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These glowing spots are beyond the Florida beach. Here’s how to experience them

My feet are throbbing, and my head is giddily swimming with images of Dalí’s mind-bending paintings, fantastical shapes of Chihuly glass, and murals portraying everything from pressing social issues to a ginormous shark ready to devour passersby.

Over 48 hours in St. Petersburg, a city between Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, I’ve immersed myself in more museums and neighborhood-hopping than a typical weekend in New York City.

With its clear, aquamarine waters and powder-soft sand, St. Pete typically falls into a tidy beach vacation that’s only a four-hour drive from Miami. This visit, though, I never dipped my toes in the ocean.

Instead, my step-tracking app raged as I explored the cultural treasures that recently helped St. Pete snag a coveted spot on Condé Nast Traveler’s “Top Cities in the U.S.

Here are some stops:

St. Pete pier

Courtesy of VisitStPeteClearwater.com
Courtesy of VisitStPeteClearwater.com

A vital piece of the area’s swelling dynamism is the newly reimagined St. Pete Pier and its Pier District, which spans 26 acres on Tampa Bay. This is not just a pier — it’s an experience. Sprinkled with waterfront restaurants and unending green spaces where couples unfurl towels for picnics and kids run wild on playgrounds, the District is pulsing with contagious energy day and night.

Part of the draw is forward-thinking architecture and public art like Janet Echelman’s “Bending Arc”, an aerial net sculpture that transforms in the wind and changes colors in natural and projected light. (Be sure to experience it at night when the floating figure spectacularly shines purple and magenta.)

Janet Echelman’s aerial “Bending Arc” sculpture.
Janet Echelman’s aerial “Bending Arc” sculpture.

At the tip of the Pier, a gleaming building houses Teak, a swanky restaurant with floor-to-ceiling windows that offers diners the feel of floating atop the bay. As the sun sets, head up to Pier Teaki, a rooftop bar where guests lounge on tiki-hut cabanas to sip frozen concoctions, and everyone is clamoring for pictures of the jaw-dropping skyline and Tampa Bay below.

Museum central

St. Pete boasts many art- centric spots including the James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art, the Chihuly Collection above) and the Dalí Museum.
St. Pete boasts many art- centric spots including the James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art, the Chihuly Collection above) and the Dalí Museum.

With nine prominent museums, many within walking distance of one another, you can cover a lot of ground in a weekend.

St. Pete newbies should start at the architecturally rich Dalí Museum, showcasing the largest collection of Salvador Dalí’s work outside of Europe and offering a fascinating journey through the artist’s career.

Drop by the Chihuly Collection to ogle dazzling glass art by Dale Chihuly, including a stunning ruby-red icicle chandelier crafted exclusively for the space. Your ticket also includes admission to the nearby Morean Glass Studio to watch artists hand-spin and shape molten glass. (Who knew? — St. Pete is also an epicenter for glass art!)

One of the biggest surprises comes at The James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art, which is dramatically moving even if the subject matter isn’t typically your thing. Strikingly fashioned with sandstone from India, the museum houses around 500 vibrant paintings and realistic bronze sculptures depicting the life, landscapes and animals of the West.

Unlike Miami’s centralized Wynwood area, hundreds of large-scale murals are scattered throughout various neighborhoods in St. Pete. The street art is diverse – ranging from a menacing shark by artist Shark Toof to Chad Mize’s tribute to doe-eyed, British model/actress Twiggy.

For the inside scoop, book a mural walking or biking tour with Florida CraftArt, which is a shoppable space boasting more than 250 fine craft artists. Move on to the hip Edge neighborhood for more mural spotting, coffee or cocktails at buzzy Intermezzo, and lunch at local favorite Bodega, which rivals Miami with its spot-on Cuban cuisine.

Pretty in pink

 The Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club.
The Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club.

Centrally located to all of the above is the storied Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club, a pink-hued resort built in the 1920s that picturesquely overlooks Tampa Bay.

Its grand lobby is a visual treat for the eyes – with vaulted ceilings punctuated with golden Murano chandeliers and sconces; luxe, cozy vignettes meant for sipping cocktails or snuggling with a book; and an adjacent ballroom anchored by a theatrical Chihuly chandelier.

Vibrant details define the inviting decor inside the Vinoy’s presidential suite.
Vibrant details define the inviting decor inside the Vinoy’s presidential suite.

Guest rooms are bursting with personality, as bright murals splash ceilings and cheeky artwork and trendy wallpaper invigorate walls. Reserve a room with a balcony that overlooks the water and where you can catch the Pier twinkling in the distance at night.

Paul’s Landing is a popular alfresco dining spot to watch the boats sail in and out of the marina; you’ll want to order seafood-centric dishes like the jumbo shrimp and smoked gouda grits. Take a break from art-peeping to lounge by the hotel’s sparkling pool, or kick back for a pedicure at the day spa.

Trust me, your feet will thank you after this busy art-cation.