ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — When the sun shines — as it does often in the city that holds the world record for most consecutive days of sunshine (768!) — light splashes through solar panels and palm trees at the new St. Pete Pier, creating a constantly changing pattern of light and shadow. The pier, which opened in July, is a park, a playground, a beach, a marketplace. It’s a place to enjoy art and learn about conservation. And at 26 acres, it’s made for social distancing. We recently took a virtual tour of the St. Pete Pier with city officials, tourism representatives, artists, restaurateurs, and local vendors.
Just past the entrance, Janet Echelman’s monumental sculpture “Bending Arc” floats above the pier. The title echoes a phrase from a Martin Luther King Jr. speech about the moral arc of the universe, Echelman said, noting that the park rests on a site where in 1955 peaceful demonstrators marched to integrate municipal beaches and pools. Made of 180 miles of twine, with 1.6 million knots, the billowing net is 424 feet long and 72 feet above ground at its highest point. The sculpture’s color and shape change constantly depending on sun, light, and wind. The theme is interconnectedness, Echelman said, since when wind hits one part of the sculpture, all the other parts are affected. “At this moment in the pandemic,” she added, “that’s a message that we understand ever more intensely.”
Opportunities for children include the whimsical, marine-themed Glazer Family Playground, a splash pad, and indoor/outdoor activity-based museum. Looking for a beach? Got it. Spa Beach, topped with the area’s signature white silky sand, offers swimming as well as water sports; plans call for on-site kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals. The Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center tells the story of the recovery and ongoing preservation of Tampa Bay. Highlights include an 1,800-gallon tank, a touch tank, a mangrove habitat that lets visitors see life under Florida’s ubiquitous mangroves, and a “wet classroom” with interactive exhibits outdoors. Kids (or parents) who tire of walking can hop on trams that traverse the grounds.
Restaurants take full advantage of the waterfront site. The fourth outpost of Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille, a popular eatery co-owned by author Randy Wayne White and themed on his series of books featuring ex-CIA agent-turned-marine-biologist Doc Ford, sits right on the bay. Floor-to-ceiling windows wash the interior in sunlight, and fully half the seating is outdoors, where live music plays nightly. At Pier Teaki, a classic rooftop tiki bar with sunset views, patrons can rent small tiki huts for up to six people, with a dedicated server — perfect for your COVID bubble.
Ellen Albanese can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.