July 2014: For a visit to St. Petersburg’s bustling downtown waterfront, you can’t beat the location of the Beach Drive Inn Bed & Breakfast, which faces Tampa Bay across from the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club.
The inn, on the north end of Beach Drive, is only a few blocks from the Museum of Fine Arts, the colorful blown-glass sculptures at the Chihuly Collection and the many restaurants and shops lining the waterfront. A few blocks farther south is the famed Dali Museum.
The Beach Drive Inn was built around 1910, more or less. A courthouse fire in 1914 destroyed the records, so no one knows for sure. The inn’s connection to the luxurious, pink Vinoy, which dominates the waterfront, is more than geographic. In 1924, during a party at the inn, a real estate promoter hatched the plan for the hotel and it was named after the owner, Aymer Vinoy Laughner.
The present-day owners, Roland and Heather Martino, purchased the inn, formerly known as the Vinoy House, in 2006. After restoring the hardwood floors and otherwise reviving the historic home’s past elegance, they held a grand reopening in 2007.
When I arrived for an overnight stay, Roland greeted me by name outside and announced he had upgraded me – for free, of course – to one of his two suites. Talk about a good first impression!
He escorted me to the Key West Suite, which features a canopied king-sized bed and, in the sitting room, a love seat, chest of drawers, dressing table, sink and small refrigerator. From a cute little table with two chairs, I looked out on the front lawn and the bell tower atop the Vinoy. I had two TVs – one in the sitting room and a tiny one in the bedroom.
Having room to spread out was a pleasant surprise. The only downside of the suite? The bathroom, which was barely big enough to turn around in. A sloping roof made it even more claustrophobic.
If you prefer a larger bathroom, choose the Montego Room, the Sunshine Room or the Vinoy House Suite. The Vinoy House Suite has a sofa bed in the sitting room, convenient for those who prefer to sleep apart or traveling with a third person. Photos of the four rooms and two suites, and the rest of the house, are available on the inn’s website.
After arising the next morning and taking advantage of the Keurig coffee machine in my suite, I descended to the first floor to find fresh coffee brewed and innkeeper Jana Sanderlin working on breakfast. She soon produced an assortment of fresh fruit and her own unique take on eggs Benedict.
In addition to feeding her guests, the personable Jana provided information about the St. Petersburg Trolley, which takes visitors to the city’s many attractions for only 50 cents. I’ve been visiting St. Pete all my life, but the trolley was news to me.
It has been exciting to watch the waterfront come alive in recent years, with the construction of new Dali and Chihuly museums, residential high-rises and more. Almost every time I visit, I discover something new.
I had seen the incredible artistry at the Chihuly museum on a previous visit, so this time I ventured a mile out of downtown to the Glass Studio & Hot Shop, also operated by the Morean Arts Center. There I witnessed up close how Dale Chihuly’s blown-glass sculptures are created.
I also visited the Dali Museum for the first time since the new building opened in January 2011, replacing a smaller museum, also on the waterfront.
The new Dali is worth a visit if only to check out the unusual architecture, including the free-form glass bubble – 75 feet high at its tallest point – and, inside the museum, an amazing helical staircase. But, of course, the main attraction is the artwork of Salvador Dali. Docents conduct free tours to help visitors understand his unusual paintings.
With appealing B&Bs like the Beach Drive Inn and many fascinating things to see and do in the downtown area alone, St. Petersburg is a city worth visiting again and again. Take the time to get to know Florida’s “Sunshine City.”
(Note: I accepted no money or other compensation in exchange for writing this review.)