Driveable Destinations: St. Pete

It’s the best and safest way to travel right now, and within a short span of time, it’s easy to reach some of Florida’s most historic and vibrant communities. In this ongoing series, we’ll highlight some great destinations that will make you want to hit the road.

Dubbed “Sunshine City,” due to the fact that it averages 361 days of clear skies per year, St. Petersburg is truly a “hot” destination that boasts miles of glimmering coastline, picturesque beaches, notable cultural attractions, a diverse arts community and vibrant culinary scene. There are also ample opportunities to explore nature and get up close and personal with birds and butterflies.

With all this going on, it’s not hard to understand why the city, affectionately referred to as “The Burg” by locals, has received such accolades as being named to Condé Nast Traveler’s list of Top Big Cities in the U.S. in 2020, as well as “One of the Best Street Art Cities in the World” and “One of America’s Hottest Cities to Live and Visit” by The Huffington Post, and consistently shows up on the “World’s Best Beaches” rankings.

St. Pete’s downtown center is rich with museums, galleries and cultural attractions. In fact, within a few short blocks, visitors can explore the world-famous Salvador Dalí Museum, Chihuly Collection at the Morean Arts Center, Museum of Fine Arts, Florida CraftArt Gallery (currently only by private appointment) and many other art spaces, bookstores and boutiques as well as some great restaurants, cafes and bars. The area also offers opportunities for great golf outings, deep sea fishing, eco adventures and a variety of watersports.

St. Pete, which is located on a peninsula between the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay, is home to The Florida Orchestra, the IndyCar Series Firestone Grand Prix race and, after a long history of hosting major league baseball, St. Pete’s Tropicana Field recently became the home to WWE Network’s ThunderDome show.

Named for St. Petersburg, Russia, the birthplace of a noble Russian aristocrat and early resident Peter Demens, who owned the Orange Belt Railway and was the sole passenger on the very first train to arrive in the area in 1888, St. Pete has long had an international following but still retains much of the resort-town flavor cherished by local residents.

The Roaring ‘20s brought a tremendous growth period to Florida, with new residents and tourists flocking to the state by car, rail and boat. In 1924, the Gandy Bridge was opened, cutting travel time to Tampa by more than half and setting up St. Pete to become Pinellas County’s largest city. It was during those boom years that much of the city’s historic architecture was created, with many following a Mediterranean Revival motif. These influences still can be witnessed today, most notably in the castle-like exteriors of The Don CeSar hotel on St. Pete Beach and the stately The Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club on the downtown waterfront. Both have been restored in recent years and while The Vinoy’s interiors reflect the grandeur of its golden age, the Don CeSar or “Pink Palace” as it is often referred to, is like a magnificent Fabergé egg with a dazzling exterior, however, the surprise inside is that all of the history has been swept away to make way for the kind of standard fare, contemporary interior typical of the type you’d find at an upscale hotel in any city or destination.

If you prefer accommodations with more storied charm and the kind of personal touches that are not typical of a hotel, we suggest visiting The Kenwood Gables Boutique Bed & Breakfast, St. Pete’s chicest new B&B in the heart of the Kenwood arts district. This nationally designated historical neighborhood is just minutes from downtown, the Grand Central District, the artsy EDGE District and Beach Boulevard―all of which boast popular eateries, breweries, attractions and some great shopping.

Like many of the homes in Historic Kenwood, the original house that is the heart of The Kenwood Gables was built in 1929 and was moved to Kenwood in 1933, when a group of prominent residents banded together to grow the neighborhood by relocating 170 homes (primarily Craftsman bungalows) to the district. The 375-acre residential area is bounded by Ninth Avenue North, First Avenue North, 19th Street North (adjacent to I-275) and 34th Street North, and contains 2,203 historic buildings. There are many types of residential architectural styles represented in the district, including Craftsman bungalows (which make up about 50 percent of the structures), Tudor Revival, Mediterranean Revival, Colonial Revival, Ranch, Prairie, American Foursquare, Dutch Colonial Revival and Mission style homes.

The structure that now comprises the B&B grew and evolved over the decades, through additions and changes made by previous owners. The striking Great Room is distinguished by a pair of ornate carved doors and an extraordinary mantle, both salvaged from a local church that was destroyed by a fire, and added in 1945. The distinctive Tudor Revival style building has five guest rooms: two inviting master suites on the main floor and three charming “vintage rooms” (rooms that were part of the original home) on the second floor. The innkeepers, Reymond and Jayson Lazaro, along with their two delightful canine ambassadors, have created the sort of sumptuous interior design that is both high on style but also wonderfully cozy—not surprising, considering the pair’s extensive experience in the worlds of hospitality and fashion, respectively, before owning the B&B. Guests rave about their high standards, the quality of their stay, knowledge about the area and stellar recommendations for local eateries and attractions.

One TripAdvisor reviewer offered, “Warmth and charm emanate from every room of this beautiful bed and breakfast. Lock the door to the outside world and relax completely, knowing that your needs will be fully met. Your bed will be supremely comfortable, the room quiet, your breakfast expertly prepared. The owners have poured their hearts into each lovingly decorated room, with different themes in each one. The outdoor space in centered by a pool open to the stars. They were attentive, kind, caring, knowledgeable about the area.” And another reviewer suggests, “Ditch the major hotel chains and stay here. You won’t experience anything like it.”

One of their top suggestions is a visit to their favorite beach.

“We always send our guests to Pass-A-Grille Beach. It’s such a beautiful place. It’s at the southernmost point of the barrier islands and right on the Gulf, Reymond explains. “It’s just a few blocks with three or four restaurants and just these gorgeous white sand beaches.”

Because of Historic Kenwood’s high concentration of artists, the city chose to promote the arts and artists by declaring the neighborhood as an “Artist Enclave.” This designation enables artists to teach classes and sell artwork from their homes. It also made the location of the B&B even more significant to the Lazaros.

“There are over 300 artists that live in the Kenwood area. They range from painters and photographers to potters, metal sculptors and weavers. You will see little plaques throughout the neighborhood that identify each artist’s studio. We support the Historic Kenwood Artist Enclave, so we use our space to have small gallery shows,” Jayson shares, noting that during the pandemic they have not been able to host these shows but they will continue to in the future. “The percentage of the sales that we take, we donate back to the artist enclave. Once a year, they have the Artists at Work Tour. You can buy a ticket and then go and tour the open studios and watch the artists creating their work, which is a great experience.”

The next Artists at Work Tour is projected for Fall 2021. Visit kenwoodartistenclave.org and fb.com/artistenclavehistorickenwood for updates.

Also on their hot list is the new 26-acre St. Pete Pier which opened in July of 2020. The complex includes five restaurants, a marketplace with outdoor vendors, spectacular works of public art, the Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center, a playground, fishing deck, the St. Petersburg Museum of History and tree-lined walkways along the bay. Parking is available at surrounding lots for $2 an hour. Visit stpetepier.org

To Do’s for St. Pete

Where to eat and drink?

There are so many wonderful eateries and lounges that it would be hard to make a bad decision, but here are a few places we found particularly noteworthy:

Lolita’s Wine Market
The owners describe this eclectic and fun spot as “a unique little market where coffee shop meets wine bar.” However, they have some local brews as well and the main attraction are the create-your-own charcuterie/antipasti platters that you design from their ever-changing selections of cheeses, meats, crusty breads and yummy accoutrements like truffled goat cheese-stuffed Peppadew peppers and Moroccan spiced olives. They focus on fresh tapas and small plates with flavors from the Mediterranean and Spain. You can also ask one of the servers to prepare your board. They can even prepare it to-go and pair it with a great bottle of wine so you can take it for an outdoor picnic. They do not take reservations. It is strictly first come, first served. Visit lolitaswinemarket.com

Brick & Mortar Kitchen & Wine Bar
This lovely “farm to fork” restaurant is praised by foodies and home cooks for their rustic hand-prepared dishes, interesting wine selections and craft beer. They don’t take reservations, so go early or hang out and have a drink while you wait. Visit fb.com/brickandmortarkitchen

Bodega
This popular Latin street food shack (think chalkboard menu and paper carton dishes) is a perennial favorite known for its delicious pressed sandwiches and specialties like slow-roasted mojo pork with grilled onions. Visit eatatbodega.com

The Mandarin Hide
The décor may draw you in, but the libations will make you not want to leave. The fine folks at The Mandarin Hide describe themselves as “stewards of the craft cocktail.” In addition to spirits, they have some great craft beers and nice wines. Visit mandarinhide.com

Green Bench Brewing Co.
There are a dozen or more microbreweries in town, but Green Bench was St. Pete’s first and continues to be one of the most beloved, offering unique craft beers, mead and cider created from fresh, local, and traditional ingredients. Visit greenbenchbrewing.com

What else should I do while I’m there?

The Dalí Museum is a must. The visually stunning Yann Weymouth building, with a 75-foot tall geodesic glass bubble known as “the enigma” and helical staircase, is a distinct piece of art in and of itself. But it is also home to the largest Salvador Dalí collection outside Spain. Leave time to explore the tranquil Avant-garden, which includes a labyrinth modeled after the one at Chartres Cathedral

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