After a tough day of exploring the mangroves of Weedon Island (actually a peninsula) for crabs and birds to photograph, I needed somewhere to eat. Noble Crust looked as good a place as any. Their tagline is: Seasonal Italian Southern Soul. I asked what this meant and was told that they make Italian-style meals sometimes using ingredients from the southern USA. It is seasonal because they use local, fresh ingredients that are in season, and therefore have to mix up the menu every few months. That sounded good enough to me.
I love mushrooms, so I settled on ordering the mushroom pizza to share. It was amazing. Each slice actually got better as I ate it. The pizza was made with a thin crust cooked just short of burnt (the way I like my toast) and covered with mozzarella, parsley, and giant chunks of soft, juicy mushrooms. The only thing that could have made it better was red pepper flakes (which they provided).
Afterwards, I ordered something I don’t remember the name of because my eyes stopped on the word Nutella and wouldn’t move after that. What I got was sweet hazelnut madness. It had ice cream, cookies, hazelnuts, and was covered with Nutella.
8300 Fourth Street N, Saint Petersburg, Florida
It’s hard to know where to begin on this one. There are trails and boardwalks. In some places, the boardwalks stretch quite a distance in nearly straight lines while all around is green. It is only from the observation tower that I was able to see Saint Petersburg, Tampa, and all the way across the bay to the Big Bend power station just peeking above the treetops. The boardwalks lead to several observation platforms that jut out over lagoons where birds feed. Some are completely enclosed by mangroves. Others are open to Tampa Bay only by narrow straights. There is only one extreme corner of one platform in the park the picture below could have been taken from. If the photograph had better resolution, you would be able to see all the way to Apollo Beach.
Haslam’s Book Store on Central Avenue in Saint Petersburg is big. How big? Big enough to contain more than 300,000 books. Books cover nearly every inside surface from top to bottom, and for those of us that love books, being in Haslam’s is like being a kid in a candy store (or like anybody in a candy store, really). Often coming in brightly-colored covers just like candy, every book contains an entire world of fun that can last many weeks or longer (and yet has zero calories).
Haslam’s is so big that they actually have a store map. One could otherwise be lost for years between the seemingly endless shelves. It would not surprise me if there were still customers in the back that haven’t seen the sun since opening day. There might be generations of descendants of the original book browsers deep in the bowels of the place (hmmm…that sounds like an idea for a book).
Haslam’s was started in 1933 by John and Mary Haslam and is now in its third generation of the family and at its fourth location. The owners have been active in the community, conducting field trips, book fairs, and once even had a show on PBS.
One can find practically any subject covered in Haslam’s. There is an entire room devoted to history. There is a room for psychology and self-help. There are sections for computer science and for physics. There are lots of art books. There are new books and old books, including rare books perhaps not found anywhere else you are ever likely to be. There are long-forgotten science fiction and fantasy titles from the forties, fifties, and sixties. Each book opens up a new world, and Haslam’s is a world of books. Haslam’s is a hidden treasure itself filled with many smaller hidden treasures.
2025 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg, Florida
Whether you just want to sit on the porch in the shade of the trees with a coffee while you write your next novel, meet your friends for pesto chicken wraps in the cozy indoor nook, or wander from room to room enjoying the sculptures, pottery, glasswork, woodwork, jewelry, and paintings of local artists, at The Craftsman House in Saint Petersburg, you can do all three in the same day. At least, this is what I would do if I went again. Everything is for sale, including the stone-like salt shakers and the glass spheres decorating the dining room window. Where else can you find pasta salad (an amazing work of art itself), beer, wine, apple cider (cold, hot, or hard), roast beef sandwiches (haven’t tried them yet), and squash that looks like this?
I would probably eat a lot more squash if it were always that pretty. On second thought, I’d probably break my teeth that way. Never mind. I also do not recommend eating the flowers, the lobster, or the gnomes – unless of course you have metal jaws like those guys below.
There is an open pottery studio on site and sometimes concerts. Check the website for hours, menu, and special events.
2955 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg, Florida
Hops and Props is a cozy, friendly bar serving smoked food and carrying beers from several Florida breweries. There are propellers on the walls and lights shining through the bar counter. They have the best meatloaf ever. Heavily smoked, containing sweet peppers, and served with coleslaw and a tangy sauce it was just what I needed that day. The pineapple hard cider was good too. Hops and Props is a stone’s throw from the Saint Petersburg Museum of History and the Museum of Fine Art.
335 Second Avenue NE, Saint Petersburg, Florida
Written by Daniel Noe, WayOutLife.com
It may be an art museum, but it’s actually a history museum. There are paintings and sculptures from Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas – some over 500 years old. It is impossible to get through it all in only two hours. With its high ceilings, fancy wallpaper and mirrors, and incredibly diverse collection, the museum is a work of art itself.
Salvador Dali lived from 1904 to 1989 and is best known for his surreal paintings, many of which have ended up at the Dali Museum in Saint Petersburg. Longtime friends of Salvador and Gala Dali, Reynolds and Eleanor Morse donated their collection to the original museum in Ohio in 1971. It was moved to Florida in 1982. The current building opened in 2011.
Artists often bring a degree of symbolism to their work, though some deny it. Others are mysterious about the meanings or insist that one must find their own meaning. Sometimes the meaning is obvious. Sometimes it is hidden. Dali’s work is overflowing with symbolism and fortunately for us he made much of its meaning known through various writings, such as his 1942 autobiography The Secret Life of Salvador Dali. The wealth of information available is staggering; I’m still trying to process it.
Sometimes you just need some sugar, and the rest of the time, you also need sugar. Swah-rey is a dessert bar with real barstools that also serves wine, beer, tea, and delicious Kahwa coffee roasted right here in Tampa Bay. They have a variety of cakes, pies, cheesecakes, macrons, and what they call minis, which are bite-sized cupcakes often set atop a small glass of matching beverage. You can try a lemon mini perched over a shot of ice tea or a coffee mini perched over espresso. The pies also come in glasses, as if pie isn’t already the best thing invented no matter what it comes in. They have peanut butter chocolate cake, espresso cake, orange pie, and key lime cheesecake. They have carrot cake with coconut, pineapple, and pecans in it. What else could you ask for? Steak?
There is even a nook for your pooch and desserts called pup cakes. Pup cakes are made with peanut butter, eggs, bacon, carrots, oats, honey, and other ingredients that pups like.
2105 Central Avenue, Saint Petersburg, Florida
It showcases and sells art from all over Florida, but Florida Craft Art is headquartered right here in Tampa Bay – on Central Avenue in Saint Petersburg to be precise. This is quite possibly the most interesting gallery I have ever been in, which is really saying something considering how good some of the others are. The pieces are so unique, detailed, and brightly-colored. One can easily lose track of the time and spend two hours there, thinking you are in some emperor’s collection from all over the world.
The mission of the organization is to find great artists and introduce them to the community. All art must be three-dimensional (not paintings) and of very high quality. There are the textile abstracts of Leah Gillette, the furniture of David Calvin, the glass-copper pieces of Terry Andrews, and the clay sea life sculptures of William Kidd. It was difficult to find a piece I didn’t love.
I had to know who made it and what they called it, but could not find a label. The lady at the counter told me she and another employee had actually made it and they did not have a title for it, telling me to come up with one. After thinking it over a couple days, I have decided to call it The Ghost Planet 1966. If you think you know why, leave a comment below.
The organization provides studios and classes upstairs from its roomy retail gallery and exhibition gallery. It has existed in its current location since 1995 and in Saint Petersburg since 1986, when it was known as Florida Craftsmen.
501 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg, FL
This is a place that aims to restore to St. Pete the spirit of the green benches, from a time when people could sit along central avenue and rest or talk in between shopping and dining. They even have a few green benches there. The first thing I noticed about the place when I saw it was how open it was. They have huge windows that pull completely out of the way. To the side is an outdoor seating area and a grassy yard in back with some additional seating where they sometimes have movies or music. A couple guys played jumbo Jenga. The air that afternoon was Florida-December cool and just right to sit outdoors with a drink. Both literally and figuratively, the atmosphere was perfect.
The Green Bench Brewing Company produces over twenty beers and several ciders, incorporating flavors from marigold, cherry, vanilla, apples, peach, apricot, and more. They are always experimenting. Most are a bit on the dry side of my tastes, but I could tell they were good. Whole kegs can be borrowed for your event or you can remain on location and taste what they have on tap that season. The brewery does not serve solid food except for pretzels, so you will have to bring your own if you plan on staying a while. Once I have someone to go with me on a day with good weather I plan on going back.
1133 Baum Avenue North, Saint Petersburg, Florida
Just off the Skyway Bridge are two fishing piers and a park that I had been meaning to check out for a while. I finally visited just the other day. First, I stopped at the rest area on the southern side of the bridge. I walked along the water where there was a tiny forest of seaweed just a few feet out. Strange flashes of light beamed out from this mysterious landscape. They turned out to be small fish that were very nearly invisible until they turned at just the right angle to reflect the sun into my face.
Later, I drove along the strip of land that connects the southern pier to the mainland. There were a few vehicles parked in the grass and a few palms, but mostly it was empty, leaving plenty of space to sit and watch the clouds. Of course, being me, the clouds did not satisfy for long. I walked along the cracked concrete at the edge of the water, looking for life among the weathered, hole-riddled rocks on either side. The nearby pavement had large holes in it, too. There were numerous scurrying isopods that were incredibly camera-shy. Finally I managed to photograph one of them. I also saw a pretty snail. It was an incredibly hot day, but there was a strong breeze from the south that kept things tolerable. It was much better than the rest stop side.
Reaching the pier, I walked to the end and back. There were many people fishing and there were many birds fishing. They were of all ages, races, and sexes and mostly friendly. One guy from New York explained how easy it was to get into the hobby. Apparently one only needs a cheap pole from Walmart and some bait and they can have dinner in minutes. I’ve never really had the opportunity to go fishing before. Perhaps I’ll look into it. There is more than enough space for everybody if they don’t want to be too close, and there is also plenty of space if they do want to be close. This also means plenty of space for parking. There are also restrooms and a bait shop. The clerk told me that I’d be surprised how many people show up unprepared without bait, ice, poles, or snacks. As for myself, I forgot to bring water when I left the house and so I bought a coke. God bless capitalism!
Driving to the north end of the bridge, I explored both sides. On the southwestern edge there are numerous shady spots to park and sit by the water. Unfortunately, the ground is rather bumpy here and there are deep puddles. On the northeastern edge there is a large sandy beach. Further down is a walkway leading along the bridge to the city. While I’ve never seen a path that I haven’t wanted to take to see what’s on it, I’ve also never seen a path that I haven’t wanted to leave to see what isn’t on it, so I took a minor detour under the bridge to cross over to the southwestern edge again. The wind on that side was incredibly refreshing as I sat in the shade of the bridge, getting out of the sun for a while. I never did make it to the northern fishing pier. By this time I was tired and thirsty and wanted to head home.
Instead, I made a spontaneous adventure decision (S.A.D.). I stopped at a gas station for water and snacks and returned to the southern park to place my chair on the grass and watch the sunset. I sat and waited and read a little and doodled in the sand with my toes. There was something burning on the horizon sending up a plume of smoke that wrapped around the bay. I thought when the sun went through this that I might get some interesting pictures. Instead, the best pictures were behind me. First there was a rainbow as a cloud went overhead lightly sprinkling on me. Then at sunset there was a cloud whose very top was still in sunlight, reminding me of a stack of pancakes with butter on top. Just before I left, a thunderstorm started in the north, creating a light show better than any fireworks display. This is Tampa Bay.
Not only does the Cider Press Café not use meat, eggs, or dairy, but they don’t even cook! Everything they make themselves is raw and vegan, which might sound like they would only have salads, but they have much more. I ordered the BLT made with eggplant “bacon” strips. They were good – just a bit sweet with a touch of what might have been olive oil. It’s hard to believe they aren’t cooked. One downside is that without cooking, there is no real bread. The shell you see above is made from mashed seeds and is very fragile. I had to eat it with a fork in order to not look like a toddler. Still, it is no messier than anything at Taco Bell. The guacamole was excellent.
The flavor combinations and the methods they use to make this stuff are fantastic. Besides sandwiches, soups, and salads, they have juices and smoothies they make themselves, and hard cider they ship in. The Winterruption is delicious! It contains vanilla, cinnamon, and maple syrup. They also sell kale chips, pickle chips, and broccoli bites made by Rhythm Superfoods, as well as chocolate and other snacks.
601 Central Avenue, Saint Petersburg, Florida
Sometimes in the middle of the afternoon on a hot day, what one really needs is just a popsicle. That’s all Hyppo has on their menu. The day I went, there were 50 flavors listed on the board (yes, I counted; I’m weird), including flavors such as datil pepper cheesecake, maple pecan, honey grapefruit, cucumber jalapeno, avocado cream, and granny’s apple pie. Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans has nothing on these guys! Everything there is made from fresh fruit. My popsicle even had bits of apple skin in it. It was very good – much better than any pie my grandmother made (don't tell her that). I thought of taking a picture of it to show you, but alas, I found it had already been eaten!
The walls complete the feeling of magic, the artwork depicting popsicle-houses, raining fruit, and whimsical animals. I was told it was the work of Melodious Monster, a local artist with work featured in Strands Of Sunshine just two doors down on Central Avenue.
As the lore tells it, the owner once pitched his idea for a coffee shop to the woman next to him while on a flight to St. Augustine, Florida. However, she convinced him what he needed was Mexican-style popsicles. After some experimentation, he had his own twist on the treat and the Hyppo was born. Now the company has eight locations, including on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg.
627 Central Avenue, Saint Petersburg, Florida
I went to Sunken Gardens in Saint Petersburg and had a blast. I walked down winding, interconnected stone paths between huge palms and trickling artificial brooks. I saw ferns, cycads, oaks, trumpet flowers, bamboo, bottle palms, orchids, bromeliads, and giant balls of elkhorn fern everywhere. There were many kinds of flowers, berries, and all kinds of strange, unidentifiable things. There was even a rainbow eucalyptus tree. They do a good job of packing a lot of plants into a small area. Some of the trees and palms are quite big and it is a constant struggle between looking at the flowers at ground level and seeing some of the normally hidden sights high above.
The garden began when George Turner bought the land in 1903 and promptly drained the small lake there to make room for it. To this day, some parts of the garden are fifteen feet below street level. He filled it with flowers and exotic fruits. People loved it. In the 1920s he began charging people to stroll through. In 1999 the city of Saint Petersburg bought the place.
They even keep a few animals there. I saw different turtles (including one giant snapper covered in algae), koi, flamingos, parrots, macaws, and kookaburras. The parrots are kept in cages. I tried to teach them some Star Wars quotes, but had no luck.
I could probably ramble on about each flower, leaf, bench, and trellis I saw for several more paragraphs, but it would be simpler if you just went yourself.
1825 4th Street North, Saint Petersburg, Florida
I decided to take a walk down Central Avenue in St. Petersburg the other day. I passed many restaurants, a hair stylist, a chocolate and coffee place, a cupcake and ice cream place, and an olive-oil and vinegar place – not quite all the major food groups, but close enough.
Long, long ago, Central Avenue used to be lined with green-colored benches so tourists and locals could sit in between shopping. Today, these benches have gone the way of the dinosaurs, but one of them can still be sighted inside the Green Bench Flowers shop near the intersection of Central and Fourth, somehow surviving the mass extinction of the others. Green Bench Flowers has a long, complex history intertwined with many of the people, places, and businesses of St. Petersburg. I found it all bewildering, but what I was able to remember is that it actually spun off from the Maas Brothers Department Store after it was merged with Burdines.
Today, the flower shop sells plush toys, picture frames, cards, flowers (surprise!), ceramic and glass fixtures, and even imitation vegetable arrangements. I began to imagine all the different ways these items could be combined to decorate for some event. Their tagline is “We send emotions.” I looked around on the shelves for these emotions, but I didn’t see any. They must be kept out back.
10 Fourth Street North, Saint Petersburg, Florida