News Section: Travel
Florida Staycations: St. Pete Beach
ST PETE BEACH -- Manatee County has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, but sometimes one simply needs to get away from home. Unfamiliar faces, someplace new to grab a bite and even just a little bit of different scenery surrounding the sand and surf can be invigorating.
|John's Pass Village and Boardwalk in nearby Madeira Beach
Photo courtesy of Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater
For most Americans, getting someplace tropical requires air travel, along with plenty of other hassles. Fortunately, we Floridians need not travel far to find an island escape. That's why I find it curious that so few of my friends venture out into our surrounding areas for a weekend getaway, rather than losing half of a long weekend to flights and jet lag.
I've always been a big fan of so-called staycations. Taking a trip to a Florida resort town not only saves hours and dollars in travel, but keeps your money in the sunshine state, helping to ensure a vibrant economy that we all benefit from.
Recently, my son and I spent our first weekend in St. Pete Beach, a beautiful little gem just a stone's throw over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. Most of us know St. Pete the city, whether from taking in a Ray's game at the Trop, checking out the shops and galleries on Central Avenue or heading downtown for some nightlife on the bay front. However, until you've headed west of I-275, you've only seen a glimpse of what this beautiful area has to offer.
|An aerial view of St. Pete Beach. Photo courtesy of Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater|
The narrow stretch of paradise from the southern tip of Passe-A-Grille, north to Treasure Island feels a world away, even if it's a mere 30-minute drive from downtown Bradenton. Think of it as a cross between Siesta Key and Anna Maria Island, where precious care has been taken to preserve the locale's quaint charm without rendering it a sleepy little town with too few things to do.
The beautifully-manicured beaches are on par with our own, though you'll find a bit more hustle and bustle, the kind of buzz and activity that those familiar with the northern beaches of Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and New England will instantly recognize. St. Pete Beach has plenty of oceanfront bars and beach clubs and just a few miles north at the southern tip of Madeira Beach, the boardwalk at John's Pass Village even offers Kohr's frozen custard.
Where to Stay?
St. Pete Beach has a wide variety of lodging options from rentals to reasonably-priced motels like the retro-themed Postcard Inn, and of course the iconic Don CeSar – a pink, palatial, Moorish-styled luxury resort, as well as plenty between the extremes.
We stayed at the brand new Hotel Zamora, a posh boutique hotel just up the street from the Don. Because of difficult development restrictions, it's actually the first completely new hotel to open on St. Pete Beach in over three decades, creating quite a buzz when it debuted just last month. A bit more South Beach than typical St. Pete, the 50-room hotel – which includes an upscale restaurant and rooftop bar – adds a much-appreciated dose of glitz to the town.
With well-appointed rooms, concierge service, lush lobbies and grounds, along with an extremely helpful and courteous staff, the Hotel Zamora proves that you neither have to rough it, nor pony up the lofty price at the Don CeSar to experience some pampering after a day of soaking up the sun and surf.
The half-enclosed pool offers guests both shade and sun and is adorned with a full-service poolside bar with a menu of refreshing signature cocktails. The complimentary continental breakfast far exceeds typical hotel fare, and taking it in on the beautiful Mediterranean-style deck is quite an enjoyable way to start the morning.
For a limited time, Florida residents can even receive a special "staycation" deal of 15 percent off their best available rate, complimentary valet parking, along with two welcome drink vouchers for its Castile Restaurant and Rooftop Lounge.
What to eat?
One area where St. Pete Beach definitely stands out is the abundance of local waterfront eateries. There are plenty of options to sit either gulf- or bay-side and enjoy a sunset meal, and they range from casual to the high-art of fine dining. Chefs across the island also boast a deep commitment to using local catches, which is always nice.
|Photo courtesy of Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater|
In Passe-A-Grille, Sea Critters and The Wharf offer rustic, side-by-side cracker shack-style eateries reminiscent of the kind which dot the Florida Keys. Down the road a few blocks, the historic Hurricane Seafood Restaurant delivers quintessential Florida resort casual dining with live music on the deck.
Further north, Crabby Bill's and the Bongo Beach Bar deliver tropical standards in a beach-cozy atmosphere, while pub-fare and brewski spots like the Undertow Beach Bar and The Drunken Clam abound. With Calypso music wafting through the air, the sound of the waves rolling into shore and the smell of fresh local seafood emanating from so many places, it's utterly impossible to forget you're on a tropical vacation.
For more serious cuisine, there's also a wide range of options including Spinner's, the revolving 360 degree rooftop bistro atop of the Grand Plaza Hotel. Of course, there's the award-winning cuisine and top-tier wine list at the Don CeSar's Maritana Grille, as well as the property's more casual yet equally satisfying Sea Porch.
Castile at the Hotel Zamora far exceeded expectations, delivering an inspired menu of 5-star cuisine that is on par with the very best restaurants in the region. Zesty gazpachos were a refreshing anecdote to a sun-drenched afternoon, while the oak-grilled tenderloin could hold its own among Tampa Bay's crowded list of renowned steakhouses. Creative sides like the avocado frites and an impressive wine list seal the deal.
In all, our St. Pete Beach staycation was among the most enjoyable we've taken in and the fact that it is so accessible put it over the top as a favorite. The next time you find yourself getting a bit stir crazy, hop over the Skyway for a tropical escape right in our backyard where a whole new world awaits.
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