The Dalí Museum requires visitors to purchase tickets in advance (with slotted times for arrivals) and wear face masks, and is operating at reduced capacity. Check all museums’ websites for updates and Florida's Department of Health for current COVID-19 guidelines before visiting. Also note current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for travelers.
Few U.S. towns blend such a walkable downtown area — full of bayfront parks and cute outdoor cafés — with the high-quality museum offerings of St. Petersburg, a Gulf Coast city locals simply call St. Pete (and you should, too). It counts roughly 10 museums among its ranks, with several of them clustered within walking distance of one another around the downtown waterfront, on Bayshore Drive and off Central Avenue, St. Pete's main retail and restaurant drag.
The city's star cultural attraction is the Salvador Dalí Museum, whose collection of 2,400 Dalí works comprise the largest Dalí collection outside of the surrealist painter's native Spain. It includes many of the artist's writings, watercolors, drawings and painting masterpieces, more than 80 of which the museum displays at any given time. All are housed inside an extraordinary building that mixes hurricane-proof concrete with the Enigma, an eye-catching, freeform geodesic glass dome.
Explore the three-story museum, about a 10-minute stroll south along Bayshore Drive from downtown, from the top down. You can take the elevator up, but if you're physically able, climb the striking helical staircase instead. Making the climb will put you in a Dalí mindset, as the staircase pays homage to the master's obsession with the DNA molecule's double helical shape.
The top floor is where you'll find its two galleries. The James Family Wing is home to Dalí's creations, including eight of his masterworks. More than 5 feet long, The Hallucinogenic Toreador, created in 1969–70, mixes multiple images of Venus de Milo's body and a toreador's face. Examine the painting closely and you'll see how Dalí masterfully used shadows to form features such as the toreador's lips and chin, and Venus’ body to form his cheek. More details reveal themselves the longer you study the work.
Another must-see: The Weaning of Furniture-Nutrition (1934), a surreal meditation on the word “weaning” that depicts an aging version of Dalí's childhood nurse, Lucia, who weaned the artist from his mother. Lucia sits in the evocative coastal landscape that was the backdrop for Dalí's childhood, with a boat on the beach looking so real it almost appears 3D. Peer closer at Lucia's body and you'll see a nightstand from Dalí's childhood room, said to refer to his weaning from the attachments of his youth.
This second gallery features special exhibitions that often showcase heralded names such as da Vinci, Kahlo, Magritte, Picasso and Warhol. An immersive experience on view through June 13, “Van Gogh Alive” consists of several rooms with floor-to-ceiling screens on which the story of the Dutch impressionist's tumultuous life plays out through his artwork, all set to a soundtrack of both classical and contemporary music.
And beginning May 1, the 130 images in “The Woman Who Broke Boundaries: Photographer Lee Miller” will put the spotlight on the groundbreaking female photographer who captured history-making moments, including the liberation of Paris and Germany during World War II.
On the ground floor, be sure to take in a short film about Dalí, the surrealism movement and the museum's design in its theater. You'll also find Café Gala, a casual spot where natural light streams in from every direction. Fittingly, it serves light Spanish bites, such as gazpacho and Serrano ham sandwiches. The museum's marketing director, Beth Bell, recommends ordering an insider favorite: the bee stinger, an off-menu drink made with espresso, a touch of honey and cinnamon.
Plan Your Trip
Location: 1 Dalí Blvd.
Getting there: Fly into the St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport or Tampa's, just 23 miles northeast. If you drive to the museum (it's an easy walk from downtown), park in the surface parking lot onsite ($10 for the day) just steps from the entrance. You can also hop on the St. Petersburg Downtown Looper, a free trolley that serves the downtown area and stops at the museum.
Visit: Daily (closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and one weekend during the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg race, one of the city's major events — this year April 22–25)
Admission: $25 ($23 for adults 65+)
Best time to visit: weekday mornings, when it's less crowded
Best season to visit: December, when Florida's sweltering summer heat has dissipated and twinkling holiday lights downtown festoon banyan and palm trees, the St. Pete Pier and parks — and the museum decks its halls for the season
Accessibility: The parking lot has accessible parking. Inside, an elevator will take you up to the galleries if you don't want to climb the staircase. Wheelchairs are available at no charge (first come, first served).
Other Local Highlights
The James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art (150 Central Ave.). An easy 12-minute walk north of the Dalí, this relatively new museum offers a treasure trove of art that includes sculpture, paintings and jewelry. It opened in 2018 in a building that conjures the American West's natural canyons, with a dramatic design featuring angled sandstone on both its exterior and interior. The hundreds of paintings and sculptures displayed come from the personal collection of the museum's cofounders, Tom and Mary James, philanthropic billionaires and locals with close ties to the Raymond James financial services firm.
"This is not a history museum or all about cowboys,” says John Collins, founder of the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance, a nonprofit advocate for the city's creative community. “It's a glimpse into an amazing private collection of the finest in Western arts from living artists — the finest art a billionaire was able to buy for his private collection.”
The Museum of Fine Arts (255 Beach Drive NE). About a seven-minute walk from the James Museum back to the waterfront, this museum displays art from around the world that spans 5,000 years of history, encompassing the antiquities to modern times. You'll see masterpieces by the likes of Monet, O'Keefe and Rodin. “The museum traces the history of art like a museum of fine arts should do, but with a little bit of an edge,” say Collins, noting that music accompanies many exhibits.
St. Pete Pier. For decades, St. Pete's old pier — which resembled a UFO hovering over Tampa Bay — was a somewhat beloved if wildly outdated eyesore filled with kitsch attractions. A new quarter-mile-long pier, unveiled in 2020, is worlds apart and has quickly become the city's main point of waterfront pride. Part park, it sprawls across 26 acres and delivers entertainment aplenty, with a tiki bar, pirate-themed playground for kids, small bayside beach and outdoor amphitheater with sweeping city views. Bending Arc, an aerial art installation wrought from 180 miles of twine, commands attention, as well.
Chihuly Collection. A walk down Central Avenue from St. Pete's waterfront to the Grand Central District leads you past cafés, street murals (St. Pete has hundreds), countless art galleries and two important spots for glass art. The Chihuly Collection features glassworks by the renowned Washington State-born artist Dale Chihuly, plus you can watch regularly scheduled glassblowing demonstrations.
Imagine Museum. This fine arts and studio art glass museum traces the development of this art form from the 1940s to today. Marvel at more than 500 works, some lit so dramatically that you'll feel like you're walking inside a magical, faceted forest of glass colors and mirrors.
Where to Stay
Beachside: For a prime Gulf-front location and a beachside swimming pool, splurge at the 277-room Don CeSar, a longtime local favorite dating back to the Great Gatsby era of the 1920s. The property just completed a top-to-bottom renovation in January.
Near the beach: For lots of room and a full kitchen, settle into a one- or two-bedroom condo at Legacy Vacation Resorts Indian Shores. The low-key, 40-unit property sits north of St. Pete Beach on the Intracoastal Waterway, across from the just-as-powdery (and quieter) sands of Indian Shores Beach.
Downtown: The 361-room Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club brims with old-school glamour and has pools and restaurants overlooking the bay.
Close proximity to the Dalí also makes the 333-room Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront an appealing option. You're just a seven-minute walk away.
Where to Dine
Casual: Bodega, on Central Avenue, a shoebox-sized spot with a few outdoor tables, serves up some of Florida's best Cuban sandwiches, along with fresh-squeezed juices and smoothies.
Splurge: The homemade pastas, focaccia and sausages earn raves at Il Ritorno, St. Pete's hottest Italian ticket. Nosh in its cozy exposed-brick dining room or at one of its outdoor tables. Reservations recommended.