An unexpected find in one of Florida’s most family-friendly cities
From Figueres to Florida, how in the world did Salvador Dalí end up with a captivating American museum nestled between a minor-league baseball stadium and a wastewater treatment facility?
Well, the Spanish artist whose surrealist works and wild public behavior left him with a life far from ordinary didn’t moonlight as a sailor in the Tampa Bay Area. Instead, it was the local community that rallied to bring his collection to them. According to the museum’s website, an article in the Wall Street Journal, “U.S. Art World Dillydallies Over Dalí,” led to the museum opening in 1982 — and eventually a stunning new building and expansive collection in 2011.
I’ve visited Florida off and on over the years, often stopping in Ybor City in Tampa but rarely crossing the Sunshine Skyway Bridge (except after missing an exit closed during construction). That changed last winter when Eliza and I were in the area with my parents. I did a double-take to make sure we had the right Salvador Dalí when my parents told me about the museum for the first time.
Two of my favorite pieces side by side
Be sure to check before you go, but we made our way to the museum on a Thursday night when tickets cost about half as much as usual. As could be expected, a line had already formed by the time we arrived. Eliza was not yet a year and a half at that point, so she entertained herself (and probably many others in line too) by marching up and down the grates on the patio. Waiting allowed us to reflect on the building’s design, a work of art in itself, before even stepping inside.
The line moved more quickly than I expected and soon we were face to face with room after room featuring more than 2,000 pieces of Dalí’s paintings. The collection included far more than we could possibly see in a single evening (especially while taking turns running after Eliza, for whom the Persistence of Memory seemed to be more a matter of the persistence of tiring out mommy), but our two hours of browsing was enough to get a good sense of how much you can see in a short period of time — and how much we need to go back again.
After browsing the galleries, we shared a few tapas at Café Gala on the first floor. The menu strived to remain true to the plates I’d come to expect after our several weeks in Spain, from which we’d returned only a month earlier.
And, of course, I had to snap one last photo in the bathroom wearing Dalí’s trademark ’stache before leaving. Especially with our digital and interactive technologies these days, I love when museums take a particularly playful and light-hearted approach, which was certainly the case at the Dalí Museum. There are touches of whimsy all throughout the galleries for you to find — including the chance to immerse yourself into a few of his paintings (yes, literally).
If you go, here are a few tips to have the best possible visit:
- Take advantage of the reduced admission rates every Thursday from 5 – 8 p.m.; if you end up with a wait, enjoy the sights of the building itself (and grate walking if so inclined)
- Order food and drink from Café Gala and eat outside in the avant-garden (oh so cleverly named) if the weather permits, which, since it’s Florida, it probably will
- Take a walk along the water around your visit and be sure to take in the beauty of the city of St. Petersburg if you can make a full day or even a weekend out of it
If you’re looking for a list of other fun museums across Florida, here are several others I’m eyeing.