Article by Robin Soslow, Special Contributor at The Dallas Morning News
When craving a candy box of sensory pleasures, it's hard to beat St. Pete.
You can laze on sugary-sand gulf beaches lapped by emerald waves, then catch a trolley to a cornucopia of world-class art, shopping and gustatory delights edging Tampa Bay.
Famously sunny St. Petersburg has evolved from a Florida retirement haven to cool-culture constellation. Glass studios, brewpubs, gourmet ice pop shops, smart museums and eye-stopping murals swirl in this orbit. The old pier's gone, but there are more places than ever to watch rolling clouds and spectacular sunsets.
Skip the driving; get a $5 trolley day-pass and dive into a sampler of eye candy.
Hot glass scene
St. Pete is earning kudos as one of America's best art cities and a world leader in glass.
More wonderland than gallery, the Chihuly Collection whisks you into imaginary worlds created by glass master Dale Chihuly and his team. Frequent docent tours reveal ingenious techniques and secrets about each tantalizing sculpture. The collection relocates this fall from bayfront to the Morean Arts Center's block, adding to the explosive energy coursing through St. Pete's Central Arts District. The Morean, which began as a local art club in 1917, displays glass works pretty and provocative. Its backyard Glass Studio offers fascinating daily glassmaking demos and giftable pieces for sale.
Just west of downtown, the Warehouse Art District is now home to about 200 glass artists. One, Duncan McClellan, has transformed a tomato packing plant into indoor-outdoor glassmaking and gallery spaces.
Arty party people
Also in the Warehouse district, the Morean Center for Clay has repurposed a train station by the 47-mile Pinellas Trail, one of America's first rails-to-trails projects that's now beloved by walkers, joggers and cyclists. Towering kilns dot the grounds like mysterious relics. The bohemian Grand Central neighborhood is home to ARTpool (nostalgic vintage), mod clothes boutiques and new Cage Brewing, decorated with a mad-cap cat mural. The Edge boasts attractions from Furnish Me Vintage's four stories of fab to award-winning Green Bench Brewing Co., where you can play lawn games and watch movies in the garden while sipping brews crafted with local ingredients from neighboring coffee roasters to rooftop beekeepers.
Bayside, there's plenty to refresh the senses: weekend festivals, St. Petersburg Museum of History's "Happy Hour with the Historian," the Museum of Fine Arts' performance-art coffee klatches and bayfront weekend markets.
Central Arts District hotspots include Florida CraftArt, which showcases wonderfully unique handmades by local talents and serves as the meeting point for new Saturday morning walking tours that highlight street murals by resident and international artists. Peruse enchanting finds at The Swag, newly opened by vintage fanatics, then wheel into neon-lit Cycle Brewing for stealth releases.
Just south, the Dali Museum gleams by water's edge. Tips: Grab one of the free newly designed audio-visual guides for backstories about the visionary artist and his times, relax in the cool Avant Garden -- and catch the new multi-media "Disney & Dali: Architects of the Imagination" show about these geniuses' surprising alliance. Put on an Oculus Rift headset for a virtual reality tour of a Dali masterwork. This milestone in museum technology is a trippy journey past spindle-legged elephants, the lobster telephone and a chromo-hologram of Alice Cooper.
Other downtown venues slated to open in the next year include a huge American Arts and Crafts museum and Western art showcase.
Cayenne watermelon, bourbon peach, ginger plum, cilantro....it's hard to choose among the 35 handcrafted varieties at Hyppo Gourmet Ice Pops. The rainbow-colored treats are flavored by fresh fruits, herbs and spices. Nearby, Cider Press Cafe serves artful and addicting raw vegan compositions in a high-design dining room of bamboo and polished concrete. Both opened this fall in the Central Arts District.
A few blocks away, exotic aromas waft from Meze 119's colorful plates, Il Ritorno packs in farm-to-table connoisseurs for popular tasting dinners, and the Canopy Rooftop Lounge pairs zesty, pretty flatbreads with breathtaking bay views. Beachside at the Hotel Zamora, Castile Restaurant chefs arrange locally sourced ingredients into delicious collages.
Beach bars crank up the live music before the fireball sun dips through striped skies into the Gulf of Mexico. Festive, friendly favorites include Caddy's (libations allowed on the sand), Jimmy B's (bandstand, volleyball, free sunset shooters) and Hotel Zamora's new 360Â° Rooftop. For gorgeous views by the bay, tour the spectacular Vinoy Renaissance Resort. Since first opening Christmas Eve 1925, the classic pink-palace hotel hosted celebrities and titans, served as a military training site during WWII, spun into decay and hit bottom as a low-rent boarding house, then was rescued and restored to its former glory starting in the 1990s, beautified further in recent years.
After dazzling your eyes, stretch out on St. Pete's sugar-sand beach and give them a rest.