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The Best Things to Do in St. Petersburg–Clearwater

By Terry Ward

Aug 5, 2020

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You could spend the whole time on the sand, but there’s so much more to see.

Photo by Margaret Wiktor/Shutterstock

You could spend the whole time on the sand, but there’s so much more to see.

From beaches and breweries to museums and markets, there’s an endless supply of things to see in this sunny region. 

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Home to 35 miles of stunning beaches, plus expansive waterfront parks and green spaces, St. Pete–Clearwater is an obvious choice for those seeking some fun in the sun. But visitors more interested in cultural or culinary pursuits will also find plenty to love here, from world-class museums and more than 600 murals to chef-driven restaurants and a thriving craft beer scene. 

Whether you want to spend all your time outdoors or would rather browse art and go brewery hopping, you’ll never run out of things to do in St. Pete–Clearwater. Read on for more about the area’s can’t-miss activities and get busy planning your trip.

Hit the sand at some of the best beaches in the country

The beaches can be lively but there are plenty of more relaxed spots.

One of the best things about St. Pete–Clearwater is that, no matter where you go, you’re never more than a few minutes from some of the most picture-perfect beaches in the United States. Those seeking solitude should head to Fort De Soto Park, an enormous, Gulf-front area composed of five interconnected islands, where it’s easy to find a quiet stretch of sand for swimming or sunbathing in peace. The park is also home to one of the best campgrounds in all of Florida, with plenty of waterfront sites. 

If you don’t mind crowds—and like having bars, shops, and restaurants within stumbling distance—go instead to Clearwater Beach. The spot is known for its powdery sand and clear, shallow waters, as well as its nightly sunset festivities on Pier 60, complete with artisans, crafters, and street performers. For a more local scene, set your sights on Pass-a-Grille Beach, a residential area on the southern end of St. Pete Beach with an old Florida vibe. People gather around Eighth Avenue where you’ll find shops and cafés steps from the sand, but if you venture north or south a few blocks, you’ll find plenty of space to spread out and relax. 

Explore the St. Pete museum scene

The Dalí Museum is home to more than 2,400 works.

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The first stop on any St. Pete museum tour should be the waterfront Dalí Museum, home to the largest collection of the surrealist’s work outside of Spain. Of the more than 2,400 works on display, eight can be viewed in augmented reality through the Dalí Museum app for a deeper understanding of their complex imagery. Before heading out, stop by the stylish Café Gala in the museum’s atrium for a crema catalana pastry and the perfect cappuccino. 

A few blocks away, the James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art is housed in an angular sandstone edifice meant to conjure the canyons of the American West. Inside, visitors find a fascinating collection of western, American Indian, and wildlife paintings, plus sculpture and jewelry mostly by living artists. 

Party on the piers

St. Pete and Clearwater both have pretty piers, although each has a distinctly different vibe. If you’re headed to Pier 60 in Clearwater, you’ll want to time your visit to the sunset—the pier faces directly west on one of the most beautiful beaches in the country, so the views are epic. That’s also when the area comes alive with buskers  and artisans selling crafts and souvenirs. You can stroll most of the 1,080-foot-long fishing pier for free, but there’s a daily fee of $8 to enter the fishing zone at the end. 

In downtown St .Pete, a brand-new pier opened in summer 2020. The Southeast’s largest waterfront playground, it functions as an extension of the surrounding streets, with a bike path winding around the entire perimeter. There’s also a beach area, a rooftop tiki bar, a sloping lawn with city views, and a pop-up marketplace, plus wide promenades for strolling, local environmental exhibits, and public art. Plan to spend more than just sunsets here. 

Sip suds at some top breweries

You’ll want to order the Beach Blonde Ale at 3 Daughters Brewing.

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These days, you can’t talk about St. Pete–Clearwater, affectionately dubbed the Gulp Coast, without mentioning the area’s craft beer scene. The region’s Craft Beer Trail, which runs all the way from Tarpon Spring to St. Pete, takes a full hour to drive end to end, but much longer if you want to visit all the homegrown breweries along the way. Must-stops include Clearwater’s Southern Lights Brewing Company, where smoked porters and Belgian tripels await, and St. Pete’s Green Bench Brewing Company, which offers both meads and ciders. Also worth trying in St. Pete are local favorites Webb’s City Cellar (for sours!) and the family-owned 3 Daughters Brewing (order the Beach Blonde Ale, brewed with local hops).  

Bask in that weekend market life

You may not be in Europe, but the weekend markets in St. Pete–Clearwater could almost have you fooled. Held every Saturday throughout the year, St. Pete’s Saturday Morning Market is among the liveliest on Florida’s entire Gulf Coast, with an impressive selection of locally grown produce and plants, live music, and vendors selling handmade crêpes and fresh coconuts.

For fashion hounds, there’s Vintage Marché, held in St. Pete’s Warehouse Arts District on the first weekend of each month. Tampa Bay’s largest vintage market, it’s a veritable jackpot of retro clothing and jewelry, as well as midcentury-modern furniture, lighting, home decor, and art. Those searching for more contemporary treasures will want to hit Indie Flea St. Pete, an open-air market with more than 80 vendors that takes place on the first Saturday of every month. The handmade jewelry is especially worth seeking out, but you’ll also find upcycled home goods, artisanal jams, dry succulent gardens, and more.  

Spend a Friday night playing shuffleboard

What’s old is cool again at the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club, founded in 1924 as the largest of its kind in the world. While it remains a private establishment, the club opens to the public every Friday night from 7 to 10 p.m. for the St. Pete Shuffle, a free event with first come, first served shuffleboard games. Bring your own food and drinks to the club’s pretty location on Mirror Lake and scope out one of the 74 courts for a game with friends; if you don’t know how to play, club member volunteers are on site to explain the rules (a $2 donation is recommended). One of St. Pete’s most fun outdoor gatherings, the event takes on a tailgate-like feel, with first-timers and old pros of all ages pushing pucks under the stars in a most unusual—yet very Florida—scene. 

>>Next: Plan your trip with AFAR’s Travel Guide to St. Petersburg–Clearwater

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