My first visit to Florida didn’t disappoint. In fact, I found the St. Petersburg and Clearwater areas to be a traveler’s delight featuring beautiful beaches, an active arts community, and fun around every corner.
We took a direct flight on Allegiant Air from Wichita to the St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport, which was easy to book and had a low-cost fare. Fun Fact: After the Wright brothers’ pioneer flight at Kitty Hawk, the first ticket for air travel was sold by the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line to a fare-paying passenger.
Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille
We kicked off our trip to St. Petes. The first thing we did once arriving at “The Sunshine City” was jump in the rental car and head to St. Pete Pier to have lunch at Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grille with views of Tampa Bay.
The seaside restaurant is known for its extensive menu of rum drinks and fresh seafood, which have received rave reviews. It was an incredibly windy, so we dined indoors near a window. The service was excellent. Our waitress took the time to review the menu with us and give her recommendations.
We knew we were in the right place. I ordered a cucumber mojito and the seared tuna appetizer. Tossed in peanut vinaigrette, the chilled rice noodles, veggies, and herbs paired nicely with the seared tuna. It was a meal for one dine, yet perfect for sharing for two people. The mussels appetizer was tasty but certainly wasn’t nearly as large of a portion.
If you get the chance, visit Doc Ford’s near St. Pete’s Pier. It’s a go-to destination for locals and visitors alike. The deck seating area is a choice spot for snapping a photo with Tampa Bay in the background
Pro Tip: View the menu before visiting. Glance at their up-to-date Instagram account to get inspired before ordering.
St. Pete Pier
I did my research before leaving for Florida and knew that we needed to check out St. Pete Pier overlooking Tampa Bay. The newly renovated area is breathtaking and has something for every age to enjoy.
We hopped on a free shuttle from the gateway to Pier Teak, a rooftop bar serving cocktails and beer. The view of the city’s skyline were in the background as sailboats and yachts sat docked near shore. We admired the city’s architecture noting a contrast between modern skyscrapers and Art Deco, brightly painted buildings.
Level 2 of the St. Pete Pier is the Driftwood Cafe. It is quaint in size and offers vast views of the bay in a cozy setting. We found ourselves inside Pier Gear & Gifts on Level 1. After purchasing new sunglasses, we headed outside to the fishing deck.
If you’re an angler, you’ll appreciate the option to catch fresh seafood and clean it on-site. Gator Jim’s Tackle sells last-minute fishing supplies if you find yourself in need.
Further down the pier’s walkway, we discovered the Family Park with a splash pad nearby. Families stood in line for ice cream at a nearby creamery. The weather might have been windy, but the sun was shining, and everyone was enjoying themselves.
Public art reigns supreme at St. Pete Pier at the 26-acre complex. “Bending Arc” by Janet Echelman sways in the breeze above onlookers’ heads. The artist used twine and knots to sculpt a massive piece that constantly changes shape. If you return to see it after the sun goes down, projected lights illuminate it with vibrant color.
Whether you’re relaxing in an Adirondack chair in the shade under a canopy of palm trees or watching children play on the beach, you’ll find more than enough to do on a good weather day. Adults can peruse the Marketplace to shop from local vendors, while art enthusiasts can seek out public art installations like the 10′ tall Red Pelican by artist Nathan Mabry.
Don’t miss Benoist Centennial Plaza for the World’s First Airline Monument. Located adjacent to the Albert Whitted Airport, the area is home to “First Flight” by artist Mark Ailing. The life-size sculpture features a Benoist bi-plane commenting on the world’s first commercial plane flight by pilot Tony Janus in 1914.
I particularly appreciated “Morning Stars,” a mosaic mural of geometric shapes created by artist Xenobia Bailey. As I walked back and forth, it appeared as if the shapes took their own movement.A visit to St. Pete isn’t complete without spending time at the pier. Parking at St. Pete Pier requires payment, but it’s inexpensive. Once you park, make a note of the parking space number and walk to a payment kiosk to deposit $4 for two hours. It’s a small price for access to pristine beaches and the pier’s grounds.
Pro Tip: View weekday vs. weekend parking rates here.
GREEN BENCH BREWING COMPANY
Central Avenue in St. Petes offers visitors searching for murals, breweries, eateries, and hipster shopping a place to feel right at home.We stopped by Green Bench Brewing Company, which was crawling with beer lovers who were pre-gaming before heading to the Tampa Bay Rays baseball game across the street at Tropicana Field.Known for serving craft beer, mead, and cider, Green Bench’s slogan is “It’s more than beer. It’s community.” If you’re unsure what to order, they’re happy to pour you a sample or two. The menu is always changing. The staff goes out of their way to make patrons feel right at home.
Pro Tip: I’d recommend sipping your drink outside on the astroturf patio to hang out with locals. Patio tables with umbrellas provide shade from the sun. Love dogs? Bring yours! You’ll love the relaxed vibe.
BODEGA ON CENTRAL
My interest is piqued when I spot a long line outside of a restaurant. Bodega on Central attracts hungry locals like bees to honey. They serve Latin street food made with fresh ingredients. Your mouth will salivate from salads to fresh squeezed juices and sandwiches to desserts while looking at the menu.
Several group members ordered the Cuban sandwich made with roast pork, ham, Swiss, pickles, mayo, and mojo served on crusty bread. The sandwich’s flavor was no joke. I could’ve easily eaten another one. Latin pop music played over the stereo. It was a festive experience.
Pro Tip: When visiting Bodega, order at the window on the sidewalk. They will give you a number to take to the table, and servers will run your food. View the menu here.
There is a long list of things to do in the St. Petersburg area, including mural hunting. It’s known for its eye-catching street art in various city districts. View a list of areas to track down massive murals here.
Our condo was a 40-minute drive from St. Pete’s and only a short drive to local eateries and coffee shops. You’ll see signage everywhere with names like Aloha To Go, The Dog & Parrot, or Salt Rock Grill. Influenced by the water, restaurants, and play up the seaside vibes.
DJ’S CLAM SHACK
We ate lunch at DJ’s Claim Shack, a franchise restaurant popularized by Food Network’s Guy Fieri. The fast-casual restaurant appeared on the chef’s Drive-Ins, Diners and Dives show. The most popular item on the menu is the lobster roll, according to the employee who took our order. Curiously, I asked about Conch Fritters. It was a hard “no!” for me.
I settled for the Fish & Chips, which arrived at our table piping hot. The Garlic Steamed Middle Neck Clams didn’t last long either. Other good-looking menu items included Mahi Mahi Tacos and the Grilled Garlic Shrimp Roll.
Pro Tip: A small restaurant, seating is first come, first served. However, outdoor patio tables accommodate patrons on a busy day. Takeout ordering is available.
We were craving a scratch-made breakfast, so we drove to Benedict’s after learning it was highly rated on TripAdvisor. This unsuspecting restaurant serves incredibly satisfying food in a strip mall near a grocery store. The portions were hearty, and the food plating was eye-catching.
I chose the Corned Beef Hash and Eggs served with fresh fruit and toast. Our family seemed just as happy with their menu selections ranging from chocolate chip pancakes for the kids to omelets and breakfast skillet meals. The server was a pro at managing a bustling restaurant, ringing orders, and attending to our needs. The restaurant experience was 5 stars.
Pro Tip: Arrive before the weekend brunch rush by dining early.
CLEARWATER MARINE AQUARIUM
Touring Clearwater Marin Aquarium was my chance to see sea life up close and learn about their rehabilitation, an opportunity I don’t get in Kansas. My goal? To watch dolphins swimming and happily interact with visitors. I had never seen one before this trip!
Highlights of the world-class aquarium include listening to animal handlers as they feed turtles, fish, and dolphins. Also serving as an animal hospital, many of the exhibits showcase information on the walls about each animal in captivity and their rehabilitation story.
We took the aquarium at our own pace rather than booking an animal experience session. However, if you’d like to get an up-close look at what it is to care for dolphins or have a photo moment with one, you can book a hands-on Animal Care Experience here. Members get a discount on tickets.
This year, the aquarium is celebrating 50 years of dedication to marine life so be sure to check the website prior to your visit to learn about special events and discounts.Pro Tip: If you arrive in your vehicle, you can park in the nearby parking garage. Ticketing is on the third level near the entrance. We parked in the neighborhood and walked to the aquarium’s third level to purchase admission. Plan your visit and get directions to the aquarium here.
Beach life doesn’t get any better than hanging out near Pier 60. Performers, events, and food vendors make for a lively experience at the beach on just about any given day.
During our visit, an overcast sky and wind had closed the Pier 60 Sugar Sand Festival, but we still made the most of our self-guided tour. You can expect sunshine and clear water most days.A popular destination for anglers, you can fish from the pier if you pay for admission. It’s the spot to see dolphins, hammerhead sharks, and other fish like grouper and snapper. Charters are also available for serious fishermen who want to leave the shore to reel in a big one.
If traveling with family, make a point to stop at the sandy playground and take a photo with the colorful public artwork on display. I was impressed by the massive size of the monkey bars, jungle gym, and swing set areas. Bathrooms and refreshment areas are within walking distance.Pro Tip: Parking at Pier 60 requires depositing money at a pay station. Be prepared to deposit $4 per hour at nearby lots. A downtown-to-beach trolley runs every 30 minutes Monday-Thursday, and every 15 minutes Friday-Sunday.
We drove to Crabby’s Dockside for lunch – more fresh seafood! A beachside restaurant with views of the marina, it’s an ideal spot for a mid-day break.
Popular with tourists and locals, the restaurant is known for its fresh gulf grouper dishes, fish tacos, and Boom Boom Shrimp Bites. I opted for a House Salad with Blackened Mahi. Other menu items that caught my eye for a future visit included the Stuffed Flounder and Clam Chowder.
Pro Tip: To get a sneak peek of the restaurant’s upper deck view, check out their live web cam here. Because of the weather, the deck’s shades were pulled during our visit, but I still think it was worth the visit, and the food was scrumptious.
Did I convince you to escape Florida? The fresh sea air, the sound of the gulls overhead, splashing waves, and the sunshine are reasons enough. Plus, a long list of leisure activities is designed for every kind of traveler in the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area.
It is a paradise away from home.