St. Petersburg, Florida Offers Attractions Galore

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Downtown St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by John O’Neill)

Located on a peninsula between the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay, St. Petersburg, Florida, is an exciting place to soak in the Florida sun and enjoy a surprisingly diverse and extensive set of attractions.

Unlike a lot of beach towns that offer little besides the beach and a few shops and restaurants, this peninsula combines big-city amenities with white sandy beaches that often make the world’s best beaches list.

From Major League Baseball and a Grand Prix event to some of the best beaches in the world, St. Pete, as it is called by locals, has it.

If you are looking for upscale resorts, restaurants with a waterfront view, abundant watersports, deep-sea fishing, boutique shopping or challenging golf, St. Pete and environs has those. St. Pete also has some world-class museums, a notable jazz festival, theater, lively nightlife and great hotels.

With its year-round sunny days, proximity to a cruise port, major airports, trains and highways, St. Pete has become a popular destination for smart tourists looking for a good Florida experience.

Getting There:

St. Petersburg and Clearwater can be reached by highway, rail, air and cruise ship.

  • By air, the nearest airports are St. Pete-Clearwater International (PIE) at 12 miles from downtown and Tampa International (TPA) at 22 miles.
  • By train, Amtrak stops at Tampa Union Station, 24 miles away.
  • By car, Interstate 275 runs though St. Pete and U.S. 19 runs along the coast. Florida Highway 60 connects them across a causeway.
  • Cruise ships sail from Port Tampa Cruise Terminal, 25 miles away.

Must-sees for a Short Stay:

  • Downtown St. Petersburg’s waterfront and restaurants
  • The beaches from Clearwater on the north to Pass-a-Grille and Tierra Verde on the south. Filled with great sand, hotels, condos and restaurants.
  • A ferry ride across Tampa Bay from St. Petersburg to Tampa and return. Great view.

If You Have Several Days:

  • Great museums: The Dali Museum, Chihuly Collection (glass), James (western art) and the Florida Holocaust Museum are noteworthy.
  • Clearwater, with great beaches, an aquarium, resorts and more restaurants.
    Tampa’s museums, Ybor City or the Seminole Hard Rock Casino.
  • Baseball spring training (Phillies in Clearwater, Yankees in Tampa, Blue Jays in Dunedin), regular season Tampa Bay Rays baseball or the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning games, depending on the season.
  • Gulfport, a kitschy and picturesque town on the bay, only six miles from downtown
    Tarpon Springs, a Greek-style seaport town 33 miles to the north.
  • Busch Gardens in Tampa, 32 miles away and Orlando theme parks, about 100 miles from the beaches.
  • Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach, 40 miles (seasonal).
  • Sunken Gardens.
  • A gorgeous drive south on I-275 over the Sunshine Skyway bridge to Bradenton and Sarasota’s cultural attractions.
  • Deep sea fishing.
  • A dolphin-watching cruise.
  • Golf courses galore. Nearby Innisbrook’s Copperhead Course is the site of the PGA Valspar Open in March.

Ginny O’s Tips for Dressing the Simply Smart Travel Way:

Wear good athletic or boat shoes for boat rides and walking. It can get nippy in winter evenings, so bring a jacket. Many restaurants keep their AC low. Bring a bathing suit and a coverup.

This Destination at a Glance:

Over 50 Advantage: Gorgeous beaches and a chance to relax and be pampered
Mobility Level: Low. The area has no hills.

Simply Smart Travel Tip: Base yourself in St. Pete or Clearwater and take day trips around the region.

When to Go: Florida is good to visit anytime. But “high season” (Christmas through Easter) has the best weather and the most crowds. Summers are popular but humid and hot. April, May, October and November still have good weather and fewer crowds.

Where to Stay: Upscale properties include the Vinoy Renaissance Hotel in St. Pete, the Don CeSar Hotel and the Tradewinds Island Resort at St. Pete Beach. Hundreds of other properties at a wide range of prices are available downtown and on the beaches.

Special Travel Interests: Museums, baseball, beaches.

Jewish Greater St. Petersburg, Florida

Salvador Dali Museum (Courtesy of VistPeteClearwater.com)

Nine years after St. Petersburg became a town in 1892, Henry Schutz emigrated from Germany and opened up a dry goods store, becoming the first Jew in town. Soon, others dribbled in to St. Petersburg and Tarpon Springs.

By the time of the great Florida land boom in the 1920s, there were about 10 Jewish families. Most found the closest Jews across the bay in Tampa. By 1923, the first temple was formed in St. Petersburg.

Nineteen years later, the Army opened an airfield for pilot training and local Jews welcomed Jewish soldiers with public Shabbat dinners and Passover seders. There were also many Jewish doctors at the large Bay Pines Veterans Hospital. By the end of the war, there were about 1,500 Jews living in town.

While anti-Semitism was not unknown, Jews steadily became significant members of the community. Today, for example, the second-term mayor of St. Petersburg is Rick Kriseman. In 1998, The Florida Holocaust Museum moved to downtown St. Petersburg.

The surrounding Pinellas County and greater Tampa region has a large Jewish population, second in the state only to the West Palm Beach to Miami area on the Atlantic Coast.
Most permanent Jewish residents have resettled in the Tampa Bay region from the Northeast and the Midwest, and the Jewish population swells in the winter with thousands of part-time resident “snowbird” Jews from the United States and Canada who enjoy the climate and amenities.

St. Petersburg and Pinellas County have about 27,000 full-time resident Jews (2.85% of the population). Tampa and Hillsborough County across the bay are nearly 2% Jewish with about 23,500 in the population and another 8,400 Jews (1.8% of the population) live in Pasco County to the north of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties. There are 34 synagogues and other Jewish religious institutions in the region.

Pinellas County is home to the Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services, which dates to 1960, a Jewish day school, a Jewish center in Clearwater and the TOP Jewish Foundation. It has 11 Jewish congregations, including three Conservative, two Orthodox and one independent.
Pinellas also has at least three groceries who cater to those who keep kosher, a fairly large Jewish housing complex for the aged and a biweekly Jewish newspaper called The Jewish Press of Pinellas County.

The easiest way to get a sampling of Jewish life for observant Jews in St. Petersburg and vicinity is to consult the Chabad of St. Petersburg guide to Jewish life in the area found at chabadsp.com.

Jeffrey and Virginia Orenstein are travel writers from Sarasota, Florida.

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