11 May Saint Petersburg – Clearwater Beach by Bicycle
Introduction: Bicycling in Florida, USA
In America a car is everything. It’s simply not common to travel long distances by bike. So not surprisingly, my enthusiasm for wanting to go out and explore the central Gulf coast of Florida by bike was met with its fair share of skepticism by locals.
And for good reason. There aren’t really good networks that interconnect from city to city for bicyclists. For long distance tours, this means riding on a bike lane that runs along highways, three feet away from major traffic and big trucks zooming by.
Riding in cities can be more or less pleasant depending on that city’s infrastructure and planning for pedestrians and cyclists. Here I am sharing my experience riding a bike in the area around St. Pete as locals call Saint Petersburg, Florida.
Bicycling in Saint Petersburg, USA
Feeling that my bike tour through Tampa was so so, I was pleasantly surprised when I got to Saint Petersburg. There are many “Share the Road” signs but most importantly, they have dedicated bike lanes. These lanes and a flat landscape make for an easy ride through the city.
250,000 people live in St. Pete. That compares to Karlsruhe, Germany. However, the weather does not compare. St. Petersburg is the sunniest city in the US and has an average of 361 days of sunshine annually. Spring weather is perfect. A light sea breeze, sunshine, mild temperatures and hardly any rain.
However, the peaceful nature and beautiful landscape do not necessarily translate into a peaceful city. In 2010 there were 13 murders, 105 rapes and 752 robberies in St. Pete. Therefore, you should always be aware of your surroundings.
The rundown house at the edge of the city
I will never forget my first impression when I saw my sleeping spot for the weekend. A big southern oak overgrown by Spanish moss in the front of the run down house that was barely visible through the overgrown, unkempt front yard.
It was certainly different, almost ominous.
Saint Petersburg Downtown
There are numerous local bars and street events where you can consume alcohol out in the open. Aside from that, there is a variety of cultural things to do here. The history and development of St. Pete can be seen in its diverse architecture giving the city a very different vibe than the cookie cutter neighborhoods in the suburbs of Tampa Bay.
Two minutes from downtown is the Dali Museum. It is the largest Dali Museum outside of Europe. It is beautifully situated next to the harbor.
There, I found an open-air theater playing an Americanized version of Excalibur featuring cheerleaders. Yeah 🙂
Off on the Pinellas Trail
On my way from St. Pete to Clearwater Beach I made a lucky find. The Pinellas Trail. It stretches 47 miles from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs with many county parks, coastal areas and scenic bridges along the way. It is very popular among cyclists.
Riding along the Pinellas Trail allows you to get a peek into American sceneries and lifestyle. I passed street fests, saw people hanging out in their backyards, campgrounds and the beautiful nature here with its ever present water all around.
Bridge and Water Taxi to Clearwater
Getting to Clearwater Beach you need to cross the Clearwater Memorial Causeway. It’s a six lane bridge connector to the mainland. Because of its mild climate visiting the Tampa Bay area is always in season. This can lead to congestion and traffic jams, especially on weekends.
If you don’t want to fight traffic on the bridge you can take the water taxi. They run every 30 to 60 minutes at reasonable prices from $2 to $6.
Clearwater Beach and the Journey Southwards
Near the harbor there are many restaurants and fast food options offering freshly caught fish and seafood. There are few greedy seagulls here but the pelicans are no less hungry. There are many boat tours available in Clearwater Beach. You can go dolphin watching, fishing or take dinner sunset cruises if you like.
If like more space and prefer a gentle glide across the waters, you can take a cruise on the catamaran Kai Lani. It’s scheduled to leave at noon and in the evening for a three hour tour at $42 per person.
For less crowded beaches you want to head south to the areas of Bellair, Indian Rocks, Madeira Beach and St. Pete Beach.
Unfortunately, I ran out of time to amply explore these areas at the time but I will certainly make up for that soon! Add to that Fort Desoto Park. Yet another pearl in the necklace of beautiful destinations strung together in front of Tampa Bay.
Downtown St. Petersburg Northwards: Volleyball and Historic Buildings
Taking a bike tour north of the harbor through Flora Wylie Park is worth the trip. There you have majestic Benjamina Trees offering shade and several beach volleyball fields in powdered sugar sand along the water.
Further along the coastal path is Coffeepot Bayou. There you have very stylish old, historic looking homes that fit in with the cobbled stone streets.
There are options for Stand Up Paddleboarding and Kayaking here. Surely, this would be a very interesting perspective from which to discover the shoreline as well.
Tip: Decent Bread in Saint Petersburg
German, Swiss and French bakeries are very popular in the US. If you are looking for one: Café Croissant near Lighthouse Crossings has homemade baguettes and also offers to-go sandwiches.
If you don’t want to eat there you can always take it with you and picnic somewhere in one of the many parks and beaches along the Pinellas Trail.
I only had 1 ½ days to take in all of these impressions. As you can see in the following video, St. Petersburg and the surrounding areas have so much to offer. I certainly have a lot to catch up on. I especially enjoyed how casual beach life is in this area. It is not highly exclusive like the South of France or the North of Italy. Here you can have dinner at the beach at a reasonable price for anyone.
I can absolutely recommend a bike tour on the Pinellas Trail. With a decent infrastructure, flat landscape and a well-developed trail, St. Petersburg is a worthwhile destination for all cyclists from beginner to the advanced.
And if you don’t have a bike you can rent one from the many bike rental shops along the Trail.
I am definitely going to explore the Pinellas Trail further. Maybe going further north to Dunedin. I was told there is an excellent beer brewery.