• Courtney E Hanlon

A Weekend In Downtown St. Petersburg, FL: The Trendy Place For Good Eats, Culture, and Art

For Father's Day 2019, my family and I decided to have a "stay-cation" in St. Petersburg, FL, about 30 minutes from my hometown. We've done this before: we go to the Tampa Bay Rays baseball game (go Rays!) and then spend the rest of the time exploring the area for the weekend. The city has put a lot of work into itself and had come a long way from where it was even just 10 years ago. It's now lively and trendy with a little something for everybody. Here are my highly recommended hotels, restaurants, and activities for Downtown St. Pete.


Downtown St. Petersburg cityscape / via stpeterising.com


Lodging Accommodations


On this most recent trip, we stayed at The Ponce de Leon Hotel on the corner of Central Avenue and 1st Street South. It's within walking distance of various eateries and shops around the Central Avenue area - the hip and happening spot of downtown - as well as Bayshore Drive and the Pier (currently under construction). The hotel's history dates back to the 1920's and was one of the first high rises to be built along the St. Pete waterfront. #FunFact this hotel has housed many All-Star baseball players and celebrities, including President Richard Nixon! All of the rooms have been updated with modern furnishings and fixtures with touches of it's classic, historical elements popping through. It was quite cozy. PLUS we just happened to have the corner room on the top floor, so we had two windows and an amazing view of the city around us!


The first floor, via street access, has a tapas bar called Ceviche. We didn't get to go this time, but a family friend of ours has reported excellent food! The Spanish-inspired menu is mainly seafood based, but there are also plenty of options for land-lubber folk like myself (and it looks really good).


The only downside was even though there was a parking garage kitty-corner from us, we still had to pay out of pocket, though that's not unusual when staying in the city. You can either rent a parking fob from the hotel or pay around $7 a day for self-parking in the garage.


Ponce De Leon Hotel and Ceviche / via Destinations By Courtney


Several years back during a very similar trip, my family and I stayed at The Inn On Third (and then oddly enough I stayed there again with my boyfriend in 2018 ... pretty sure in the exact same room too ... #awkward). If you like cute and quaint hotels, then this place is for you! This hotel is family owned and operated by the Cox family and they are very kind. It has a antique-y feel and again very cozy. The hotel is located in a quieter part of downtown, but my boyfriend and I were able to walk to one of the popular breweries on 1st Avenue from it. The hotel provides a parking pass to a garage across the street, which was very nice of them (but it must be returned at the end of your stay). Continental breakfast is also included.


The Inn On 3rd lobby / via Booking.com

A place on my bucket list for a future trip is The Birchwood. It's a "chic hotel with a rooftop cocktail bar". If you are looking for something luxurious with a boutique feel, this is it! The former apartment building now boasts 18 rooms, a restaurant, a rooftop lounge overlooking Tampa Bay, and a grand ballroom for events. The hotel has an impressive 4.5 on Google, which is why it's on my list. To be honest, I have a thing for classy and this hotel seems to be the perfect place.


The Birchwood / via OpenTable


Restaurants


Engine No. 9 is a staple for delicious, gourmet burgers in Downtown St. Pete. They have a wide selection of handcrafted burgers made with not-so-common burger toppings. Their menu also consists of hot dogs, salads, other bar-style appetizers, and a couple entrees. They also have a lengthy list of rotating craft beers and ciders on draft. My family and I each got different burger and let me tell you ... we licked our plates clean!


This place is not scared to use spice (my absolute favorite kind of food). I enjoyed the Black Flag burger. A cooked to order 8oz Black Angus beef patty, Cajun spices, blackened and topped with pepperjack cheese, jalapeño bacon, fire roasted red peppers and Franks Red Hot sauce. My mom got the Goat Head Burger, which came with goat cheese, roasted red peppers, vinaigrette and half-sour pickles on it's 8oz Black Angus beef patty. When my dad finally remembers which burger he got, I'll edit this post. He thoroughly enjoyed it though.


Limited edition Blackhawk Burger, served when the Chicgo Blackhawks hockey team were in the finals / via Engine No9


After our baseball game, we went to Red Mesa Cantina, A Modern Mexican Taqueria & Tequila Bar. Their building is super trendy, with an outdoor patio complete with a small pond and fountain, bistro lights cross crossing above the outdoor tables, a bar inside and outside, and accented with Lucha Libre (Mexican wrestling) decorations. Since we visited on a Saturday night, we had a little bit of a wait, which we didn't mind. We were able to get seats at the bar outside so we could enjoy a few of their specialty margarita recipes. At our quoted 30 minute mark, we received a text to tell us know our table was ready. We chose to eat inside due to the summer heat and impending rain. Their interior was also very nice and the indoor bar was stunning! However, there were already a few large, possibly already drunk groups and so it was incredibly loud. My mom and I could barely hear each other and my dad, who was sitting on the other side of the table, gave up on trying to talk to us.


I'm rating their food an A+. Their menu had a nice mix of Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine (which is my absolute favorite!) and had many options, especially with their tacos. They listed ten different tacos and ALL had different meats. They even boasted four unique ceviches made with various combinations of seafood.


My dad was craving a Chimichanga and got his wish! Red Mesa's Chimichanga was a fried burrito stuffed with shredded brisket (or chicken), jack cheese, served with lettuce and pico de gallo, and topped with ancho tomatillo sauce and crema. It was exactly what he was looking for! My mom and I both enjoyed Chicken Enchiladas, made with roasted chicken, tomato, salsa verde, queso fresco, cilantro onion (I asked for no cilantro on mine, as it tastes like soap to me and is disgusting), crema, and served with gallo pinto. These enchiladas were YUM YUM YUM!! Definitely one of my favorites. Unfortunately I could not get a picture since it was so dark inside (plus I dove right in before I remembered to take one ... lol). My only complaint was the salsa - too much cilantro for my taste, but "normal" people would love it. It was smooth and had a spicy kick, which I did enjoy.


Chimichanga / via Red Mesa Cantina


When I came to St. Pete with my boyfriend in 2018, we visited St. Pete Brewing Company for a quick bite and a cold drink. They brew a variety of ales and name them after Florida and Southern Pinellas County accolades, such as "St. Pete Goliath Grouper Imperial Stout" and "St. Pete Weeden Island Brown Ale" (named after a popular local nature park/archaeological park that was once home to Native Americans prior to the Creek Tribe migration to Florida in the 1700's). This brewery is unique because they also serve food from a kitchen on site by Beans & Barlour. When we went, we had this really delicious pizza that was named after the owner's dog. It just had bacon on it, but that is my favorite kind of pizza! It doesn't appear to be on their current menu, but I highly recommend trying any of their offerings.


Cheers! / via Destinations By Courtney


Things To Do Around Town


As you can tell, the theme of my excursions to Downtown St. Pete involve a Tampa Bay Rays baseball game. I grew up going to Tropicana Field. It's family friendly and 100% indoors (absolutely needed in Florida, especially since we experience 90+ degree heat and daily afternoon thunderstorms in the summer time - AKA peek baseball season). It's very comfortable and I guarantee you won't break a sweat from simply sitting in your seat.


Many of the stadium's crowd entertainment activities can be enjoyed by both the young and old. In honor of the team's former branding as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, there is even a stingray touch tank you can visit! It's located just over the right-center field fence and it's fun watching the cownose rays swim by in between innings and children will enjoy petting the slippery creatures. #FunFact if a player on any team hits a ball into the touch tank, the Rays will donate $2,500 to the Florida Aquarium (who operates the touch tank) and $2,500 to the charity of player's choice. To date, only seven players have EVER hit a home run into the touch tank, most recently by Los Angeles Angels player Kole Calhoun on August 1st, 2018.


The only downside to the stadium is the echo. When they have the live Jumbotron segments in between innings, it's nearly impossible to hear what the reporter has to say if they are speaking quickly, which they need to since they are so limited on time.


If you're a soccer fan, you'd enjoy a Tampa Bay Rowdies match. Despite their name (like the Rays), they are located in Downtown St. Pete near the waterfront. Sometimes the Rays and the Rowdies a double header ticket, so you can go to one game in the early afternoon and then go to the other game in the evening the same day. It's a great deal if you're fans of both teams or just really enjoy sports!


Inside Tropicana Field / via Destinations By Courtney


If you enjoy art, a visit to the Salvador Dali Museum is a must. Salvador Dali was Spanish artist who specialized in surrealism. The museum displays the collection of Reynolds and Eleanor Morse, who were avid collectors and eventual friends of Dali. They realized they owned an extensive collection of the artist's work and opened a museum in Ohio. Eventually it became too popular for it's space, so the collection was moved to St. Pete. The museum holds the largest collection of Dali works outside of Spain, with 7 of 18 "masterworks" (paintings measuring at least 5 feet in either direction and took at least a year to create). The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions of Dali related or inspired works a couple times a year.


The Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, FL / via phaidon.com


Downtown St. Pete is a hub for galleries of both famous and local artists. The Chihuly Collection presented by Morean Arts Center contains work from Dale Chihuly, an American glass artist who builds both individual pieces and giant sculptures of colorful glass. A ticket to the Chihuly Collection is also a ticket for the Morean Glass Studio next door. Looking for more galleries? Find the Wyland gallery (one of my favorites) near the waterfront. For local artists, head to Central Avenue to find their galleries.


A tour of the Chihuly Collection / via seethesouth.com


Last but certainly not least, one of my favorite things to do is brewery hopping. There are a TON of craft breweries in Downtown St. Pete within walking distance of each other and each one brews their own unique beer. I've already mentioned St. Pete Brewing Company above, was very good. During this particular trip, my parents and I stopped at Cycle Brewing on our way back to the hotel after the baseball game. Their theme is bicycles, if you couldn't already tell by their name. Their tables have bicycle gears and other parts cemented into the table itself. Located right on Central Avenue, it's the perfect place to cool off during the summer time.


Other prominent breweries are Green Bench Brewing Company (located very close to Tropicana Field) and 3 Daughters Brewing, who make an EXCELLENT Key Lime Hard Cider (plus apparently other great-sounding ciders I've never had before like Pineapple and Rosé!? Cucumber Lemon?! Where has these been all of my life???). So yeah, highly recommend.


#Disclaimer I'm not even a huge beer drinker (I can only drink one or two per day before I start feeling sick), but I enjoy going to breweries because of the atmosphere. They are social gathering spots - the modern day pubs. Many also offer games like giant Jenga and TV's to watch sports. Plus, you get to support small businesses!




There are so many awesome places to experience in Downtown St. Petersburg and it seems like more are popping up every day. You can visit the Sundial, a center for shopping, food, and movies. Once the St. Pete Pier has finished construction, it will bring new restaurants, public art, a childrens learning center and wet classroom, outdoor spaces for activities, a bait shop, an event center, and so much more! If you're staying around for a week or so, St. Pete Beach and Tampa are close by, within a 30 minute drive in either direction.


If you would like to find out more about visiting Downtown St. Petersburg, I will be more than happy to help you plan your trip! Click on my logo below to be directed back to my website for more information.




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