St. Petersburg, Florida.

Florida's St. Petersburg Is No Longer God’s Waiting Room

The resort city has so much to do and see—with venues within walking distance of a top-notch general aviation airport.

How many cities do you know where you can walk to hotels, restaurants, museums, and marinas from a general aviation airport? You can do that—and enjoy a family vacation or a break after a business trip—in St. Petersburg, Florida.

The Albert Whitted Airport for private air traffic is right on the waterfront at the edge of downtown. A Hertz rental car office is in the terminal, but you can also walk or take a trolley from the airport to numerous hotels and restaurants. If you want to do some memorable sightseeing, consider the tours offered by Executive Helicopters and Flying Adventure. The latter lets you survey the city from an open-cockpit WWII Stearman biplane.

During World War II, the St. Petersburg area was known for its large military training facilities, and after the war, many soldiers decided to stay after experiencing the great weather. Once mocked as “God’s waiting room” because of its large elderly population, St. Petersburg is now a busy metropolis with high-rise condominiums overlooking Tampa Bay and residents of all ages, including many snowbirds. It offers a vibrant arts community and a full calendar of sports, music, and other events.   

The St. Pete Pier, a gleaming attraction that opened in 2020, is down the street from the airport and features 26 beautiful acres alongside Tampa Bay. It’s a perfect place to stroll, bike, dine, drink, shop, swim, or take in a concert. Stop at the St. Petersburg Museum of History where you can view a large collection of autographed baseballs, learn about the world’s first commercial airline flight, and see a 3,000-year-old mummy. 

Billowing Net Sculpture by Janet Echelman in St. Pete Pier
Billowing Net Sculpture by Janet Echelman in St. Pete Pier. (Photo: Courtesy of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater)

Boating, Fishing, and More

On your way to the St. Pete Pier, you’ll pass the St. Pete Marina with several businesses to choose from to charter a boat, go on a fishing trip, or take an excursion out on Tampa Bay to see dolphins, manatees, and the downtown skyline. For jet ski and boat rentals, check out Badabing Watersports. If you’d rather have someone else do the piloting, you’re guaranteed to catch a fish with Yachtfish, which offers four-, six-, and eight-hour expeditions. For a lovely sunset cruise, eco-tour, or dolphin cruise, reserve a time and date with St. Pete Boat Tours.

The St. Pete/Tampa region is also known as “Champa Bay.” In 2021, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl in their own stadium and the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team won the Stanley Cup. And in 2020 the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team almost won the World Series. The football and hockey teams play in Tampa, but the Rays’ Tropicana Field is in downtown St. Pete.

If you are more of a soccer fan, watch the Tampa Bay Rowdies play at Al Lang Stadium just down the street from the Albert Whitted Airport. Their season runs from February through October.

For golfers, a great public course in St. Pete is Mangrove Bay, a par 72, 18-hole course that is beautifully maintained. At the same location are two Par 3, nine-hole courses called Cypress Links and Twin Brooks. The nearby Vinoy Resort & Golf Club operates a golf course that was designed by famed architect Ron Garl for all skill levels.

If you’re a swimmer looking for a larger pool than your hotel offers, stop by the North Shore Aquatic Complex. It’s open to the public and you can usually have a lane for just $5 per day. There is a kids’ pool as well that is open from June through August. Right next door is the Gizella Kopsick Arboretum with over 500 palm trees and cycads from all over the world.

And you can’t leave Florida without playing a game of shuffleboard. Founded in 1924, The St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club is the oldest and largest organization of its kind in the world. Every Friday night, non-members are welcome to play at the club for $10 per person. You can bring your own food and drinks, and lively music adds to the vibe. 

Salvador Dalí Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida.
Salvador Dalí Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida.

Museums, Gardens, Shopping, and Beaches

A block down the street from the Albert Whitted Airport is the Salvador Dalí Museum, which offers an unparalleled collection of his work in a stunning building overlooking the bay. Other museums in the area include The James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art, the Imagine Museum, the Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement, and the Museum of Fine Arts.

Next door to the Dali Museum is the Mahaffey Theater, home of the Florida Orchestra, where nationally and internationally known artists perform year-round.

Sunken Gardens, one of the last remaining Florida roadside attractions, is just outside the downtown area and is a 100-year-old botanical paradise with cascading waterfalls, pink flamingos, and 50,000 tropical plants and flowers. There are also picnic areas and a butterfly aviary. At the same location is the Great Explorations children’s museum.

Lovely parks with walking trails where you might spot alligators, tortoises, and armadillos include Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, Weedon Island Preserve (with kayak rentals), and Sawgrass Lake Park.

You’ll find numerous shops with high-quality clothing, jewelry, and art along Beach Drive across from the Museum of Fine Arts. For maps and nice souvenirs, stop by the St. Pete Store & Visitor’s Center at 100 2nd Ave. N. Nearby Central Avenue offers miles of unique shops, bars, galleries, and restaurants. Don’t miss the Duncan McClellan Gallery, the Chihuly Collection, and the Florida CraftArt Gallery. A free Central Avenue Trolley leaves from the St. Pete Pier, and you can check for the latest route information.

A visit to St. Petersburg would not be complete without experiencing its world-renowned beaches. Voted number one in the U.S. by Tripadvisor in 2021, they were also rated number five in the world. Perfect for walking on white quartz sand, they feature clear, calm water and lots of seashells along the shoreline. A favorite among the locals is Pass-A-Grille beach in a nice residential neighborhood with a nearby marina. There is parking on the street, and you can rent chairs and umbrellas on the beach. You can’t miss the historic Don CeSar hotel, which looks like a giant pink birthday cake and is frequented by the rich and famous.

If you prefer not to drive to St. Pete Beach, take the SunRunner bus, which leaves from downtown St. Pete and will drop you off right at the beach.

Suzanne Driscoll is a Florida-based freelance writer.


Where It Is: St. Petersburg is on the west coast of Florida between Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. It is 24 miles south of Tampa.

Climate:  St. Pete holds the Guinness World Record for the most consecutive days of sunshine at 768. The former St. Petersburg Times newspaper used to give out a free afternoon edition if the sun did not appear that day. Average daily high temperatures range from about 63 degrees F in January to more than 90 degrees in July and August.

Getting There: The Albert Whitted Airport, which accommodates private air traffic, overlooks Tampa Bay and is within walking distance of hotels, restaurants, and the marina. A free trolley stops right by the airport. Tampa International Airport is 20 minutes north of St. Pete and the St. Pete-Clearwater Airport is nine miles north.

What to Know Before You Go: Outdoor events are scheduled year-round, and in March the Firestone Grand Prix, a world-class motorsport event, roars into town right next to the Albert Whitted Airport. Also near the airport, you can catch the Cross Bay Ferry to downtown Tampa from mid-October through June. There you can visit the Glazer Children’s Museum, the Tampa Museum of Art, the Tampa Bay History Center, the Florida Aquarium, and the Amalie Arena where the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team plays and large concerts take place.

Traveler Report Card

Accommodations: The historic Vinoy Resort & Golf Club (A+) was renovated last year and is a short trolley ride from the Albert Whitted Airport. Other hotels that are within walking distance of the airport include the Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront (B+), the AC Hotel by Marriott St. Petersburg Downtown (A-), and Hyatt Place St. Petersburg/Downtown (A-). A smaller boutique hotel on Beach Drive is The Birchwood (A-), which offers complimentary breakfast and a great rooftop bar called the Canopy overlooking the bay. In addition to the historic Don CeSar Hotel (A+), which has an outdoor bar and casual and elegant restaurants, consider the Beach House Suites (A+), which is owned by the Don CeSar and offers accommodations that include a large living room area, a full kitchen, and a balcony with views of the Gulf.

Cuisine: Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille (A+) at the end of the St. Pete Pier offers excellent food, great views of the bay and live entertainment right on the sand. Fresco's Waterfront Bistro (A-) at the entrance to St. Pete Pier, and Stillwaters Tavern (B+) on Beach Drive offer outdoor seating. (Be sure to try the local grouper.) For Italian food, check out Gratzzi Italian Grille (A-) on 2nd St. S. and Bella Brava (B+) on Beach Drive. For lovely views of the water and gorgeous sunsets, try The Brass Monkey (B), Hurricane Seafood Restaurant (B), and Berkeley Beach Club (A+) that offers a boutique hotel, fine dining, and a great rooftop bar. The Albert Whitted Airport’s Hangar Restaurant (B+) serves breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. On Monday evenings there is an open-mic jazz night, and on Thursdays from 7 to 9 p.m., a blues jam takes place.