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St. Petersburg Clearwater, FL

St. Pete Area in 3 DaysThree days is barely enough time to get to know any major destination. But AAA travel editors suggest these activities to make the most of your time in the St. Petersburg-Clearwater area.

By Maria White

In addition to St. Petersburg and Clearwater, this destination comprises dozens of other inviting towns and beach communities. You’ll need an automobile to get to most of the points of interest highlighted in this itinerary.

Day 1: Morning Museum hopping in St. Petersburg is on today’s agenda. Grab a copy of the Downtown Looper trolley map from the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce at 100 Second Ave. N. and plan your stops. But do start with two of St. Pete’s finest cultural institutions: The Florida Holocaust Museum , which recounts the horrifying episode with quiet dignity, and The Dalí Museum , a chronological journey through the artist’s life and career.

The Downtown Looper also will take you to the Museum of Fine Arts and the St. Petersburg Museum of History . Hop off at your leisure and pay 50c each time you reboard.

Day 1: AfternoonLunchtime options abound at Fresco's Waterfront Bistro . Sip lemon drop martinis, munch some Yucutan spring rolls or garlic mussels and savor the harbor view.

After dining al fresco, consider a shopping spree along Beach Drive or at Sundial, a downtown entertainment village. Both are on The Looper route.

Day 1: EveningDine at Marchand's Bar & Grill in The Vinoy, Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club . This beautifully restored Mediterranean-style palace overlooking Tampa Bay evokes Florida’s golden resort era. Check out the historical photos and property timeline just off the lobby.

After dinner, head to Central Avenue for a martini or your favorite libation at one of several lively nightspots along St. Pete’s main thoroughfare. Your best bet is the casual cool atmosphere of A Taste for Wine’s balcony, though some prefer the scene and nightly music at The Ale and the Witch on Second Street Northeast. Some of the city’s most popular bars and restaurants are near Jannus Landing Courtyard, at Central and Second Street North, where raucous bands have raised the roof (figuratively speaking, of course) for decades.

Day 2: Morning The seashore beckons, and one of the best places to throw down a towel is bustling Clearwater Beach . Dip your toes in gently lapping waters, or churn up a few waves with a rented personal watercraft. Services ranging from umbrella rentals to parasail rides to sightseeing cruises abound along this 3-mile-long, family-friendly beach. Pier 60 makes an ideal retreat for shade and a snack, maybe even a little fishing.

There’s no shortage of pristine beaches to choose from on the Gulf Coast. At Madeira Beach you’ll find plenty of seaside diversions and John’s Pass Village & Boardwalk, a refurbished turn-of-the-20th-century fishing village with more than 100 shops and dozens of eateries and watering holes. With the iconic 1928 hotel, The Don CeSar (aka the Pink Palace) towering above its sands, St. Pete Beach appeals to nostalgics and romantics alike. Still, those craving only the sound of waves swooshing ashore and the occasional sand crab for company might prefer secluded Indian Rocks Beach or undeveloped Caladesi Island.

Day 2: AfternoonTake a leisurely stroll along the 1-mile path lined with crape myrtles, tropical plantings and towering pines through Florida Botanical Gardens , featuring 150 acres of lush native flora, and Heritage Village , a living-history complex with 28 preserved pioneer structures.

Day 2: Evening Return to Clearwater Beach for Sunsets at Pier 60, a lighthearted event with artisans and entertainment modeled on Mallory Square’s Sunset Celebration in the Keys. Beginning 2 hours before dusk and ending 2 hours after dusk, the daily festival features locals who set up shop along the dock as audacious street performers keep crowds ooohing and aaahing. When your stomach starts grumbling, it’s just a short walk north to Frenchy's Rockaway Grill and Palm Pavilion Beachside Grill & Bar , two opposing restaurants selling seafood by the seashore.

Day 3: MorningJump ship to Madeira Beach, where splendid maritime panoramas await. Located at souvenir shopping mecca John’s Pass Village & Boardwalk (12945 Village Blvd.), Friendly Fisherman Waterfront Seafood Restaurant surveys a rippling inlet plied by Jet Skis and jetboats. From your perch you might spot a few playful dolphins or a team of fishermen hauling the same species that’s on your plate. If you’re a bait-and-tackle pro, bring in your own catch and the cooks at the longtime eatery will take care of the rest.

Day 3: AfternoonWander through downtown Dunedin , and you’ll likely be tempted to purchase one of this beguiling community’s picture-perfect picket-fenced bungalows. A packed special events calendar, access to the 34-mile-long Pinellas Trail, and a selection of hip nighttime hangouts enhance Dunedin’s allure. If you’re too stuffed from your morning meal for an al fresco lunch at one of Main Street’s quirky cafés, while away the hours browsing the city’s antique stores and boutiques. Although souvenir mugs and T-shirts might get stored away soon after you return home, the extra special parting gifts you find in Dunedin are sure to offer lasting memories of your Sun Coast adventure.

Day 3: EveningSkilled Mediterranean divers began emigrating to Tarpon Springs shortly after the turn of the 20th century to harvest natural sponges from the deep, and their descendants are still at it. Arrive early and stroll amid porous Porifera on the historic sponge docks; shop for seashells, sponges and souvenirs at Spongeorama and the Sponge Exchange; or cruise out to the “beds” in a glass-bottom boat.

The real attraction here is some of the most authentic Greek food you’ll ever savor. Taste tradition in every morsel of spanakopita, moussaka, dolmades and pastries-to-die-for at such restaurants as Hellas Bakery & Restaurant or Costa's Restaurant. Tarpon Springs offers a big fat Greek experience with a touch of old Florida kitsch.

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St. Petersburg Clearwater, FL

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