Tuesday, 26 October 2010

St. Petersburg Bayside, Florida Running Route

Click here for route map
Length: 12.5 km (7.8 miles), terrain flat

Tampa Bay running routes:
St. Pete Bayside
Tampa Downtown
Pass-A-Grille Beach
For more running routes, see Route List.

Extra pictures courtesy of Google StreetView. Thanks!

The great thing about running in St. Pete is that it's a peninsula between Tampa Bay on the east, and the Gulf of Mexico on the west: you can run watching the sunrise over the bay in the morning, and later that evening you can watch the sun set over the Gulf. I lived in St. Pete for 3 years, and have run about everywhere there, back when I was an editor, then writer for the Sunday magazine at the St. Pete Times. I get back as often as I can to this relaxed town.

Central Avenue in downtown St. Pete
A word of warning: Florida is hot and humid. Even in the winter, you can overheat quickly. It's best to run in the early mornings before it has heated up too much. And in the summer, you can hardly run without stopping to jump in the water for a swim. But even that's not much help: you can sweat while swimming, the water is so warm.

This route is what I consider the classic route in town, going from downtown, north through the scenic North-East section, then on through the mansions of Snell Isle, and back. Downtown St. Pete has gone through a wonderful metamorphosis in the last decades.

Pelicans at the St. Pete Pier, my own photo
When I first moved to town in 1980, it was a place for retirees from Ohio and Michigan with little money. The rich ones moved to exclusive retirement communities with attached golf clubs, the poorer ones came to St. Pete and its shuffleboard club and cheap boarding houses. The biggest attraction was Webb's City, the "world's biggest drugstore" and its dancing chicken. The only other businesses were 5-and-dime stores like McCrory's and Kroger's, and their soda fountains, caught in a time warp in the 1940s.

Now, the boarding houses have been bulldozed, and new businesses, restaurants and apartments have attracted a much younger crowd to the downtown.Unfortunately, the latest recession has pounded Florida in the solar plexus, and the businesses are floundering again.

The Bayside Route
So that's where we'll start, right downtown at the waterfront, at Pioneer Park, at the corner of Central Avenue and Bayshore Drive. The bayside waterfront is beautiful along the whole stretch, so you can't go wrong here. We'll head north, with the water to the right side. The yacht club sits next door to Pioneer Park, and then we'll run past a marina on the right.

The bayfront
After a couple of blocks, we'll cross 2nd Ave. NE, with the St. Pete Pier out in the water. If you haven't been out there yet, you might want to take a little loop out around the pier, adding an extra kilometer to the run. There are lots of pelicans hanging out, and fishermen trying their luck, and you get a great view of Tampa Bay. The city has plans to demolish the pier building in a few years, so who knows what it will look like then.

We'll keep running north on Bayshore, past the classic Art Museum and Straub Park, with more yachts on our right side.

The Vinoy Hotel
The street ends at the old Spanish-style Vinoy Hotel, where we turn right and continue along the water on 5th Ave. Soon the route goes through a chain of several waterfront parks: Vinoy Park and then North Shore Park. There's a decent beach at North Shore, so you can already jump in the water if you're feeling overheated. I always swam here in the summer at the mid-point of my runs.

Along Coffeepot Bayou
To the west (left) of the park is the picturesque Historic North East Section, which we'll run through on our way back. The houses lining the park get bigger and nicer as you continue to the end of the park, where it curves to the left, along Coffee Pot Bayou. Out in the bayou, a little jungly island is always full of white ibises.

Keep running along Coffee Pot Boulevard until the old draw-bridge leads you across the bayou to the right, off to the mansions of Snell Isle. Immediately after the bridge, turn right on Brightwaters, and stay on this beautiful street full of waterfront homes as it zigzags along the bayou arms.

The bridge over Coffeepot Bayou
If you stay on Brightwaters, it will eventually dead-end, where you turn around head back to Cordova Blvd., and turn right.

Brightwaters isn't so bad, either
In just a couple of hundred meters, turn left at the first turn, Snell Isle Blvd., and follow it back towards Coffee Pot again. The street does a 90-degree turn at the golf club and then heads out over the draw-bridge again after about 6 blocks.

Homes along Brightwaters
On our way back, we'll leave the waterfront and cut through the North East section. After crossing the bridge, go straight for a block, where the road curves to the right on 21st Ave. Run 2 blocks to Locust, and then turn left, going south.

Along Locust Street
Just run straight through this leafy, unpretentious neighborhood till it dead-ends into 9th Ave. I used to live right down the block, here.

My old place: hey why did I ever leave?
Go left for a block to Beach Drive, where we turn right and head straight back, past the Vinoy again and along the other side of Straub Park, with its magnificent banyan trees, till we find ourselves back at Pioneer Park again.
The banyans along Straub Park

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