USA – The best tips to discover Florida’s Gulf Coast

Why go to St. Pete/Clearwater in 2024? It’s simple: the region’s beaches on Florida’s Gulf Coast are some of the best in America – St. Pete Beach, Clearwater Beach or the North Beach of Fort de Soto Park regularly appear on the best lists of the travel community and major magazines. But St. Pete/Clearwater has so much more to offer: a vibrant arts scene, delicious restaurants and great nature and outdoor experiences. Locals and visitors have chosen the best activities, places and events – we bring them to you. And we have a few insider tips too…

Egmont Key, an unspoilt paradise 

A trip to Egmont Key State Park is like exploring a desert island. With its crystal clear waters, miles of white sandy beaches, abundant wildlife and interesting cultural history, this National Wildlife Refuge at the mouth of Tampa Bay, south-west of Fort De Soto Beach, is a very special experience. About half of the island’s three square miles is set aside for wildlife – but even where visitors are allowed, they can be seen. The island is home to up to 1,500 gopher tortoises and dozens of loggerhead sea turtles nest here each year.

The southern part of the island is a bird sanctuary. There are 177 bird species on the island, including ospreys, brown pelicans, royal and sandwich terns, black-headed gulls and scoters. The best time to visit Egmont Key is between April and August, when thousands of birds nest here – and make a lot of noise.

The island is also home to a 150-year-old lighthouse and the ruins of Fort Dade, a former military garrison built in 1898 during the Spanish-American War. The former guardhouse now houses a visitor centre and small museum.  

Kayak through mangroves to deserted islands

Kayaking alongside a cormorant, spotting dolphins and manatees – paddling adventures in St Pete/Clearwater are an exciting way to experience the region’s wildlife and discover enchanted, remote places. Hire a kayak near the Dunedin Causeway to reach the pristine Caladesi Island State Park. Here you can paddle through lush mangrove tunnels or moor and explore the remote island. Fort de Soto Park also has a stunning beach and a three-kilometre paddling trail. At Weedon Island Preserve, north of St Pete, visitors can paddle through Riviera Bay and along the South Paddling Trail through the mangroves.

A street for foodies: Central Avenue in St Pete 

Central Avenue starts at the beautiful waterfront in downtown St Pete and stretches west. Year-round and at any time of day, Central Avenue is a hive of creative activity with hundreds of colourful urban murals, museums, live music, boutiques, bars, small independent shops and galleries to explore.  St Pete/Clearwater’s vibrant restaurant scene shines especially brightly here, along Central Ave, where a wide variety of eateries line the street. For modern Italian cuisine amid exposed brick and rustic furniture, head to Il Ritorno (400 block). Brick & Mortar (500 block) serves farm-to-table fare in a cosy atmosphere. Love Food Central is a must for vegans. For sushi, head to Pacific Counter or The Lure (both 600 block). Bodega (1100 block) is popular with locals for its authentic Cuban cuisine – especially the sandwiches. The stylish Baba (2700 block) serves lovingly prepared Greek and Lebanese-inspired dishes.

Living glass: the colourful world of the Chihuly Collection

The glass artist Dale Chihuly once said: “I’ve never met a colour I didn’t like”. This is a good description of the internationally renowned artist’s work: fantastic, organic glass sculptures in bold colours. His work can be seen at the Chihuly Collection in the centre of St Pete, in a building specially designed for the artist’s work. Chihuly’s glass sculptures are dreamy interpretations of sea creatures, underwater landscapes and floating grasses. The intricately blown and assembled creations are the result of decades of work by Chihuly and the glass artists in his studio.  

A secret spot: Upham Beach and Secret Garden

Everyone who comes to St. Petersburg knows that St. Pete Beach is one of the best beaches in the USA – but few people know about Upham Beach and the Secret Garden. North of St. Pete Beach, roughly from 67th Avenue to 71st Avenue, the small stretch of beach is a quiet beach for families and couples – and one of the few surfing spots on the Gulf Coast. Access to the beach is tucked away in a side street off Gulf Boulevard. The Secret Garden is a real little oasis: it is only accessible from the beach and only during the day; the park closes at dusk. Lush with palm trees and many other native Florida plants and flowers, with benches and a small picnic area, the Secret Garden offers shade on hot days – and a great view of the Gulf of Mexico. This hidden garden is maintained entirely by volunteers and supported by donations.