Rather than take one big vacation this summer, we opted instead for a few short trips so we could experience more new places. We kicked things off with this 3-night trip to Charleston, SC, we met up my parents in the Georgia mountains in July, and then capped off the summer with a getaway to St. Petersburg, Florida. Sherry and I had only been there very briefly during this 2008 beach vacation, so we were excited to spend more time there and explore it with our kids.
So here’s a quick recap of what we did, where we ate, and why we’re excited to go back.
Where Did We Stay In St. Petersburg?
St. Petersburg is located on Florida’s Gulf Coast, across the Tampa Bay from the city of Tampa. The area has lots of great beaches, but we specifically chose St. Pete for the city and cultural aspects of it (since we have plenty of great beaches where we live). It seemed to promise some of the same things we loved about our former hometown of Richmond, Virginia (we love a mid-size city with an artsy feel and lots of good food).
For those reasons, we chose to stay closer to Downtown St. Petersburg (rather than near the beaches). We stayed in an Airbnb just outside of the Grand Central District, which promised to be a fun commercial district. The house itself was good (clean, well-stocked, and dog-friendly!) but it turned out to be less walkable to where we spent most of our time than we’d hoped so I’m not linking it here.
We’d probably choose something a little further East next time we go. I also think if we were to go back for a longer trip, we might choose a house closer to the beach – since there seemed to be more options out there – then we’d just drive downtown. It’s really not a very big city and we only experienced very mild traffic while we were there.
What We Did In St. Petersburg: The Pier
The big attraction in downtown St. Petersburg is The St. Pete Pier, so we naturally headed there on our first morning. If you’re picturing some rinky-dink wooden fishing pier (like I was at one point) you couldn’t be more wrong. It’s MASSIVE and has tons to do. Had it been a little less hot out and we weren’t interrupted by a rainstorm, we almost could’ve spent a whole day out there.
That’s the view from the end of the pier, looking back toward downtown. It’s filled with green spaces, dining options, art pieces, and more. This is the 3-story structure (each with a different restaurant) from which I took the above photo. See? Totally not rinky-dink.
Our two favorite spots on the pier were the playground and the Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center. The latter is a small but fun nature center toward the middle of the pier. It was surprisingly affordable ($18 total for all 4 of us to get in) and they’re even dog-friendly! Honestly, we mostly stopped in for the A/C, but ended up staying about 45 minutes looking at the various animals and interactive displays.
The playground was another surprise hit, since our kids are beginning to age out of them. But this one was big, modern, and creatively done, so they had a great time. We adults even got to sit in the shade!
The last thing we did near the Pier (before some surprise rain drove us inside) was to check out this massive tree outside of the St. Petersburg Museum of History. If you can find our kids in the picture, you’ll get a sense of the scale.
What We Did In St. Pete: The Salvador Dalí Museum
The following day, we ventured back downtown to visit The Salvador Dalí Museum. An art museum may not be every family’s idea of a kid-friendly activity, but both of our kids love art so this was a must-see for us. The museum does a really good job of catering to young visitors too. There are a few interactive exhibits (including a VR experience) and even some AI-generated videos of Dalí “himself” talking with you.
It was also just impressive to see so many of his works up close. His pieces are often so intricate and, well, surreal that the kids found them really fascinating to look at. Sherry also had fun breaking out some of her college art history knowledge.
The only bummer about our visit is that, once again, we got a surprise rain storm so we couldn’t visit the “avant-garden” (har har). They also just added a huge dome that hosts the immersive Dalí Alive 360° experience, but we visited one day – literally one day! – before it opened to the public.
Speaking of immersive art, we wished The Fairgrounds had been open while we were there too. It’s only open on weekends and our trip fell on a Monday night – Thursday morning.
What We Did In St. Petersburg: Explore & Shop
Apart from the two destinations above, we spent most of our trip just kind of exploring. There are lots of shops and restaurants along (and right off of) Central Avenue in the Grand Central District, so it was also fun just walking around.
There generally seemed to be more restaurants than there were stores to shop in, but we did find this really cute bookstore: Tombolo Books. We love an indie bookstore, and whenever we visit a new city we always look one up.
It also bears mentioning that St Pete was super welcoming to everyone! It definitely has an inclusive city vibe that made us so happy – from the rainbow crosswalk in the Grand Central district to signs displayed in shop windows and flags hanging outside.
If you couldn’t tell from these pictures: there are TONS of murals and colorful storefronts. So there’s plenty of eye candy, just walking around. This particular mural was on the side of Pete’s Bagels, which was also our favorite breakfast of the trip.
I’m not sure if this graffitied bench counts as “public art,” but we definitely enjoyed the photo op. You have my permission to use this photo at my funeral.
If murals aren’t the only type of eye candy you crave: we also found some of the real estate variety. We did a little bit of driving around each afternoon just to get our bearings in St. Pete. First, we stumbled upon some beautiful neighborhoods between downtown and Snell Isle. Just tons of cool houses (some big, some small) that felt like a cool mix of tropical and historic. It almost felt like a Florida version of Richmond to us. This house made Sherry scream and gasp multiple times.
We also heard of this other neighborhood called Driftwood (thanks to @ilovetheburg on Instagram, which had tons of local tips). It was impossible to capture it on camera, but it was incredibly jungly and cool. Just put “Driftwood Road” in Google Maps to find it. Seriously. Go drive through. It felt like we entered Jurrasic Park.
Sherry and I could probably drive around exploring neighborhoods all day, so we’d definitely love to do that again in St Pete.
Where We Ate In St. Petersburg
As I said in our Charleston post, we are by no means foodies, and with kids and a dog in tow, our priorities are often easy, fun, casual, and a menu that pleases everyone. So here’s a quick run-down of the places we enjoyed most.
Pacific Counter was like a sushi & poke version of Chipotle. It’s definitely a “fast casual” style place, so I feel weird saying it was my favorite meal of the trip, but building our own sushi burritos and poke bowls was awesome and it was delicious. I got a Hawaiian hot dog too. The kids got free pineapple whip (I guess that’s a thing on Wednesdays?) and everyone left happy and full. It looks like Pacific Counter is a chain in the Tampa Bay area, but could someone pretty please open one near us on the panhandle?
Ceviche was the restaurant we hunkered down in during our post-Pier rainstorm, and it was probably Sherry’s favorite of the trip. This definitely stretched the kids’ palettes a little bit (the meatballs, croquetas, and pesto chicken were the biggest hits with them) but that was the beauty of sharing a bunch of small plates.
As much as this next place looks like it’s called “Beer Tacos,” it’s actually Casita Taqueria. Tacos and quesadillas are always crowd-pleasers in the Petersik household, and this place had a perfectly chill, dog-friendly atmosphere, along with great food.
Another fool-proof crowd-pleaser with us is dessert. The most memorable one on this trip was at La Diperie. You start with a base like a soft-serve cone, a donut, cookie dough balls, or even an ice cream sandwich. Then you choose from dozens of flavored dips that your base gets dunked in, and then toss on a topping or two. YUM.
And although we didn’t actually eat here (they were somehow out of bread?) we were glad we stopped into the 2D Cafe. The ’80s kid in me felt like I had stepped into the Take On Me video!
And since Sherry and I have been on a coffee kick this year, we enjoyed checking out a couple of local coffee spots in St. Pete. Bandit was super cool. I’m still thinking about the summer-special Bouquet Latte I got and I regret not getting a full breakfast there. We also checked this super art-deco spot called Paradeco, which was really cool inside.
I only wish my brain would read Paradeco as “Para-Deco” (a reference to paradise + art deco) instead of “Parade-Co,” which sounds like a business that puts on parades.
One Last Stop: The Beach!
Okay, okay, so I said we didn’t come to St. Petersburg for the beaches. But after we checked out of our Airbnb, we couldn’t resist a detour out to one of the beaches: specifically, an area called Passe-A-Grille, which a friend had recommended to us. The drive there was short (maybe 15-20 mins?) and we got to take in the famous pink Don CeSar hotel on the way.
We also grabbed breakfast on the way out at Paradise Grille. It’s a totally unfussy, but beautifully beachfront restaurant in the center of Passe-A-Grill. We loved it!
Even though we live near the beach, this was an unfamiliar experience to us because our beaches are surrounded (protected? blocked?) by very tall 3-story dunes. So most “Gulf front” dining options offer great views (looking down on them from above), but you’re pretty far from touching actual sand and water. Not here! You’re pretty much directly on the beach.
So it was a perfect relaxing way to end the trip before heading home. We left wanting to experience more of the area – both downtown and by the beaches – so we’re excited to go back!
Other Family Trips We’ve Taken
If you’re interested in our take on other destinations or are in search of family-friendly trips, you might enjoy some of these posts too: