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Got $5? Here are 20 fun ways to spend it in Tampa Bay

They say $5 doesn't go as far today as it did 50 years ago. Or even a decade ago. But we're a glass-is-half-full kind of newspaper. We maintain that if you know where to look, you can still find plenty of fun things to do each week for as little as $5. So we started combing Tampa Bay for deals, and guess what? Our cheapskate skills paid off. So if you've got a crisp $100 bill burning a hole in your pocket, it's time to cash it in, because we found 20 great things you can do for five bucks.

Visit Fort De Soto

Locals grumbled when Pinellas County's world-class nature beach began charging $5 per car for admission in January. For the first three months of 2012, attendance dropped nearly 12 percent from the same time period in 2011. But really. We're talking about a park that more than once has been named America's Best Beach. And on a recent Sunday afternoon, I was swimming in the shallows when a half-dozen or more dolphins started frolicking a short distance offshore. There they were, 300 feet away from the spot where I swam, then 200, then 100. I half expected one to come up and tow me down to Atlantis. You're telling me that experience wasn't worth a measly $5? Fort De Soto may no longer be free, but it still delivers some experiences money can't buy. Jay Cridlin

Walk with the animals

A couple of times a year, Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo opens its doors for just $5 (a big savings from its usual admission of $23.95 for adults, $18.95 for kids). The next one is Sunday. But get there early because it gets crowded for this deal. And keep in mind that you can still empty your wallet buying tickets for special rides, like $4 to ride a camel, or spending money on treats to hand-feed a giraffe. The zoo is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 1101 W Sligh Ave., Tampa. lowryparkzoo.com. Sharon Kennedy Wynne

Feed some pelicans

When you stroll down St. Petersburg's Pier, chances are good a tubby, happy pelican will check you up and down for fish, then waddle on by. It's just a tease to the dozen others a little farther down, lining up like soldiers and waiting. They want noms. Bad. The grand birds come to the pier en masse many afternoons because they know it's a sure thing. For $5 at the Pier Bait House, you can buy a bucket of five bait fish to feed the pelicans by hand. The managers offer daily specials, often throwing in twice the fish. Then you can perch on a stand and drop the delectable morsels into the birds' beaks. Pelicans are pretty docile creatures that can live for 30 years, said Pier Bait House manager Bonnie Heeman. They don't rely solely on the Pier for food, so they come and go, including "Coco," a brown female pelican that has been coming to the pier for 20 years. She knows how to break into the bait bin. She bosses around the baby pelicans. It's adorable, yes, but fight the urge to pet these fluffy guys. They're not mean, but if you stick your mitts anywhere near them, they assume you have fish and will go for it. The Pier Bait House is at the end of the St. Petersburg Pier, 800 Second Ave. NE. It's open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Visit thepierbaithouse.net or just stop by. Stephanie Hayes

Feast on a Cuban

There's been a lot of talk around town lately about Tampa's role in the creation of the Cuban sandwich. And yet you'd be surprised how hard it is to find a good one for less than $5. Thankfully, there's always the Floridian restaurant in Tampa, which is consistently cited as serving one of the best in town. Its 7-inch version sells for $4.99 (so do a host of other sandwiches) and is worth every penny. Bonus: You can order a diet version minus the salami, cheese and mustard/mayo that's less than 500 calories. 4424 W Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. (813) 287-6663, finestcubansandwich.com. Jay Cridlin

Soak in Island Night at Skipper's

It's harder than you'd think to find a regular $5 cover charge for live music in Tampa Bay. But for 23 years, Island Night has been a tradition on Wednesdays at Skipper's Smokehouse, with laid-back African and Caribbean jams. For $5, you can get inside to watch local reggae vets Impulse, who sing and harmonize with ear-pleasing force, joking and talking to the audience between songs. Red Stripe beer is only $2 in the Skipperdome, and food specials vary. The fun starts at 8 p.m. at Skipper's, 910 Skipper Road, Tampa. skipperssmokehouse.com. Jay Cridlin

Play five hours of pool

Starting at 6 p.m., pool is $5 an hour at Side-Pocket Billiards in Seminole. But from 1 to 6 p.m., you can play all you want for just $5. Considering happy hour ($1.75 Bud and Bud Light drafts) also starts at 1 p.m., that's a more than solid excuse to duck out of work early. 7570 Starkey Road, Seminole. (727) 399-0890, sidepocketbilliards.com. Jay Cridlin

Ride the streetcar

They say life is the journey, not the destination. But when it comes to Tampa's streetcar, it's a little bit of both. The streetcar's $5 one-day unlimited ride card comes in handy for anyone spending a day in downtown Tampa and Ybor City. Intrepid riders can start at Whiting Station and grab lunch at Hattricks. Then hop to the Tampa Bay History Center, the Florida Aquarium or Channelside Bay Plaza. For evening activities, head to Ybor City for dinner and a night out. The streetcar runs every 20 minutes or so until 2 a.m. on weekends. The $5 ride card also covers the downtown HART buses and the In-Town Trolley, which go to downtown's north end past Fly Bar, the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts and other notable spots. Bring the exact fare because conductors don't make change. tecolinestreetcar.org. Susan Thurston

Get in some Zumba

In the early 2000s, fitness studios everywhere began offering this new Latin-based workout routine developed by Beto Perez in Colombia. Fans and newbies alike can find a Zumba class just about any day of the week in Tampa Bay, and many of them are available for just $5 a class. One such place is the Simone Salsa Dance School (8336 W Hillsborough Ave., Tampa), where classes are usually held at 6 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and 10 a.m. Saturdays. As class times change they are updated on the website (simonesalsa.com). They also have a location in Brandon. To find classes in your area, visit zumba.com and enter your ZIP code (careful: some entries are outdated). Ashley Grant

Shop at the Art-o-Mat

In the lobby of the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, sits an Art-o-Mat, an old cigarette machine that has been converted to deliver palm-sized works by an array of crafty artists. Since 1997, about 100 of them have sprung up nationwide. You can get photographs, paintings, jewelry, fan pulls, books, sculptures, boxes, bags and other myriad trinkets. Each one costs just $5 and makes a one-of-a-kind souvenir. Not knowing exactly what you're going to get is half the fun. 255 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg. (727) 896-2667, fine-arts.org. Jay Cridlin

Get lucky at blackjack

It's not obvious, but the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino has $5 blackjack tables. Four, to be exact, and only from noon to 7 p.m. daily. Find them tucked inside the Hard Rock Cafe, away from the main casino floor. The tables attract a full house — and not necessarily just for the low minimum. The female dealers wear halter tops and big smiles. High-rollers might prefer spending $5 on a single pull of a slot machine. The casino has a high-limit slots room with $5 to $100 machines. The room, which has a drum set by Elvis Presley's drummer Ronnie Tutt, is open to anyone, but gawking is discouraged. You can bet up to $5 a pull at various penny machines in the casino, but only machines in the high-limit room start at $5. 5223 Orient Road, Tampa. Toll-free 1-866-502-7529, seminolehardrocktampa.com. Susan Thurston

Spin some tunes at the Hub

Five dollars gets you 18 songs on the Hub's jukebox. That's a lot of music and plenty of time to drink enough PBRs to forget your next selection. The jukebox is a sacred staple of the downtown dive bar. Matthew Vigil keeps watch of the 1996 Rowe Venus dinosaur, which has 100 CDs from Billie Holiday to the Beastie Boys. Play Billy Idol's Rebel Yell, and daytime bartender Jeannie Robinson might break into a yell of her own. After 25 years working the bar, she has heard it a time or two. 719 N Franklin St., Tampa. (813) 229-1553, thehubbartampa.com. Susan Thurston

Catch a Capitol Classic

Clearwater's Capitol Theatre is plotting a multimillion-dollar expansion that should increase capacity and give people a little breathing room in the lobby. But there's still plenty of time to catch a classic movie in the 81-year-old theater, playhouse and concert venue. The Capitol Classics film series charges only $5 for admission. Look for E.T. The Extraterrestrial at 3 p.m. June 2 and The African Queen at 7 p.m. June 7. Bonus: Show your ticket stub for a discount at several downtown businesses, including Metro 528 (buy-one-get-one entrees) and Tony's Pizzeria and Ristorante (one free beer after any show). 405 Cleveland St., Clearwater. atthecap.com. Jay Cridlin

Go golfing

Don't own a set of golf clubs? Doesn't matter. At Ace Golf, which has driving ranges in Brandon and Riverview, you can get a small bucket of balls for $4, plus you can rent a club for $1. So any time you get the urge — or you're feeling particularly stressed from an afternoon meeting at work — you can swing by there and swat nearly three-dozen dinged-up Wilsons with the club of your choice. No greens fees needed. 820 S. Kings Ave., Brandon, (813) 651-4653; and 12910 Boyette Road, Riverview, (813) 672-7750. ace-golf.com. Jay Cridlin

Become a cocktail connoisseur

These days, you can't spill a cup of sloe gin without getting some on a retro-style cocktail bar. But getting Prohibition-era drinks at nearly Prohibition-era prices? That's a rarity. Enter Zom Hee Chinese Restaurant, which offers a big menu of dozens of delightful old-school cocktails, from old-timey classics to kitschy signature specialties, and not a one costs more than $5. Yes, that includes the tart St. Petersburg Sling ($4.75), which comes in a tiki-head glass with a pink paper umbrella. 9015 Park Blvd., Seminole. (727) 391-8393, zomhee.com. Jay Cridlin

Go for a moonlight canoe

Imagine a quiet, romantic night under the stars on the Hillsborough River with your significant other. Now imagine being able to enjoy that date for just $5. The University of South Florida Campus Recreation Department offers moonlight canoeing for $5 per person with a USF ID. Students may purchase up to four tickets with their ID through the Campus Recreation website. Each person will need to bring a form of ID in addition to the student ID to rent the equipment. The next available date is June 1, and launch times are 8:50 and 10:50 p.m. Riverfront Park, 6200 E Fletcher Ave. usf.edu/camprec/outdoor. Ashley Grant

Strap on your skates

Willy Wonka once said, "If the good Lord had intended us to walk, he wouldn't have invented roller skates." He should have added that roller skating isn't just for young kids. Adult skates are that magical time when the skating rinks are only open to big kids, ages 17 and older. No crying, spitting up or worrying about whether or not the youngsters have to go potty. United Skates of America offers a $5 adult skate every Thursday from 9 p.m. to midnight. Regular skate rental is an additional $2, so bring your own skates if you have them. 5121 N Armenia Ave., Tampa. Ashley Grant

Try some cornhole

If you like cornhole but prefer air-conditioned comfort, then check out the Round Up on Monday nights. The Tampa honky-tonk offers free cornhole as part of the $5 cover. It also has free mechanical bull-riding and beer pong, provided customers haven't walked out with the balls. The bar also has Mix and Match Mondays, with games and a DJ playing all kinds of music, not just country. The $5 admission gets you $1 well drinks and $2 domestic bottles. Make it an evening by hopping next door to Peggy O'Neill's, which has karaoke from 9 p.m. to close. The Irish pub goes McMexican on Muy Bien Mondays with $1 tacos, $2 Coronas and $3 margaritas. Pitchers of beer are always $5. Both bars don't get going until late, even on Monday. The Round Up, 13918 W Hillsborough Ave., Tampa, (813) 855-1464, theroundup.com; Peggy O'Neill's, 13910 W Hillsborough Ave., Tampa, (813) 749-7192, peggyoneills.com. Susan Thurston

Tour a brewery

The first thing you need to know about the Cigar City Brewery tour is that it's not in Ybor City. It's in Tampa, off Spruce Street, a fact many people overlook. Once there, you'll see the entire operation, from the tasting room to the production building where the beer is brewed, bottled and packaged. The tours, which run hourly from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, cost $5 and include a beer and a Cigar City glass to take home. That's a great deal considering a pint in the tasting room goes for $5. Bob Lorber leads the tours, usually with a beer in hand. He describes the beermaking and shares quirky facts about the 3-year-old brewery. If you're lucky, he might even hand out free beers from the room-sized cooler. 3924 W Spruce St., Tampa. (813) 348-6363, cigarcitybrewing.com. Susan Thurston

Go behind the scenes

Capitalizing on its motto "It never gets old,'' the Tampa Theatre offers $5 walking tours twice a month. The balcony-to-backstage tours last about 90 minutes and include a demonstration of the Mighty Wurlitzer organ. The tours delve into the history and architecture of the Tampa landmark, which dates to 1926 and appears on the National Register of Historic Places. Believe in ghosts? Ask about the theater's supernatural history. Check the theater's website for upcoming dates. Admission is free for members and $2 for children ages 2 to 12. 711 N Franklin St., Tampa. (813) 274-8981, tampatheatre.org. Susan Thurston

Play some laser tag

On an average day, $5 gets you 7 1/2 minutes of laser-fueled mayhem at Terrace Sports' Lazer Tag Arena. On Wednesdays it stretches further, with unlimited games from noon to 6 p.m. for early birds and from 6 to 10 p.m. for the late crowd. With unlimited rematches for just a few bucks, it's the perfect opportunity to hone your skills. 5311 E Busch Blvd., Tampa. (813) 988-1127, terracesports.com. Justin Grant

Got $5? Here are 20 fun ways to spend it in Tampa Bay 05/16/12 [Last modified: Friday, May 18, 2012 12:11pm]

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