13 Travel Writers’ Fave Things To Do in Downtown St Pete You’ll Love

UPDATED January 16, 2024 — US and Canadian travel writers gathered last month to uncover the top things to do in downtown St Pete. They converged in St. Petersburg, Florida, for the annual International Food Wine and Travel Writers (IFWTWA) conference.

While there, the travel pros nosed around to sniff out the best things to do in downtown St Pete. Here’s what the savvy travelers recommend:

Table of Contents

Pinterest graphic with words Top Things to do in downtown St Pete
PIN for later | Photo by Garwacka Goralik via Unsplash

1.) Things to do St. Petersburg Florida: Exploring St. Pete Beach

path to beach framed by dunes crowned with sea oats and shining ocean waters ahead
Exploring St. Pete Beach framed by dunes is one of the best things to do in downtown St Pete | Linda Stewart photo

“St. Pete Beach is located along the Gulf of Mexico on a barrier island just minutes from downtown St. Petersburg, Florida. With its azure blue water and miles of alabaster white sands, I can understand how St. Pete Beach has made many lists for ‘best beaches’ in the country and the world,” writes my IFWTWA colleague Linda Stewart.

“In 2021, it topped TripAdvisor’s Best Beaches in the United States, and it came in at number five for Trip Advisor’s Best Beaches in the World.

“In addition, St. Pete Beach has renowned sunset views with spectacular displays of rich, fiery colors. Walking in the soft sand with the warm waves kissing my feet was a highlight of my visit to Florida,” says the travel expert.

“I later learned that ocean water temperatures are typically in the 70s and 80s from April until November.”

Although St Pete Beach is a 25-minute drive from downtown, we had to include the award-winning beach in our list of favorite things to do in downtown St Pete. Drive or take the CAT bus from downtown to St. Pete Beach.

St. Pete Beach makes my personal ‘best beaches’ list

“At St. Pete Beach, you’ll find the Pass-a-Grille historic district with charming boutiques, impressive art galleries and fresh fish markets. In addition, Merry Pier offers deep-sea fishing charters and boating excursions.

“The broad spectrum of dining options includes the luxurious Don CeSar, affectionately known as the Pink Palace. Built in 1928, this legendary hotel has been fully renovated and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places,” adds the food, wine and travel writer.

“When I visited St. Pete Beach, its natural shores framed by dunes crowned with sea oats made me feel like I was entering a picture-perfect postcard. Florida’s St. Pete Beach has made my personal list of ‘best beaches,’” Linda reports.

Linda Stewart of Life-uncorked.com

2.) Puzzling over surrealist art at the Salvador Dalí Museum

three-story poured-concrete structure has geodesic blue glass structure attached making it one of the best things to do in downtown St Pete
Salvador Dalí Museum is one of the best things to do in downtown St. Pete | Photo by Ebyabe via Wikimedia

One of my favorite things to do in downtown St Pete is reflecting on the surrealist art and architecture at the Salvador Dalí Museum.

Magic and strange beauty imbue the design of the museum facility, which incorporates glass geodesic free-form structures and a poured-in-place, concrete spiral staircase. The glass and concrete structure was built during 2008-11 to house the world’s second-largest collection of the work of Spanish artist Salvador Dalí.

I worked with the International Association of Museum Facility Managers at the time, and the community was buzzing about the $30M facility. So, visiting The Dalí was high on my list of things to do in downtown St. Pete.

Since hurricane-force winds and rain sometimes batter its stunning location right on St Pete’s downtown waterfront, engineers worked with the architects’ eye-popping design to ensure protection of the preeminent collection.

Short walk makes this one of the easiest things to do in downtown St Pete

The walk from our conference hotel to the world-renown museum brought me through the shady Pioneer Park and running path that nearly circumnavigates the sailboat harbor.

Outside lockers freed my hands to capture selfies and other photos inside the three-story art museum.

Just don’t forget your stuff in the safe, as I did. But the short walk made it easy for me to go back and retrieve my belongings between our travel writers’ conference sessions.

Pro tip: bring earbuds for your smartphone and download the self-guided tour app. Even if you’re not art savvy, you’ll recognize Dalí’s dripping clocks in The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory.

Stacey Wittig of UnstoppableStacey.com

3.) Things to do in downtown St Pete at night: Get your groove on at Ruby's Elixir

woman looks over her shoulder while sitting at an outdoor table inside neon pink lights glow from the bandstand making this one of the best things to do in downtown st Pete
Kim Jackson enjoys a streetside table at Ruby's | Photo by @Jo Clark

“My travel writing colleague Kim and I went wandering after dinner,” explains Jo Clark. “We wanted pictures of the lovely doors and architecture in downtown St Pete.

“As we walked, music and laughter filled the night. All was good with our plan until we passed Ruby’s and heard Latraia Savage belting out a tune. That woman CAN SING!

“Wine for $8 a glass and Latraia’s vocals brought our walking to a quick end, but our evening took on an even better focus. A café table on the sidewalk had only one patron, so we asked to join her.

“Her family was seated at the adjacent table and invited us to participate in their birthday celebration,” the travel writer shares.

Live music is one of the fun things to do in downtown St Pete.

“Ruby’s Elixir has the distinction of being the longest-running live music venue in St. Petersburg, Florida. It opened 25 years ago as a cigar store with a television-filled lounge. But Hank, son of owner Greg Haddad, told me that 14 years ago, they decided to give live music a try,” details Jo.

“In my opinion, they’ve found the recipe for success, one of the best things to do in downtown St Pete. You can sit (inside or outside) and listen to jazz, blues, funk, or rock any night of the week. Live music and no cover charge—what more could you want?

“Ruby’s Elixir has a Happy Hour band from 7:30 until 9:30; the main band takes the stage at 10 pm and plays until 2 am. That’s past my bedtime, but it sure sounds like fun!” admits the journalist.

Jo Clark of HaveGlassWillTravel.com

4.) Immerse yourself in the Imagine Museum Contemporary Glass Museum

1000 glass images of Buddha sit in rows
1000 Buddha installation by Trish Duggan at the Imagine Museum in St. Petersburg, FL | Photo by Gail Clifford

“The Imagine Museum, Saint Petersburg, Florida’s glass museum, is far enough from The Looper—St. Pete’s free trolley—that too many people will miss the visit. But it’s worth an UBER to explore this modern fine art glass collection with pieces from across the globe,” recommends travel writer Gail Clifford.

“From an intricately draped dress to the seascapes we’ve come to expect from Dale Chihuly, the museum offers a taste of history around the Studio Glass Movement, which started in the United States in the 1960s. Artist Harvey Littleton considered the ‘Father of the Studio Glass Movement,’ was inspired by glassmakers, especially those in Germany and Italy. But, instead of the industrial material used for drinking glasses and windows, he imagined more artistic and sculptural interpretations for glass,” she says.

The Chihuly connection

“One of Harvey Littleton’s early students was Dale Chihuly, whose glass exhibition in Tacoma, Washington, was my first immersive experience into the art form,” tells Gail. “I had the opportunity to meet with Stacey Wittig during our press trip to Orlando and know of her commitment to spiritual matters. So when I saw this 1000 Buddha installation by Trish Duggan, the Imagine Museum’s artist philanthropist founder, I thought of Stacey. This quote inspired Duggan’s work:

‘Though you can conquer 1,000 men in battle 1,000 times,

the one who conquers himself is the noblest victor of all.’


Gail Clifford, MD of Weekend Notes

5.) Eating at Doc Ford's is one of the favorite things to do in downtown St Pete

Cuban sandwich at Doc Ford’s Rum Bar delivers unique flavors of ham, slow-roasted pork, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickles | Kathleen Wells photo

“In St. Petersburg, I mixed my reading habits with dining at Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grille,” author and travel writer Kathleen Wells says.

“Eating at the upscale sports bar on the pier overlooking Tampa Bay might be one of the best things to do in St Pete. Marty Harrity and Mark Marinello own the restaurant in partnership with Randy Wayne White, author of the Doc Ford books. A lot about the two mesh.

“Marion ‘Doc’ Ford is a marine biologist living on the Florida coast. Still, he has a secret life as a former government agent who is sometimes called back to duty for intriguing assignments that often mingle with events in his town and its eccentric inhabitants.

“Since his books involve a lot of water travel, dining on the St. Petersburg Pier and watching boats of all sizes cruise across the bay make me feel like I’m in one of his stories,” explains Kathleen, publisher of American Roads and Global Highways magazine.

“The 45ish, longhaired hippy might be his pot-smoking buddy, Tomlinson. The attractive, muscular woman might be Hannah Smith, his sometimes lover.

The book author’s favorite menu item?

“Like Doc Ford, the restaurant specializes in seafood and South Florida specials. White’s favorite is the Yucatan shrimp.

“It’s steamed, well-seasoned peel-’n-eat shrimp coated in butter, cilantro and garlic with a touch of Colombian chilies and a sprinkle of Key lime juice,” says the travel expert. “It’s best washed down with a Mojito.

“I went with the Cuban sandwich since it claims its origin in the Tampa Bay area. The unique flavors of ham, slow-roasted pork, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickles blend beautifully on a crispy Cuban roll. I choose a fresh Florida fruit bowl for a side,” Kathleen reported.

Kathleen Walls of American Roads and Global Highways

6.) Relaxing with cocktails and marina views are perhaps the best things to do in downtown St Pete

the sunsets over sailboats docked at a marina of calm water
Relaxing with the view from Fresco’s Waterfront Bistro is one of the best things to do in downtown St Pete | Kathryn Anderson photo

“Ideally located at the start of St. Pete Pier, Fresco’s Waterfront Bistro is the only restaurant on the water with a view of the municipal marina. This makes it the ideal spot to relax and enjoy a meal after a day of sightseeing in St. Petersburgh,” reveals travel writer Kathryn “Kat” Anderson.

“While they don’t take reservations, I lucked out when I arrived at Fresco’s for dinner and was seated at the corner table on the patio overlooking the marina. I couldn’t have asked for a better seat,” she touts. “Sipping my margarita, I watched the colors in the sky change to varying shades of pink and orange as the sun set. The reflection on the water in front of the boats was simply stunning.

“Fresco’s menu is seafood-forward and offers a wide variety of fresh-from-the-ocean options. I decided to start with their fish spread. Consisting of smoked Mahi Mahi, celery, garlic and carrots, it was served with pita chips. The spread was creamy and delicious, with the perfect hint of smoke. For my main dish, I opted for the blackened scallops. Wrapped in bacon, they sounded far too tempting, especially since scallops are a fave of mine. Indeed, they arrived perfectly cooked and served with rice and buttery vegetables.

“If you find yourself looking for things to do in downtown St. Pete, Florida, be sure to stop by Fresco’s Waterfront Bistro for a bite and take in the picturesque views of the marina over a cocktail or two.

Kathryn “Kat” Anderson of Coffee & Mascara

7.) Chilling at the hip Hollander Hotel, one of the fave things to do in downtown St Pete

brightly colored lobby with eclectic mix of patterns, windows light the space
Hollander Hotel lobby | © Scott Kendall photo

“If you long for yesterday and love renovated, historic hotels, look no further than the Hollander Hotel on 4th Avenue,” suggests Scott Kendall, publisher of PlayStayEat.com.

“Full of nostalgic black-and-white photos from the early years of St. Petersburg, the hotel is a blast from the past. This comfy boutique hotel features an extremely friendly staff, a great pool area with lots of seating and an outdoor bar, and the award-winning Taproom Restaurant.

“The Hollander is an ideal place to stay in downtown St. Pete–TripAdvisor members rated it as ‘Superb’ overall and gave it a 9.4 for location. We enjoy walking, and strolled from the Hollander to St. Pete Pier, Central Avenue, Sunken Gardens, the Dali Museum and many other shops and restaurants in the downtown area. 

If you are driving or Ubering, most of the top things to do in downtown St Pete can be easily reached within five to ten minutes,” says the IFWTWA travel writer. This is one of the many unique places to stay in Florida!

Scott Kendall of PlayStayEat.com, based in The Woodlands, Texas.

8.) Refined things to do in downtown St Pete: Elegant dining at Sea Salt

Collage image of photo of the exterior of Sea Salt St. Pete restaurant at night and an interior shot with hanging light fixture that looks like falling water

Sea Salt St. Pete accurately describes its cuisine as ‘Venetian-inspired and ocean-centric.’ Chef/Owner Fabrizio Aielli, a proponent of salt’s healthful, healing properties, inspired the restaurant’s sea salt theme,” explains travel writer Debbra Dunning Brouillette. “Soon after my dining companions and I were seated, three types of freshly-baked bread were brought to the table, along with olive oil and a trio of the restaurant’s imported sea salts.

“My only regret about dining at Sea Salt St. Pete is that I couldn’t try everything on the menu!” the foodie proclaims. “After drooling over the menu’s many fish and seafood entrée options, including crab-crusted grouper, swordfish, and diver scallops, I chose Florida red snapper. It was grilled to perfection, topped with a citrus beurre blanc sauce and served with seasonal vegetables atop mascarpone polenta. A lovely French rosé (Peyrassol La Croix Rosé) paired well with my snapper dish. More than 2200 bottles are displayed in the restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling wine cellar—a showcase of this elegant dining destination in downtown St. Petersburg.

“Special multi-course dinners with wine and food pairings and cooking classes are offered periodically. There’s also a cookbook by the chef,” she reveals. 

“Sea Salt St. Pete, located at 183 Ave North, is open seven days a week, for lunch and dinner, with happy hour specials from 3-6 pm daily. USA Today has called it ‘one of the top chef’s tables in the country,’ and it has been a Florida Trend Golden Spoon award winner since 2018,” Debbra adds.

Debbra Dunning Brouillette of TropicalTravelGirl.com

9.) One of my top things to do in St. Pete: Stay at Hyatt Place Hotel

Relaxing at Hyatt Place could be one of the best things to do in downtown St Pete | UNSTOPPABLE Stacey photo

Hyatt Place in downtown St. Petersburg is NOT my grandmother’s hotel,” declares veteran travel journalist Barbara Redding. “Although this Florida city on Tampa Bay has retained its nickname as “the Sunshine City,” St. Petersburg has transformed in other ways since my Midwestern ‘granny’ resided in a retirement hotel here years ago.

“Hyatt Place embodies the city’s new vibrancy with its boldly decorated lobby and spacious, modern guest rooms. On a recent stay, while attending the IFWTWA travel writers’ conference, I was impressed with the lobby’s yellow-and-orange color palette and the staff’s prompt, friendly service at the 175-room hotel,” Barbara says.

Location, location, location

“I particularly loved the hotel’s central downtown location. It is a leisurely walk to must-see things to do in downtown St. Pete such as the Dali Museum, an architectural marvel of glass and steel that envelopes the most extensive collection of wild Dali art outside of Spain,” states the travel expert. “Eager to check out the newly reconstructed St. Pete Pier, I strolled to the bay to admire sailboats tacking at sunset. Trendy restaurants and bars are steps from the hotel.

“With floor-to-ceiling windows and comfortable seating, the airy lounge invites mingling with colleagues after conference meetings—the space doubles as a dining area for the complimentary breakfast buffet in the morning,” she says.

“The L-shaped couch in my eighth-floor room provided a comfortable place to relax, while the large desk gave me space to prep for the next meeting. Thankfully, blackout blinds ensured the city’s famous sunshine did not wake me before my alarm beeped,” smiles Barbara.

Barbara Redding, Freelance Travel Writer. View her work at BarbaraRedding.com

10.) History Shines at St. Petersburg Museum of History

St. Petersburg Museum of History | Kris grant photo

“Outside the St. Petersburg Museum of History, one of the best things to do in downtown St Pete, a sculpture depicts a young lad holding up a newspaper. The headline reads, ‘The Independent free every day the sun does not shine,’” says travel editor Kris Grant.

“This sculpture and its accompanying bench proclaiming St. Petersburg ‘The Sunshine City’ pays tribute to Lew Brown, the longtime Independent newspaper publisher and editor who was a tireless promoter of St. Petersburg,” the travel expert reports. “His ‘free newspaper’ campaign began in 1910 and lasted 76 years until the newspaper closed in 1986.

“In a two-year period from 1967 through much of 1968, the city captured its first Guinness Book World Record, after recording 768 days of consecutive sunshine, further cementing the city’s reputation as a sunny tropical paradise,” Kris, the editor for Coronado Magazine, says.

“IFWTWA held its opening night reception at the Museum’s “Flight One Gallery.” Above us soared a full-size replica of “The Benoist,” the world’s first commercial airliner, a bi-plane

seaplane,” describes Kris. “Pilot Tony Janus piloted the Benoist XIV and took off from St. Petersburg on Jan. 1, 1914, to make the 22-mile flight across the bay to Tampa. It became history’s first scheduled airline flight.

“In addition to visiting exhibitions, there’s much more to see in the permanent collections at St. Petersburg Museum of History,” she recommends. “Some oddities include a plus-sized pair of pajamas that once accommodated President William Howard Taft and reading glasses owned by General George Armstrong Custer

Kris Grant of Coronado Magazine

11.) Don’t miss Dr. BBQ, one of the delicious things to do in downtown St Pete

charred half of pineapple with green top lies in juice in shallow white bowl
Photo: Roasted Polynesian Pineapple at Dr. BBQ | Robin O’Neal Smith photo

“A group of us visited the Dr. BBQ restaurant while investigating the top things to do in downtown St Pete. We found the modern, full-service American barbeque sizzling with barbecued meats and global flavors,” reveals freelance travel writer Robin O’Neal Smith.

“I loved the casual atmosphere, excellent service, and scrumptious food. We sat in a corner booth area with a massive table large enough for eight of us with room to spare. Our waiter went out of his way to provide over-the-top service,” says the IFWTWA member.

“Since I had heard many people talk about the great food at Dr. BBQ, I was eager to taste it for myself, and I was not disappointed. 

“I ordered the Polynesian pineapple as an appetizer. It was a half-pineapple roasted with a sweet cinnamon rum and brown sugar glaze,” Robin describes. 

“For my main entree, I ordered the Texas Two Step, which included two types of meat, sliced brisket and pulled pork. The meat was cooked perfectly with a smoky flavor and so tender you could cut it with a fork. Two sides came with the meal, Jack Daniel’s BBQ beans and purple slaw,” she says.

“We were all stuffed, but a few of us made room for dessert. I had Dr. BBQ’s famous banana pudding, which tasted like my grandmother’s recipe using vanilla wafers layered with a creamy pudding and real bananas.

Dr. BBQ is an excellent choice if you’re hungry for barbeque when you visit downtown St. Pete. You won’t be disappointed,” Robin concludes.

Robin O’Neal Smith, Freelance Travel Writer. See her work at RobinONealSmith.com

12.) Bacchus Happy Hour, one of my fave things to do in downtown St Pete

One of my favorite things to do in downtown St Pete is Happy Hour at Bacchus Wine Bistro, an intimate wine, cheese and charcuterie restaurant,” discloses IFWTWA writer Michelle Fedosoff.

“During my first time there, I wanted to be served inside because of the charm. But it was packed, so I sat at an outside table. Happily, sidewalk tables have shady umbrellas and a giant fan to blow air when it’s muggy.

“The menu offered selections that made it difficult to choose, but I ended up ordering the lobster salad and a glass of Pouilly Fuisse. What a delight to the tastebuds.

round wooden board with almonds, cheese, olives and other charcuterie makes this one of the best things to do in downtown St Pete
Happy hour charcuterie plate | Michelle Fedosoff photo

 Bacchus Wine Bistro instantly became my favorite restaurant in St Pete,” the foodie declared. “Bacchus is not inexpensive, but the food and the wine are worth it. On my way out, I noticed a Happy Hour sign and decided to return the following day.

“On my second visit, I ordered another glass of white wine and chose the charcuterie plate. Because the price was only $6.50, I was not expecting much, so when my waitress brought my food, I was surprised at how wonderful it looked. And the taste… fabulous. The salami was clearly of the highest quality, the cheese perfectly aged, but the Foie Gras Torchon was what stole my heart. Creamy and full of flavor, it melted on my tongue—definitely one of the best I have had,” Michelle recommends.

“I so enjoyed the food and wine selection that I returned the following day and the next, spending four out of my five days in St. Pete enjoying Happy Hour at Bacchus,” she confessed.

Michelle Fedosoff of www.SitesAndBites.org

13.) Sniffing out The Spice & Tea Exchange-things to do in downtown St Pete

woman dressed in black stands holding a sampple of spices while young woman in a white apron, to the right mixes spices in a large metal bowl
Lisa Coleman, owner of The Spice & Tea Exchange in St. Petersburg and spice mixtress (L-R) | Kim Jackson photo

“Today, I visited The Spice & Tea Exchange in St. Petersburg. Owner Lisa Coleman welcomed each of us as we walked through the door. Immediately, my nose was enjoying the aromas of tea, hand-mixed blends, unique sea salts, exotic teas and so much more,” says budding travel writer Kim Jackson.

“The store was so inviting, and there was a lot to see and smell. The first tea that caught my eye was the Pumpkin Chai Latte Black Tea. The young girl behind the counter was very knowledgeable and helpful. As I meandered through the store, I saw a packaged Pumpkin Bread Bundle. The Fall always seems to awaken my nose to everything pumpkin.

“One of the ladies demonstrated how they make their hand-mixed blends daily. The aroma, as she added different spices, was intoxicating. My nose was so happy. The owner also told us they mix their blends for 30 minutes to make the flavours perfect,” reports Kim, who lives in Chilliwack, British Columbia.

“As I continued exploring the store, I found another exciting blend of tea–Ciderhouse Blend Herbal Tea. You can enjoy the tea, either hot or cold. I read the packaging and smiled when I read, ‘the aroma and flavour will embrace you like a cozy sweater,'” grins the Canadian.

“Lisa and her team prepared dips, popcorn and beverages with the various blends for us to sample. Before I left the store, I picked up four recipe cards to try when I got back home. I was also excited to learn that The Spice & Tea Exchange delivers to Canada!” exclaims Kim.

Kim Jackson, Freelance Travel Writer

The Spice & Tea Exchange: Making Florida Sunshine Salt Spice Blend

Where is downtown St. Pete, Florida?


St. Petersburg is on a peninsula between Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, on the west side of Florida, in the southern USA. Use the map above to check the dates for your stay.

We hope you enjoyed our round-up of top things to do in downtown St Pete. Next year, we are holding our annual IFWTWA conference at sea. So come and join us, October 1-7, 2023, aboard the all-new Princess Discovery for a six-day Pacific Wine Country Cruise. Save the dates! More info to come.

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UNSTOPPABLE Stacey Travel is a travel blog focused on immersive travel that highlights food, wine and the spirituality of place. I also occasionally write about life as a Camino de Santiago pilgrim. I hope you enjoy what I post here. Feel free to leave comments! Read more…


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16 thoughts on “13 Travel Writers’ Fave Things To Do in Downtown St Pete You’ll Love”

  1. Reading through all the entries in this post makes me realize all I missed seeing and doing in St. Petersburg while I was there for the IFWTWA conference! I now have a lot of things on my “must-do” list for a future visit to the area. Thanks to all who contributed!

    • You’re right, Debbra! It makes me want to go back and experience some of the things to do in downtown St Pete that I missed! Like Sea Salt, going to St Pete Beach and chilling at the Bacchus Happy Hour!

  2. There are so many incredible things to see and do in St. Pete. I definitely have to go back and check out some of these places that I didn’t have time to experience during my last visit.

    • When you go back, we would love to hear more about the music scene and things to do in downtown St Pete! Thanks for your contribution, Jo!

  3. I most certainly need to return to visit some of the places I missed and to return to Dr. BBQ and The Salt and Spice Shop. I also want to have time to hit the beach on my next visit. I will refer to this article for ideas when I return.

    • Thanks for your contribution to this, Gail! Let us know when you go back to experience more of the things to do in downtown St Pete!

    • Thanks for your comment and contribution to this article on things to do in downtown St Pete, Michelle. You flew across North America to get to this special getaway destination! Cheers!

  4. Looks like I missed a lot of places to explore on this trip. It would have been nice to have added a day before or after the IFWTWA Conference to explore. But it certainly gives me the excuse to go back!

    • Right? Let us know when you go back! We’d love to read more of what you have to say, Kim! Thanks so much for your comments about all the things to do in downtown St Pete!

    • I agree with you, Scott! St Pete is so much fun! Thanks for your contribution to this article about things to do in downtown St Pete, Stacey


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