By Paul Abercrombie
St. Petersburg is like that kid you think will never shake an awful nickname. Then she comes to school one year and she’s suddenly cool. Nobody calls St. Pete “God’s waiting room” anymore.
Sure, the once-sleepy city on the Gulf of Mexico is still a magnet for retirees. But these days, it thrums with youthful energy. On weekends, and even most weekdays, its waterfront cafes, restaurants and bars are packed. Hotels grand and small have been refurbished and are newly popular. The first of a dozen-odd planned new buildings, some high-rise condos and apartments, soar above its once-modest downtown skyline. And the landmark St. Pete Pier, site of an ambitious, $92 million renovation, will soon be home to an outdoor bazaar shaded by a solar roof structure and several hundred trees, and an airy new five-story building with a shade-giving canopy at pier’s end that will house restaurants and a rooftop tiki bar.
Despite its big-city ambitions, St. Pete is defiantly laid-back. Which is just how many locals — and visitors — prefer it. With a mix of world-class museums and a vibrant homegrown arts scene, the city is a refreshing mix of highbrow and low-key. That St. Pete is only a half-hour drive from my home in Tampa makes regular visits easy. I’m especially excited to ditch my car for a recently relaunched ferry service that makes the round-trip journey across the Tampa Bay five days a week.