Get away from it all just a trolley ride away from Florida’s cultural hub in St. Petersburg
by Karen Rubin
If ever you wanted a place to get away from it all, in the midst of it all, an oasis of simple pleasures, visually pleasing, perfectly relaxing, laid-back, the Postcard Inn on the Beach (St. Pete Beach, Florida, that is) is the place.
Low rise and low key, the Postcard Inn is retro done with a hip, beach chic flare. Kitschy and clever, and aesthetically marvelous – it’s amazing what design can do to create an atmosphere. Shapes, lights, colors – a chandelier is made from rope and sailors’ knots; painted skateboards and surf boards provide the decoration; there are vintage lamps, 1950s photos of beach, a giant photo of waves breaking on the surf covers the entire wall of our room. There is whimsy and humor which makes you smile a lot… and relax.
There is an absolutely wonderful Olympic-sized swimming pool (heated in season), kiddie pool, two well-outfitted fitness rooms, a pool table and a ping-pong table.
There are plenty of areas to lounge or hang out with family and friends: central garden areas where you can idle away in Adirondack-style chairs under the trees as music emanates from speakers; several lobby lounges that are quirky and colorful . There is WiFi throughout (free access).
The 196 guest rooms, which are in one or two-story buildings with their own entrances (like a motel, which is what the Postcard Inn originally was) are delightfully furnished (ours had a wall-sized photo of a wave breaking on the beach), 32-inch flat panel HD flat-screen TVs; the rooms have views of pool, or Gulf, or garden. The bed is of the highest quality, fitted with crisp white sheets and down-filled duvet.
There are poolside cabanas which have private patios connecting to the pool and walk-in closet or refrigerator; garden-view units which have a sitting area; custom king and custom double-queen; and beach bungalows, located poolside, which have a balcony, walk-in closet, sitting area with lounge chairs and refrigerator.
The Postcard Inn is as casual as a motel, as swank as a boutique hotel, with the charm and personal attention of an inn – including a continental breakfast.
It also offers the Wildwood BBQ – a casual restaurant that brings BBQ to new culinary heights, specializing in multiple regional variations including Memphis-style, Carolina-style, St. Louis-style spare and baby-back ribs, dry-rubbed or wet, Texas smoked brisket, Carolina pulled pork, all-natural smoked chicken. The meats – all natural without any preservatives, are smoked for 12-14 hours. Other selections include the most sensational nachos and skillet cornbread, as well as fish-of-the-day, burgers, sandwiches and salads. The bar is known for its Pina Coladas, Rum Runners and selection of Bourbon.
There is also a Beach Bar where there is live music, a snack shack, and a banquet room accommodating up to 150 people, as well as catered beach functions for as many as 750.
The restaurants and the inn, itself, is managed by B.R. Guest, which has more than a dozen restaurants in New York City (Blue Fin, Ruby Foos), plus two in Las Vegas, but this is its first in Florida.
And when we were ready to explore, we only had to cross the street to hop one of the charming, air-conditioned trolley buses, to ride into downtown St. Petersburg in air-conditioned comfort (you’ll need a light jacket, it’s actually cold), to enjoy the plethora of cultural and heritage attractions, including the newly opened Chihuly Collection, the Dali Museum, the Holocaust Museum, the Fine Arts Museum to list but a few (all linked with a charming system of trolley buses, the downtown ones offer a narrated commentary), then return in time to linger on the sand beach, float in the warm Gulf waters (perhaps to see a pod of dolphins swim by, or pelicans diving for fish).
The Suncoast trolley also goes to south to Pass-a-Grille, an absolutely charming beach village with the prettiest parcel of beach on the island, and north into Clearwater, hitting all the other beaches along the way.
In the evening, you might cross the street to the Cockney Rebel Pub where there is karaoke Friday-Sunday, or next door, to the Beachcomber Inn where Jimmy’s beach bar has superb live bands playing until 11 p.m.
The Postcard Inn opened in October 2009 but actually is the granddaddy lodging in the area: it originally opened in 1958 as the Travelodge, when there was nothing else around but palm trees. The re-do re-imagines the motel concept.
The Postcard Inn is a partnership between B.R. Guest Restaurants and Starwood Capital Group, and may be the prototype for others (we hear they are talking about another Postcard Inn in Key West, Las Vegas or California).
“The Postcard Inn on the Beach is an authentic reflection of its environment, incorporating the laid-back essence of St. Pete Beach,” says Stephen Hanson, President of B.R. Guest Restaurants. “Similar to opening the James, our first hotel property, we’re looking to build a successful brand with unique character that will cater to all types of travelers looking for more than just the trendiest new hotel.”
What is more, all this comes at an affordable rate: $99 in the summer, $189 at the height of tourist season.
For all the right reasons – charm, services, amenities, affordability/value, location – the Postcard Inn on the Beach is becoming a wedding destination, and is superb family reunion place (they even accommodate pets, 50 lbs. or less, for a $50 Pet fee per stay).
In another nice touch, there are vintage-looking postcards which they are happy to post for you.
Dear Family: The Postcard Inn is picture-postcard perfect. Wish you were here.
Postcard Inn, 6300 Gulf Blvd, St. Pete Beach, FL 33706, 727-367-2711 main line, 800-237-8918 reservations,www.postcardinn.com.
Location is everything, and from our cozy room at the Postcard Inn on the Beach, chic, remodeled 1950s-era motel with the charm of an inn and the amenities and service of a boutique hotel, we stroll out to the beach.
But when we want a change of venue, there are scores of phenomenal beaches all along this spit of Florida, between St. Petersburg Beach, including Fort De Soto State Park (you can visit the Spanish-American War era fort) and Pass-a-Grille at the southernmost point, up through Treasure Island, Indian Shores, Clearwater Beach, Caledesi Beach, and Tarpon Springs, many accessible by the Suncoast Trolley that goes along Gulf Boulevard, from Pass-a-Grille in the south, up to Clearwater Beach.
Pass-a-Grille turned out to be one of our favorite places to idle away. You follow Gulf Boulevard passed the famous “pink castle” of St. Pete Beach, the 1920s era Don Cesar Hotel, and find yourself in Old Florida – charming houses lining a narrow street that ends in a historic village. Four miles of undeveloped public beach along Gulf Way on the Gulf of Mexico wrap around the end of the key to meet Boca Ciega Bay on the harbor side of Pass-a-Grille. You can go on a shelling or snorkeling excursion to Shell Key, watch the dolphins play; or enjoy gentle sea breezes on a sunset cruise. Take a stroll on 8th Avenue, where you’ll find galleries, boutiques, and restaurants and an adorable ice cream shop, Paradise Sweets. The sand and the view here were among the best (www.pass-a-grillebeach.com)
For a true adventure, I drive about 40 minutes from the Postcard Inn to Weedon Island Preserve, near Clearwater
Here, I kayak through mangrove tunnels, along a well-marked 3 1/2-mile trail. It doesn’t take long before I spot the fin of a dolphin swimming nearby. I maneuver through the tunnels – made of red mangroves, known as “walking trees” because their prop roots give the appearance of walking; black mangroves, which have finger-like projections called pneumatophores; and white mangroves which have light yellow-green leaves. I carefully avoid touching the mangrove branches where I can see the black mangrove crabs (they look like spiders but “are not interested in you, so don’t worry about it,” Russell Miller of Sweetwater Kayaks tells us during our orientation before we set off). I spot heron and egret. At another point, I can hear the breathing of a manatee (it sounds like someone breathing through a snorkel), but I don’t get to see it. But as I emerge in a more open area, mullets are leaping out of the water. when you go, you may well see Rosette Spoonbills, Osprey, Red Shouldered Hawks and Kingfishers, rays, and Redfish. It takes about 2 1/2-3 1/2-hours to complete the trail. Bring plenty of water, hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, insect repellent. (Sweetwater Kayaks, 13060 Gandy Boulevard, St. Petersburg, Florida, 727-570-4844; www.sweetwaterkayaks.com, firstname.lastname@example.org; TheShop@sweetwaterKayaks.com).
There is more to do in Weedon Island Preserve, which combines a wonderful nature experience on a site with fascinating historical significance. The Cultural and Natural History Center features classrooms and exhibit areas designed by anthropologists, historians and Native Americans to reflect the art and history of the area’s first people. Weedon Island Preserve is a group of low-lying islands in north St. Petersburg whose history goes back 10,000 years when early peoples such as the Timucuans and Manasotas made the island their home. The center combines a look at artifacts excavated from the site by the Smithsonian in the 1940s, as well as the chance to experience aspects of Native American culture including dance, cooking, art, crafts and more. The preserve also includes a 9-mile hiking trail along with a fishing pier and waterfront picnic sites (1800 Weedon Island Drive NE, St. Petersburg, FL 33702, 727-453-6500; www.weedonislandpreserve.org/)
Another marvelous destination is Fort De Soto Park. Crystal clear waters, luscious sand, seven miles of beaches on five islands, bike trails, fishing piers, camping grounds, picnic areas, dog parks, and canoe rentals make this 1,100-acre county park a full-day destination. Fort De Soto’s North Beach was ranked #1 in 2005 by Coastal Geologist, Dr. Stephen Leatherman, a.k.a. Dr. Beach, and best beach in America in 2008 and 2009 by TripAdvisor.com. Really interesting is to explore the Spanish-American War-era Fort and wilderness areas (free guided walking tours are available) and there is a re-created Quartermaster’s house as a history museum. Fort tours are every Saturday and nature tours through different areas of the park are held on Saturdays and Sundays (for info about Fort De Soto Park, www.fortdesoto.com; to rent canoes, kayaks, or bikes, 727-864-1991; www.canoeoutpost.com).
I am jealous of the bike club that we see riding out from Fort De Soto Park – the trails here are amazing, and this group is probably headed all the way back to downtown St. Petersburg.
Biking is a big thing here, and I have yet to time my visit right so that I can get on the Pinellas Trail. Located throughout the St. Petersburg/Clearwater area, this 37-mile long, 15-foot wide dedicated trail is part of the county park system and is one of the longest linear parks in the southeastern United States. You can bike, in-line skate, jog or walk – all without the hassle and safety concern of being in automobile traffic. The trail runs from the sponge docks at the north end of Tarpon Springs to St. Petersburg in the south end of the county. The original rail track saw the first Orange Belt Railroad train in 1888, and the first stretch of rail line opened for recreation in 1990. (Bike the Pinellas Trail;www.pinellascounty.org/park/12_Trail.htm; Pinellas Trail Bicycle Rental,www.pinellascounty.org/volserv/rangers/rental_shops.htm).
Had we more time, we could have expanded our travels to include Busch Gardens-Tampa, one of my favorite theme parks (www.buschgardens.com).
To plan a trip, contact St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, 13805 58th Street North, Suite 2-200, Clearwater, Fl 33760, 727-464-7200, 877-352-3224, www.visitstpeteclearwater.com.
Friday, 6 August, 2010
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