy tourist towns sometimes associated with southern Florida. Wandering past the eclectic assortment of boutiques, galleries and dive bars that populate Central Avenue, one of downtown St. Pete’s main drags, you could easily imagine yourself in Brooklyn—if not for the warmer climes.
Photo credit: Raif Fluker
Case in point: The 600 Block, an open-air gallery that stretches an entire block in the sprawling Warehouse Arts District. Visitors can admire vibrant large-scale murals by some of the area’s pre-eminent street artists, including “homegrown hero” Bask, whose work made a cameo in Iron-Man 3. Take a self-guided tour or enlist a local artist from Florida CraftArt for an official walking tour (Saturdays, 10-11:30 am) from guides such as Derek Donnelly, one of the founders of St. Pete’s mural movement. His work is everywhere in the city, including two murals commissioned by the AARP to dispel the idea of older people as inactive and unhip. Check out Keep On Cruising (Xtreme Ethel), Donnelly’s depiction of AARP founder Ethel Percy Andrus poised to pop an ollie on a bright green-and-pink skateboard. Keep an eye out for more of his work, including The Lizard King, a tribute to Jim Morrison, who often read his poetry at open-mic nights in town before he made it big with the Doors—more evidence of the creative undercurrent that has long run through the city.
Once you’re done drinking in the street art, quench your actual thirst during another self-guided tour, this one through the “Gulp Coast,” a beer trail that includes 30-plus craft breweries. Pick up a “beer passport” at participating spots and earn stamps and swag as you spend a leisurely afternoon sipping suds at notable breweries like Green Bench Brewing Co., an industrial, warehouse-like space that boasts some 15-plus beers on tap and an outdoor drinking area complete with yard games and Adirondack chairs.
Photo credit: Randy Van Duinen
When all that drinking makes you hungry, head just across the street to Bodega, a counter service Cuban joint where you can indulge in hearty Latin American specialties like a pollo asado sandwich of tender coconut marinated chicken, mango mayo, avocado and fresnos at a curbside table or in the garden space behind the restaurant.
If fine art is more your speed, don’t miss the Chihuly Collection, a permanent installation of Dale Chihuly’s large-scale glass artwork. Don’t touch, but feel free to snap as many Insta-worthy pics as you’d like—photos are actually encouraged. Ask an employee about a live glass-blowing demo that’s often hosted outside the museum and is included with the price of admission. And be sure to make time to visit the Salvador Dali Museum, a waterfront space that houses the largest collection of the surrealist painter’s work outside of Europe.
Fine dining also abounds in St. Pete, as in the locavore fare at the Reading Room, a slightly off-the-beaten path boîte whose ever-changing menu reflects whatever is currently growing locally, like a clean salad of spicy Asian greens with a mustard dressing and crusty house-baked beet-and-wheat bread. Farm-to-table cuisine also flourishes at FarmTable Cucina, which turns out dishes such as a bright plate of seasonal tomatoes and an assortment of housemade pastas from its location on the upper level of the Locale Market—a bustling, aromatic culinary center akin to the Boston Public Market.
There’s enough to see and eat that you might not find time for the beach at all. But don’t worry—as the reigning sunshine record holders since the 1960s, it’s a safe bet that St. Pete and Mr. Sun will still be shining on your next visit. ◆
The 600 Block Mural Tour, stpetemuraltour.com; Bodega, bodegaoncentral.com; Chihuly Collection, moreanartscenter.org/chihuly; Florida CraftArt, floridacraftart.org; Gulp Coast Beer Trail, visitstpeteclearwater.com/gulp-coast-craft-beer-trail; Locale Market, localegourmetmarket.com; Kimpton Hotel Zamora, thehotelzamora.com; The Reading Room, rrstpete.com; Salvador Dali Museum, thedali.org; St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club, stpeteshuffle.com
– Book a room at the beachfront Kimpton Hotel Zamora, a luxe property where guests and visitors convene on the roof deck for happy hour cocktails and sunset views.
– Play a game—or five—at St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club, the world’s oldest and largest shuffleboard club, which served as the inspiration for always-hopping Brooklyn hotspot the Royal Palms.