By Chelle Koster Walton
Six St. Petersburg/Clearwater communities, six main drags, a hundred uncommon opportunities to reward your inner shopaholic. Main Street? Yes. Mainstream? No way!
In downtown St. Petersburg, you can just as easily land on a beaded Vera Wang gown as a book on metaphysics. In Safety Harbor, you can buy a striking art glass vase or a peek into your future. Fill up on natural sponges and baklava in Tarpon Springs. Antiques and tartans are standard stock in the Scottish-pedigree town of Dunedin. Gulfport’s quirky Beach Boulevard retailers sell art from kitsch to fine, while the merchandise in Pass-a-Grille ranges from beachwear to Evander Preston’s famed eclectic art and jewelry.
Meander up Central and First Avenues and discover vintage vinyl, hand-made soaps, exotic home furnishings and designer consignment shops. The historic Crislip Arcade, a renovated 1926 shopping arcade located on the 600 block of Central Avenue, is an open-air, covered hallway with a string of small retails shops on either side. Now housing eight art galleries, the arcade features Cuban floor tiles, tall ceilings decked with iron chandeliers and a huge iron gate among other architectural elements.
On St. Pete Beach’s main street, historic Corey Avenue, you'll sense a retro vibe, for sure. Tour the eclectic assortment of independent stores, which offer everything from beads and Christmas ornaments to top-notch cigars and custom jewelry.
- Quirkiest Shop: Buttons, Bangles & Beads on Corey Avenue
- Best Buy: A bright painted side table from White Owl Market in the Crislip Arcade
Safety Harbor’s health-conscious and artistic aura glows along Main Street, which dead-ends at a body of water named – what else? – Safety Harbor.
- Quirkiest shop: Jars of herbs line the shelves of Bailey's Naturals Herbal Apothecary, a block off Main.
- Best buy: You won’t be able to turn away from the enchanting menagerie of rainbow-hued, art-glass lava bowls at Syd Entel Gallery/Susan Benjamin Glass, Etc.
- Bargains and splurges: Splurge on the Caviar & Champagne Spa Package at Safety Harbor Resort and Spa – a caviar cream facial and “pedi kur” washed down with a glass of champagne. Or indulge your curiosity with a psychic reading downtown.
- Refuel: Head over to Green Springs Bistro, just off Main, for creative Gulf Coast/Greek fusion fare in a cozy cottage setting.
Named for a chain of Greek isles, Dodecanese Boulevard whisks visitors away to the Aegean.
- Quirkiest shop: Besides buying sponges at Spongeorama, you can watch a free vintage film and tour exhibits on the town’s heritage.
- Best buy: It's all about the sponges here and you won't find a better deal on these natural and versatile sponges than in Tarpon Springs.
- Bargains and splurges: Both a bargain and a splurge – try baklava at any of the string of bakeries along Dodecanese.
- Refuel: You can’t get a bad Greek meal in Tarpon Springs. Dimitri's on the Water, however, has the best view of the Anclote River and its boat traffic.
Its hometown downtown lies along Main Street and intersects with the Pinellas Trail. Antiques and Celtic wares honor its history and Scottish heritage.
- Quirkiest shop: Need to rent a kilt? The Celtic Shop of Dunedin has them for all occasions, along with district tartans, tams, coats of arms and even teeny kilts for dressing up beer cans.
- Best buy: Decorate with garden and wall art made by a local artist from recycled aluminum and glass at Clay and Paper Gallery of Art.
- Bargains and splurges: From affordable trinkets to vintage décor, the antique shops of downtown Dunedin offer friendly faces and a range of merchandise to be discovered.
- Refuel: Mexican cuisine is fresh, authentic and healthy at Casa Tina Mexican Grill.
Host of first Friday and third Saturday art walks, Beach Boulevard reaches the waterfront, here lively restaurants overlook the bay.
- Quirkiest shop: Anything that doesn’t move gets hand-painted at The Outpost.
- Best buy: Try out your skills at Argentinean, swing, salsa or ballroom dancing with free lessons at the Historic Waterfront Gulfport Casino Ballroom.
Eighth Avenue may be short – stretching a couple of blocks from beach to bay – but it’s packed with shopping stops tucked into historic digs.
- Quirkiest shop: Bamboozle’s name is quirky enough, and then you see the shell mosaic mermaid that greets you at the door. Give yourself plenty of time to shop its hip clothes, accessories and art.
- Best buy: On what other main street in the world can you buy passage to an un-bridged, uninhabited island? Board the Shell Key Shuttle at Merry Pier.
- Bargains and splurges: It’s all about art! At Evander Preston, splurge on the extravagant art jewelry that celebs have dropped up to five figures to wear. Or find local artwork in the two- to three-figure range at the utterly charming A Little Room for Art.
- Refuel: Just off Eighth, facing the beach, the Hurricane Seafood Restaurant serves up seafood and spectacular views in a sprawling, two-level building modeled after a Victorian home.