Florida Gulf Coast – Tampa and St. Petersburg

Florida is, well, Florida. It just kind of exists and we all go there because it’s easy. Is it overrated? Underrated? Who knows. It just is. But, plane tickets are cheap, most of us know someone who either lives there, retired there, or snowbirds there, and it’s the home of Disney. Which means, especially if you’re an east coaster, you’ve probably been there at least once. It just sort of happens. 

Some people really like Florida and make it a point to go there. I am not one of them. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike Florida, but I just don’t particularly love it either. I’ve enjoyed all my trips there but, with exception to the magic of the theme parks, have never been particularly wowed. 

I hear Florida beaches are a thing

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t places in Florida that have my interest. The St. Petersburg area was definitely one of them that did. I’ve seen the area and the gulf coast beaches pop up on enough travel blogs and social media feeds for it to catch my eye. I just figured I’d never go there. Not because I couldn’t make it happen, but because I wouldn’t. With so many places in the country, not to mention the world, that I want to go, I figured that the area would just never be a high enough priority for me to make happen. 

But, like I said, Florida just seems to happen and, when the right thing comes along, I’m game. So when Scott’s Cheap Flights sends out sub $100 round-trip deals to Tampa, which happens to be where my two RVing friends are currently located, you’d better believe this non-Florida lover is hightailing it to the Sunshine State. 

Hellooooo Tampa

St. Petersburg

I spent the most amount of time here going into the city twice. We did the touristy things but also gave ourselves time to just walk around and explore a little. 

The Salvador Dali museum was my only real regret of the trip. It was $29 to get in and a separate $10 for parking. I want my $39 back. This is not Dali hate I’ve got going on here. The museum was high on my list and I was looking forward to it. The art was cool, as expected, and it was interesting to see how his art evolved over time. Dali is, of course, known for his surrealist art, most famously his melting clocks, but some of his early stuff was nothing like that. I was fascinated by his early art experimenting with different forms such as abstract and impressionism. So, the art was not the problem. It was the absurd ticket price for a Salvador Dali art museum that actually only has one half of one floor of Salvador Dali art. They had some Picasso but that was for members only so we weren’t allowed to see it. The ground floor was a coffee shop and the gift shop. Throw in an outdoor area with a giant mustache statue and apparently they think it’s worth more than the ticket price of both the MET in NYC and the Boston Museum of Fine Art. Salvador Dali is a very famous artist and so maybe the museum charges that much because it can get away with it. But this traveling skunk is mad she got suckered into it. 

Outside the Dali Museum

Another spot we checked out in St. Petersburg was The Sunken Gardens. It was cool to see all the unusual plants and trees close up. There were so many different and interesting stuff I almost didn’t know where to look. Sometimes I would be looking one way and my friend behind me would point out something that I walked right by and completely missed. I was enjoying walking around and letting my eyes wander but, in hindsight, I wish I had read more of the signs to see the tree names. This is definitely a family friendly place. There’s not too much walking, it’s wheelchair friendly, and great for kids. I also thought the $15 ticket price was a smidge steep but this one made more sense to me. It felt high to me because I could go out hiking and see a lot of similar fauna but not everyone is willing to hike as long or as far as me. The accessibility of this place and the variety of plant life there makes it a great all-ages spot.

How do you even know where to look!

I looked up a few breweries in St. Petersburg and ultimately picked one called Overflow Brewing. It was just my friend, Amy, and myself at this time and she deferred to me on the brewery; she’s down to try them but is still just getting into beer and was good to go wherever I picked. We walked into Overflow and I instantly thought, “oh no, what did I do?” It was a weekday so they didn’t open until later so we were the first ones there. The place looked dark and grungy and deserted and I was seriously worried that I picked out a total dive for us. But we were won over relatively quickly. They had crazy art on the walls which was all from local artists and all for sale. The best part was that it all goes directly to the artists; the brewery doesn’t take any commission which these days, when everyone is trying to make a buck off of everyone else, is pretty darn cool. The bathrooms were amusing and the bartender was great. He was chatty and helpful but not too chatty. The beer was somewhere between alright and good. Good enough where we picked our favorite and got a Crowler to share with the third that couldn’t make it but not good enough where I’d ever go out of my way to get it again. 

Love when places show personality

St. Pete’s pier was one of the better piers I’ve seen. Definitely a tourist hot spot but for a reason. The water was very clear and such a pretty color. There was a tiki bar at the end of the pier with a great view of St. Petersburg on one side and from the other side you can see across the bay to Tampa. 

View of St. Petersburg from the tiki bar at the top of the pier

The Best of the Rest

We spent a short amount of time in Tampa. Just enough to get the vibe and see a couple of cool things. We walked the Tampa Riverwalk at night which was pretty neat all lit up with vibrant colors. We also checked out a cool food spot and had my favorite local brew of the trip: Riot Juice.

This was before the beer

I was also able to check out some other nearby cities and towns including Clearwater, Dunedin, and Tarpon Springs. Travel and Leisure just listed Tarpon Springs as one of the US towns to go to if you’re looking for a European feel. I’m not sure I would agree; I very much felt like I was in the United States, but the town does have a heavy Greek influence which is apparent with Greek flags lining the streets and Greek restaurants every other building. 

Sunset from Clearwater Beach

And, as always, I had to do some outdoorsy stuff. I went to Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park, Honeymoon Island State Park, and Homosassa Springs Wildlife refuge. 

The wildlife refuge is right next to a natural spring that wild manatees are often spotted in. Sure enough, I was able to see wild manatees. Manatees are huge and doofy looking but are actually known to be very social and are willing to swim right up to humans. Fun fact: it is illegal to touch a manatee with two hands. One, apparently, is fine. 

Wild manatees make me happy

There were also a bunch of wild birds in the refuge that come and go as they please as well as some that live there full-time. My favorite was a bonded pair of cranes. One of them was injured to the point where she can never be re-released back into the wild. Her mate was rehabilitated and released into the wild. And then came back. He wouldn’t leave his mate. Their “enclosure” (can you even call it that when it’s not enclosed?) is completely open and he could, quite literally, fly away at any time. And he doesn’t. So he just lives there now and it melts my sappy heart. 

The Unexpected

Unfortunately the Sunshine State wasn’t all that sunny for me. I got rain and/or overcast for most of the trip. Then, because of a snow storm in Connecticut, my flight home got cancelled and I had to reschedule for a day later. I know. Total bummer. That extra day brought the only real day of sun I got down there but the price was a temperature high of 46 degrees and wind gusts with wind chills in the 20’s. THE 20’S. IN FLORIDA. While I can handle bad weather at home better than most, there’s something about bad weather on a trip that’s a real disappointment. However, I can’t ignore the silver lining. We’re not going to get perfect weather every trip (if only) and, as far as my trips go, this one wasn’t weather dependent. So, while not ideal, the less than desirable weather didn’t actually ruin any plans.

Had a great time at the beach in my fleece and puffy coat.

All in all it was a fun trip. I had a good few days with my friends and I explored a new place I’ve never been to. Per Florida usual, it didn’t wow me and I don’t expect to go back (yeah, we’ll see how that goes).

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