It is hard to disassociate a place named St. Petersburg from its more famous counterpart in Russia, but rest assured, holiday seekers, the coldest experience you'll encounter on this beach paradise is frosty margaritas. There's also the most pompous monolith you'll lay eyes on - the pink palatial resort called Don CeSar.
Scenic Fort Jefferson
Located on a peninsula between Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, St. Petersburg is nicknamed "The Sunshine City" for its year-round sun. The city of St. Pete's, as the locals like to call it, is in Pinellas County, Florida, and has approximately 2.6 million residents. It is a popular tourist and retirement destination, particularly for Americans who want to escape the colder climates of New York, Detroit and Chicago.
Taking a leaf from the history books, St. Pete's was co-founded by John C. Williams and Peter Demens back in 1876. Local legend has it that the two men flipped a coin to see who would have the honour of naming the city. When Demens won, he named it after his birthplace, Saint Petersburg, Russia, while Williams named the first hotel after his birthplace, Detroit. To this day, the Detroit Hotel still exists downtown.
Moving on to the fun stuff, visitors won't want to miss the four-mile long beach, simply called, St. Pete's Beach. If travelling by plane, the best way to get there is to fly into Tampa International Airport, then drive along Highway 276 over the Howard Frankland Bridge. Cruising into St. Pete's Beach is an eye-opening intro into what you can expect for your holiday sojourn.
Enchanting Suwannee River
Many houses, in keeping with Florida's easygoing and idyllic charm, are spotted with walls, windows, porches in shades of pink, or discretely positioned life-sized decorative pink flamingos standing one-legged along the driveway or in the middle of the garden as if to greet visitors with a cheeky, "Welcome Amigos!"
Upon reaching your resort, you'll notice that life around here moves at a fraction of a city's pace. But ultimately, all who seek a beach vacation are only after one thing: The beach! And you will not be disappointed.
St. Pete's is a popular seasonal destination with Americans. Considering what must be millions of feet having stampeded on its virginal sands, the quality of the beach remains surprisingly pristine.
Imagine putting one foot after another on a long stretch of flour. Imagine getting amused and annoyed that with each step you take, your feet keep sinking into the softest 'grains' ever as if stepping on a cloud. Now imagine all this going on for an hour of romantic, leisurely stroll. To top it off, the sky turns a brilliant palette of orange and mauve-pink at sunset and sunrise, with swathes of lavender and gold layering over and under each other.
Breath-taking sight at Blowing Rocks Preserve
The ocean tide rushes in, tingling your toes, while squeals can be heard in the far distance as children scuttle away from over-zealous pelicans or the occasional floating jellyfish in the water. What a perfect setting to created that mood of love and bliss that you and your partner, or your family, have waited and longed for. The only thing that can break this spell? Pangs of hunger! With that, the next level of adventure awaits.
Seafood is a predominant mainstay around here: A myriad fish, crabs, lobsters, shrimp, and calamari aplenty. A common fish served in restaurants around here is catfish. Try the Mangrove Grille Cafe at the Sirata Beach Resort, where they serve succulent catfish marinated with delectable spices and wrapped in banana leaf ala Cajun style, before being grilled to mouth-watering perfection. A close exotic cousin of Singapore's beloved barbecued seafood cuisine.
During your stay on St. Pete's Beach, you can do virtually nothing at all, which would just be as rewarding as partaking in activities such as boating, water sports, or dolphin watching. Alternatively for greater seclusion, far from the madding crowd, visit the islands to the south, such as Shell Island and Egmont, and commune with nature. If you want to speed things up, take a day trip to Orlando which is only 90 minutes away by car, and home to Disney World, Epcot Center and Universal Studios; or how about Busch Gardens in Tampa which is only 45 minutes away by car.
A walk at Apalachicola National Park
Being the largest city marina in the United States, St. Pete's is the ideal spot for a boating expedition. From here, venture out to the rest of the Florida Keys and beaches. There is good reason why cash-rich American retirees flock to Florida to live here permanently, resting their life-long tired feet and basking in the sunny weather. Or why wealthy young aspirants, heirs and heiresses, squeeze themselves in tiny swim wear and lay sprawled out on the white sands for the world to see.
It's no coincidence that St. Pete's once made it into The Guinness Book of World Records for the most consecutive days of sunshine: 768 days starting in 1967. Having weathered throngs of eager tourists, it retains a laid-back 'hammock-sleepiness' about the place while the beaches remain supremely gorgeous, as if untouched and untrodden all these years.
Downtown Tampa Skyline
Where to Stay
If you don't mind kitsch and all-rounded pinkness, try Florida's "Pink Palace", a Disney-style castle with pink turrets. This unmistakable landmark was once the playground of 1920s glitterati such as writer, F. Scott Fitzgerald and notorious kingpin, Al Capone. In fact, fans of the movie Once Upon A Time In America might recall a scene where Max and Noodles are sitting on a beach with a pink backdrop, when they receive news that the abolition is over.
Sirata Beach Resort
A large, family-friendly resort with quality service. Also home to this writer for eight weeks in 2005, where I was able to wake up late everyday, trundle down to the ivory sands, plonk myself onto one of its complimentary hammocks, and continue my mid-morning nap, before sauntering back to the pool or a lunch at the resort cafe. Situated somewhat in the middle of a long and neverending stretch of St. Pete's Beach peppered with other resorts. This is
Renaissance Vinoy Resort
A Conde Nast award winning luxury resort on Florida's West Coast with a private marina, 18-hole golf course and 12-court tennis complex. Built in 1925, it boasts architecture reminiscent of 1920's Mediterranean Revival with most rooms having their own private balconies. Mind you, the resort is 10 miles away from St. Pete's Beach but there is a complimentary shuttle service operating twice daily.
The Southern 'Saila'-bration of Sail
St. Petersburg hosts the annual "Strictly Sail St. Petersburg Boat Show", the only all-sail Boat Show on the Gulf Coast. Sailors across southeastern US flock here for this sailing extravaganza to view what's new in the sailing industry. On display are boats, accessories, gear, equipment and the latest technologies. Aficionados get to see a plethora of sailboats, both monohull and multihull, on land and in water. There are also seminars held for seafarers of all skills and levels.
- This article was first published in the July/August edition of Nautique.
- Nautique is a bi-monthly publication of Raffles Marina Ltd, and is published by Mediactive Pte Ltd.