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Less family-centric than Orlando and less touristy than Miami, Clearwater/St. Petersburg in the Tampa area is a great Florida getaway for those seeking stress-free sun and fun. With some of the best beaches in the Sunshine State, this under-the-radar gem has plenty lesser-known but no less fabulous attractions. If you’re in the know about this killer vacation spot, here’s everything you must do once you’re there.
Where to Stay: You’re going to Florida, make the most of your time and post up by the beach. Both St. Petersburg and Clearwater have a number of exceptional waterfront properties.
Try a Traditional Cuban Sandwich
While Miami is traditionally known for its Cuban cuisine, Latin American culture is fairly widespread throughout all of South Florida with Bodega bringing cravable street eats to St. Pete. They have a full menu of tasty treats, but only one thing matters – the Cuban sandwich. And while I was never really a fan (pork, ham, pickles, and mayo just sounded like an off-putting combination), they had me converted pretty quickly. I was so impressed I ate there two days in a row and if that’s not a testament to how good they are I don’t know what is.
Go on a Street Art Tour
Not to be outdone by the Wynwood Walls, downtown St. Petersburg has over 70 colorful, quotable murals in just a few blocks radius. Totally walkable, you can give yourself a self-guided photo tour, but the city also offers the unique opportunity to explore with one of the local artists to get an insider’s perspective on the inspiration behind the art.
Hit the Beach
Clearwater Beach has some of the whitest sand and clearest water in the country (hence the name), which is why it regularly tops lists of best beaches in the world. Walk the Pier 60 promenade which has restaurants, shops, and tons of people watching. They have a nightly sunset festival with live music, street performers, and artisan vendors.
Visit the Dali Museum
The largest collection of Dalí works outside Europe, the quirky artist’s museum is as architecturally impressive as the works inside. Don’t miss the interactive exhibits where you can put yourself in the art and the “avante-garden” outside.
Live Like Royalty
One of St. Pete’s most iconic landmarks, The Don Cesar, or the Pink Palace, is the bubblegum colored building dominating the landscape. On the National Register of Historic Places and one of the Historic Hotels of America, it’s been featured in films and scandals and has been home to everything from hauntings and high society.
Get Lost in the Gardens
The Sunken Gardens Botanical Gardens is one of the oldest roadside attractions in the United States and St. Petersburg’s oldest living museum. Four acres of beautifully landscaped flora and fauna, get lost in paradise as you peruse 50,000 tropical plants, waterfalls, and gardens. Don’t miss the flamingos, koi fish, and butterfly enclosure because it’s truly a secret garden hidden in plain sight.
Play in the Water
Sail, SCUBA, rent a jet ski or SUP board, or parasail, the opportunities are endless to enjoy Florida’s crystal-clear water. Looking for an adrenaline rush? Go for a jetboat ride through the harbor. But be warned, you’ll be holding on for dear life. What a more relaxed way to watch the waves? Go on a dolphin watching tour and spot the playful creatures dancing through the waters.
Much like the one in Seattle, acclaimed glass artist Dale Chihuly has a permanent collection in downtown St. Petersburg. From dazzling chandeliers to floor-to-ceiling sculptures, be wowed by the colorful, twisty creations. Once your mind is fully blown, head across the street to the Morean Arts Center where you can watch a glassblowing demo and even make your own masterpiece to bring home.
Assist with Marine Animal Rehab
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is not your typical aquarium where you simply watch fish from afar, but instead is a rescue, rehab, and release facility to help marine life get back into the wild. Their hands-on programs offer you the opportunity to assist the animal care team with food prep and exhibit maintenance for the resident dolphins, otters, and sharks. You can also pay a visit to the local celebrity, Winter, who inspired the movie, Dolphin Tale for her miraculous ability to learn to swim with a prosthetic tail.
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