St. Petersburg, Florida Guide

By
Cortney Tarell
St Pete Guide

St. Petersburg (lovingly known by locals as St. Pete and never St. Petes) is a city on the rise. It has been famous for years as a popular spot for retirees and beach vacations, but these days it is so much more than that. It has a thriving culture with a huge focus on the arts and a growing food scene. This is a city that has something for everyone.

History

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The native inhabitants of St. Petersburg were known as the Calusa people. The Pinellas Point Temple Mound is a surviving remnant from the native cultures of this area that you can still visit today. Spanish explorers  Pánfilo de Narváez and Hernando de Soto visited the region in the early 1500s, but settlements were not built here until the 1840s. At that time, a few families began to move in, planting citrus groves and farms. 

In 1875, John C. Williams of Detroit bought 2,500 acres of land here with the intention of turning it into a thriving city. He sold some of the land to Peter Demens, a Russian railroad owner in exchange for Demens bringing the Orange Belt Railway to his settlement. Demens and Williams are credited as cofounders of the city of St. Petersburg. It was founded in 1892 and was named for Demens’s hometown in Russia after he allegedly won a coin toss against Williams to name the city. Williams went on to name the first hotel in the city after his own hometown, and the Detroit Hotel still stands in Downtown St. Petersburg today but is no longer an operating hotel. Other early hotels in the area that remain operational to this day include The Vinoy Hotel in Downtown St. Petersburg, built in 1925, and St Pete Beach’s Don CeSar hotel, which opened in 1928.

In the 1920s, St. Petersburg began to take off as tourist location, partially fueled by the building of the Gandy Bridge in 1924. The population grew steadily, first booming in the 1940s and 50s as the city became a popular retirement destination. Many people who visited as tourists were eventually convinced to stay in retirement. In recent years, the population growth has slowed down as other cities in Florida have become more popular retirement destinations, but it is still known as one of the best places in Florida to visit.

Culture

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St. Pete is a city that has something for everyone. It might be well-known for its beach town charm, but it also has a thriving city center with an artistic focus and an enthusiastic culture around the local sport teams. It is culturally diverse with a strong LGBT+ community, especially in the downtown area. Older residents are attracted to the area for its many retirement communities and amenities for the 55+ crowd. But younger residents are also interested in coming to St. Pete for the culture.

Food and Drink

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Locals to St. Petersburg love to support local restaurants, and there’s no shortage of places around the city to support. Near the coast, there are tons of seafood places and beach bars loved by tourists and locals equally. Downtown is home to lots of excellent high-end places. The whole city has a strong coffee culture and tons of breweries and bars. As Tampa’s neighbor, St. Pete has plenty of popular places to try the local specialty, the Cuban sandwich. Whatever you’re in the mood for you can find excellent versions of it here.

Shopping

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There is one major shopping mall in St. Petersburg, the Tyrone Square Mall. It has over 130 stores, so it’s a great way to spend some time indoors. Downtown St. Pete is a wonderful destination for shopping. Take a stroll down Central Avenue, where you will find a huge variety of galleries, boutiques, antique shops, and so much more stretching for miles. Sundial St. Pete is an open-air shopping center right in the center of downtown that offers even more great options.

On the beach there are also plenty of great places to do some shopping. Gift shops are abundant throughout the beachfront. The downtown area of St. Pete Beach is home to Corey Avenue, a historic street with lots of little shops to peruse. Also in St. Pete Beach is Pass-a-Grille’s Historic 8th Avenue, which is a charming place to check out the plethora of local shops. In Madeira Beach you’ll find John’s Pass, which has a ton of great shopping in a fun, waterfront setting.

Entertainment

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Beaches are a huge part of the entertainment in St. Pete. St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island, Madeira Beach, and lots of other little beach towns are very easy to access from anywhere in St. Petersburg. While you’re in the beach town there are lots of things you can do for additional entertainment. Rent jet skis, go parasailing, go on a dolphin cruise, or go on an island hopping expedition. All of those things and so much more are available!

There’s no shortage of things to do inland either. Movie theaters, bowling alleys, escape rooms, and mini golf courses are not too hard to find here. Downtown constantly hosts fun events, and the  St. Pete Pier has plenty of activities for the whole family to participate in. It’s also a short distance away from all of Central Florida’s attractions. Busch Gardens is the closest in Tampa, but Legoland, SeaWorld, Disney, and Universal are all close enough for a day trip.

Arts

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St Petersburg prides itself on its artistic reputation. Creativity and expression are highly valued ideals in this city, so there is no shortage of places to enjoy the arts of all kinds. St. Pete is home to the largest professional orchestral in the state, The Florida Orchestra. It also boasts the area’s professional opera company, The St. Pete Opera Company. For more theatrical experiences, check out St. Petersburg City Theatre, freeFall Theatre Company, The Studio@620, and American Stage. This is also a city with excellent venues for the theatre, which include The Mahaffey Theater in downtown and the historic Palladium Theater at St. Petersburg College.

St Pete is probably even more well-known for its visual arts scene. The most famous museum in St. Petersburg is The Dali Museum. It has an extensive collection of art by Salvador Dali. It also often hosts temporary exhibits from other well-known artists. The Museum of Fine Arts St. Pete has an impressive collection of local art and art from around the world. The The James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art is another museum located right in downtown that offers a specific focus on the American west. For a more immersive art experience, pay a visit to the Morean Arts Center, which displays work from all kinds of artists, but also offers lots of classes and programs for the community. The Imagine museum specializes in glass art. Want to get even more immersed in art? Check out Fairgrounds St. Pete, a permanent art and technology exhibition that lets you choose your own experience. That’s just the beginning of what St. Pete has to offer. Throughout the city you will find tons of galleries and public art to experience as well.

Sports

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Tampa Bay is an area overflowing with sports teams to root for. Within the city of St Petersburg you will find the Tampa Bay Rays, a major league baseball team that plays at Tropicana Field, and the Tampa Bay Rowdies, an American professional Soccer team that plays at the Al Lang Stadium. Locals are also huge supporters of the other champion Tampa Bay teams: the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning. 

St. Petersburg, aka The Sunshine City, has no shortage of golf courses for visitors to enjoy the natural Florida landscape while putting their skills to the test. St. Petersburg Golf Club has a great layout with no parallel fairways to provide an uninterrupted experience so golfers can play at their own pace. Driving ranges are available at Mangrove Bay Golf Course and Twin Brooks Golf Course if you’re looking to practice your swing or head to Cypress Links Golf Course to check out the city’s newest turf.

Nature

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St. Petersburg is one of Florida’s most prolific beach towns, so there are so many ways to enjoy the nature of the Gulf Coast while you’re here. The largest beach park in St. Pete is Fort De Soto Park, which has a campground and miles of untouched coastal land to explore. You don’t have to travel far to check out some amazing state parks right on the beach. North of St Pete Beach you’ll find Caladesi Island State Park and Honeymoon Island State Park, which are both easy to access, but mostly disconnected from the hustle and bustle of the other nearby beaches. For an even more secluded experience, Egmont Key and Shell Key are two large islands near the coast that are only accessible by boat. You can reach them with your own boat or take a shuttle.

There are two nature preserves in St Pete, Weedon Island Preserve and Boyd Hill Nature Preserve where you can enjoy wildlife in its natural habitat. To see some of the most beautiful plants that can grow in the area, head to the Sunken Gardens, a natural oasis right in the middle of the city. Other parks in the area include Sawgrass Lake Park, Vinoy Park, Lassing Park, Crescent Lake, Maximo Park.

Education and Schools

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The University of South Florida has a campus in Downtown St. Petersburg. Attending school at this campus gives you the benefits of a public university with a more close-knit community and a city lifestyle. St. Petersburg College is a state college with 6 campuses within the city. Eckerd College is St. Pete’s waterfront private college.

St. Petersburg is in the Pinellas County school zone. There are lots of public high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools for local kids to attend depending on their location. The city also has lots of private schools and magnet schools as well.

Tourism

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St. Petersburg has a long history of tourism all over the city. The Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club is one of the oldest hotels in the city. It was built in 1925, so it gives you a glance into what tourism in St Pete looked like 100 years ago. If you’re staying here today, there are hotels, motels, and inns to fit every budget. Other options include plenty of campgrounds as well as rental houses and AirBnBs.

Transportation

The St. Pete–Clearwater International Airport is a small airport located in Clearwater. You are more likely to fly into the Tampa International Airport, which is close by, just on the other side of the bay. For public transportation, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority runs all over Pinellas County and includes a beach line and buses that run to both airports.

Health

Bayfront Health St. Petersburg is the largest hospital in the city.