Besides the geometric Pier Point building, shaped like a futuristic spaceship, the 26-acre pier district offers soaring sculptures, vast grassy areas, waterfront beaches and trails, a splash pad for kids, local artisans selling their creations, and an array of restaurants. No wonder it cost $93 million and took three years to build.
Here, you can take yoga and pilates classes on the grass; and walk, bike, skateboard, paddleboard, and, yes, even fish on a fishing deck that’s part of the five-story Pier Point building.
If you park along Beach Drive, you can walk three-quarters of a mile to the pier’s end with water views on both sides. Turn around for a panoramic view of downtown St. Petersburg’s skyline.
Yachts and smaller boats bob in Tampa Bay to the south, and the iconic Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort and Golf Club sits majestically to the north, just as it has since 1926.
On the over-water walkway just before the Pier Point building, Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center offers a touch tank, interactive displays, videos and exhibits on the bay’s ecosystems, marine wildlife and the group’s conservation efforts. The highlight is an 1,800-gallon estuary habitat filled with fish from local waters. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children ages 4 to 12.
Plan to spend the day if you can, especially if you like to walk. From the pier district you can walk north and south along the waterfront or on sidewalks that lead to a bayfront volleyball court, a palm garden, Williams Park, and to the Museum of Fine Arts, the St. Petersburg Museum of History and the Salvador Dali Museum. Downtown shops and restaurants are an easy walk west.
The district has on-street parking and two metered parking lots. Boaters can slide into boat slips and stroll to the pier.
A 10,000-square-foot Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille, close to a parking lot, offers indoor and outdoor dining with views of the bay and downtown. Owned by Florida author Randy Wayne White and partners, it has an extensive Florida-themed menu featuring grouper and Cuban sandwiches, shrimp and grits and pork many ways. You can even buy White’s hot sauces and Doc Ford T-shirts, in honor of the main character in many of White’s popular novels. It gets very crowded, so reservations are recommended by calling 727-857-8118. See DocFords.com for the menu.
Nearby, Fresco’s Waterfront Bistro offers everything from crab avocado eggs Benedict to shrimp tacos. Spa Beach Bistro, near Spa Beach Park, sells pizzas, ice cream, cocktails and more.
The Pier Point building has several options: the casual Driftwood Cafe sells takeout snacks and ice cream. A fancier restaurant, Teak, is on the fourth floor and is open for lunch and dinner. It offers breathtaking views and a menu featuring everything from paella to short ribs. The roof-top Pier Teaki, is a modern take on a classic tiki bar. It has the best views of all and serves local draft beers, 30 varieties of rum, and bar snacks.
The Pier Point building also has a few shops. Gator Jim’s Tackle sells fishing supplies, while Pier Gear & Gifts sells T-shirts, hats and other items touting the pier.
Outside, along the promenade leading to the pier’s end, The Marketplace features local vendors in kiosks under artistic solar shades selling St. Petersburg souvenirs, hats, locally made foods and gifts, jewelry, T-shirts, Caribbean sauces and other items. Here, kids – and adults, too – can get their faces painted.
Some people like the district’s sculptures most of all, especially the billowing, color-changing net flying high in the sky called “Bending Arc,” created by Tampa’s Janet Echelman. Another favorite is an airplane sculpture by Mark Aeling entitled “First Flight,” in honor of the world’s first commercial flight in 1914, when Tony Jannus flew the city’s mayor from St. Petersburg to Tampa.
“Myth (Red Pelican)” was inspired by the pier’s geometrical design and pelicans, which artist Nathan Mabry says symbolize St. Petersburg’s kindness, friendship and generosity. “Morning Stars,” a mosaic by Xenobia Bailey consisting of colorful, crocheted geometric configurations, is 23-feet wide and 7 ½-feet tall, while a bronze sculpture called “Olnetopia” depicts rocks and wild waters, representing “the dynamic power of life,” according to its creator Nick Ervinck.
That sculpture’s theme seems fitting for the pier district.
Everywhere you look – from couples toasting cocktails in Pier Teaki to kids romping through the splash pad – you see the joy of life.
St. Pete Pier
Where: 800 2nd Ave. N.E., St. Petersburg
Hours: Open 30 minutes before sunrise to 11 p.m. Restaurant hours vary.
Cost: Free admission to pier; parking fees vary
Info and restaurant details: StPetePier.org.
By Karen Haymon Long
Published November 17, 2021