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The St. Petersburg/Clearwater area on Florida’s West Coast is known as “Florida’s Beach,” and for good reason. It’s famous for its 35 miles of powder-white barrier island beaches on the Gulf of Mexico, some of which have had the distinction of being ranked in the top five beaches in the U.S. by Dr. Stephen Leatherman, also known as “Dr. Beach.”

Fort De Soto Park was named the number one beach overall in 2005, and Caladesi Island State Park number two in 2006. Leatherman also named Clearwater Beach as the number one city beach in the Gulf region. Thirteen area beaches also have received the Blue Wave Award for environmental management from the Clean Beaches Council. So it’s little wonder that when people think of St. Petersburg/Clearwater, they are reminded of beaches.

But there is much more to the area than just sand and saltwater. Florida’s Beach is fast becoming the cultural center of Florida in addition to its many other recreational activities. It offers visitors an opportunity to see a variety of museums, art galleries, performing arts centers and cultural-related special events throughout its 26 unique communities.

Dale Chihuly: Orlando Museum of Art Garden Installation; 2004.

There’s no better place to begin cultural pursuits than the world-famous Salvador Dali Museum. Located on the scenic St. Petersburg waterfront, the museum offers the most comprehensive collection of Dali works in the world. The museum houses 94 oils, numerous watercolors, sketches, sculptures and other objects of art—more than 2,500 total.

Another major museum in St. Petersburg whose reputation is growing is the Florida International Museum, an affiliate museum of the famed Smithsonian Institution. The museum showcases exhibitions in association with the Smithsonian. It augments its collection with rotating exhibits from various lenders to expand its appeal. The museum is temporarily closed, but will reopen to the public on Feb. 9. The Museum of Fine Arts, also in St. Petersburg, is best known for its collection of French Impressionist paintings, along with European, American, pre-Columbian and Far Eastern art.

Nearly 30 art galleries are located in downtown St. Petersburg, including the Arts Center on Central Avenue, which will add the Chihuly Collections, the world’s first permanent exhibit of Dale Chihuly glass, in 2008. The Downtown Arts Association features a monthly Gallery Walk in St. Petersburg, which starts at Gallery Central on Central Avenue and goes down to the waterfront, the Tropicana Dome and the SoHo Art District before continuing on to 4th and 9th streets north.

The Performing Arts also are well represented with the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg and Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. Both showcase traveling Broadway shows, other leading entertainment and performances by the Florida Orchestra, Florida Ballet and Florida Opera. There also are many special events, highlighted by the Mainsail Arts Festival and the Clearwater Jazz Holiday, which brings in top-name jazz recording artists for four days of free concerts each October. The Tampa Bay Blues Festival comes to St. Petersburg every March.

Given the almost 400 miles of coastline, it’s no surprise that activities on or near the water are focal points for visitors. You can enjoy deep sea fishing, catamaran cruises, windsurfing, parasailing and jet skiing in addition to casino ships, which conduct day cruises with dining, entertainment and gambling.

Florida’s Beach activities are not restricted to the water. Golf and tennis play an important role, and the nearly 50 public courses offer some of the finest and most challenging golf anywhere, while tennis is available on a variety of surfaces.

If shopping is an important part of a vacation, there are more than 78 major shopping centers and modern malls within Florida’s Beach communities. No matter what you’re looking for in a vacation, Florida’s Beach can meet or exceed your expectations.

 

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