St. Petersburg Travel Guide

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St. Petersburg Travel Guide

St. Petersburg Local History

In 1875, General John Williams bought 2,500 acres of land on Tampa Bay. He had great visions to develop this land into a grand city and the first hotel was named after his birthplace, Detroit. Thirteen years later, Peter Demens, a Russian aristocrat, brought the Orange Belt Railway to St. Petersburg. The first train arrived in 1888, carrying empty freight cars and one passenger, a shoe salesman from Savannah. Demens named the city after his birthplace, St. Petersburg, Russia.

The state's first big growth spurt brought an invasion of tourists during the 1920's. After the opening of the Gandy Bridge, in 1924, travel time to Tampa was cut in half and St. Petersburg flourished to become Pinellas County's largest city. The 1920's also brought notable architecture to the city. It reflected a Mediterranean Revival motif and is especially evident in several buildings, including The Vinoy Hotel and the Snell Arcade. St. Petersburg continued to have strong tourist years, but during the depression, real estate crashed. Large Public Works Administration projects, in the 1930's, helped the city to recover economically. St. Petersburg's City Hall was built in 1939.

During the 1940s, the city witnessed large growth. Home to the U.S. Coast Guard Station, on Bayboro Harbour, it served as a training base for World War II troops. The War Department also selected St. Petersburg as a major technical services training center for the Army Air Corps. Post war, many of the military men stationed here returned to live with their families or visit as tourists. The population peaked beyond 200,000 and streetcar tracks were removed to make way for a society of automobiles. New development in the 1960s included the municipal marina, the main library, the Bayfront Center, and the Museum of Fine Arts.

As St. Petersburg enters its second golden age, and steps boldly into the 21st century, historic neighbourhoods continue to be restored, as residents invest in their communities with a great source of pride.

St. Petersburg Attractions

St. Petersburg Shopping

The Pier - This establishment houses a variety boutiques and crafts shops. One of the most fashionable downtown shopping venues in this area, is the Glass Canvas Gallery. It features a dazzling array of glass sculpture, tableware, art, and craft items by 250 local, national and international artists. Located at 4th Avenue Northeast. Tel: 727/821-6767. The Red Cloud is an oasis for Native-American crafts. Here you will find the most interesting jewelry, headdresses, and art. All at affordable prices. Located between 1st and 2nd avenues. Tel: 727/821-5824.

Haslam's Book Store - A definite favourite amongst travelers and locals alike. Dating from 1933, it is a lovely place to browse and spend some leisure time. It's collection has grown to more than 350,000 volumes, making it Florida's largest bookstore. Legend has it that this bookstore is haunted. Located at 2025 Central Ave. Tel: 727/822-8616.

The Gas Plant Antique Arcade - The largest antiques mall on Florida's west coast. More than 100 dealers display their wares at this venue. There is such a wide variety to choose from that it is advisable to browse thoroughly before you buy. It is possible to pick up some lovely bargains. Located between 12th and 13th streets. Tel: 727/895-0368.

The Florida Craftsmen Gallery - The gallery is a showcase for the works of more than 150 Florida artisans and craftspeople. It specializes in jewelry, ceramics, woodwork, fiber works, glassware, paper creations, and metalwork. This is a very good place to shop if you are looking for gifts or something really special. Located at 5th Street. Tel: 727/821-7391.

St. Petersburg Activities

Weeki Wachee Springs - The famous Springs is one of Florida's original tourist attractions, and located about a one hour drive north of St. Petersburg, on U.S. 19. Every day, since 1947, "Mermaids" have been putting on acrobatic swimming shows here, and it is a wonderful sight to see them doing their dances in waters that come from one of America's most prolific freshwater springs. The springs pours some 170 million gallons of 72°F (22°C) water into the river, every day

You can take a Wilderness River Cruise across the Weeki Wachee River and send the kids on the flume ride at Buccaneer Bay, the water-park part of the attraction. The spring is open daily from 10am to 3pm in winter, to 4 or 5pm in spring and fall, to 6pm in the hot summer months. The water park is open daily from 10am to 5pm (from March to mid-autumn). Admission is $13 for adults, $9.95 for children 3 to 10. Free for children under 3. You can also rent canoes for $31 a day. Tel: 877/469-3354 or 352/596-2062 (Weeki Wachee Springs), and 352/597-0360 (Buccaneer Bay water park).

The Pier - The Pier is a festive waterfront dining-and-shopping complex overlooking Tampa Bay. Built like a spaceship like inverted pyramid, it offers five levels of shops, three restaurants, a tourist information desk, an observation deck, catwalks for fishing, boat docks, miniature golf, boat and water sports rentals, sightseeing boats, and a food court, and an aquarium. It also houses Great Explorations, a hands-on children's museum offering a variety of exhibits.

Cruise boats often operate from The Pier during the winter months, and you can rent fishing gear and drop your line into the bay year-round. Free admission to all the public areas and decks, and donations are welcome at the Pier Aquarium. Admission to Great Explorations is $4 (adults and children older than 3), $2 seniors, free for children under 3. The Pier is located at 800 2nd Ave. NE. Tel: 727/821-6443, and 727/821-8992 (Great Explorations).

St. Petersburg Parks & Gardens

Sunken Gardens - This former tourist attraction, dating from 1935, is now operated as a botanical garden by the City of St. Petersburg. It houses a wide variety of plants, flowers, and trees. There is also a butterfly aviary, and a display of snakes, spiders, and scorpions. The rainforest information center is definitely worth a visit and the daily wildlife show is very informative and interesting. Call for a schedule of exhibits and tours. The Gardens is open Wednesday to Sunday 10am to 4pm, and admission is $7 (adults), $5 (seniors), $3 (children 3-12), free for children under 2. It is located at 1825 4th St. N. Tel: 813/551-3100.

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park - Located in Homosassa Springs, outside St. Petersburg, about 21 miles north of Weeki Wachee. The highlights here include a floating observatory, where visitors can "walk" underwater and watch manatees in a rehabilitation facility. There is also thousands of fresh- and saltwater fish to observe. Along the well-kept nature trails, you will get to see deer, a bear, bobcats, otters, egrets, and flamingos. The park is open daily from 9am to 5:30pm. Admission is $7.95 for adults, $4.95 for children 3 to 12, free for children under 3. Fees include a 20-minute narrated boat ride. Located on 4150 S. Suncoast Blvd. (U.S. 19). Tel: 352/628-5343.

Fort De Soto Park - The largest park within the Pinellas County Park System, consisting of 1,136 acres, made up of five interconnected islands. It was dedicated as a public park in May, 1963. Adding to the historical interest at Fort De Soto, is the Quartermaster Storehouse Museum. The Park offers family camping areas with facilities including picnic tables, grills, water, electricity, washers, dryers, sanitary disposal stations, modern restrooms, showers, play areas, and a camp store.

There is two large swim centers, including a food concession area, located at the North Beach Swim Center, and group picnic shelters. A snack bar/souvenir shop, offering a beautiful view of the Gulf of Mexico, is also situated on site. The nature trail includes almost three miles of the finest white sand beach on Florida's West Coast. This is a great destination for nature lovers. Located on 3500 Pinellas Bayway S., Tierra Verde. Tel: 727/582-2267 (Park Office), 727/582-2267 (Campground Office).

St. Petersburg Beaches

St Petersburg Beaches - One of Florida's busiest coastal strips. When the resorts of Miami Beach lost some of their allure during the 1970s, the St Petersburg beaches grew in popularity with Americans. The beaches are beautiful, the sea is warm, and the sunsets are fabulous. There is bus services, originating in St. Petersburg at the Williams Park terminal, serving the beach routes daily. An information booth is located on First Avenue N and Third Street N. Tel: 727/530-9911.

St. Pete Beach Access - The site was opened to the public on December 24, 1988. This facility offers a landscaped 235-meter parking lot, restrooms, showers, water fountain, and three boardwalks to carry visitors over natural sand dunes and sea oats to a white sandy swim area and a spectacular view of the Gulf of Mexico. Swimming is permissible, however there is no lifeguard on duty. Located 4700 GULF BLVD., ST. PETERSBURG BEACH. Tel: 727/866-2484.

St. Petersburg Restaurants and Bars

Fish and seafood dominate the menus in Florida. Shellfish, such as the highly rated Dungeness crab (smoother and creamier than the average crab), highly spiced and eaten whole, is popular too, and Maine lobsters and steamers (clams), eaten alone or mixed up in a chowder, are a great reason to visit this destination. .

Local variations in cuisine are endless. Portuguese restaurants, Chinese food, Japanese and Italian food is also popular.

St. Petersburg Restaurants

Fourth Street Shrimp Store - Do not miss driving by this popular restaurant to see the colourful, cartoon like mural on the outside of the establishment. It is a gigantic drawing of people eating. Murals on two walls of the interior, make the main dining room seem like a warehouse with windows that look out on an early-19th-century seaport.

You will encounter a seafood counter when you enter, from which comes the fresh namesake shrimp, the star attraction on the menu. Also try some of the grouper, clam strips, catfish, or oysters (fried, broiled, or steamed), all served in heaping portions. This is the best, and certainly the most interesting, bargain in town. Expect main courses from $5 to $14, and delicious sandwiches from $2.50 to $7. This establishment is located on 1006 4th St. N. Tel: 727/822-0325..

Chateau France - St. Petersburg's most romantic setting, in a charming pink Victorian house, built in 1910. Chef Antoine Louro specializes in French classics, such as homemade pate, Dover sole meuniere, filet mignon au poivre, coq au vin, orange duck, and a rich seafood bouillabaisse. All main courses are accompanied by fresh baby vegetables, Gruyere-cheese potatoes, and Antoine's special Eiffel Tower salad..

For desert, try the bananas flambe and crepes suzette, which are outstanding. The restaurant has an extensive wine list with some excellent selections. Reservation are recommended and expect prices from $20 to $29 (main courses). The restaurant is located 136 4th Ave. N. Tel: 727/894-7163..

Mattison's - This cozy bistro, near the bay, is popular amongst business travelers and locals alike. The menu is brimming with seafood (crab-stuffed salmon, grouper piccata, and basil-pesto crusted Idaho trout) and red meat (veal medallions with prosciutto and Parmesan butter, grilled rib-eye with roasted onions and cabernet sauce, and rack of lamb with rosemary paste and stewed veggies). A small vegetarian menu includes grilled portobello stack with brie and roasted tomatoes and penne pasta tossed with spinach, shiitake mushrooms, veggies, and tomatoes. Reservations are recommended and prices range from $16 to $27. Mattison's is located 111 2nd Ave. NE. Tel: 727/895-2200.

St. Petersburg Bars & Clubs

BayWalk - Downtown St. Petersburg's new shopping-dining-entertainment complex, and the heart of downtown's nighttime scene. There is a 20-screen cinema and several bars to explore. The complex is bordered by 1st and 2nd streets, and 2nd and 3rd avenues North. Tel: 727/895-9277

Coliseum Ballroom - The Moorish-style establishment is a historical attraction, as well as an entertainment venue. It has been hosting dancing, big bands, boxing, and other events since 1924. This is a wonderful way of familiarizing yourself with the town's locals and to see many of the town's seniors doing the jitterbug, just like in 1945. The crowd is welcoming, and the beverages reasonably priced. The Coliseum Ballroom can be found at 535 4th Ave. N. Tel: 727/892-5202

Progress Energy Center for the arts - The 2,030-seat Mahaffey Theater is home to the Florida Orchestra and other eclectic types of performances. There is a selection of snack bars, food stalls and bars on site, to cater for the hungry and thirsty. Located at 400 1st St. S. Tel: (727)892-5746 (or 727/892-5700 for recorded information).

St. Petersburg children's activities

Weeki Wachee Springs - The famous Springs is one of Florida's original tourist attractions, and located about a one hour drive north of St. Petersburg, on U.S. 19. Every day, since 1947, "Mermaids" have been putting on acrobatic swimming shows here, and it is a wonderful sight to see them doing their dances in waters that come from one of America's most prolific freshwater springs. The springs pours some 170 million gallons of 72°F (22°C) water into the river, every day

You can take a Wilderness River Cruise across the Weeki Wachee River and send the kids on the flume ride at Buccaneer Bay, the water-park part of the attraction. The spring is open daily from 10am to 3pm in winter, to 4 or 5pm in spring and fall, to 6pm in the hot summer months. The water park is open daily from 10am to 5pm (from March to mid-autumn). Admission is $13 for adults, $9.95 for children 3 to 10. Free for children under 3. You can also rent canoes for $31 a day. Tel: 877/469-3354 or 352/596-2062 (Weeki Wachee Springs), and 352/597-0360 (Buccaneer Bay water park).

The Pier - The Pier is a festive waterfront dining-and-shopping complex overlooking Tampa Bay. Built like a spaceship like inverted pyramid, it offers five levels of shops, three restaurants, a tourist information desk, an observation deck, catwalks for fishing, boat docks, miniature golf, boat and water sports rentals, sightseeing boats, and a food court, and an aquarium. It also houses Great Explorations, a hands-on children's museum offering a variety of exhibits.

Cruise boats often operate from The Pier during the winter months, and you can rent fishing gear and drop your line into the bay year-round. Free admission to all the public areas and decks, and donations are welcome at the Pier Aquarium. Admission to Great Explorations is $4 (adults and children older than 3), $2 seniors, free for children under 3. The Pier is located at 800 2nd Ave. NE. Tel: 727/821-6443, and 727/821-8992 (Great Explorations).

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