Joe Henderson: The welcome mat is always out in St. Pete
St. Petersburg is capping attendance at the annual Grand Prix.

St. Pete Grand Prix
Visitors to St. Pete this weekend will find a city with more to offer than just a Grand Prix race.

If you’re visiting St. Petersburg for this weekend’s Grand Prix race and events, you’re in luck. Actually, you’re in luck pretty much any time you visit this sparkling jewel on Florida’s gulf coast.

Around here, things move fast enough, so it’s not slow; but slow enough, so it’s not too fast.

We’ll start with the obvious — the weather.

If you’re from a state along one of the Great Lakes in the cold, frozen north, would you even think of visiting the beach in February? I’ll answer for you — no, you would not. You might not even consider that in June.

But here, it’s beach season almost all of the time. If you haven’t visited St. Pete Beach, what are you waiting for? Get thee hence! It’s a fabulous stretch of sand and surf. Tripadvisor’s community of travelers ranked it the No. 1 beach in the country last year.

Take some time to explore some of St. Pete’s funky eateries and craft beer bars. The craft beer reputation for St. Pete and Pinellas County has grown to such a level, with more than 35 local breweries, that it earned the nickname Gulp Coast and offers the Gulp Coast Craft Beer Trail.

Folks used to mock St. Petersburg as God’s waiting room. Well, it was a haven for older people looking to live their golden years in warmth and peace, but that’s all changed. Yes, retirees still live here — making up 18% of the population — but the city definitely is trending younger.

You’ll see evidence of that in all the construction going on around downtown. Tech companies are moving here in large numbers, attracted by Florida’s low taxes and business-friendly environment.

St. Pete has an artsy, bohemian vibe as well.

If you have time, visit the Dali museum, and it’s worth the trip. But while Dali is St. Pete’s most famous museum, it is far from the city’s only one. The Museum of Fine Arts has a collection that goes back 4,500 years, including works by Monet, Cezanne, Rodin, and Gauguin.

By now, you may be thinking, “Hey, man, that’s cool, but I came here for the race.” The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is a fixture in the city’s sports scene, and for a change, it will have the stage to itself.

Normally, the race would have to battle Major League Baseball spring training for attention, but that’s not a problem this year, thanks to the potentially ruinous lockout imposed by the owners.

The Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer team hasn’t started its regular season, and the Valspar Championship golf tournament a few miles up the road in Palm Harbor doesn’t tee off until the middle of March.

So, enjoy the race and don’t forget the sunscreen, preferably one with at least an SPF 50 rating (although SPF 70 would be better).

If your time is limited and you can’t get out and enjoy the sights around the city, no worries. The welcome mat is always out here.

Y’all come back soon, hear?

Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.


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