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The Washington Post Sheds Light on the Sunshine City

By April 27, 2018January 16th, 2023No Comments

A Tampa-based travel writer shares his experiences of sunny St. Petersburg, and we could not be more proud to call this city home.

Below is an excerpt from an article by Paul Abercrombie for The Washington Post. Read the full article here.

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Today, St. Pete’s arts and nightlife scenes are palpably more vibrant and hipper than Tampa’s, as a result of the young people and entrepreneurial small businesses that have enlivened its walkable downtown. On weekends — and many weekdays — waterfront cafes, restaurants and bars are packed. Hotels grand and small have been refurbished and are newly popular. Fellow Tampans, you’ll hate me for saying this, but you know it’s true: St. Pete is cooler than Tampa.

Through once-seedy downtown passageways, we [Paul, his wife Gail, and their teenage son, Derek] stroll as if through an open-air art gallery with our amiable, tattooed docent. Derek points out examples of his own work, but seems most enthusiastic talking about murals done by the growing number of fellow hometown artists, as well as national and international ones. No two murals seem similar. And none is blessedly of the “beaches and margaritas” Florida genre Derek says some tourists expect. We pass ’60s icon Twiggy, painted by local artist Chad Mize, gazing dreamily from an alley wall, and Los Angeles graffiti artist Shark Toof’s fearsome red and black shark splashed across the backside of the State Theatre.

As if on cue, a city bus pulls up to a stop nearby. It’s wrapped with an image of the same swirly, multicolored mural that covers a wall of a three-story building in front of us.

“This mural stuff is contagious,” Derek says with a laugh.

At lunch on the covered outdoor patio at nearby FarmTable Cucina, we compare photos of murals and marvel at the food. We take turns trying to describe the fried cauliflower’s flavors, which seem to outnumber its ingredients, including finger lime, golden raisins, guanciale and sea urchin aioli.

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Wandering back down Central Avenue, we pass shops and restaurants old and new as if time-traveling every few paces.

Several bayside blocks from our hotel, we pop into the fittingly odd-looking Salvador Dalí Museum, packed with more of the mustachioed artist’s works than anywhere outside of Spain. Though it’s among our favorites, we’re feeling a little museumed-out, so we cut short our visit to seek out an encore performance by our glass harpist pal on the way back to our room.

Having been content to explore the compact downtown by foot, we agree with some reluctance to drive six miles west to the Reading Room for dinner. The new restaurant, which says it strives for “a modern approach at nostalgic tastes,” has been gushily praised by friends and media getting gushy praise from friends and media alike.

I can’t remember a dinner conversation focused so much on what’s on our plates and in our glasses. Gail says her sgroppino cocktail, garnished with a mint leaf affixed to the rim with a tiny clothespin, is better than any she has had in the drink’s Italian hometown of Venice. We debate whether the quirky and delicious beets and berries dish would work as well for breakfast as it does for dinner. Yes, we decide. We concur at first bite that the browned butter and persimmon cake, topped with a scoop of delicately funky La Tur cheese, is among the best desserts we’ve ever tasted.

Sunday morning brings fresh balcony-side theater. Below, hotel staff scatter and hide hundreds of multicolored plastic Easter eggs in preparation for kids to hunt. A gaggle of millennials arrives at the downstairs restaurant, their laughter and casual dress signaling that they’re in search of a post-night-on-the-town brunch and Bloody Marys. Skyward, we spy an osprey that has swung by for breakfast and is flying northeast with a freshly nabbed fish in its talons. It reminds me of the places we didn’t get to on this trip: the white sugar-sand beaches and the mangrove-lined waterways that can be explored by kayak. We’ll be back; after all, they, too, are only a short drive from home.

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