ST PETERSBURG, Florida--Local transportation can be a real issue when you travel. Getting around town to visit all the attractions can be expensive.
But not if you’re in St Petersburgh. This charming vacation haven on Florida’s Gulf Coast, connects its marvelous collection of appealing tourist venues with a unique and delightful – and affordable – trolley fondly referred as The Looper.
In fact, St Petersburg Looper is such a fun and functional way to travel from hotel to museum to shopping strip to waterfront and other hot tourist spots, it has become a tourist attraction in its own right.
The Looper--as its nickname indicates--travels through St. Petersburg in a large loop, making 15 strategic stops to pick up and drop off tourists – and locals who don’t want to drive -- in close proximity to the best of the historic town’s cultural and commercial venues.
The trolley route zigzags along its several mile-long circular itinerary through old St. Petersburg‘s downtown district. It traverses the city‘s stylish residential neighborhoods with their vintage Florida deco style wooden homes, and runs the length of the town’s famous scenic fishing and recreation pier, and includes a succession of convenient designated stops at significant hotels, popular museums and other places of interest.
If you like taking starting your vacation in a new city with an orienting bus tour to get an overview of the town and a feel for the lay of the land, riding the entire Looper route servies nicely. In about an hour’s time, you can soak up the city’s elegant, laid back ambience while on the roll, so to speak. Or, you can disembark at the various stops one after another and explore their environs, then hop back on The Looper and continue to the next stop.
Either way, fare for The Looper is quite reasonable. In fact it’s a real bargain buy of a lot of fun. Hopping on and off the trolley in the free zone area – stops I through 5, and 15 – is absolutely free. If you travel to other stops outside the free zone, the fare is 50 cents per person whenever you board the trolley.
While you’re rolling along, The Looper’s drivers deliver a lively and sometimes cheeky commentary that combines amusing local lore and anecdotes, intriguing historical tidbits and practical information about the areas you‘re traveling through. Tips about where to dine, shop and see current exhibitions of special interest prepare you for your visit to the areas surrounding each of the trolley‘s stops.
If the concept of The Looper makes you think of Disney World’s Main Streeter, you’ve got the wrong impression. For one thing, The Looper isn’t, truth be told, a trolley. At least, it doesn’t run on tracks. The vehicles are actually beautifully maintained vintage wooden trolley cars, but they’ve been refurbished to run on rubber tires. So, you can count on a rather freewheeling ride, which--depending on your driver’s personality, skill and operational style-- can be very smooth or a bit of a lurch. But it‘s all fun.
And unlike Disney World, St. Petersburg is all real-- the Florida deco buildings are authentic, the storefronts are filled with everything from really fine art to fresh-baked daily bread and St. Petersburg’s cultural venues are genuinely and definitely world-class.<
Riding The Looper’s circuit, you can visit:
*The Museum of Fine Arts, or MoFA, (www.fine-arts.org). Permanent exhibits include the William Knight Zewadski Theater in Ancient Art Collection of about 50 rare and important antiquities, dating from the sixth century B.C. to the fourth century A.D., which celebrate the theater tradition in Greek, Roman, and Etruscan art and culture. Included are large-scale painted vases, oil lamps, loom weights and other objects that show the importance and communal aspects of theater in ancient cultures,
*The Arts Center (www.theartscenter.org) is a fine arts gallery that also offers drawing, painting, ceramics and other classes and workshops for people who wish to explore their own creativity.
*Salvador Dali Museum (www.salvadordalimuseum.org) owns the world’s most comprehensive collection of Dali’s paintings and drawings and exhibits selections from the permanent collection on a rotating basis. At the museum, docents explain the roots of Dali’s surrealism and his image-influencing psychological profile.
*Florida Holocaust Museum’s (www.flholocaustmusuem.org) most harrowing display is an actual railroad car used by the Nazis to transport Jews to death camps, but the museum uses this and other objects to emphasize education as well as remembrance. There are always displays of art by survivors, as well as special and ongoing exhibitions to challenge viewers’ ideas about the nature of intolerance and hatred, and their negative effects on society.
*Marriott’s ultra-luxurious Vinoy Renaissance Resort & Golf Club (http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/tpasr-renaissance-vinoy-resort-and-golf-club), which offers guests and other visitors a terrific tour of the historic property guided by docents who provide entertaining and informative commentaries about the gala atmosphere of St. Petersburg during the 1920s, when the rich and famous flocked to the beautiful hotel’s now landmarked gardens, galleries and ballrooms. The hour-long tour costs $10 per person, and you can stay for a special lunch in the hotel’s award-winning restaurant for an additional $27 per person.
For more information about travel to St Petersburg, visit www.floridasbeach.com.