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Sunshine CitySunshine City

St. Petersburg, FloridaSt. Petersburg, Florida

Editor's note: Join AOPA for its final fly-in of 2017: The AOPA Fly-In at Tampa, Florida, presented by Peter O. Knight Airport, runs Oct. 27 and 28. Don't miss out! This article was updated Oct. 10 with additional restaurant information to replace Z Grille, which is now closed.

Whether you’re in Florida for the AOPA Fly-In, Sun 'n Fun, or just want to spend a weekend where the sun shines an average of 361 days a year, St. Petersburg makes a great aviation getaway. Bask in the balmy weather; wiggle your toes on a sugar-sand beach; take in a Rays baseball game; or take advantage of the great inshore fishing, interesting museums, and urban recreational trail.

  • The beautiful Art-Deco-era Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club has its own marina. Photo courtesy Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club.
  • If you’re flying up from the south, check out the 4-mile-long Sunshine Skyway Bridge; its center resembles a pair of giant sails. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.
  • The Downtown Looper Trolley is a convenient way to get around. Photo courtesy City of St. Petersburg.
  • You can sightsee from a bicycle on the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail, weaving past city museums and sleepy towns. Photo courtesy City of St. Petersburg.
  • The Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail protects users from motorized traffic. Here, the Bayou Bridge crosses Boca Ciega Bay. Photo courtesy St. Petersburg CVB.
  • St. Pete’s rich aviation history began in 1914, when pilot Tony Jannus transported Mayor Abe Pheil and a bag of mail from the bayfront to Tampa. The trip is considered the first regularly scheduled airline flight in history. Photo courtesy St. Petersburg Museum of History.
  • An operational replica of the craft, a Benoist XIV airboat, was built by Florida Aviation Historical Society members and flown by Ed Hoffman in 1984 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the first airline flight. Photo courtesy St. Petersburg Museum of History.
  • Today you can see the Benoist XIV airboat hanging in the St. Petersburg Museum of History. Photo courtesy St. Petersburg Museum of History.
  • Salvador Dali’s classic melting clocks, as depicted in "The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory," are part of the permanent collection of the Dali Museum. Photo courtesy St. Petersburg CVB.
  • Ben Zobrist connects at Tropicana Field. Photo courtesy City of St. Petersburg.
  • A fisherman proudly displays a redfish as Captain Barry looks on. Photo courtesy Gulf2Bay.
  • The amazing lounge in the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club. Photo courtesy Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club.
  • The Dali Bar at the Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront. Photo courtesy Hilton Hotels & Resorts.
  • Yummy seafood with all the fixins at 4th St. Shrimp Store. Photo courtesy 4th St. Shrimp Store.

Albert Whitted Airport sits on the southeast corner of a peninsula that juts out between the waters of Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Skies here are busy and the airport lies beneath Tampa’s Class B airspace. Watch out for five tall towers southeast of Tampa International. If you’re flying along the coast, it’s a gorgeous flight: turquoise waters, blue skies, and white beaches. The airport is home to The Hangar restaurant, with great airport views.

Albert Whitted Airport is named for hometown hero First Lieutenant (James) Albert Whitted, who led naval maneuvers at Guantanamo Bay in 1919. Through the years multiple entities have proposed closing the airport to allow development. In 2002, another bitter dispute erupted and airport advocates and AOPA rallied to support the airport. A referendum vote was held in 2003 that saw the largest municipal voter turnout in 50 years—72 percent voted to keep the airport open. Today, you can relive the golden age of aviation with a scenic biplane ride. Tom Hurley flies an extremely rare, bright red-and-white 1933 Waco UIC biplane originally owned by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. Bring your family; prices are the same for one to three passengers.

For a real treat, take a ride in a beautiful 1933 Waco UIC biplane. Photo courtesy BiplaneRide.com.

To see a building as warped (in a good way) as the artist it honors, visit the Salvador Dali Museum. A huge, free-form geodesic glass bubble comprised of over 1,000 triangular windows oozes out of the building. Ride a helical staircase to multiple wings to view the paintings and other works, or take a tour. A Spanish-themed café and gift shop are onsite. Baseball fans can take in a Tampa Bay Rays game at air-conditioned Tropicana Field, a smaller-than-some venue that creates a more intimate atmosphere.

Inside the Dali Museum, where walls and stairwells are strongly curved, like many of the subjects in Dali’s artwork. Photo courtesy St. Petersburg CVB.

Brought a bike? Starting at Demens Landing Park, just north of the airport, you can take the 37-mile Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail past the museums and through sleepy seaside towns; Largo offers an amazing botanical garden and living museum. For excellent inshore fishing, Captain Barry and his flats boat will glide you around mangrove-laden islands, on the hunt for feisty snook, seatrout, and redfish. Keep an eye out for friendly bottlenose dolphins and manatees. Nearby Fort DeSoto Park touts miles of undeveloped white-sand beach; some dog friendly. Hike through hammock forests to the park’s namesake fort, built during the Spanish-American War and used as a gunnery during World War II. On a self-guided tour, check out the last four 12-inch M 1890-MI mortars remaining in North America at the Battery Laidley. The 900-acre park has plenty of picnic shelters, restrooms, and campsites.

Heading up the list of excellent area accommodations is the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort and Golf Club. Built during the 1920s, it’s been updated with uber-luxurious amenities and décor while retaining its Art-Deco architecture. You’ll find restaurants, an 18-hole golf course, tennis complex, private marina, and more. Downtown, the Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront provides complimentary airport shuttle service. If you’d like to camp, the Madeira Beach KOA offers quick access to the Pinellas Trail and the Gulf.

St. Pete is loaded with fun eateries. For an Old Florida feel, head to the 4th Street Shrimp Store, for locally caught shrimp specialties served in a room full of nautical novelties. Gratzzi Italian Grille has been voted Best Italian Restaurant in St. Petersburg, and it's a favorite with locals. For more information, contact the St. Pete-Clearwater Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Visit St. Petersburg, the Sunshine City, when you need a tropical break. Stop by to enjoy the area and show support for the efforts that have, so far, preserved this historic airport.

St. Petersburg's sugar-sand beaches are fun to play on, and heavy surf or riptides are rare. Photo courtesy St. Petersburg CVB.

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Crista Worthy

Crista Videriksen Worthy

Crista Videriksen Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as both the managing editor of Pilot Getaways magazine and editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association.
Topics: US Travel

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