Winter Gulf Escape: St. Pete Beach, Florida

The sun shines in even the dreariest month of the year in St. Pete. It's a one-flight, one-bag reminder of summer.
Taylor Bruce, Annette Thompson

The sun sets in this beach town with a toes-in-the-sand party. In tiki huts and at aqua-blue pools, revelers lift a toast to the warm Gulf waters. Find your perfect spot along the miles of fluffy white sand beaches for a kicked-back, who-cares-it’s-winter getaway. Friday night shuffleboard games lure young couples, families, and empty nesters, and everyone rides beach cruisers along shady bike trails. Best of all, St. Pete prices still make you smile, and it’s easy to find a straight-shot flight to this sunny side of Florida.

Our Favorite Hotels: Pick from start-a-party or make-mine-quiet places. The brand new Postcard Inn on the Beach, restyled and updated from a 1960s motel, wows with an affordable surfer vibe. Rooms boast plush bedding, vintage lamps and desks, painted concrete floors, and murals of gnarly waves. The action centers around the courtyard with movies on the sun deck, bocce ball and table tennis, shady hammocks, and a chair-ringed fire pit (postcardinn.com). Island’s End Resort, in easygoing Pass-a-Grille on the south end of the beach, hides cozy cottages with kitchens, sunny decks, and a private dock where the beach and bay meet. Guests feel like they’ve discovered a private paradise (islandsend.com).

Our Favorite Day Trip: Swim, snorkel, and fish on a day trip to Shell Key Preserve―an undeveloped barrier island 15 minutes from Merry Pier. Launches ferry visitors several times each hour.

Our Favorite Sunset Spot: The 1812 Overture and a third-story rooftop at The Hurricane Seafood Restaurant welcome the end of the day with a cold drink followed by hearty applause. Afterward, stroll the beach to catch the last glow before the stars sprinkle soft light on the Gulf of Mexico.

Our Favorite Nightlife Pick: Locals still call the PCI Beach Bar by its original name―the Swigwam. Order a cold beer or sip an icy Tampa Tea (Jim Beam, iced tea, and peaches). Then kick off your shoes to dance at this ramshackle hut on the beach.

Only in St. Pete: Both Tiffany & Co. and Hard Rock Cafe get jealous over the eclectic Evander Preston Contemporary Jewelry Design. Among the silver and gold necklaces, bracelets, and earrings sit a trio of Great Danes, a 1930s Russian motorcycle, a rickshaw, and an art collection.

Get There Now: Southwest flies multiple nonstop routes daily from Raleigh, Dallas, and Baltimore to Tampa International Airport (a 30-minute drive from St. Pete Beach).