May 4, 2021 – Back in the day St. Petersburg was considered one of the best places to retire for people from the Midwest and Northeast. Tourists also flocked to this amazing city on Tampa Bay, about half way down Florida’s West Coast. Some retirees settled here permanently, others spent the winter months in one of the many classic downtown hotels that are still present (but in different form). After the 1970’s the city faded into a retirement backwater, supplanted by trendier destinations like Fort Myers, Naples, and affordable towns in Central Florida. Blight and poverty took over in many parts of the city, leaving some big downtown buildings as unused relics. Fast forward to today, when St. Pete is not only a very hot destination for retirement, but people of all ages are moving here. The population is 265,381, with 18.6% of the population 65 and over (about 2% points higher than the U.S. overall).
On a recent visit to the fair city we were very impressed with St. Petersburg’s revival. It is not hard to see reasons for the resurgence. The city’s location could not be better – a manageable city sitting on peninsula surrounded by the gigantic Tampa Bay. Broad streets host gracious buildings. Along the edges, nothing obscures the views of the Bay. Very few towns in the world can match the number of its parks and amount of open space along the Bay. Nicknamed the “Sunshine City”, it logs an average 361 days of sunshine per year. On a recent late April evening the streets and parks were filled with people of all ages and types. The human diversity on display was refreshing. There were straight and gay pairs, mixed race couples, baby boomers, and millennials. The sidewalks were full of people out for a stroll along the boulevards and parks, having dinner in an outdoor restaurant by the Bay, or enjoying an ice cream. Soon even more will be coming to enjoy St. Pete’s enviable cultural scene, which, as Covid ebbs, is on the verge of opening up. Retirees live in high rises, neighborhoods, or surrounding communities. There is a big variety of living choices.
The road to success
In the early 20th century, citizens and city leaders engaged in a vigorous debate over the future of the young city’s waterfront space, with one side advocating for commercial, port and industrial development and the other side advocating for a long-term commitment to parks and public access to the waterfront. The public access and park contingent won the debate when, on Christmas Eve 1909, the city announced the acquisition of the waterfront land that is encompassed by the waterfront park system. Over 100 years later, the decision seems like an astoundingly good one. The downtown perimeter includes several parks, most of which are waterfront or lakefront. Straub Park is nearly a half mile long. St. Petersburg has the third-largest dedicated public waterfront park system in North America, with a waterfront park system that stretches 7 miles and is used year-round for public events, festivals and other activities.
Many wonderful neighborhoods
The central portion of St. Petersburg includes the Grand Central District and Historic Kenwood. The Grand Central District houses the city’s cafes, art galleries, restaurants, and bars all owing to the Craftsman style architecture. North of Downtown St. Petersburg lie Historic Old Northeast and Snell Isle, both of which have Mediterranean style historic and waterfront homes, parks, and recreational areas. Old Northeast is also home to a shopping district, city landmarks, beaches, and small shops as well as small residential high rises. Historic Kenwood is filled with art studios and galleries similarly to the Grand Central District. Away from the city center are a variety of charming little beach towns like Gulfport, St. Pete. Beach, Madeira Beach, and and Treasure Island.
St. Pete hosts two professional sports teams: The Tampa Bay Rays and the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Raymond James is the area’s largest employer with 4,700 employees. The area also includes a branch of St. Petersburg College and the campus of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. The stunning campus of Eckerd College sits just outside the city center along the Bay.
Arts and culture
St. Petersburg, home to nearly 500 murals across the entire city created by both local and international artists, was named “One of the Best Street Art Cities in the World. People come from all over the country to visit the Salvador Dalí Museum, which houses the largest collection of Dali’s works outside of Europe. One of the many art festivals, the Mainsail Art Festival is a free entry art exhibition at the Vinoy Park by local artists. Vinoy Park also holds music festivals. The Waterfront Museum District features independent galleries and museums, including the Museum of Fine Arts. Among many other museums, the city also has a Holocaust Museum.
Where to live
Baby boomers who choose to live in the city proper will probably choose a high rise condo or rental community with water or city views. The nearby beach towns have bungalows, condos, and single family homes where you can walk to the beach. There are also many active adult and 55+ communities. See Saint Petersburg Communities.
The hugely popular new Pier District opened on July 6, 2020, and contains green space, the Marketplace, playground, splash pad, and several public art installations, including the eye-catching aerial net sculpture, Bending Art, by Janet Echelman.
In March the city hosts the annual Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The race is located in downtown St. Petersburg and is the first round of the IndyCar Series.
Climate and More
St. Petersburg is not quite as warm in winter as towns to the south like Fort Myers or Miami. In January the average low is 54 and the average high is 69. In July those averages are 90 and 77. St. Petersburg has the 6th highest rate of violent crime in Florida, a distinction similar to that shared by most cities of this size.
We know several people who have retired to Saint Petersburg for at least the winter. The real estate market is hot there right now, like it is in much of the country, but is still more affordable than places like Naples or Key West. They have moved here because of the beaches, the vital city life that is easily accessible, the amazing cultural opportunities, and the low key lifestyle to be had. If you know St. Petersburg, please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.