Trailering Magazine Archives - Destinations
St. Petersburg, Florida
More than a century ago, two developers drew straws to decide which one names the Florida city they were building. Railroad tycoon and immigrant Peter Demens won the draw and looked at the idea taking shape outside. It reminded him of his hometown on the Baltic Sea: St. Petersburg, Russia. The rest, as they say, is history.
As you read this, however, it should be noted the ice is just beginning to melt in St. Petersburg, Russia. Add to the fact the Florida St. Petersburg holds the Guiness World record for most consecutive days of sunshine (768) and it becomes pretty clear why Mr. Demens sought a new world. St. Petersburg has an average temperature of 73.7 degrees and brags about having an average of 361 days of sunshine every year. This isn't a new fact. Major Lew Brown told customers in the 20's his Evening Independent would be free if the sun didn't shine. The paper stayed in business a long time until it merged with another in town.
Bring the sun and they will come
Of the more than 14 million people who have visited Florida since January, many have arrived with a trailered boat in tow. As a peninsula with a 234-mile coastline on Tampa Bay, the Gulf of Mexico and the Intracoastal Waterway, it 's easy to understand why this is such a popular destination as well as a home (248,323 full time residents live in the St. Petersburg metropolitan area).
The center of activity in St. Petersburg is found, of course, on the water. The Pier, as it is called, juts a quarter mile into Tampa Bay. It features shops, restaurants an aquarium and the unique Hands On Museum designed for entertaining and educating children with interactive exhibits (although adults have been known to participate as well). At the top of the five-story inverted pyramid located at the end of The Pier is an observation deck where visitors can watch cruise ships, container ships and, of course, trailer boats on Tampa Bay.
You will see a lot of boats from this vantage point because St. Petersburg's municipal marina is just to the right as you face the water. A boat ramp is found next to the gas dock and faces 2nd Avenue North. The marina has a 500' transient dock for overnight or weekly stays.
Here is an important point about driving in St. Petersburg: the directions can become confusing to a newcomer. While the city is divided north and south by Central Avenue and east and west by 34th street, avenues in St. Petersburg run E-W while streets run N-S. The result is a good chance of being given directions of going to 2nd and 2nd. That, in itself, can create confusion but you also have to know if it's north or south.
One other issue to remember when driving to St. Petersburg: many of the bridges running from Tampa to the city or from the city south to Bradenton (Sunshine Skyway Bridge 275) or from the city west to St. Pete Beach on the Pinellas Bayway, charge a toll. If you are pulling a boat and trailer, you are going to pay per axle. It's never a lot of money but it is a cost that will add up if you are going to a new launch ramp on a daily basis.
St. Petersburg is home to world reknown centers of art and nature. The Salvador Dali Museum features the world's largest private collection of this flamboyant artist's original works. The popular Sunken Gardens began in 1935 when an avid gardener drained a small lake and created waterfalls to accompany hundreds of plants, butterflies and flamingoes. Both are open to the public throughout the year. If you enjoyed the movie "Cocoon," many of the scenes were filmed in St. Petersburg.
The best beaches in Florida are located on the Gulf of Mexico, just 9 miles west of St. Petersburg. Taking the Pinellas Bayway (.50 toll and .25/axle each way) across Boca Ciega Bay to St. Pete Beach. Be aware St. Pete Beach and St. Petersburg are two different places and are the basis of untold confusion for first-timers to the area. At one time, the city called itself St. Petersburg Beach which resulted in even more confusion than exists now.
This part of Florida is considered all the more special because of the number of passes to the Gulf of Mexico that are within just a few miles of eachother. John's Pass, located between Madeira Beach (north) and Treasure Island (south) was formed when an 1848 hurricane came through the area, opening up one more way to reach the Gulf. The trailer boater can tie up at Johns Pass Marina on Treasure Island. You can walk to the world's longest waterfront bar, Gators, and watch the activity in the Pass. Johns Pass Village is on the Madeira Beach side of the pass and features a 1,000-foot boardwalk. There are more than two dozen separate beaches either north or south from this point. Going south will bring you to Pass-A-Grille beach (it is believed the name comes from the fact people grilled fish over their campfires here). Whether you buy that theory or not, the Hurricane restaurant on Pass-a-grille beach is known for its grouper sandwich as well as a rooftop deck with spectacular views of the sunset over the Gulf.
Traveling south to Fort DeSoto State Park (toll is.35 with an additional .10 per axle), there are numerous long sandy beaches en route. There is a huge boat ramp (800 feet wide) as you come into Mullet Key in addition to a seven-mile stretch of beach.
From here, a trailer boat is easily within distance of Egmont Key which is a 440-acre National Wildlife Refuge. Boats are welcome here but be advised this is also a nesting area for loggerhead turtles at certain times of the year. If someone in your family is a shell collector, Egmont Key is considered one of the prime places for this kind of activity. Egmont Key is located at the mouth of Tampa Bay and has a lighthouse that was built in 1847. Just offshore from here is the Egmont Channel where container ships from around the world travel as they enter or depart the Port of Tampa. This is also considered a prime fishing area.
Crossing Tampa Bay (275 South out of St. Petersburg) takes you on the 4.1 mile Sunshine Skyway Bridge (toll is $1.00 and .50/axle). It is important to note this bridge is closed to traffic any time the wind exceeds 50 mph which happens from time to time in the autumn. The Skyway Fishing Pier is located near this bridge and runs three-quarters of a mile long on the north end and a mile and one-half long on the south end. Anglers can drive their cars onto the pier and park next to the area where they will be fishing. This is possible because the part of the pier was once the bridge that carried traffic across Tampa bay prior to the construction of the Sunshine Skyway. There is a $3.00/car toll and a charge per person to use the fishing pier.
The Sunshine Skyway crosses Tampa Bay into Manatee County. The barrier islands and keys continue along the Gulf while the city of Bradenton is directly to the east on the Manatee River. The Intracoastal Waterway passes through Bradenton as well (and if you are visiting during March, this is where the Pittsburgh Pirates hold Spring Training).
Plans are underway to establish a ferry service from Bradenton to Key West using a catamaran capable of reaching speeds of 70 mph with a capacity of as many as 150 passengers. A Bradenton dock has yet to be selected but the Key West landing will be at the Hilton Hotel.
As is always the case when boating in Florida during the summer, the threat of afternoon thunderstorms is to be taken seriously. But as seems to be a trend in this town, the sun always appears shortly thereafter. If you have a boat on a trailer, the St. Petersburg area is a guaranteed good destination.
For More Information:
- St. Petersburg Marina Office 727-893-7327
Childrens Hands On Museum 727-821-8885
- St. Petersburg Pier 727-821-6144 http://www.sptimes.com/News/050500/Outdoors/Egmont_Key.shtml
- Egmont Key State Park 727-893-2627
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