St. Petersburg/Clearwater Florida are perfect destination in shoulder season

Shoulder season.

Two beautiful words that can make the world of difference when it comes to travel prices.

Every destination has different shoulder seasons, but late October through early December covers a lot of those. Of course, the week of Thanksgiving does not count as it’s a busy travel time.

Shoulder season – the time between peak and off-peak travel season—translates into cheaper airfare, less expensive hotels and tourist attractions that are not flooded with tourists.

It’s the best time to travel.

A perfect place to plan your next vacation is St. Petersburg/Clearwater in Florida. I was there for the second time last week and it’s a wonderful area.

First, let’s talk logistics. The region is served by two airports: St. Petersburg/Clearwater International and Tampa International.

Allegiant Air out of Springfield has direct, inexpensive flights to St. Petersburg/Clearwater. For example, from Nov. 1-8, a roundtrip ticket is $206; the same fare applies Dec. 6-10. Allegiant only flies certain days of the week so your dates are more limited, but if you’re retired, you have more flexibility.

The nice thing about Allegiant is you can pull up a 30-day calendar and see prices per day. For example, the least expensive day to fly is Nov. 18 which boasts a $61 one-way flight.

I also plugged in various dates in November and December on Travelocity, leaving from Tulsa and flying into Tampa. In early October, tickets were $412, but Nov. 10-17, the price dropped to $345. Dec. 1-8, the tickets started at $356.

If you travel in shoulder season, there’s a good chance the hotel might upgrade you for free. Compare the hotel rate with a booking engine like Expedia.com, and then call and say “I am about to book and wondered if I booked directly through the hotel if you could offer me an upgrade, free breakfast, or better room, etc.” Sometimes people say yes and sometimes they say no, but it never hurts to try.

Something to know: If you’re booking with a search engine like Hotels.com, but you are a member of a certain hotel chain, like Holiday Inn, you will likely not earn hotel points on your travel so consider that when you consider the discounted price (and call the hotel to double check).

Another option for lodging is to rent an apartment or condo from Airbnb (www.airbnb.com) or Vacations Rentals by Owner (www.vrbo.com). These are nice because you can cook for yourself and save money on food.

If fly into Tampa, it’s about 30-40 minutes away from St. Petersburg/Clearwater. A cab costs roughly $50. I used Super Shuttle for $23. You can book that online or there’s a kiosk outside when you land at the airport.

Before I travel, I sign up for that city’s Groupon deals because you may find dining or attraction deals in advance that you can use on your trip.

Another money saving tip is to go to the local Convention and Visitor’s Bureau website, as they often have downloadable coupons.

My theory is the more I save upfront, the more I can splurge later because vacation is the time for a little decadence.

Now that the logistics are taken care off, let’s talk about the fun stuff. There’s so much to see, do and taste in this area.

The cities of St. Petersburg and Clearwater are two separate cities, about 20 miles apart, but they are marketed together and have a joint CVB. They cities have different vibes and I like them both. You can go back and forth or split your vacation between the two.

Stay in Clearwater if you’re a beach lover and want easy access to the water. It has lovely beaches.

Watching the sun set on Pier 60 is a must. The sunset is beautiful, but there is a daily sunset festival on the pier two hours before and two hours after the sun fades away. The festival attracts artisans who sell their ware, street performers, even fire blowers. It’s a festive atmosphere.

I highly recommend a dolphin spotting tour while you’re in Florida. I’ve used Little Toot Dolphin Adventures which guarantees you see a dolphin or you get to come back for free, but there are a variety of dolphin tours out there, so look online. Some stop at islands, offers snorkeling, etc., so see which one best meet your desires: http://www.visitclearwaterflorida.com/things-to-do/dolphin-watching

Photo courtesy: Visit St. Pete/Clearwater

Photo courtesy: Visit St. Pete/Clearwater

Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill is a good choice when dining because the food is good and it offers open air, beachfront dining. The grouper sandwich is famous; Florida is home to the grouper sandwich. The restaurant does not take reservations, so you may have to wait.

If you want to explore beaches in the region, take Suncoast Beach Trolley, which lets you explore different beach communities from Clearwater to St. Pete. Trolley start at 5:30 and leave every 30 minutes. http://www.psta.net/beachtrolley.php

A restaurant I highly recommend is Columbia Restaurant, which Florida’s oldest restaurant. Established in 1905, it still family owned and now in its fifth generation. There are several locations in Florida, but it originated in Tampa and there’s a Clearwater site, too. The food is excellent and the atmosphere is wonderful. There’s a reason they’ve been in business this long.

If you are a foodie and enjoy the arts, then St. Petersburg may be a better place to anchor for your trip.

St. Petersburg is located on a peninsula and is one of the sunniest cities in Florida. It holds a Guinness World Record for logging the most consecutive days of sunshine – a stretch lasting 768 days that began in 1967.

I mentioned grouper sandwiches are popular in this area. The best grouper sandwich can be found in St. Petersburg at Locale Market (it’s a grouper BLT). If you are a foodie, prepare to be in heaven.

Locale Market is a market and restaurant that has everything from fresh seafood, local beer, aged beef, cookbooks, delicate pastries and more. It’s the brain child of famous chefs Michael Mina and Don Pintabona and they showcase as much local fare from land to sea, as possible. You could spent an hour exploring the market and then stay to eat. If you’re doing your own cooking, definitely come here to shop because the selection is fantastic. You can ever get caviar from Florida.

Just next door, in the same complex, is Sea Salt, an excellent seafood restaurant that features more than 120 sea salts from around the world. I had the best scallops of my life in this restaurant. The scallops were served on leeks, with tasso ham, cream sauce and a sea foam. It was exceptional, but pricy. Happy hour is from 4-6 p.m. and prices are far more reasonable during this period, especially on wine which is expensive by the glass (at least compared to Missouri prices). Be sure to check their Facebook page for specials, because they have deals like $20 bottomless mimosas on the weekends. They source a lot of local seafood and it’s on ice when you arrive so you can see how fresh it is. If you’re going to splurge, this is the place to do it. It’s worth it.

scallops

While you’re in St. Petersburg, you must walk down Beach Drive where you’ll find wonderful cafes, restaurants and shops (Beach Drive is a short walk from Sea Salt).

Along Beach Drive is The Birchwood Hotel which has a gorgeous rooftop bar called The Canopy. From the roof, you have views of the bay. The bartenders serve up delightful cocktails and you can order dinner and dine from the roof of the hotel. It’s a wonderful experience.

The view from the Birchwood Canopy

The view from the Birchwood Canopy

St. Petersburg is home to seven museums and more than two dozen galleries. My favorite in this city The Dalí Museum, which houses the largest collection of the surrealist’s work outside of Spain. The museum gives you such an intimate look at the artist; I left with an entirely new perspective of his work. I now appreciate the breadth of his work. It’s an excellent museum.

Along Beach Drive is the Dale Chihuly Collection, a spectacular collection of glass sculptures from this American master of glass. Outside, there’s a 20 foot glass sculpture created just for this site. If you enjoy blown glass, this will impress you.

The Museum of Fine Arts houses classic, contemporary, and international collections and is definitely worth a visit, too. It’s within walking distance to the Chihuly collection.

There’s so much to do and see in this area, it’s hard to begin to cover it all, but these are a few of my recommendations. If you’re going to visit Florida, now is the time to book a trip.

I didn’t even get a chance to talk about Tampa, so I will save that for another post. Tampa is a fantastic destination, too.

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