Today I’m super excited to announce a new series called #WeArePADIWomen, a collection of stories and secrets from some of the most inspiring women in the scuba diving industry. If you followed Women’s Dive Day coverage in July, you know that there are plenty!
I’m kicking off this series with the wise words of a woman I’ve been lucky enough to share a dive boat with once before, Allison Vitsky Sallmon. Allison is not only a talented professional underwater photographer and PADI Rescue Diver but also a breast cancer survivor who founded Dive Into The Pink, a nonprofit that mobilizes the dive community to raise money for breast cancer research and patient support.
Allison and I and some of our fave dive buddies!
As a Florida native and resident of Southern California, Allison has always been near the ocean. After twenty years of diving, Allison picked up a camera in 2006 and within a year had purchased a dSLR and started a second career diving and shooting alongside her husband, fellow underwater photographer Andy Sallmon. Today, Allison has a wide portfolio of unique perspectives from around the world. I look at a lot of dive photography and much of it runs together. Allison’s work, I can spot before I see the watermark!
Allison and Andy took me out for a day of diving in San Diego a few summers ago, and I was truly touched by their words of encouragement to an amateur photography enthusiast like myself, their enthusiasm for sharing their knowledge of the industry, and their patience for watching me flail around like a manatee in a 7mm wetsuit for the first time.
Now, over to Allison. Thanks for joining me for this celebration of women underwater!
When did you start diving and what was your motivation for doing so? What eventually inspired you to first pick up a camera?
OK, first of all, you didn’t flail like a manatee. That’s just nonsense. You looked fabulous above and underwater, and the sea lion pups loved you! (Second of all, I dived for 15 years before the camera came into things – I wish I’d started earlier!)
I got my first certification in 1992 in Gainesville, Florida. Diving wasn’t even on my radar. My mom actually gave me the class as a gift – she was planning a family trip to Cozumel, and she wanted a dive buddy. By the time we went to Cozumel six months later, I had done over 100 dives and was signed up for my cave course.
For the camera, at first, I just had a little point and shoot, a cast-off from an ex (if he hadn’t given it to me, I don’t know that I’d ever have started shooting). I was living in Boston at the time, so my first dives with a camera were in cold, green water. I didn’t know what I was doing with it, and that was a tough place to learn. But we took a trip to the Solomon Isands that year, and there were two amazing photographers on the boat. They inspired me, and by the end of that trip, it was all over. I was doomed to sacrifice my time, income, and sanity at the altar of underwater photography.
I am ashamed to say that I don’t log my open circuit dives, but I know I’ve done more than 2500-3000. I do log my closed circuit dives – the last time I looked, I had about 200 hours. I’d like to get more time on closed circuit, but it isn’t practical for every dive I do, so it’s incremental.
Oh man, I regret not logging my dives more religiously too! How did diving go from a hobby to a career for you?
Well, in fairness, I have a day job as a scientist that has nothing to do with diving. It’s been helpful because it ensures that I’m financially independent and can pick and choose the work I do in the dive industry, giving me the luxury to accept only those projects about which I’m passionate.
It’s been gradual – I’ve always enjoyed writing (my undergraduate degree was in communications), and that enthusiasm and a solid work ethic helped me get into editorial work and develop a reputation (hopefully a good one!). As for Dive into the Pink, it was a bit of an accident. I thought I’d run a single charter to raise some money, and it snowballed from there once we saw how enthusiastic people were about it.
Have you faced any obstacles in your diving or photography career? How did you overcome them? What was your greatest challenge getting started in this industry?
The biggest obstacle for me is TIME! Juggling my day job, editorial work, Dive into the Pink, and regular (weekly or more) local California sanity dives with a marriage (even to a pro shooter in the dive industry) and home can be tricky. It’s a delicate balance, and I’ll admit, I have a tendency to take on too much. I am trying to get better about spacing things out in a way that allow for down time. Sadly, the last few transpacific trips I’ve taken, I’ve been almost as excited about the flight as the diving because of the opportunity for uninterrupted sleep.
I feel you — I always look forward to my long flights as a time to rest! What do you feel are the most important challenges and opportunities facing women in diving?
There are very few challenges for women now, I think — they exist, but they are really the exception more than the rule. We are our own worst enemies; in my opinion, women have a tendency to be hard on themselves in a way men aren’t. We judge ourselves (and compare ourselves with others) to an extreme on everything – intelligence, success, appearance… I think this is true of women in all fields, and it’s a shame. We need to support and encourage each other, even when it isn’t easy or comfortable to do, because nine times out of ten, the person you’re encouraging isn’t being so kind to themselves.
Certainly, individual women have always been recognized for their impact on diving, ocean conservancy, scientific research, and media, but I think there’s more awareness of women’s impact than ever before – I think the opportunities that are currently available have perhaps always been there, but there’s increased visibility, in other words.
There are so many aspiring underwater photographers out there! What should shutterbugs hoping to follow in your professional footsteps have on his or her resume?
Hard, hard work is more important than any resume – exceed deadlines, don’t make excuses, and turn in great stuff. There is too much competition to approach this any other way. Constantly look to grow and improve — ask for criticism and learn from the advice you get.
Also, have a realistic attitude. The number of photography jobs is finite and the money isn’t exactly amazing or consistent. The vast majority of people who do this juggle shooting with a day job – some in the dive industry (sales representatives, for example) and some, like me, in completely unrelated fields.
Perhaps most importantly, be judicious about giving away work in exchange for personal “exposure.” Your gear, travel, and time is worth a lot, and there should always be some give and take involved when you’re providing images to a commercial business. If you ask for nothing in exchange for your work, it sends a powerful message that you think your work is worth nothing.
I know you too started out with a point and shoot camera. Do you have any tips for divers just looking to improve their underwater photography skills, especially those that might feel their equipment is lacking?
Well, you’ve heard about the number one peeve of photographers, right? You have a beautiful photo displayed somewhere, and some buffoon walks up to you and says, “Wow, you must have a nice camera!” In other words, amazing images come from the shooter, not the equipment. Sure, you can be limited by your equipment, but you should be able to squeeze a hell of a lot out of it before that happens.
First, take a class from a pro who has a documented success record – publications, for instance – and preferably a private class where you’ll spend time in the classroom AND water. Then, take what you’ve learned and practice, practice, practice. If you aren’t in the position to travel constantly (and the vast majority of us aren’t), find the best option for diving near your home, and go for it. Nothing beats time in the water for improving your skills.
What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career?
As a photographer, I recently had a photo displayed in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History as part of the Windland Smith Rice photography competition. Of all the times I’ve been lucky enough to place in a competition, this win and exhibit was very meaningful because I visited that museum a lot as a little girl and marveled up at the blue whale suspended from the ceiling!
It’s not as showy, but I’m as or maybe more proud of what we’re accomplishing with Dive into the Pink. Watching people respond to the idea of diving for a cause with joy and gratitude has been rewarding in a way I never could have imagined.
What’s been your most special dive?
My most memorable in-water experience took place near home a few years ago. We were offshore, free diving near kelp paddies to photograph the life beneath them, and a blue whale surfaced and descended right in front of me. For a moment, I was eye to eye with the largest animal ever to live on the earth. And it was AMAZING!
Is there a piece of dive gear or accessory you can’t live without?
My drysuit. I have a backup for when my primary’s in the shop. With all the California diving we do (and given my wussiness), this is one thing I can’t do without. (I hate to insert branding here. But I have DUIs, and I love DUI! No brand I’ve tried fits a woman’s body better.)
I know we share the belief that divers are some of the greatest ambassadors of our oceans! What are some small ways those reading today can make a difference, divers or not?
Two things I try to be religious about are avoiding single-use plastic items and keeping consumption of fish (especially non-sustainable fish) to a bare minimum. These are easy things we can all do to make a difference.
I so admire the work you’ve done with Dive Into The Pink. As a cancer survivor, how did diving or the ocean bring you peace during a difficult time in your life?
When I went through my treatment, I was living in Boston, and it was wintertime. I hadn’t gotten my drysuit certification yet, so local diving wasn’t a terribly appealing option. I had some issues with my white blood cell counts getting very low, so although I felt fine and was able to work during most of the process, I avoided remote travel. What I did do was pore over dive magazines, admire images (and begin to notice who had taken my favorites), and dream about the places I’d go when I was finished.
I’ll never say that I was lucky to have faced cancer, but certainly, it has enabled me to view my life from a different perspective and with a little more of a “what the hell, let’s try (insert harebrained scheme)” attitude.
What advice do you have for new divers, or those who might be nervous to get started?
Give it a try before you get scared off! I loved my pool sessions, but I was freakin’ terrified before I descended for my first checkout dive. I was practically in tears, and I came very close to getting out of the water and going home. But once my head was under the surface, it was all over for me.
There are lots of technical diving images in the media, and there’s tons of hype about intense diving/training or gear, but this sport is very personal. Diving is what you make it, and it is perfectly acceptable not to pursue extremes in diving. Make sure you are comfortable and enjoying yourself, make sure that your skills are solid, and then have fun. Be true to yourself, and don’t succumb to pressure.
Do you have any words of inspiration for women in particular seeking a career in this industry?
The same words I’d give anyone – woman or man – in any field. A solid work ethic is critical. The dive industry looks like a big vacation from the outside, but I have never come across a group of people who are more dedicated or who work harder. Get the training and skills you need, be authentic, be honest and modest about your accomplishments, and keep at it. Steve Martin once said, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” This applies triply to those hoping to make a name for themselves in diving. Exaggeration and ego will only take most people so far before others see through it.
It’s easy to feel like you’ve been everywhere but I’m sure that’s not true! What’s that big dive or trip that’s still at the top of your bucket list?
Ha! I don’t remotely feel as if I’ve been everywhere! I still haven’t been to the Galapagos, and that’s obviously on the list. I haven’t been diving in any polar areas, clearly on the list. Never dived the Azores, South America, the South Island of New Zealand, the south or west coast of Australia, British Columbia, Alaska, Washington state, North Carolina…. You know, I have a very long list, and it gets longer every year — and it doesn’t include the hundreds of places I’d like to return to!
What are you working on now? Where will your next adventure take you?
Fall/early winter is our key time to work on local stock images and stories, and our weekends are booked solid with South and Central California diving until the end of the year. We are fortunate enough to have some remote assignment trips for for 2018, but I’ve always found that it’s better not to speak about those trips in detail beforehand – it jinxes conditions!
For Dive into the Pink, we have a Pink (great white) Shark trip to Guadalupe in August, and we’ll hold several California-based Pink Charters and our annual online auction (including amazing trips, gear from companies like Scubapro, Fourth Element, DUI/OMS, and Shearwater, as well as beautiful apparel and jewelry) in October. After that, who knows? But it will definitely involve being in the water ?
This post is brought to you by PADI as part of the PADI AmbassaDiver initiative. Read my latest ramblings on the PADI blog!
Years ago, I watched the documentary Taking My Parents to Burning Man, and I thought, um… hell no. Burning Man is a lot of things, but an experience I wanted to share with my mom or my dad was not one of them.
However, years later, things changed — sort of. My friend Kristin was visiting me in my hometown of Albany, New York, and she really hit it off, as I expected she would, with both my mom and her fiancé Miller. Kristin is a Central Tennessee native and had hosted me for my first Bonnaroo, which music maven Miller had been green with envy over. Kristin and my mom bonded over the fact that they both married former housepainters who now love renovating their old houses, and Miller jokingly offered to help paint Kristin and her husband’s place if they’d host him for Bonnaroo someday.
Except, it wasn’t really a joke. Kristin loved the idea, and we all vowed to reunite at Bonnaroo 2017. When friends raised their eyebrows at the idea that I was heading to a festival with parents in tow, I realized that it was a fairly unusual arrangement. But I wasn’t nervous in the slightest — after all, Kristin’s whole family attends most years!
As the sun set on the final night of the festival, I couldn’t have been more thrilled with how it all turned out. Intrigued by the idea of doing the same? Read on for ideas on how to make it the best experience possible!
1. Stay Offsite
Unless you all grew up camping, or your parents are super hardcore, you might wish to ease into your family festival-ing by staying offsite for the first one. We were lucky — we had the world’s greatest hosts in Kristin and Scott, who live nearby in said beautiful old Victorian they’re currently renovating.
But otherwise, we would have definitely opted for a hotel or an Airbnb (get $40 off your first stay using my coupon code) over camping. Normally you’d have to drag me kicking and screaming to stay offsite for a festival — but in this case, creature comforts are well worth it to set skeptical or skittish first time festival goers at ease.
2. Bring Buddies
In our particular case, this was kind of a given — Miller was really the driving force behind wanting to go to Bonnaroo for my mom, and we were the guests of one of my best blogging buddies, so we really had a built in group. And it was perfect!
Having a group meant that we were free to break off into various combinations throughout the weekend — at times I went off with my mom and Miller, other moments they were off on an adventure and I was hanging with Kristin or another friend, and other sets still I was on my own and they were hanging with the rest of our crew! Being in a group meant that everyone had plenty of breathing room, and we all got to do what we wanted to do with minimal compromising.
If you love the idea of taking one of your parents to a festival but are worried it might be too much pressure one-on-one, put a group together. Whether it’s one of your best friends and a parent of theirs that you know yours would click with (my college best friend and I infamously set our moms up on a friend date, and now they adore each other!) or a group of family friends that you know your mom or dad would love to rock out with all weekend, festivals are truly a more-the-merrier kind of situation, especially in this case.
3. Plan a Few Other Adventures
Typically, when I’m at a festival, I’m totally immersed and don’t come up for air until it’s time for the decompression party. I knew that would be a little intense for my mom, and so I was thrilled when we paused for a morning to go for a walk in a nearby state park.
Don’t be afraid to take a little time out of your busy set schedule to do something you think your mom or dad might love in the area. Yes, stopping to do an architecture tour of Palm Springs when you’re itching to get to the festival grounds might be a bit of a compromise — but come on, how cool is that your dad wanted to go to Coachella?
4. Indulge Accordingly
Again, back to the compromise. Frankly, Bonnaroo has been on the tamer scale of my festival experiences overall — even for my first ‘Roo, I was staying offsite and I was super into the health and fitness aspects of the festival, and I had an absolute blast even while practicing some serious moderation.
But regardless, even if my first Bonnaroo had been a wild explosion of hedonism and bad decisions, I would have put a lid on it when showing my mama and her man around. Yes, of course, we had a few drinks — our hosts keep the world’s best stocked home bar, after all — but I kept the all night benders and doing shots off the bar for another trip, thank you very much. It’s not that my mom doesn’t know I party — the cat is very much out of that bag — or that she doesn’t like to have a good time herself. It’s just that there’s a time and a place for everything and it’s more fun to stay more or less on the same level.
5. Make a Plan — And Stick To It
Frankly, this is good advice for any festival. That said, if your friends don’t show up at the pre-planned meeting time for Tomorrowland, you’re likely to shrug your shoulders and go off and have a good time. If you don’t show when you’re supposed to meet your mom, you’re so getting grounded!
Okay just kidding — I’m assuming you’re past that point — but chances are she won’t take it as lightly as some of your friends might. And again, I’m guessing that in this scenario, you’re the festival savvy one, and your ma is probably just getting used to the idea. In Bonnaroo’s case, cell phones rarely work well on The Farm. Be a good festival guide and meet up at the Food Truck Oasis when you say you’re going to.
6. Think It Through First
Really evaluate if your parent is going to be down for this adventure. At Bonnaroo and Burning Man, there’s a lot of nudity (top half only for the former, full monty for the latter). At Tomorrowland and Electric Daisy Carnival, there’s probably going to be a lot of drugs (and, uh, electronic dance music, which some might find even more offensive). At Coachella or Lollapalooza, you’re likely to battle crazy crowds (and not, believe it or not, of other parent child combos).
But that’s not to put you off — most festivals I’ve been to have been more multi-generational and welcoming-to-all than I ever would have imagined, and you might find yourself surprised at how easy-going and open-minded the people that made you can really be. A lot of my friends commented that they could never go to a festival with their mom or dad even though they loved the idea; I think in a lot of cases they might be selling their parents short. If going to festivals has brought you joy and happiness, it might do the same for them too! And how cool would it be to share that?
If you’re unfamiliar with a festival and wondering how dad-friendly it might be, check if they have family camping or resources geared towards guests with young children — that should be a pretty good indicator of how welcoming an environment you can expect.
From dancing in the silent disco to riding the ferris wheel to singing along on the mainstage to watching the worlds of my family and friends collide, Bonnaroo with my mom and soon-to-be stepdad was an experience I’ll never forget.
Here’s to the next family adventure!
I received a media pass to attend Bonnaroo. All other expenses were my own. All non-selfie shots that I’m in are likely courtesy of the talented Camels and Chocolate!
This post was brought to you by Travelade.
“Hey friends! Heading to Helsinki and can’t wait to hear your tips on where to eat, stay and play…”
How often do you see posts like this on your Facebook feed? Maybe my friends are particularly travel-obsessed, but I see them all the time. In fact, I post them pretty dang often myself!
Or, as a blogger, I belong to several blogging groups, where, if it’s within the rules, I often post queries like, “Who’s been to Brunei? Please post links to your blog posts below!” That’s actually a great system for getting straight to the blog posts I might struggle to pick out of Google search results, but it’s not really a solution available to the general public – and I’m sure there are plenty of bloggers who aren’t replying to my queries.
Travelade was designed to curate the web’s best content on the magical island nation of Iceland – and, eventually, beyond.
In addition to blog posts and articles by top travel publications and prolific bloggers, Travelade publishes Travelade Originals, penned by their staff of travel-loving locals. (Are you a blogger who’s been to Iceland? You can submit your own articles for possible inclusion – mine are in there too!) There are also reviews of tours offered by high-quality, pre-screened operators, which you can purchase directly through the site. The team behind Travelade has worked at Linkedin and several other startups and tech ventures, making them well versed in the social media world.
Reminiscent of Pinterest, Travelade allows you to search for topics based on a series of flavor filters such as “Hidden Gems,” “Extreme Adventures,” “Foodies,” “Urban Explorers,” and my personal favorite “You Can’t Make This Up.”
Those categories will then be broken down into even more specific sub-groups, if you really want to dig deep into a particular topic, like camping in the Budget Friendly flavor. You save your favorite stories to Your WanderList, where you can reference them at a glance on the road.
The Best of Iceland
As my long-time readers know, I fell in love with Iceland on a seven day 2012 trip. Iceland was the darling of the travel world even back then, and so one might assume I’d exhausted my own attention span for Iceland-related content. Yet I lost myself in the addictive articles Travelade kept recommending! Here a few of my favorites that had me itching to book a return trip:
• 6 Destinations in Iceland Where You Can Guarantee a Great Instagram Shot: A cheat sheet of the most photogenic spots in a country where you can’t seem to point a camera in the wrong direction? Yes please!
• The Best 5k Running Routes in Downtown Reykjavik: I’m always trying to fit in some fitness when I travel, so I loved this guide to Reykjavik’s most scenic running routes. Too cold to be outside? Another Travelade Original tackled the country’s best gyms.
• Surf Guide: Iceland: Am I willing to brave the cold waters? No. Am I fascinated by those who do? Yes. I would love to chat up an Icelandic surfer on my next trip!
• Inside The Volcano: One of the top tours that’s on my list for a return trip to Iceland
• Tourist Trap or Must-See? Debating Iceland’s Blue Lagoon: I loved hearing both sides of an experience that I definitely filed under “must see.”
• Iceland Airwaves Survival Guide: Iceland + a festival? No surprise, it’s on my list.
• Icelandic Movies to Watch During Your Trip: As a certified cine-phile, I love watching local films while on the road!
Heading to Iceland? Clearly, I can’t recommend Travelade highly enough to discover personalized recommendations of original and curated content. I only wish it was available for more destinations (am I the only one who finds Google to be a terrible tool for finding great blog content?)
And I might just be in luck – Travelade does plan to expand around the world, eventually.
Seeing how popular of a destination Iceland has become, I have had my hesitating moments of wondering if I ever will go back. That’s a pretty wild thought considering I’ve always ranked Iceland as one of my top five favorite countries in the world! Our family vacation there was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken.
And my time on Travelade opened my eyes to the fact that there are still a million hidden gems in that tiny country that are waiting to be discovered! I hope I don’t have to wait till long until I get to search for a few of them, again.
Have you been to Iceland? Are you planning a trip there? What resources did you use to plan?
This post was brought to you by Travelade. As usual, I maintain full editorial control and as always all thoughts, opinions, and walks down memory lane are my own.
Miami, Orlando, Jacksonville, The Everglades, Sarasota, and beyond — I’ve been all over The Sunshine State. But despite logging tons of time with family in Tampa, I’d rarely crossed the bay to one of the most popular tourism destination on the American Gulf Coast — The Sunshine City.
St. Petersburg, Florida logs an average of 361 days of sunshine per year, landing the Guinness World Record for most consecutive days with sun after one particularly bright 768 day stretch. My own trip featured an incredibly unusual forecast — four days of rain. As a certified Vitamin D addict, that kind of bad luck can usually leave both a physical and metaphorical cloud over a new destination for me.
But St. Pete, I quickly learned, is special — and a destination of contrasts. A hip downtown and a retro beach strip, big city attractions with a small town vibe, a sunshine city with crazy amounts to do in the rain. A friend had described St. Pete to me as Florida’s answer to Austin or Portland, and while I’ve yet to visit either of those cities, I knew exactly the vibe they invoked. Bohemian. Creative. Local. Hip.
“What took me so long to get over here?” was a pretty constant chorus running through my head throughout my trip. I’m not sure what did — but I do know it won’t be long before I’m back. Here’s why.
The Museum Scene is Amazing
The Dali Museum, called “one of the most beautiful museums in the world” by Condé Nast Traveler in 2016, is the undisputed queen of the St. Pete museum scene. I visited a few years ago — one of my few forays across the bay to St. Pete — and couldn’t wait to return. While the building, gardens and café feel larger than life, the galleries themselves, home to works by one of the world’s most creative minds, are relatively small and won’t take all day to tackle. (Not too small, though — it is world’s largest collection of the artist’s work outside of Spain.)
The Dali is more than just a museum. Fun, community-minded events like Yoga at the Dali, Coffee With a Curator lectures, and ArtFlix, an art documentary film series, make this space a living, breathing part of St. Pete. Movie buffs shouldn’t miss Cult Classics @ The Dali, a free movie following extended museum hours — bring a lawn chair and enjoy food and craft beer from local food trucks and breweries while watching a beloved flick on an outdoor screen.
St. Pete is also renown for its glass art scene. The Chihuly Collection is a must-see, as is the included Hot Glass Shop demonstration across the street. The $20 admission was the one purchase in St. Pete that gave me pause — it’s a pretty small museum, frankly — but I just couldn’t stand to miss it. If you’re doing tons of attractions across the bay, Tampa’s CityPass is a good value. Perhaps one of the included guided tours — which we didn’t take – would have made it feel like a higher value.
Still want more? Browse works by the masters at the city’s Museum of Fine Arts, or browse affordable works by local artists at the brilliant Florida CraftArt, which also offers local mural tours (more on those this week!)
Watching your wallet? The Duncan McClellan Gallery is a stunning collection of one local glass artists work, the Morean Arts Center shows contemporary work from around the world, and the Morean Center for Clay shows pottery in a renovated historic train station — all for free.
Want to be the artist? Zen Glass Studio offers workshops in blowing wine glasses, glass pendants, glass ornaments, and beyond. The Morean Arts Center offers courses in glass, clay, and more, and you can learn beading, felting and other craft skills at Strands of Sunshine’s workshops.
And it’s not all about the arts. History buffs should head to The St. Petersburg Museum of History (an exhibit on Alligators and Oddities explores Florida’s classic taste for kitsch — it’s on my list for next time!) and The Florida Holocaust Museum. Sports fans will get a kick out of the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame at Tropicana Field, and families will enjoy running around with the kids at the Great Explorations Children’s Museum.
I wasn’t kidding — St. Pete takes its gallery and museum-ing seriously.
One of the things I love most about traveling in Florida is the price tags. Aside from the fairly pricey museum admissions, St. Pete will constantly surprise you with its affordability. From my fantastic $99 beach hotel to 99¢ ice cream, you can have an amazing vacation here that doesn’t break the bank — nor feel like you’re on a tight budget.
The Market Scene is Insane
I was incredibly lucky that my visit coincided with the monthly St. Pete Indie Market, a haven for local designers, indie artists, and bohemian crafters. In the winter, the market is held outside at Green Bench Brewery; in the summer, they beat the heat at the historic State Theater.
As we walked through the doors, I felt as if I’d been transported back to Brooklyn — though endless wares embroidered with Florida’s unmissable outline reminded me where I was. Artisan snacks, massage tents, a bustling bar, great music, and tons of pups contributed to the street party atmosphere, which graces downtown St. Pete the first Saturday of every month from 11-3pm. I bought letterpress cards, my aunt grabbed a vintage jacket, and we oohed and aahed over succulent gardens, screen printed totes, handmade jewelry, and enough gifts to knock off a full Christmas list in one swoop.
And there’s more. Brocante Market is a monthly vintage market housed in a 15,000 square foot former piano factory, Crafty Fest is another local indie market held once a month in the spacious alley of a local gallery, and Corey Sunday Market and the Saturday Morning Market are weekly events with a more farmer’s market feel.
Can’t stand shopping in the Florida heat? Head to one of the summer night markets like the St. Pete Side Lot’s Night Market, the Fringe Flea Market, or the Summer Nights Exchange, a brewery-based event featuring 50+ vendors, music, interactive installations, and a tattoo art show. Find a full list of local markets here.
The Food Is Crazy Good
The bar and restaurant scene in St. Pete is so robust, I’m dedicating a whole upcoming post to it. And again, the drum beats to all things local — fresh ingredients sourced from nearby farms and taps filled with the newest offerings from breweries all along The Gulp Coast.
I assumed the area’s notorious microbrewery scene wouldn’t have anything to offer a non-beer drinker like me, but found myself pleasantly surprised by the selection of locally produced wines and ciders. More coming soon!
It’s All Kinds of Green
St. Pete made headlines last year when they vowed to be the first city in Florida to use 100% renewable energy. It wasn’t the first time they were recognized — St. Pete was the first in Florida to be designated a ‘Green City’ by the Florida Green Building Coalition, and also lays claim to Florida’s first LEED GOLD certified home.
St. Pete has made a clear commitment to sustainability and conservation — and that leaves an eco traveler like me looking like the heart-eyed emoji.
The City Feels Young
Florida isn’t known as “God’s Waiting Room” for nothin’. But St. Pete has a lively, youthful feel that breaks the stereotype. And it’s not just subjective. A well-weighted ranking of Florida cities put St. Pete at the top of the best cities for millennials, with its millennial population increasing 6% since 2010.
But don’t worry, that old nickname hasn’t been retired — God’s Waiting Room now refers to a trendy speakeasy serving craft cocktails in the heart of downtown St. Pete.
Shopping Local is Easy — and Amazing
Forget the big box stores. St. Pete locals and visitors alike are committed to shopping local. Regular blog readers know I’m not much of a shopper (local markets are an exception!) but even I couldn’t resist the lure of Central Avenue’s fun and affordable boutiques.
My favorite store of all was Haslam’s, Florida’s largest bookstore — and an independent gem in the Amazon age. A fabulous section on all things Florida highlighted world-famous authors that love St. Pete. Chief among them? Jack Kerouac, who lived in St. Pete from 1966 to his death in 1969, and was a frequent customer of Haslam’s himself.
A local organization Friends of the Jack Kerouac House organize occasional bike tours and book clubs to raise funds to turn the author’s final dwelling into a local museum.
Nature is Not Hard to Find
I had big plans to spend my days in St Pete stand up paddling along its lovely shores, kayaking to Caladesi Island, biking the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail, taking the Shell Key Shuttle to an abandoned beach, and searching for dolphins in Vinoy Park. The weather had other plans, but I now have a list to tackle when I return!
With the Gulf of Mexico on one side and Tampa Bay on the other, St. Pete is literally surrounded by beautiful waters and dotted with lovely parks, bike paths, and other reminders of the beautiful land upon which this city sprung.
The Beaches are a Beautiful Nostalgia Bomb
Due to the weather I spent most of my time in St. Pete exploring the downtown area — however, I loved staying at vintage vacation spot The Postcard Inn on The Beach. With less than a twenty minute drive between them in my cute red rental from Avis, I really felt like I got the best of both worlds. (However, if you are super keen to stay downtown, you can do that too — check out The Avalon, recently renovated and looking fresh!)
For every degree hip that downtown is, the beach strip matches it in retro cuteness. Even in the rain I loved driving from the very southern tip of Pass-A-Grille all the way up to St. John’s Pass in Madeira, getting a feel for the different vibes of the various beaches along the way. Business names like The Undertow Beach Bar, The Freaky Tiki Surf Shack, and Polynesian Putter — open since 1967 and one of the oldest mini-golf courses in Florida! — left me swooning with an undeserved nostalgia for the Old Florida I was too young to really known.
But I love that on St. Pete beach, I could get a taste of it.
The Fitness Scene is Fabulous
When I planned this trip I thought I’d be running on the beach and taking SUP yoga classes — instead, I found myself seeking indoor fitness options. Which turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because these were some of my favorite finds of the trip.
I kicked things off with Yoga at the Dali. This weekly Sunday offering is a mere $10 for members and students, and just $15 for non-members. To visit the galleries on the same day is just $10 more. Since regular admission is $24, you’re basically getting a $1 yoga class! And it was a great one — I loved how the teacher incorporated her thoughts on art and creativity into the class, and I can’t think of a better view than the museum’s iconic organically-shaped glass walls.
Yoga in unusual places is having a moment in St. Pete — throughout my stay I also saw signs for Yoga On Tap at a local brewery, and Awaken Yoga classes at the roadside retro attraction The Sunken Gardens. Local gem The Body Electric offers wild workshops and classes all over town, from clothing optional classes to poolside sessions to SUP workshops to yoga in a local fixed gear bike shop.
Another morning, I turned to ClassPass to look for a workout with an easy commute from The Postcard Inn. I stumbled on Barre Central, and fell in love from the moment I walked through the door. This sweet locally-owned and operated studio has a multi-generational legion of fans. I left with a huge smile on my face — not just because of the amazing butt-kicking workout I just had, but also because of the sense of community I felt from just one class.
Group fitness addicts, don’t miss this one. After class, stock up on organic and healthy treats next door at Earth Origins Market.
It’s a Treat for Travelers To Get To
With frequent and affordable flights arriving to both St. Pete Airport and Tampa Airport, it’s a pleasure to fly to. And it’s quick. With direct flights clocking in at less than two and a half hours from New York, it’s quicker than a drive to the Hamptons.
Plus, you’ll be following in the steps of some serious aviation history — In 1914 the world’s first commercial flight took off from St. Pete and landed 23 minutes later in Tampa with one passenger who paid $400 for the ticket. That would be just under $10,000 today — thank goodness fares have dropped!
If you’re tacking St. Pete onto a trip to one of Florida’s other famous destinations, you might be pleasantly surprised by the drive — it’s a quick two hour zip across the state from Orlando. Coming by boat? Nearby Tampa has Florida’s largest and most diversified seaport — and regular cruise ship departures.
Clearly, I’m pretty smitten with St. Pete. What’s not to love? It’s got the art and food scene of a big city with the charms and natural beauty of the beach town. The focus on local business and sustainability? It just pushes everything over the edge.
While I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty serious Miami girl, this trip had me seriously reconsidering my ranking of favorite Florida cities.
What’s your favorite city in The Sunshine State?
One thing I’ve been hearing from you guys is that you want to hear more about my current travels right after they happen. Well, ask and ye shall receive! I’m jumping in to start sharing some posts from Florida and Tennessee, a trip so fresh I just unpacked from it.
This post is brought to your by VISIT FLORIDA. I maintain full editorial control and as always all thoughts, opinions, and declarations of love are my own.
One thing I’ve been hearing from you guys is that you want to hear more about my current travels right after they happen. Well, ask and ye shall receive! I’m jumping in to start sharing some posts from Florida and Tennessee, a trip so fresh I just unpacked from it. This post is brought to you by VISIT FLORIDA.
So, usually you pick a destination then start looking for accommodation, right? In this case, planned a trip kind of backward — I started with a vintage vacation spot I couldn’t resist, and built a solo trip to St. Petersburg, Florida from there.
And on this trip I learned a secret – The Sunshine State is home to a treasure trove of hidden gem boutique hotels.
When VISIT FLORIDA invited me to explore one of the state’s beautiful boutique hotels, I knew I wanted to be on the ocean. I also knew I didn’t have huge budget tastes, but I craved great design. And I knew that anything that could further my obsession with classic retro Florida vibes was a win. That’s when I found The Postcard Inn on the Beach.
St. Pete has a laid-back beach vibe that’s reflected in the affordable, hip and casual Postcard Inn, originally built as The Colonial Gateway Inn in 1957. Before restaurateur Stephen Hanson gave the property new life as the surfer chic Postcard Inn, it was a Travelodge, and plans to demolish and rebuild were strongly opposed by the community, eventually encouraging Hanson to renovate and preserve the historical motel instead.
Postcard Inn avoids the downsides that can often befall famed boutique hotels – high rates and snobby attitudes. “Howard Johnson meets JetBlue,” is how the team behind the easy-going Postcard Inn creation described their end game.
The results are, in my humble opinion, the happy place where budget and bohemian make a baby, with room rates starting at $99 out of season (July through December) and $189 in season (January to June). Pets are welcome for a reasonable $75 fee per stay — as if there wasn’t already enough to like.
The chic lobby is lined with a bright rainbow of books on built-in shelves in one direction and a chalkboard displaying the times of sunset, sunrise, the tides and the temperature on another. There’s a cute breakfast nook, and in the mornings free coffee and tea are served, and a microwave is available to guests.
Although I was traveling solo, I opted for a classic double queen for my stay, drawn to the collection of surf photos by local St. Pete artists pasted into a visual headboard. I swooned over the full size surfboards in each room, the brightly colored Tommy Bahama toiletries, and the vintage table lamps on the desk.
Larger cabana-style rooms boast wooden carved headboards with detailed maps of the local area, chilled-out private patios with hammocks, and a small kitchenette. Other rooms feature floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall photo murals of longboard surfers catching a wave, or a series of bold quotes by legendary surfers — as well as Thoreau, the Beach Boys, Warhol, or Jay-Z.
The two-story, U-shaped motel is made up of just under 200 rooms, with an Olympic-sized pool and a lush garden patio in the center. Rooms facing into the courtyard and pool are slightly higher priced, while those offering the best value face outward toward the parking lots for each wing.
Bonus! Parking is included in the $25 per night resort fee, along with Wi-Fi, bicycle rentals, and use of the other hotel amenities.
The weather was unseasonably rainy and cloudy during my stay, which gave me plenty of time to explore downtown St. Pete, though less to explore the beach and pool. Still, when the rain paused one morning I walked down for a breakfast picnic on the sand and could see why beach bums flock here.
For those who prefer to stay busy, a serious of lawn games and two beachside gyms provide alternative entertainment. In the lobby, a vintage photo booth, a library of art books, and a caricature artist who set up shop in the corner offered even further distraction. “Dive in” movie nights, where films are projected over the pool, are a popular weekend event.
I found that the majority of St. Pete’s most alluring dining options were a 20-minute drive or so away in the downtown core. The onsite restaurant, The Boathouse Kitchen and Bar, is an exception – I had a lovely lunch here with my aunt one day before venturing out for the day to explore, and ordered room service another night.
Between the pool and the beach is the freestanding PCI Beach Bar, and an adjacent Snack Shack, which is open in high periods (during my visit, mid-week in June, it wasn’t open.)
One night, I held a reader meet-up for fellow travel addicts in the Tampa and St. Pete area. Fourteen of us kicked off at the PCI Beach Bar, where live music and a stunning sunset made a Sunday feel like a Friday. Reclaimed wood, a recycled tin roof and license plates from around the world made me feel like we’d washed ashore and come up in the Florida Keys. Locals promised me the PCI beach Bar was the perfect spot for my reader meet-up, and they were right.
Interior designer Tara Oxley said in an interview that photographer Stephen Shore’s 1970’s American road trip images and a passage from Jack Kerouac provided some of her primary inspiration. That free-spirit, travel-loving vibe was there from check-in to checkout.
There’s so much that I adored about my stay at The Postcard Inn on the Beach, my only complaint is that I didn’t have more time to spare. But I’ll be back. Between the love of a community that spared this Gulf Coast gem from being dozed and developed, a design team that believed style is for every budget, and the picture-perfect location, this place has a lot to love.
The hotel truly reflects St. Pete, which I quickly learned is itself a funky and affordable, no-fuss kind of city, from the retro beach to the hip downtown. Even at its most upscale, St. Pete is unpretentious, the kind of city where flip-flops feel more at home than high heels. Barefoot? Even better.
Other Boutique Hotels in Florida
Looking for somewhere affordable and stylish elsewhere in the Sunshine State? Check out these other boutique hotels I’ve bookmarked for future trips.
• One Ocean Resort in Jacksonville: A slick resort with a spa and ocean views. Rates starting at $219.
• Postcard Inn in Islamorada: The sister hotel to St. Pete’s Postcard Inn, the Florida Keys location brings all the charm of the original down South. Rates starting at $209.
• Hotel Cabana in Clearwater: Another recently renovated motel with stylish rooms, affordable rates, and an Instagram-able pool. Rates starting at $120.
• Sense Beach House in Miami: This sleek and stylish 18-room boutique hotel in South Beach boasts a rooftop pool and a happening restaurant. Rates starting at $170.
What’s your favorite Florida boutique hotel? Does the Postcard Inn look like it’s your style?
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of VISIT FLORIDA. The opinions and text are all mine.