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Are you trying to decide between St Petersburg vs Tampa for vacation? Tampa Bay, or as some call it these days, Champa Bay, has so many interesting cities and things to do.
Starting Your Vacation Planning for St Petersburg vs Tampa
When it comes to vacation planning, it all depends on your interests and what you enjoy! St Petersburg and Tampa both have excellent hotels, restaurants, and fun things to do!
Here is my breakdown of the two sister cities, and what you must consider before you plan your stay in either St Petersburg or Tampa.
🌴 Read Next: The Best Hotels in Downtown St Petersburg, FL
Tampa & St Petersburg Map
As a local resident, I can admit it took me a few months to get comfortable finding my way around Tampa Bay. There are so many charming cities like Dunedin, Gulfport, and Safety Harbor that you wouldn’t even know they were nearby!
I’ve marked Tampa and St. Petersburg on the map to make things easier. The distance from Tampa to St Petersburg is 23 miles. The fastest way to between them is on I-275 or Gandy Blvd. The Tampa Airport (TPA) is just about a 30-minute drive from St Petersburg.
Tampa vs St Petersburg Debate: Things to Do in St Petersburg & Clearwater
Most of these beauties are on the water or nearby and have unique downtown areas to see. The distance from St Petersburg to Tampa is approximately 30 minutes without traffic. During peak travel times, you’ll want to plan to travel for 45 minutes or longer!
Downtown St Petersburg is my favorite city in Pinellas County (although there are several runner-ups!). Did you know it is known for having the most consecutive days of sunshine? Yep, a total of 768 days in a row which is why it was nicknamed the “Sunshine City.”
The sheer natural beauty of Beach Drive, St Pete Pier, and the many parks along North Shore Drive make it truly one of a kind. Downtown St. Petersburg also has plenty of museums, restaurants, and nightlife to make a long weekend a lot of fun.
St Petersburg is a short drive to St. Pete Beach or Pass-a-Grille Beach. There is an airport in St Petersburg / Clearwater (PIE) but it has smaller carriers such as Allegiant Air. St Pete is definitely putting up tough competition in the St Petersburg vs Tampa debate.
Here are a few of my favorite sights, or best places to see in St. Petersburg or Pinellas County:
St Pete Pier
Located in the heart of downtown which makes the St Pete Pier perfect for a stroll, and one of my favorite things to do before or after a meal out. There is a marketplace, discovery center, museum, fishing area, children’s playground and water pad, and plenty of restaurants along the way.
You can see this sight in less than an hour, or you can spend most of the day depending on your interest level. It is FREE to visit, and very easy to access these days since it has its own metered parking area.
St Pete Boat Tours
When in St Petersburg, one of the most enjoyable and fun ways to spend time is on the water. Take a boat tour to see the sights!
You will see dolphins, manatees, and other wildlife while seeing gorgeous isolated islands perfect for snorkeling and other outdoor adventures.
🛳 Read Next: 9 Highest Rated Tours in St Petersburg, FL in 2022
Fort DeSoto Park
Located heading out to Tierra Verde, which is about a 10-15 minute drive from downtown St. Petersburg. There is so much to do at this amazing park. You can spend a half day there or a full weekend. I would plan for at least 4 hours at the minimum and go when it’s a good beach weather day.
Fort DeSoto is a large state park with over 1,100 acres, on the water of several keys connected by bridges or causeways. These groups of islands were used for military fortifications from the 1800s until the 1920s, and still have cannons and other museum exhibitions to see.
Additionally, there are two piers, long stretches of beautiful beaches, picnic areas, hiking trails, paved bicycling trails, boat ramps, kayak trails, and ferry rides to Egmont and Shell Key. There is something for everyone that enjoys nature at this location.
Fort DeSoto has some amazing sunset views. One of my favorite spots is on North Beach near the pier (located closest to the Fort).
Egmont Key is one of my favorite things to do during peak weather, but keep in mind you have to follow the ferry schedule and I would allow all day to explore. If you are a boater, you do not have to go through Fort DeSoto Park to access Egmont or Shell Key.
It is FREE to visit on your boat. Otherwise, you will need a ferry ride there.
Breathtaking World Class Beaches
If you are looking for beaches, you have found the mecca! Both Clearwater Beach and St Pete Beach have been ranked over the years as the #1 in the US by TripAdvisor.
Pass-a-Grille Beach is one of my personal favorites and hidden gems in the St Pete Beach area. St. Pete Beach and Clearwater Beach are both much larger with more dining and shopping nearby.
Clearwater Beach has some of the prettiest sections of sugar sand, but I would come during the week or off-peak hours to avoid the crowds. Pass-a-Grille and St. Pete Beach also have several playgrounds for children, and one of them is in the neighborhood closest to the Don CeSar Hotel.
See the Best St Petersburg Museums
If you love art museums, The Dali Museum is definitely worth a visit. It has not only Salvador Dali’s work, but they often have special exhibitions.
Open from 10 am-6 pm, but see their website for full details.
If your scheduling allows for it, see a show at the Mahaffey Theater on the property; shows usually start at 8 pm. St Petersburg has some of the best museums in Tampa Bay. The James Museum of Western Art, and there are plenty more you must check out.
Gulfport is an artsy, quaint town within a short drive from downtown St. Petersburg. Located on the water, it’s a fun place to check out the Tuesday market, eat at one of the local restaurants, and enjoy the view of the sailboats. It has one of my favorite covered kids playgrounds at Gulfport Beach Park with picnic tables, outdoor fitness equipment, beach volleyball, and so much more!
Dunedin is a fun little town with some of the small best breweries and charming eateries in Tampa Bay. I frequently visit Dunedin for its culinary delights as well as its gorgeous views of the St. Joseph Sound.
And yet another perk of Dunedin is that it’s super close to Honeymoon Island State Park. You’ll see some of the most beautiful white-sand beaches and pristine clear water here. You can also continue your adventure to Caladesi Island by ferry.
You’ll have plenty to do between the city of Dunedin and the state parks to make this a great weekend getaway.
Safety Harbor is a laid-back, artsy town in Tampa Bay where golf carts are as common as cars. It is perhaps most famous for the “Espirtu Santo Springs” or Waters of the Holy Spirit. The mineral waters were said to have healing powers, which brought thousands each year to Safety Harbor. Take a stroll along the picturesque historic Main Street with unique art galleries and shops.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium is a non-profit in Clearwater Beach. It is dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of suffering marine animals, especially bottlenose dolphins. They provide public education, including Dolphin boat tours and conservation efforts. It is a fun visit to see sea creatures, and especially enjoyable for children.
Madeira Beach & John’s Pass Village
Although John’s Pass is considered touristy, this little beach stop strip is fun to check out in Madeira Beach. You can easily rent a jet ski or boat, and then end your day shopping, eating, or enjoying some live music at one of their bars.
If you spend a little time in Madeira Beach, you’ll find a rich history and fun pirate tales. And you can even play mini golf with alligators and pirates at Smugglers Cove Adventure Golf!
Tampa vs St Petersburg: Best Things to Do in Tampa
Tampa is located in Hillsborough County, FL. Some of the cities in this county include Apollo Beach, Lutz, Brandon, and Lithia. Tampa is a much larger city than St. Petersburg, most visitors come to see Tampa instead of the surrounding towns of Hillsborough county.
The Tampa International Airport (TPA) is at the outer edge of the city, and it makes it very convenient for flying almost anywhere.
Important to note, that this is also the airport that most use to fly into St. Petersburg which is about a twenty-minute drive or slightly more depending on where you are at. Tampa is no slouch in the St Petersburg vs Tampa friendly competition.
Here are some of my favorite sights, or best places to visit in Tampa or Hillsborough County:
I know this isn’t a real “destination,” but it is a fun drive or bike-able area in Downtown Tampa. It has some of the most beautiful homes along the water, and if you continue further, you can take it to the prestigious homes of Davis Islands. Yes, the same place where local celebrities such as Tom Brady and Derek Jeter have lived.
As I mentioned, celebrities over the years have been known to live in Davis Islands. It has a small airport, beach, and a quaint downtown on the island. You’ll also see some restaurants and bars, playgrounds, baseball fields, and more. Watch out for golf carts, which are a favorite mode of transport by many locals!
Read Next: 15 Best Things To Do in Indian Rocks Beach
Hyde Park Village
Also located not too far off Bayshore Boulevard is a unique shopping plaza with plenty of outdoor dining restaurants, health/wellness, and many other shops. One of my favorite taco places, Bartaco is located in Hyde Park Village.
No other place besides Key West, FL have I seen chickens roaming the city streets other than Ybor City. This colorful and unique city is known for its old cigar factories from another era. Check out the boutiques and vintage shops on 7th Avenue, which also hosts several Cuban and Latin American eateries.
My favorite restaurant in Ybor City is the Columbia Restaurant. It is a local Florida chain, but this is the original location, open for over 115 years. I enjoy their 1905 salad every time I’m there. Other things to check out while there: Ybor City State Museum there is a museum that covers the history of the cigar factories and the community. Also, this is a well-known area that attracts a diverse crowd to its bars and clubs.
Amalie Arena, famed as the home turf of the Tampa Bay Lightning, also stands as a prime venue for top-tier concert headliners. Its proximity to the vibrant Channelside District adds to its allure, making it a walkable favorite among locales.
Whether you’re in the mood for a thrilling hockey match or an electrifying live concert, this is the place to be! An insider tip: hidden behind the arena is the Columbia Cafe, an extension of the renowned Columbia Restaurant. It’s conveniently located next to the Tampa Bay History Center, offering a delectable dining alternative to the usual stadium fare.
Additionally, the picturesque Hillsborough River meanders through the vicinity. Opposite the arena, there’s a delightful playground for children to enjoy.
Tampa Riverwalk to Armature Works
This is a long 3-mile walk on the Tampa Riverwalk to Amature Works along the Hillsborough River, which is worth doing at least once. Just don’t try it with heels on like I did! This paved walking path connects as well to the Channelside District. Both are known for their restaurants and are located in the heart of downtown Tampa. You can certainly walk or drive to both locations, but it’s also a lot of fun by water taxi or bring your own boat.
Pro Tip: My favorite time to stroll the Tampa Riverwalk is enjoyed during the holiday season when you pass by the ice skating rink and other holiday activities in Curtis Hixon Park.
For those of you that love to shop, International Plaza would be a worthy stop. They also have one of the best outdoor dining strips attached to the mall. It is also located within a few minutes from Tampa International Airport and the Raymond James Stadium (Tampa Bay Bucs).
If you’re looking for a theme park experience in Tampa, Busch Gardens has it covered with fast rollercoaster rides, kids’ rides, a zoo, and a beautiful botanical garden.
ZooTampa at Lowry Park
If you are looking for an amazing animal experience, especially with younger kids and toddlers, you must check out ZooTampa at Lowry Park. In addition to being one of the best zoos in the US, they have multiple rides, a splash pad, a petting zoo, plus more!
Sparkman Wharf is a lively hub for outdoor dining, restaurants, shops, and more fun in Garrison Channel in downtown Tampa. This trendy spot is ideal for a lazy day outdoors with friends and family.
Sparkman Wharf sits on the water with the American Victory Ship & Museum directly behind it.
🌴 Pro Tip: See the Florida Aquarium and afterward grab lunch at the Sparkman Wharf since they are in close proximity.
Final Thoughts on St Petersburg vs Tampa
As you can see, there’s a lot to do in both cities in the Sunshine State! Did I help you decide between St Petersburg vs Tampa? St. Pete has more outdoor activities with beaches and parks. Tampa has a bigger city feel with more urban attractions within a short walk or drive.
I love them both and visit each for what I am looking to do. Keep in mind, that the distance from St Petersburg to Tampa is less than a 30-minute drive. So you could even see parts of both cities! Please feel free to comment or ask questions below.
Looking for More Things to Do with Kids or Toddlers in the Tampa Bay Area?
Check out my article on some of the best kids’ things to do in Tampa Bay. I have included some amazing free things to do too!
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I stay in Tampa Clearwater or St. Petersburg?
The answer truly depends on what your plans are while in the Tampa Bay area. If you want to be near the beach, Clearwater would be the ideal option. For arts, museums, and a gorgeous laid-back waterfront downtown visit St Petersburg. Or if you looking for party vibes, professional sports teams, zoos or theme parks, you’ll want to stay in downtown Tampa.
Is Tampa considered a big city?
Tampa is ranked in the top 50 largest cities in the United States. It’s one of the most prominent business hubs in the state of Florida.