All along Southwest Florida there are cities, towns and barrier islands which offer enticements to both visitors and residents alike. Some of those cities can boast of historic hotels which have gotten a new lease on life.
If you are looking for a gulf coast sanctuary that offers a charming downtown, along with great resort hotels, a gorgeous marina, world-famous cultural institutions and glorious
sunsets look no further than St. Petersburg and the magnificent reconstruction of the historic Vinoy Hotel.
When it opened in 1925 The Vinoy was an elegant retreat which saw lots of history and glamour within its walls.
In later decades the Vinoy fell into disrepair and for a time it was totally abandoned. Along came the Renaissance hotel group which is still in the midst of a multi-phase renovation project. The hotel now has a new spa, a fitness center, tennis courts and dining facilities, a nearby golf course and a beautiful new pool.
A step back in time is provided in the hotel’s History Gallery which spans two walls and the period of 1901 to 2010, linking the resort with history of St. Petersburg.
The main hotel building with its Mediterranean style salmon and light green accents has been retained. There is a modern addition which now adjoins it.
I found the greatest attribute of this historic hotel is its setting, facing Tampa Bay, and offering amazing panoramic views of all sorts of sailing and water vessels against a backdrop of beautiful sunsets.
In the daytime you can walk, jog, run or ride a bike around the marina across from the hotel. At night you can sit on the Esplanade deck of the hotel and enjoy a drink while the sun sets.
Or if you are lucky you can secure a guest room that boasts of this fabulous panorama around the clock. My stay at The Vinoy Renaissance Resort & Golf Club was the first time I can remember in recent years that I was drawn to spend more time in my hotel room than outside.
With a wall of windows and the most comfortable beds facing those windows you can’t help saying to yourself, “now this is a relaxing vacation.”
Add some food and a big March Madness basketball game on the large screen television and you have the makings of a really good evening.
When we did leave the room it was to explore the hotel’s tranquil gardens, the lobby’s sea of turquoise and gilded elements and the unique one-of-kind Chihuly chandelier which graces the Grand Ballroom.
The hotel’s Moorish influence is still evident in the decorative archways and stone main entrance door and the great arched windows in the south wall of the dining room wing.
The downtown offers a museum featuring a collection of Dale Chihuly’s breathtaking installations and works of art.
As I mentioned since the hotel is located in the heart of the downtown area the best way to see sights to walk, or hop on the St. Petersburg Trolley which stops right in the front the hotel.
Not only is the trolley inexpensive, (there is even a Free Fare Zone) the driver gives you a wonderful narrative about everything located along the Downtown Loop. You can get off and on at any stop. The trolley runs every 15 minutes during the day between 10 a.m and 5 p.m. and until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.
Another excellent resource for information about St. Petersburg are the Vinoy navigators. These two women are experts on the Historic Old Northeast, Historic Uptown and the area further south where the Dali Museum, the area’s most famous attraction is located.
This museum houses thousands of works of renowned artist Salvador Dali.
Those works include iconic melting clocks, imaginative visual illusions and other avant-garde symbols by the artist whose Surrealism abstractions are world famous.
The museum itself is worthy of a visit. The building is a work of art featuring 1,062 triangular shaped glass panels, the only structure of its kind in North America.
The museum has been nicknamed the Enigma on St. Petersburg’s picturesque waterfront.
A current show at the Dali is that of Frida Kahlo, one of the most celebrated female artists of all time her autobiographical paintings deal with every momentous experience of the artist’s life.
The exhibition, which will remain until April 17th, is drawing record attendance. Ms. Kahlo, who was married to another world-famous painter, Diego Rivera, is known for her striking self-portraits. She has been quoted as saying, “They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.’’
The museum show offers 15 of her paintings, seven drawings and lots of personal photographs.
A real plus of the show is the museum’s gardens which were planted with oleander, bougainvillea and yucca, some of the same botanicals that Frida Kahlo grew in her Mexico City garden, which was essential part of her identity and life.
A work of contemporary art has also been created in the garden on a large tree where visitors have placed their museum paper entry bracelets.
Haslam’s Book Store, established in 1933, is Florida’s largest new and used book store. Located at 2025 Central Avenue, the bookstore is considered “Florida’s Great Rainy Day" attraction for more than 80 years. And while it didn’t rain on our trip to sunny St. Petersburg, the bookstore remains an option to do whatever the weather. You can hop onto the Central Avenue Trolley for this enlightening experience.
Just a couple of decades ago I and many others thought of St. Petersburg as a quiet city with lots of retired people. Not any longer! Today with the city’s moniker “Sunshine City”” (since on average the sun shines 360 days a year) it is a popular destination for people of all ages.
For Your Information:
Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club, 501 Fifth Avenue NE, St. Petersburg, Fl 33701. (727) 894-1000. vinoyrenaissanceresort.com
One Dali Blvd., St. Petersburg, Fl 33701.(727) 823-3767