ST. PETERSBURG -- Summer is here and it's the perfect time to take a daycation to one of the many beautiful, scenic and exciting communities that surround Manatee County. Crossing the gorgeous Sunshine Skyway Bridge can put most of us into St. Petersburg in about half an hour. One of Florida's oldest and most charming cities, St. Pete is the perfect place to spend a day off.
Maybe you've been to the Trop for a concert or a Ray's game, or made your way down to the Pier before it was decommissioned earlier this year; but there's a lot more to the city than its most known tourist attractions. From fine dining to greasy spoons, the food is nothing short of excellent. And with a wide variety of culture to boot, St. Pete is an easy place to enjoy a day, or even a long weekend.
|The Dali Museum|
The city's rich cultural heritage begins with its museums. The Salvador Dali Museum houses the largest collection of the works of artist Salvador Dalí anywhere off the European continent. The museum is home to 7 of the 18 so-called "masterwork paintings" by the renowned multi-media artist, more than any museum in the world. The current, expanded location opened in 2011 and includes indoor/outdoor exhibitions, as well as a movie theater.
Just down the street, you can visit the Museum of Fine Arts, which displays thousands of objects spanning thousands of years of history from ancient to modern. One of the most comprehensive art collections on Florida’s west coast, its highlights include masterpieces from Monet and Renoir, a sculpture garden, a Steuben glass gallery and one of Florida’s most respected photography collections.
Along the waterfront, you'll also find a host of art galleries. As you head up Central Avenue, there are several eclectic antique shops, which offer interesting and surprisingly affordable curios and collectibles, my favorite being the Paper Street Market.
A stroll through the Historic Roser Park neighborhood is a scenic way to appreciate the city's antiquity, some parts of which are reminiscent of New Orleans and other majestic cities of the south.
The city has a host of beautiful parks, including the incredibly-scenic Crescent Lake Park, perfect for picnicking, just don't forget to bring some extra bread for the ducks and geese.
Whether you're looking for fine dining or a cute little local spot, there's no shortage of food options. While the city is known for several famous fine dining locations, it's the hidden spots that give it its culinary character.
|A typical house in the Roser Park Neighborhood|
The Bodega on Central Avenue has perhaps the best Cuban sandwich this side of Havana and is one of the only places you can find a genuinely authentic cafe Cubano (Cuban coffee).
Further west on Central you'll find the famous Wild Cajun Blue Crab and Shrimp, a tiny, ramshackle seafood stand that serves up some of the best gulf fare in Florida. From grouper or mullet po'boys to crawfish or shrimp, there is nothing at the Wild Cajun that wouldn't be fit to serve in the Crescent City, and the place is downright cheap in terms of price.
Next door, stop in at Haslam's book store, one of the last remaining giant, independent book outlets in the south. It's been there since 1933 and book aficionados can easily spend an entire day perusing it's aisles, which have just about anything you can imagine, including an expansive local authors section among their 300,000 book inventory.
Kahwa Coffee is usually more crowded than any of the Starbucks locations and once you try their top-shelf java and killer croissants, you'll know why.
Of course, no trip over the bridge would be complete without a lumberjack breakfast at Skyway Jack's, the iconic diner in south St. Pete where they serve greasy hangover food that would give any Jersey joint a run for its money. The pancakes are bigger than a cow's face and their buttermilk biscuits might be the best in the area, but bring paper money, as it's a cash only enterprise.
Nightlife offers quite a bit more options than Bradenton or Sarasota. From upscale night clubs like Push to trendy spots like Ceviche, there are plenty of places to go in your fancy clothes. The view atop of the Canopy makes it the perfect place for pre-dinner drinks.
If you're in a casual mood there's everything from Ferg's Sports Bar next to the Trop to the square block of watering holes on Central that surround Janus Live, which are especially happening when the street is closed to traffic for First Fridays.
So, if the dog days of summer have you tired of the same old, same old, juice up the Sunpass and make your way over the bridge to visit our neighbors to the North. Southwest Florida has a lot to offer and it's all at your fingertips - enjoy!
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