Florida’s hidden activity hotspot: St Petersburg
If the greater Tampa Bay area was a soundtrack, it would be ‘Walking on Sunshine’ by Katrina and the Waves. And the chorus would be the peppy beachfront city of St Petersburg
Not only does this pocket of subtropical paradise hold the Guinness World Record for the most consecutive days of sunshine (768, since you ask), but it’s also officially home to the best beach in the US, according to TripAdvisor. Better still, ‘St Pete’ is just 20 minutes’ drive from Tampa International Airport, and less than two hours’ drive from nearby Orlando International Airport. Here’s what you could be enjoying when you book a trip to America’s Sunshine City…
A cross between surfing and trampolining, flyboarding is an incredible adrenaline rush, as you try to keep your balance while being rocketed up to 30ft in the air on powerful water jets. As a year-round destination with multiple lake and beach options, St Pete is perfect for the sport. Plus, one of the most experienced operators in the business – Flyboard Surf Club – is based here, in pretty Tarpon Springs (don’t miss the amazing local Greek restaurant, Dimitri’s on the Water, while you’re in town).
If you prefer your sports to be a trifle more tactical, you should try your hand at shuffleboarding. St Petersburg is home to the oldest and largest shuffleboard club in the world, where players of all ages and abilities bask in the glory of victory – and the Floridian sunshine – most evenings. Of late, the sport has proved increasingly popular with Millennial and Gen Z players, who flood the club’s Friday Night Shuffle every week. “Shuffleboard is popular with the younger crowd here for many reasons,” says Christine Page, the club’s executive director. “It’s a social game, it’s fun, and the strategy keeps people interested for years. Plus, recreational shuffleboard is perhaps the only sport one can play with a drink in one’s hand.”
St Pete is not just about beaches and watersports – it’s also a major arts destination, with world-class institutions including the Dalí Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts waiting to be explored. At street level, there are also myriad murals adorning the walls of downtown – many of which were created as part of the annual SHINE Mural Festival, which attracts the world’s best street artists to St Pete every October. There are multiple mural tours to choose from, but the best involve renting state-of-the-art Bosch-powered e-bikes from The Bikery and zooming your way around town with a local artist in tow.
St Pete is home to Shell Key Preserve – some 1,800 acres of protected coastline that’s full of sea life, from dolphins and manatees to stingrays and starfish. Get Up And Go Kayaking offers year-round tours of this slice of paradise, taking clear kayaks around the sandy shoreline, past mangrove islands and across enormous sea grass beds, so you can see what’s happening in the ocean beneath you, as well as all around you. “This place is pretty much paradise on earth,” says guide Raven Sweeney. “It’s perfect for clear kayaks because the water is shallow but also connected to the Gulf of Mexico – so it’s teeming with amazing life, and you can see it all.”
The shallow, sandy shores and coves surrounding St Pete also make for ideal kiteboarding conditions – particularly for beginners. Local operator Kiteboarding St Petersburg promises to have novices up and flying in no time, while any dips in the Gulf of Mexico en route are all part of the fun on this sunny stretch of shoreline. “The key spot for kiteboarding around St Pete is called the Skyway Bridge,” says owner Anthony Franchi. “The shallow waters around there make it exceptionally easy to learn. No matter where you ride, you’re always in knee- or waist-deep water, you get clean wind from any direction and the sun is pretty much always shining.”
Jet ski touring
With seemingly endless sandbars, atolls and islands to reconnoitre, the entire St Petersburg/Clearwater area makes for excellent jet ski territory. Bada Bing Water Sports, located next to the recently renovated St Pete Pier, will take you out on a half- or full-day excursion where you get to ride your own jet ski in and around the bay, stopping for lunch at awesome seaside spots such as the Island Grille and Raw Bar (you literally park your jet ski by the jetty and can be ordering oysters within minutes). After a hard day of exploring, Pier Teaki at the end of the gleaming new pier is the perfect place to enjoy some celebratory sundowners.
Jonathan Thompson is the host of Adventure Cities, a new TV travel show airing in spring 2022
Video below produced by Heliconia