A local girl's guide to St. Petersburg, Florida

Written by  Shannon

Shannon from A Little Adrift has been around the world.  Literally.  She took off on her big adventure in 2008 and has been location independent ever since.  Which means she can fit her job in with her travelling life style.  It also means that she's probably had many many moments of wishing that she knew a local local, who she could ask for advice on the best way to see or do wherever she happened to find herself.  So I'm sure she realises the value of her contribution to us of her hometown girl's guide to St. Petersburg, Florida, to anyone who happens to find themselves there.  

Thanks Shannon, for your answers to our latest Questionnaire for Experts, Bloggers and other Travel Knowledgeables.

Where's your home town, and what's the main reason people visit?

I was born and raised in St. Petersburg, Florida and most people come here for the beaches - Clearwater Beach is very near and gets appreciative sighs from visitors who have relaxed on the sandy beaches. Although to be truthful, a good deal com here to visit their parents and grandparents who have retired nearby!

What's the main reason you think people SHOULD be visiting?

The beaches - this whole area is pretty sleepy and slow paced so the days are best spent enjoying the water and nights at the beach-side bars.

If you had to recommend to the friend of a friend one unmissable thing to do in your home town what would it be?

A pirate boat cruise! I acknowledge that it’s completely ridiculous but the pirates are a claim to fame around here. Every January we celebrate the Gasparilla Pirate Fest throughout Tampa Bay and the boat tours leaving from Clearwater and St. Petersburg are fun way to acknowledge that history year-round. You can take a lunch cruise, have some drinks and enjoy dolphin-watching from a arguably kitschy red pirate boat! If the boat outing is not quite your cup of tea, visit the Dali Museum instead, utterly fantastic!

If they had a whole day in town what would you recommend they do?

This is tough - it’s a history versus beach choice really. Your best bet is exploring downtown St. Petersburg; this is the historic part of the city with great restaurants and everything is fairly walkable (you won’t find that anywhere else in the area). Start the morning with time wandering the pier in the cool morning hours; the city has earmarked the historic St. Petersburg pier for renovations in 2013 pier (so visit before then!) and it’s well worth a morning of exploration - there are shops, restaurants, and even fishing opportunities, all complimented by the with fantastic views of the surrounding deep green waters.

On your way out of the pier visit the information desk and pick up admission coupons for your next stop:The Salvador Dali Museum is walking distance from the pier and will be your most memorable stop on your St. Pete vacation; the museum hosts the most comprehensive collection of Dali works in the world. It’s an amazing way to spend the hottest afternoon hours of the day, ensconced in the white walls of the museum surrounded by the topsy-turvy images through which Dali painted the world.

St. Pete has a small but lively local nightlife - plenty of clubs, pubs, and bars. Also, during the summer months downtown St. Pete hosts dozens of outdoor events: movies in the park, concerts, and food and wine festivals and other often family-friendly events.

What if they had three days?

Three days in the area adds in the beach days! Do the previously mentioned activities on your first day and then rent a car or cab it to the beaches - start day two within walking distances of John’s Pass.  Then don your flip-flops and bathing suit and no matter what you think put on sunscreen; unless you’re from the Caribbean, our sun is stronger than you think and you will burn without at least a coating of SPF30. Once you’re sunscreened you’re tasked with hunting down the best deals on jet-skis from any of the companies lining the wooden boardwalks (tip: be the first customers of the day and you might get extra time!).

There’s no denying that John’s Pass is touristy, but even the locals head to the seafood restaurants lining the inter-coastal for beachy tunes (often karaoke by evening) and fresh fish. Nearby beachside bars offer more music and salty sea-air until late into the night.

On day three you’re technically leaving St. Petersburg and heading further up the coast to Clearwater - to locals it’s really all the same area so you’re not cheating on your St. Pete visit by spending a day here. Coat yourself in sunscreen once again (you’ll thank me for this warning) and book yourself on the pirate dolphin watching cruises for lunch. They also have segway tours and other touristy activities - or just grab a book and a towel and head to the beach (that’s where the locals are at!). 

End the evening with a classic seashell bracelet or necklace from the vendors lining the Clearwater boardwalks and walk to where ever you hear the music. It changes each night of the week so follow the crowds for outdoor music and drinks or walk the white beach and sit under the stars on a blanket. Skinny dipping is strictly forbidden...so definitely don’t walk far from the lights of the city and let the warm gulf waters kiss your skin ;-)

What will you never catch a local doing?

Hah! Those ridiculous pirate cruises :)  But just because a local wouldn’t do it doesn’t mean it’s not good fun. We live here, so the novelty has long worn thin and if you go to the beach enough times you’re likely to catch site of a dolphin. But tourists don’t live here year-round so it’s good fun to do dolphin watching and have a reason to enjoy our ten months of gorgeous weather (some would argue year-round if you’re a northerner!).

What WILL you catch a local doing?

Jet-skiing and boating on a clear day. St. Petersburg lies on a mini-peninsula jutting out from the west coast of Florida, so water is never far! Most locals either own a boat or have a friend with a boat - and barring both of those options we head down to John’s Pass and rent jet-skis for a couple of hours enjoying sunshine and warm waters.

And what local delicacies would visitors be fools not to try while they're there?

Fish and seafood to be sure - nearly every restaurant down by the beaches will have fresh fish delivered locally. Though I no longer eat fish, I have fond memories of my dad hauling the whole family to the beach shacks for fresh fish accompanied by the briny scent of the Gulf of Mexico nearby.

In 140 characters, how would you sum up your home town as a great destination?

St Pete's historic downtown features the truly inspiring Dali Museum; nearby white beaches & water sports appeal to families and solos alike!

Anything else you want to add? 

St. Petersburg flies low on the radar of cities tourists clamour to visit in Florida- overlooked for Orlando, Miami, and even nearby Tampa. But the pace of life is pleasantly slower and with less tourists than more touted tourist spots (South Beach and Disney) it’s ideal for a vacation in the true sense of the word!

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