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12 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in St. Petersburg and Clearwater

Written by Lura Seavey and Lana Law

The city of St. Petersburg, known locally as St. Pete and famed for its perpetual sunshine, lies on the Pinellas Peninsula on the central Gulf Coast of Florida, between Tampa Bay and Boca Ciega Bay. Off the peninsula is a chain of long, narrow islands with beaches and numerous marinas. Clearwater is largely a resort and retirement community located 22 miles west of Tampa. People are drawn here by the wide stretch of white-sand beach, which is connected to the city by a two-mile-long causeway. Tourists also enjoy the area's variety of things to do, including museums, boat tours, and hiking or walking in one of the numerous parks and wildlife areas. Explore the best places to visit with our list of the top attractions and things to do in St. Petersburg and Clearwater.

1. Editor's Pick The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg

The Dali Museum in St Petersburg

The Dali Museum in St Petersburg | Dan Lundberg / photo modified

The Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg houses a comprehensive collection of paintings by this Surrealist master, with a total collection of more than 2,000 works of art. Dali's entire artistic career is represented, from his early work in Impressionism and Cubism to later experiments in more "Classical" styles. There are oil paintings, watercolors, original drawings, sculptures, graphics, photographs, and prints among the exhibits. The Dali Museum Library and Center for the Avant-garde are also housed here, which preserve books, magazines, newspaper clippings, and other important documents related to Dali, Surrealism, and Avant-garde influences.

Address: One Dali Boulevard, St. Petersburg, Florida

Official site: http://thedali.org

2. Beaches, Trails, & History at Fort DeSoto Park

Fort DeSoto

Fort DeSoto

Five different keys make up the 1,136-acre Fort DeSoto Park, the largest park in Pinellas County. Numerous nature and recreation trails offer great opportunities for hiking, biking, rollerblading, and walking, and there is also a beautiful swimming beach and two fishing piers. This is a particularly popular spot for bird-watchers, home to at least 330 species of birds.

The park is named for the fort located on the southern end of Mullet Key, built in 1898 during the Spanish-American War. Remains of the fort can be visited on a self-guided tour, and a small museum with historical information is located in the former Quartermaster Storehouse. Other buildings on-site include civilian quarters, barracks, the bakery, and the former hospital, among others.

3500 Pinellas Bayway S., Tierra Verde, Florida

Official site: www.pinellascounty.org/park/05_ft_desoto.htm

3. Clearwater Beach

Clearwater Beach

Clearwater Beach

Clearwater Beach is often rated as one of the top beaches in the United States, and for good reason. Miles of pristine white sand attracts tourists and local sun-seekers, and there is a wide variety of things to do for couples, families, and everyone else. The Beachwalk, Clearwater Beach's seaside promenade, stretches along the sand and is lined with souvenir shops, restaurants, and other attractions. Another popular spot is Pier 60, a 1,080-foot fishing pier with numerous amenities, including a large bait and tackle shop, which provides rental equipment to tourists. Family attractions include a huge beach playground and nightly sunset celebrations with entertainment and vendors.

4. Beaches and Wildlife at Sand Key Park

Sandy Key Park

Sandy Key Park

Sand Key Park is located on the barrier island of the same name, and is home to both a beautiful beach and a diverse nature area. The park is part of an ongoing effort to create an artificial reef in the Gulf of Mexico, and also works closely with Clearwater Aquarium to ensure the safety of the sea turtles and their hatchlings. In addition to its walking trails, Sand Key Park is ideal for bird-watching, where heron, roseate spoonbill, great horned owl, anhinga, and common moorhen nest and feed in the salt marsh.

The park's beach area offers a good range of amenities, including lifeguards during the summer months, concessions, and bath houses. There are also plenty of rentals available, so you don't need to lug your own - tourists can get everything from umbrellas and cabanas to bicycles and kayaks. This beach is also one of the least expensive things to do around St. Petersburg, with only a minimal parking fee.

Address: 1060 Gulf Boulevard, Clearwater, Florida

5. Sunshine Skyway Bridge

Sunshine Skyway Bridge

Sunshine Skyway Bridge

Located on I 275, the Sunshine Skyway Bridge crosses the water at the entrance to Tampa Bay. This spectacular bridge is impressive from a distance but driving across it offers a unique perspective. Stretching 12 miles in total, a little more than four miles of the bridge rises high above the ocean, allowing for large water vessels to pass below. Two main pillars tower above the road, and the high points add some eye-catching drama to the bridge. It took five years to build, and is now considered one of the world's most beautiful bridges. Views of the bridge are particularly beautiful at night when it is lit up.

6. Run, Walk, or Cycle the Pinellas Trail

Pinellas Trail

Pinellas Trail | Daniel Oines / photo modified

The Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail, created along an abandoned railroad corridor, is a 37-mile-long park and recreation trail, running from the downtown waterfront of St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs. This multi-use trail is enjoyed by walkers, runners, cyclists, and skaters, and features a number of shops, restaurants, and cafes along the route. To help visitors navigate, nine sculptures mark the various communities through which the trail passes.

One of the lovely areas along the trail is Dunedin, a quaint town that has preserved its village-like atmosphere. It began as a seaport and trading center, and is best known today as the spring training camp for the Toronto Blue Jays. Honeymoon Island State Recreation Area and Caladesi Island State Park are located just off the coast of Dunedin and offer opportunities for both nature and water sports enthusiasts.

7. Boyd Hill Nature Preserve

Boyd Hill Nature Preserve

Boyd Hill Nature Preserve

This lovely park is a beautiful retreat for those looking for a little nature, featuring six miles of walking trails and boardwalks which explore the area's varied ecosystems, including swamp woodlands and a willow marsh. The park is also part of the Great Florida Birding Trail and home to the Birds of Prey Aviary, and rangers provide guided tours, which often spot turtles and other wildlife. The park also offers camping and picnic facilities and has a playground, picnic areas, and shelters. There is also a gift shop, and the park hosts annual nature events like a butterfly count conducted by the North American Butterfly Association.

8. Sunken Gardens

Sunken Gardens in St. Petersburg

Sunken Gardens in St. Petersburg | Walter / photo modified

The Sunken Gardens began as the hobby of a plumber named George Turner and have evolved into a St. Petersburg institution. First conceived of in 1903, Turner transformed a lakebed into a six-acre tropical garden, which eventually became so popular that he started to charge admission. The Turner family continued to care for and improve upon the garden, and it was finally purchased by the city in 1999, becoming a community effort. Today, tourists can walk the paths and enjoy the rare plants, some of which are as old as the garden itself. Visitors will see tropical flora from all over the world, and enjoy the ambience of waterfalls, footbridges, and even resident flamingos. The gardens also conduct horticultural programs and garden tours, as well as host special events, including weddings.

Address: 1825 4th St. N., St. Petersburg, Florida

9. Museum of Fine Arts

Panamanian barrel jar, St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts

Panamanian barrel jar, St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts | Walter / photo modified

St. Petersburg's Museum of Fine Arts is considered the premiere art museum in the Tampa Bay area, home to over 20,000 works of art that span 5,000 years of human creativity. The collection includes Greek, Roman, and Asian antiquities, African art, ancient art from the Americas, and European art. Among the better-known artists featured here are Monet, Rodin, and O'Keefe, and the museum hosts traveling exhibits and temporary galleries. Collections also include a large photography collection, a gallery of glass art, and a sculpture garden. Docent-led tours are available for full museum tours, and visitors can request tours that focus on the areas that interest them most. The museum is conveniently located in St. Petersburg's waterfront downtown area.

Address: 255 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg, Florida

Official site: http://mfastpete.org

10. Weedon Island Preserve

Weedon Island Preserve

Weedon Island Preserve | Walter / photo modified

The Weedon Island Preserve covers over 3,000 acres in north St. Petersburg on the shores of Tampa Bay. A great place to start is the Weedon Island Preserve Cultural and Natural History Center, which houses a variety of exhibits and resources. This is a free attraction, and visitors will learn about the area's ecosystems, habitats, plants, and animals, and how humans have interacted with nature here over thousands of years.

The preserve can be explored on foot via nearly five miles of paths and boardwalks, and by water on designated paddling trails along the waterways. This is an excellent place for bird-watching as well as spotting marine life in the water of this protected flood plain, including stingrays and oysters. Fishing is also permitted in certain areas of the preserve, although state and local regulations do apply.

Address: 1800 Weedon Drive N.E., St. Petersburg, Florida

11. Clearwater Marine Aquarium

Winter at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium

Winter at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium | Walter / photo modified

Clearwater Marine Aquarium is best known as home to film dolphins Winter and Hope who inspired and starred in the Dolphin Tale movies. Among other residents are sea turtles, otters, pelicans, sharks, and stingrays, as well as an assortment of other fish. The aquarium has regular shows, which are part of general admission, as well as special tours and activities you can choose as add-ons. Among the most popular is a behind-the-scenes tour, which allows you to see rescued and recovering animals awaiting return to their ocean homes and learn about what it takes to care for these beautiful creatures. There are also guided kayak and boat tours, which explore various topics, including the ecology of Clearwater Bay and a Dolphin Adventure Tour.

Address: 249 Windward Passage, Clearwater, Florida

Official site: www.seewinter.com

12. Great Explorations Children's Museum

The Great Explorations Children's Museum is an excellent place go on a rainy day, providing a variety of educational activities and fun things to do for younger kids. Children can explore and climb on an ocean-themed play structure, Longo's Cove, or dig in the sand in a beach-themed play area. Young engineers can build using an assortment of materials provided at the "Build It" tables or stack giant soft blocks to create kid-size structures. Kids can try being a grown-up in the kid-size supermarket, help a sick puppy get better at the veterinarian's office, make "pizza" at the local shop, and learn about safety while exploring the firehouse. Other interactive areas include an art studio, a theater, and a health and wellness exhibit sponsored by Johns Hopkins.

Address: 1925 4th Street North, St. Petersburg, Florida

Official site: https://greatex.org

Where to Stay in St. Petersburg for Sightseeing

We recommend these highly rated hotels in St. Petersburg, near popular downtown attractions like the Dali Museum:

Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to St. Petersburg and Clearwater

  • Segway through St. Petersburg: Tourists can cover plenty of ground while exploring St. Petersburg by Segway on this guided historic tour. Limited to a maximum of seven people, this intimate tour provides an up-close look at some of the city's most historic spots while a knowledgeable guide provides commentary and answers questions. Safety equipment and Segway operation instruction is included.
  • Speedboat Adventure: Tourists can take the wheel and feel the thrill of driving their own speedboat on this two-hour guided tour of Tampa Bay. Communicating with your guide via two-way headset, you will be led past some of the bay's top tourist attractions, including Sunshine Skyway Bridge, Fort de Soto, and Egmont Key, as well as several stops at scenic spots where you can spot marine wildlife like dolphins and manatees. Instruction on boat operation is included.
  • Romance on the Gulf: Couples will particularly enjoy this 2.5-hour evening cruise by yacht on the Gulf of Mexico. The cruise features live music and dancing, and passengers can enjoy the views from both the outdoor observation deck and the indoor areas, which feature picture windows to ensure a great view. For those who would like to dine during the cruise, a full-service gourmet restaurant has a wide variety of options.
  • Marine Wildlife on Shell Key: Tourists can get a great introduction to Shell Key Island on this two-hour small-group Dolphin Watch and Snorkeling Cruise. The cruise, which offers a variety of departure times to fit your family's vacation itinerary, stops on the shores of Shell Key Island where passengers can choose to swim, stroll on the beach, or snorkel using provided equipment. Guests will also get the chance to look out for sea life on the way to and from the island, including dolphins, rays, and even manatees.

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Family Fun in Tampa: Tampa sits about 45 minutes from St. Petersburg and can be reached via either of two bridges, which span Tampa Bay from one city to the other. Tampa's most popular tourist attractions include Busch Gardens and several other wildlife-focused parks, as well as good museums for families, a historic district, and the Franklin Street pedestrian center. Like many other cities on Florida's Gulf Coast, Tampa is home to several excellent resorts.

Orlando Getaway: While Clearwater Beach is a great day trip from Orlando, tourists staying here can just as easily head inland for a day in the nation's theme park capital. The city of Orlando is home to top family amusement parks like Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando, and also close to the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral.

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