Teleporting to a deserted island might be the safest beach escape in this pandemic era. But a more practical, and fun, choice is St. Petersburg, Florida. Especially now that TripAdvisor named St. Pete Beach the #1 beach in the U.S. for 2021.
Besides 35 miles of sugar-sand beaches and radiant sunsets, a beach bag of new developments make this Gulf Coast cultural center a place to refresh mind, body and spirit. For example: the cool new St. Pete Pier that juts into Tampa Bay, 500 outdoor murals coloring downtown, lively additions to the eat-drink scene, Covid-conscious lodging and an initiative that incentivizes pandemic-smart practices. Put these suggestions on your beach bucket list:
Check out the recently completed St. Pete Pier.
Spacious walkways and wide-open spaces encourage strolling, bicycling, playing and bay-watching on this huge 26-acre pier dotted with hip eat/drink spots. After learning about marine life at admission-free Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center (tbwdiscoverycenter.org), walk beneath swaying palm trees and ogle the sunset backlighting the skyline. At Glazer Family Playground, climb on artful playground equipment and do yoga beneath Bending Arc, an immense red aerial net sculpted by locally based fiber artist Janet Echelman.
Explore The Dalí museum.
At this modernist glass structure with a lush sculpture garden edging the bayfront, high-tech thermal thermometers take temperatures and hand-sanitizer stations dot the one-way flow through the galleries. In addition to viewing Salvador Dali’s surrealist works, now through June 13 you can walk through Van Gogh Alive. The multimedia immersive extravaganza features enormous high-definition projections of Van Gogh’s paintings set to a classical score. For distancing, timed tickets must be purchased in advance and include admission to the entire museum.
Street murals citywide.
Approximately 500 art walls display styles from fine art to fantasy, with subjects spanning suitcase-toting lizards to a pirate ship bearing the logo of the Super Bowl champion Buccaneers. During St. Pete’s annual November mural festival, SHINE, regional and international muralists adorn walls around town with fresh images. (visitstpeteclearwater.com)
Distinctive family-friendly lodging.
Famous for its pink facade and tropical Mediterranean Revival architecture, The Vinoy (marriott.com) edges Tampa Bay and is an easy walk to downtown galleries, cafes and the pier. Opened in 1925, its Art Deco glamour fills the grand glass-art-filled lobby, bay-facing dine-and-drink verandas and other spots where you can easily distance. A recent redesign included faux-alligator embossed headboards and flamingo-feather motif ceilings in Tower rooms. The immense, roomy resort offers two heated pools, fitness center with indoor/outdoor classes, bayside jogging trail, 18-hole championship golf, 10 tennis courts and a marina. To work out alone, book a room with a Peloton bike.
Opened in 1928, the Don CeSar’s (doncesar.com) recently completed major renovations to make the Gulf beachfront resort even more stylish. New features at the pink Mediterranean-style castle include a pool bar with rooftop deck and hip dining. A cheery ice cream parlor remains.
New lodging includes Tru by Hilton (hilton.com), centrally located downtown with a spacious lobby featuring games and urban views.
Under the sun fitness fun.
Nicknamed "Sunshine City" for its average of 361 days of sunshine and 74-degree temperature, St. Pete is a prime spot for social-distanced fitness. Boating and watersports are big along the 244 miles of shoreline along Tampa Bay, Boca Ciega Bay, the Gulf of Mexico and intracoastal waterways. Ever-popular for bay to beach bicycling, St. Pete recently launched Coast Bike Share and added miles to its bike lanes and trails.
More restaurants and pubs with outdoor seating.
On the pier, enjoy 360-degree bay and city skyline views, especially at sunset, at open-air Pier Teaki (teakstpete.com), serving bay-inspired tiki cocktails and artful bites made with fresh local catch. Parkshore Grill (parkshoregrill.com) pairs award-winning dishes with water views from the patio. At Paul’s Landing (paulslandingstpete.com), dig into Instagram-perfect healthy dishes … and Key lime pie … on a broad terraced patio with views of yachts, the new pier and a calming poolside waterfall. The city is also booming with vegan options.
Ever-growing craft beer scene.
The city earns its "Gulp Coast" nickname for one of the nation’s biggest craft brew magnets, ranging from one of Florida’s first microbreweries, Green Bench greenbenchbrewing.com), to newcomers such as If I Brewed the World (ifibrewedtheworld.com) and Overflow (overflowbrewing.co). St. Pete has a signature brew style: tart, carbonated low-alcohol Florida Weisse. You can walk to many world-class breweries downtown. Download the St. Pete Craft Beer Trail Passport to explore all the breweries in the area. visitstpeteclearwater.com)
Tips to know before you go.
For more seclusion, visit Sunset Beach, Honeymoon Island State Park and Caladesi Island. (visitstpeteclearwater.com)
Teeming with spacious places to soak up Vitamin D-generating sunshine makes St. Pete a balm for cabin fever. For a longer getaway, visit neighboring beach towns that also made Tripadvisor’s best of the U.S. list: Madeira Beach (#9), Treasure Island Beach (#16), Siesta Beach (#17) and Clearwater Beach (#18).
St. Pete’s COVID Safety Campaign
In February, St. Pete/Clearwater launched the Spring to Safety Campaign to promote responsible visiting. Sign the Rise to Shine Pledge (visitstpeteclearwater.com) — mask up, social-distance, wash your hands, be kind — and be entered to win an Ultimate Beach Getaway including airfare and a four-night beachfront resort stay. Sunshine Stewards randomly reward visitors who are taking safety measures with gift cards for local businesses. St. Pete shops sell masks with happy beach motifs, which make practical souvenirs.