From the active wildlife to the many cultural events, the cooler autumn air brings Pinellas County to life.
Fall in Clearwater, as with most of Florida, means the summer tourists have left with high tempts and the snowbirds have yet to arrive. An often-overlooked time to visit, it’s one of the best. From the active wildlife to the many art and food festivals, the Clearwater and St. Petersburg area comes alive as the humidity falls to a balmy and pleasant 60 percent in the afternoons.
Activities & Attractions
Stroll Through Festive Flora
From November 23 to December 30, the Florida Botanical Gardens turn into a winter wonderland thanks to the annual Holiday Lights in the Garden. Located just nine miles south of Clearwater and 10 miles north of St. Pete in Pinewood Cultural Park, the 30 acres of cultivated gardens are adorned in more than one million LED lights, as well as festive holiday displays of snowmen and Santas. Local musicians dot the gardens, serenading guests as they wander the lit pathways while sipping on hot chocolate and munching on sweet snacks from local vendors.
See Dalí’s Spain through Clyde Butcher’s Lens
St. Petersburg’s Salvador Dalí Museum recently commissioned renowned local photographer, Clyde Butcher – known as the “Ansel Adams of Florida” – to explore and capture Catalonia, Salvador Dalí’s homeland. The result is the museum’s Visions of Dalí’s Spain exhibition, now on display until November 25 that showcases a selection of 41 epically scaled black and white images that document the many settings that inspired Dali’s surrealist landscapes.
Catch the King
There are actually two peak seasons for kingfish: spring and fall. But the latter season is when you’ll find true behemoth versions of the species (which are actually a type of mackerel) roaming these waters. That’s because it’s the season when they migrate back down south for the winter, after they’ve spent the summer getting fat off squid, anchovies, and jack. By the time they make it back to the Clearwater area, these fish weigh an average 20 pounds. The best way to find kingfish is by taking a charter like Scales and Tails off the coast and casting your line into the deeper waters of the Gulf.
Marvel at Monarchs during Peak Migration
It is an old Mexican belief that the orange monarch butterflies, who return to the country in time for Dia de Los Muertos, are the souls of loved ones returning for a visit. Thanks to the Gulf’s oil industry, in which the beautiful insects use the rigs as stopovers, Florida receives visits from them as well. In fact, September through November is their peak migration season, where thousands of butterflies stop into areas like Bayside Bridge Wetlands Conservatory and other wetlands around the city that are home to the monarchs’ favorite snack, milkweed.
Festivals & Events
Gulfport, located just outside of St. Pete, is known as the “quirkiest town in America.” In fact, the town celebrates that unique distinction every Labor Day with this street fair showcasing the artists and performers that make Gulfport such an interesting town.
Clearwater Super Boat Races, 9/28-30
These boats are equipped with 6,000 horsepower engines that blast them through the water at up to 180 miles per hour. This championship race pulls crowds of 180,000 who line the bridges and beaches to catch a glimpse of these ultra-fast vessels.
SHINE St. Pete Mural Festival 10/5-14
While St. Petersburg is already known as a destination for street artists, each year, the city looks to add new pieces to its already large mural collection thanks to this annual 10-day event. Expect 16 local and international artists making their mark on the city while crowds gather to watch the mesmerizing process.
Clearwater Jazz Holiday, 10/18-21
While the lineup is still being finalized for 2018, Clearwater’s premier four-day jazz fest held in Coachman Park has pulled in the likes of past performers such as Gladys Knight, Buddy Guy, and the Count Basie Orchestra.
For three days, Vinoy Park becomes home to some of the best barbeque in the country. As well as great eats, this three-day festival also brings in some of the country’s favorite touring artists like Los Lonely Boys and Josh Turner.
Outback Bowl Beach Day, 12/30
Every New Year’s Day, two college football teams face off in Tampa Bay, but the real event takes place the day before. The teams, joined by their cheerleaders, mascots, and the marching bands compete in a series of competitions in a Drumline-style battle of the bands, tug-of-war, and a pie-eating contest.