Please note: The Pier St Petersburg closed on May 31, 2013. It will be demolished to make way for a new structure with a target opening date of 2015. They are obviously behind schedule!
My first visit to The Pier St Petersburg, Florida was on a bright, steamy July summer day to celebrate a birthday.
We had never been here before so while we knew the basics of it; dining, shops, attractions etc, we didn’t know fully what to expect other than a new experience.
And, it was pleasant despite the steamy day along downtown St. Pete’s sparkling bay front from where “The Pier” stretches out into Tampa Bay.
It is, of course, right on the water, so the breeze blowing in off Tampa Bay took a little bit of the edge off a 90 plus degree day. But it was warm with a humid breeze that felt good to me.
And as I looked across Tampa Bay off in the distance I could see downtown Tampa through the haze across the bay, caused by the high level of humidity.
After we parked in the on-site lot we walked out onto the sidewalk and all the way to the actual building that is The Pier - St Petersburg. It’s not a far walk, maybe a quarter mile. You can also wait for a free trolley ride to the entrance of The Pier.
From the front of The Pier you have a couple of choices; you can walk around the structure and watch people fishing from all sides of the pier. You can also take advantage of a dolphin sight-seeing excursion that leaves from the front of the pier (west side) or you can just amble in to the first floor of The Pier St Petersburg and peruse about a dozen specialty shops.
On the second floor, reached via elevator, you can take a stroll through the Pier Aquarium and Gift Shop. Entry to the Aquarium is just $5 (adults) when we visited, but, we decided to opt for lunch.
We were a bit hungry, being that it was well into the normal lunch hour, and The Pier restaurants total 7, so we thought we would start making our way toward one of the dining establishments on site.
Now, this wasn’t going to be tough to select a restaurant because we saw that The Columbia Restaurant was here at The Pier St Petersburg on the 4th floor, which I thought would provide us a great view of Tampa Bay while we lunched. And that was true. The view was priceless.
From our 4th floor window table in the dining room we could see out over Tampa Bay including the nearby marina, from where we watched numerous sailboats head out to the open waters of the bay.
And we were also able to watch small private planes land and take off, some with their advertising banners behind them headed out to nearby gulf beaches, at the small Albert Whitted Airport, diagonally from our window and across the South Yacht Basin.
We decided to have ourselves a “progressive” lunch; having our first course at The Columbia Restaurant: their legendary “1905 Salad” (by far the best salad I have ever had), which can be a meal in itself and then our main course at another restaurant on The Pier St Petersburg.
This worked out to be a good idea as there are a number of Pier Restaurants including a couple with outside access, including Cha Cha Coconuts on the top floor observation deck and Captain Al’s Waterfront Grill & Bar on the first floor.
We had also heard of a place called Fresco’s Waterfront Bistro that was not directly in The Pier St Petersburg, but right at the entrance intersection to The Pier at 2nd Ave NE and Bayshore.
So, once we wrapped up our first course and a little souvenir shopping we were going to hop the free trolley ride at the front of The Pier that would take us back to “Fresco’s.”
But somehow (to our good fortune) we found ourselves on a trolley ride that was going to take us on a free tour of downtown St. Petersburg!
How lucky could we get! What a nice surprise. I still don’t know how that happened.
But we enjoyed the 30 minute air conditioned trolley ride and tour of the greater historic points of downtown St. Pete (the Sunshine City).
And yes we learned that it is named after the city in Russia!
We saw, and were informed about, many historic points of interest including the Dali Museum. It was a great little tour and totally unexpected.
After the trolley dropped us off in a nearby parking lot (Dolphin lot) we walked back to the nearby corner of 2nd Ave NE & Bayshore, crossed the street and found ourselves in front of Fresco’s Waterfront Bistro which sits on the corner of the St Petersburg Municipal Marina in the Central Yacht Basin.
Finally, it was time to eat again. And what a spectacular location and view this was going to be!
We walked up to the outdoor greeting station and asked for an outdoor table (this was “Fresco’s,” after all!) and we were immediately shown to a table (try that little trick during the height of season when waits can be 30 minutes or more!) with a great view of the sailboats and yachts anchored in the marina in front of or eyes.
While it continued to be a hot, steamy Florida day, there were several well placed fans on the outdoor deck and a few water spritzers and fans from over head that all helped to keep the outside deck and bar climate quite reasonable and breezy.
We ordered some iced teas and read the menu, finding, surprisingly, that Fresco’s featured, among other items, on the weekend, an all day brunch where you could enjoy features like Eggs Benedict at any time of day. The menu also featured pasta dishes as well as burgers and wraps, a lite menu and a dinner menu.
My choice for late lunch, to follow the 1905 Salad we had earlier at The Columbia, was Shrimp Al la Vodka Pasta ($14.50) and my girlfriend, Cindy, chose to have a cucumber salad ($1.50). Cindy had filled up at The Colombia on the 1905 Salad, bean soup and Cuban bread, so she wasn’t as hungry as I and didn’t want a full meal. Since we were celebrating her birthday it was up to her as to what she wanted to do! But she did have a slice of raspberry cheesecake ($6) for desert that she enjoyed and said was “very good.”
The description of the Shrimp Al la Vodka Pasta on the menu was right on. When the steaming plate was served it was every bit of the deliciousness I had expected: nice creamy vodka sauce, large shrimp, bacon, peppers, and tortellini; It was mmmmm! Delicious. Something I would go back for again.
Fresco's has other tantalizing reading on their lunch menu from New Orleans Trio Pasta ($15) to a Blackened Steak Sandwich ($13), the classic Muffaletta sandwich ($13), a New York Strip N Eggs ($14.50) and Pork Porterhouse Marsala ($13.50) to Dinner menu features like: Atlantic Salmon ($17.25) and Stuffed Pork Chop Caprese ($24), Lobster Fra Diavlo ($21) and Beef Tenderloin Au Poivre ($22). There’s a lot here to choose from.
And did I mention the location and view? Simply fantastic.
Fresco’s is open 7 days a week: Monday: 4 – 10 p.m., Tuesday – Thursday: 11:30 a.m. – 10 p.m. Friday – Saturday, 11:00 a.m. – 12 a.m., Sunday 11 a.m. – 10 pm.
The Columbia Restaurant is open 365 days a year including holidays, serving lunch and dinner daily.
All in all our time at The Pier St Petersburg made for a wonderful day on the downtown bay front. You can really make a day (or two or three) of it here if you want. There’s a lot more to see, do and experience throughout the sparkling and clean waterfront downtown area.
From our new experience of enjoying The Pier St Petersburg, to the great sites and views, the free trolley ride tour of downtown, dining at both The Columbia Restaurant and at Fresco’s Waterfront Bistro along with perfect Florida weather, you couldn’t ask for more. It would make a wonderful day trip for you to enjoy.
In case you want more; you can fish from locations all around The Pier. And there’s a bait shop that’s open daily from 8 a.m. - 8 p.m. You may also take a Dolphin Sightseeing Cruise, rent and captain your own electric boat from the Electric Marina Boat Rental and you can rent unique bikes and strollers there at Wheel Fun Rentals.
The Pier St Petersburg is open 365 days a year at 10 a.m. Monday – Saturday and at 11 a.m. on Sunday. Attractions and restaurant hours may vary.
Directions from Sarasota: Take I-75 North to I-275 across the Sunshine Skyway Bridge toward Tampa. From I-275 take exit 23 (I-375 - The Pier) to Beach Drive. Turn south to 2nd avenue. Driving time is about an hour or less from the Sarasota/Venice region. Several parking lots are available ($3). There’s free trolley service from The Pier parking lots to the entrance of and back again. Valet parking is available too.