St. Petersburg, Florida

Area History


Aptly nicknamed “The Sunshine City” for an abundance of sunshine that amounts to an average of more than 360 sun-soaked days per year (and a successful attempt at claiming a Guinness world record for most consecutive sunny days in a row: 768), the city of St. Petersburg is located on Florida’s west coast.

Though Native Americans originally settled in the area, its modern roots date back to 1875 when General John Williams purchased 2,500 acres of land on Tampa Bay. Williams, who suffered from severe bouts of asthma, was interested in the property as a means of trying to improve his health. But the Detroit native also saw promise in the waterfront land, picturing large swaths of green space that city planners could ultimately (and would eventually) develop into wide-open parks for its residents to enjoy.

Russian aristocrat Peter Demens arrived in the city a little over a decade later, and with him came the Orange Belt Railway. Because of Demens’ important role in bringing rail, he would receive the honor of naming the city—which he named after his birthplace, St. Petersburg, Russia. Williams’ hometown was the inspiration for the city’s first hotel, The Detroit. And though it’s no longer a hotel, having gone through a conversion to condominiums, The Detroit still stands today.

The first three decades of the 20th century were incredibly important to St. Petersburg’s development, beginning with the city’s incorporation in 1903. Baseball came to town in 1914 when the St. Louis Browns moved to the city for spring training, which began a nearly century-long tradition of the city hosting spring training baseball. That same year, Tony Jannus flew the Benoist airplane from St. Petersburg to Tampa, marking the first commercial flight.

Tourism began to heat up in the 1920s, an industry which remains the area’s chief economic driver to this day. In the decades that would follow, St. Petersburg would continue to grow but was unable to shake the moniker of a city that served solely for seniors.

That all changed with the turn of the millennium as the city became a haven for arts culture and a hotbed for young, working professionals. Downtown St. Petersburg is now one of the state’s most chic urban centers chock full of boutique hotels, acclaimed restaurants, rooftop bars and world-class museums.

Entertainment/things to do

Though the city lacks the name recognition of its proverbial next-door neighbor, Tampa, and other Florida locales like Orlando and Miami, the arts scene in St. Petersburg may be the state’s finest.

The crown jewel of the city’s art museums is the famed Dali Museum, which houses the most extensive collection of the Spanish surrealist’s works outside of his native Spain. Set on the waterfront in downtown, the museum features a large glass “enigma” entry and a double-helix spiral staircase. Its permanent collection comprises 96 of Salvador Dali’s oil paintings, original drawings, book illustrations, prints and more. Traveling exhibits at the museum have included the work of renowned artists like photographer Clyde Butcher and painter Andy Warhol.

You’ll also find the Museum of Fine Arts, a large museum with works from classical to contemporary artists, and the Chihuly Collection, a space within the Morean Arts Center dedicated to the incredible blown glass of Dale Chihuly. Downtown’s newest museum, the James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art, has more than 500 modern and historic works of art dedicated to the beauty of life in the American West.

If your hunger for art stirs up a thirst for an adult beverage, you’re in luck. The St. Pete/Clearwater “Craft Beer Trail” touts more than 35 local craft breweries all within an hour drive.

Sunken Gardens, located on the heavily trafficked 4th Street, pays homage to the neon-lit roadside attractions of yesteryear. With more than 50,000 tropical plans, flamingos and other exotic birds, visitors can’t help but feel like they’ve stepped back in time while strolling through its paths.

Just outside of downtown, you’ll find slightly different paths—base paths, that is—in Tropicana Field: the home of Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays play 81 games per year in “The Trop,” battling the American League’s finest, including division rivals, the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox.

If downtown and its surrounding charms aren’t the top destinations for the city’s locals and visitors, it’s the beaches. Pinellas County is home to 35 miles of sugary-soft, white sand beaches, many of which are less than a 30-minute drive from downtown.

At the southernmost tip of the St. Petersburg area, beach-goers will find Fort De Soto Park, an unspoiled stretch of nature that’s perfect for laying out, frolicking, biking and kayaking. The largest park within Pinellas County, Fort De Soto is vast—five islands make up the park’s 1,136 acres. Experts from TripAdvisor.com to Dr. Beach himself have named Fort De Soto the country’s best beach.

Those who prefer their beaches to be a little more action-packed will find what they’re looking for just up the coast on St. Pete Beach and further north on Clearwater Beach. Both spots feature an array of delicious restaurants, bars, nightlife and tons of watersports.

The St. Petersburg economy and what you need to know about moving there

Tourism is the economic engine that makes the city of St. Petersburg fire on all cylinders. The average length of stay for those visiting from outside the area is 5.5 days. In addition to staying in local hotels and dining at local restaurants, these guests frequent area museums and attractions during the stay, contributing an average of more than $114 per person, per day.

In order to support these visitors (more than 15 million annually), tourism contributes almost 100,000 jobs in Pinellas County, the area’s top employment industry.

However, with nearly 16,000 businesses in the city, there is plenty of industry outside of tourism to support St. Petersburg’s growing population. In fact, the city has the state’s largest financial services sector and the largest marine research center in the southeastern United States. Specialized manufacturing, data analytics, and creative arts and design also supply a substantial amount of jobs for locals.

The city has racked up an impressive number of awards, including winning the prize for the top mid-size city in 2011 by American Style magazine. Forbes has named it one of its best cities for young professionals, Coastal Living called it one of the best places to live and Huffington Post labeled it one of America’s hottest cities to live in and visit.

It’s also known for some quirky and fun achievements. For example, the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club grew to be known as the “World’s Largest Shuffleboard Club” in the 1950s and ‘60s when it boasted 110 courts and over 5,000 members. That tradition lives on today as “St. Pete Shuffle” has seen a revitalization, catering to a younger audience by offering live music and food trucks.

The Pinellas County Public School system is among the largest in the state with more than 100,000 students in 150 schools, in addition to the 100 private schools that cater to children in kindergarten through 12th grade. There are three prominent centers for higher learning in St. Petersburg: University of South Florida St. Petersburg, Eckerd College and Stetson University’s College of Law.

With the area becoming a burgeoning health care hub, it’s no surprise that St. Petersburg is home to seven hospitals, including Pinellas County’s only facility to receive certification as a Level II Adult & Pediatric Trauma Center. Another St. Petersburg facility, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, made the U.S. News & World Report list of the top 50 children’s hospitals.

Demographic Breakdown (source: City Data)

Estimated median household income in 2016: $51,474

Median resident age: 42.7

Estimated median house or condo value in 2016: $187,600

Median gross rent in 2016: $991

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