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5 of the Coolest Things in St. Petersburg's Dali Museum

There’s a lot to love about The Dali. Here’s our roundup of the top 5 coolest items.

St. Petersburg’s Dali Museum is an icon on what is described as Florida’s “cultural coast.” Apart from the museum’s collection, which spans Salvador Dali’s entire career (1904-1989) and is the largest collection of the artist’s works outside of Europe, the museum itself is a work of art. 

The hulking modern concrete structure with surreal, bulbous glass atriums perched along the waterfront invites onlookers to stop and stare. Inside is even cooler, where the museum store and Spanish cafe are bathed in light around a three-floor spiral staircase that winds its way to wings showcasing the museum’s permanent collection in addition to traveling exhibitions. 

There’s a lot to love about The Dali. Here’s our roundup of the top five coolest items.

The Building

Founded in 1982, the original Dali Museum was architecturally unremarkable. That changed in 2011 when it was torn down and redesigned by architect Yann Weymouth of HOK, whose goal was to create a building worthy of the artwork it houses while also protecting it from natural disasters. 

Combining the rational with the fantastical, today the Dali is a cultural landmark—a seemingly simple rectangular structure sporting 18-inch-thick, hurricane-proof walls out of which erupts a large free-form geodesic glass bubble known as the “enigma”. The “enigma” comprises 1,062 glass triangles and pays homage to the dome that adorns Dali’s museum in Spain. Inside, the Dali houses another unique architectural feature—a helical staircase—recalling Dali’s obsession with spirals and the double helical shape of the DNA molecule.

The Dali Museum
The Dali Museum is a stunning architectural achievement that blends function with fantasy. (Courtesy Dali Museum)

The Galleries

On the museum’s third floor, visitors arrive at a landing with a view of the gardens and waterfront through the glass “enigma.” On either side are the two wings of gallery space, presenting both the magnificent permanent collection and visiting traveling exhibitions. 

In the James wing you’ll find works exemplifying every moment and medium across Dali’s entire career. Your idea of Dali will change dramatically as you browse the artist’s oil paintings, original drawings, bookworks, prints, sculpture, photos, manuscripts and extensive archive of documents. Yes, you’ll see melting clocks and surreal images that will blow your mind, but you’ll also discover Dali as one of the most talented painters of the 20th century whose attention to detail and ability to capture things as if it were photographed is stunning.

The opposite wing is home to the special visiting exhibits, like “Escher at The Dali,” which presented more than 130 of the visionary artist’s works. From January 23 through June 12, 2016, the museum presents a major exhibit titled “Disney & Dali: Architects of the Imagination.” The installation tells the story of the unlikely alliance between two of the most renowned artists of our time through a multimedia wonderland of original paintings, story sketches, conceptual artwork, objects, correspondences, archival film, photographs, and audio.

The Hallucinogenic Toreador at the Dali Museum
The Dali Museum's permanent collection spans the artist's entire career, including The Hallucinogenic Toreador, which stands more than 13 feet tall. (Courtesy Dali Museum)

The Café

A visit to The Dali is not complete without a stop at Café Gala. Named for Dali’s wife, lifelong inspiration and muse, the cafe is designed to educate and satiate visitors with Spanish food and history. 

Enjoy light fare with a Spanish theme including tapas and small plates, apetizers, pastries, gazpacho, salads and sandwiches. Kahwa local roasted coffee is served, including espresso, cappuccino and macchiato, along with a selection of Spanish beer and wine. No ticket purchase is necessary to stop in for a relaxing bite or pick-me-up. Open daily until 5 pm, Thursdays until 7:30 pm.

Cafe Gala
Cafe Gala serves light Spanish fare including tapas, gazpacho, salads and sandwiches. (©Justin Braun/WhereTraveler)

The Shop

Show off your passion for Dali by purchasing a keepsake at the museum store. It contains the largest collection of Dali-inspired merchandise in the world that you can only get there. Peruse jewelry and fragrance, apparel, décor, books, games, and even wine. 

Visitors enter and leave through the Dali Museum Store, so there’s no need to buy when you first arrive and end up lugging your purchase with you throughout the galleries. So, save your shopping for after your tour.

Dali Shop
Dali's "Rainy Taxi" is on display inside the museum shop. (©Justin Braun/WhereTraveler)

The Gardens

It’s only natural for the incredible museum to have incredible gardens. The front of the museum features a grotto with an airy living wall of plants and water feature known as the “Fountain of Youth.” Around back, visitors are immersed in a surreal yet tranquil environment with melting clocks on benches, a labyrinth hedge-maze and an enormous statue of Dali’s famous mustache. Don’t leave without having your picture taken between the mustache’s whiskers or attaching your wristband on the wish-tree that overlooks the European-inspired landscapes and on the bay.

Dali Museum Mustache
A visit to the Dali is not complete until you have your picture taken with the artist's iconic mustache. (Courtesy Dali Museum)

The Building (Again)

A picture is worth 1,000 words ...

Dali Museum helical staircase
The helical staircase inside the Dali pays homage to the artist's fascination with spirals and the double helix DNA molecule. (©Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater)