Museums, art galleries and summer sports are part of the landscape
Story and Photos by Phyllis Steinberg
The St. Petersburg/Clearwater, Florida area has long been known for its beautiful beaches, but the city is so much more than a place to sun your buns. You don’t even need a car to view a multitude of sights in the downtown area. All you require is 25 cents to ride the trolley around town to see them.
The trolley employs drivers with an extensive knowledge of the history of the city. You also get a guided tour for your quarter. And if you are senior citizen the fare is only a dime. The trolley driver will also give you advice on area attractions and the best way to see them.
Stops along the trolley route include the beautiful Renaissance Vinoy Resort and Golf Club. Disembark the trolley and check out this luxury resort which is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is an excellent example of 1920’s Mediterranean Revival architecture. There are free daily tours given by a docent which recount the history of this stately hotel.
I had the opportunity to stay at this beautiful resort, one of the finest in the area and found the service to be as outstanding as the elegant surroundings. I enjoyed the Sunday brunch at Marchand’s Bar and Grill in the Vinoy with its many choices from colossal shrimps and stone crabs to caviar, made-to-order waffles and omelets and outrageous desserts.
Also on the trolley run is the Museum of Fine Arts. This is an outstanding museum, one that you would expect to find in a larger city like New York or Chicago. The Museum was founded by art collector Margaret Acheson Stuart. The City of St. Petersburg provided the four-acre waterfront site for the construction of the building. The museum opened to the public in 1965. The comprehensive collection of more than 4,600 objects includes major works by the French artists Cézanne, Monet, Morisot, Gauguin, Renoir, Barye, Rodin, and Bourdelle, and the Americans Inness, Hassam, Bellows, O’Keeffe, and Andrew Wyeth. The photography collection has more than 1,200 images. Also on view are ancient Greek and Roman, Asian, African, pre-Columbian, and Native American art and objects. Two galleries are devoted to decorative arts, including one to Steuben glass.
Most everyone knows about the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg. I had visited there on a previous trip to the area but enjoyed a return encounter. The Museum has the most comprehensive collection of this great Spanish artist’s works. The collection has more than 90 paintings and several watercolors and is valued at $125 million. The gift shop at the museum is a perfect place to pick up a great souvenir. It has very unique gift items. The Dali Museum is also a stop on the trolley ride.
St. Petersburg is a popular draw for artists. The Arts Center in the city is a favorite place for locals and vacationers. The fine arts gallery offers hands-on creative experiences to people wishing to express themselves artistically. The Arts Center features galleries with works of some of Florida’s best artists and provides classes for visitors and their children who would like to improve their artistic skills.
The Florida Holocaust Museum on Fifth Street is part of the trolley tour and offers an educational opportunity for teens and their families. The visit to the museum starts with a film that stars teenagers with a Holocaust survivor. The film explains how teenagers can get involved in stopping prejudice. The first floor of the museum is dedicated to the history of the Holocaust. The top two floors contain temporary exhibits by artists. There is also an uplifting section where gentiles who helped Jews during the Holocaust are pictured with their stories. A large assortment of books and gift items are available in the museum gift shop.
If you like to shop, Bay Walk Entertainment Center, a delightful open air mall with unique gift items as well as upscale clothing shops such as Chico’s and Black and White is worth a visit. It is also a stop on the trolley tour and has a multiple screen movie theater as well in the complex.
The St. Petersburg Pier has unique gift and souvenir shops, craft items such as homemade candles and casual dining restaurants. This is a favorite stop for vacationers on the trolley. You can easily spend a few hours at the pier which often has free entertainment for all.
Spring training was an early institution in the St. Petersburg area and several plaques along downtown’s Central Avenue memorialize the history of the sport. The Tampa Devil Rays still do their spring training in St. Petersburg and when baseball season starts, the Devil Rays play in the domed air-conditioned Tropicana Field which is also in the downtown St. Petersburg area. I liked attending a baseball game in the domed stadium. It was raining outside but there were thousands of fans cheering for their team inside a comfortable stadium without getting a drop of rain on them.
I don’t play golf but if you do, the area has three major golf resorts and 40 other courses.
If you enjoy staying in a bed and breakfast, I spent an evening at the Sunset Bay Inn which is located in the residential district near the downtown and the trolley line. Innkeepers Rich and Linda made me feel right at home in their lovely home which has eight beautiful bedrooms, all distinctively different, each with its own hot tub.
What I like best about St. Petersburg is its small town feel and abundance of activities located in the downtown area.
Renaissance Vinoy Resort and Golf Club, 727-894-1000
The Arts Center, 727-822-7872
Salvador Dali Museum, 727-823-3737
Museum of Fine Arts, 727-896-2667
Baywalk Entertainment Center, 727-895-9277
Florida Holocaust Museum, 727-820-0100
Sunset Bay Inn, 800-794-6701
St. Petersburg/Clearwater Convention and Visitors Bureau, 727-464-7200, 877-352-3224