Top 5: Free outdoor festivals for winter-weary Floridians

The heating bills, electric blankets, thick sweaters, bottomless pitchers of hot rum punch. (Okay, maybe that's just me.) Is everyone out there tired of coping with never-ending cold weather?

Sorry, Vancouver, but one more day below 40 degrees and we're officially applying to host the next available Winter Olympics. (With a little refrigeration, Adventure Island would make for a kickin' bobsledding venue!)

Luckily, spring weather is almost here, and with it comes a slew of free outdoor festivals this week. So put away the ski masks and mittens, break out the SPF 30 and get ready to be a Floridian again.

FIVE FREE EVENTS THIS WEEK:

1. CLEARWATER'S FOURTH FRIDAY: Pretty clever. It's just like downtown St. Pete's First Friday, only in a different town and on a different day. (We're still waiting for someone to lay claim to "Third Thursday" and "Second Sunday." Maybe "Wacky Wednesday"? Come on, Largo!) The street party begins in the Cleveland Street area at 5:30 p.m. with live music by Suite Caroline and Kenny McGee and other family entertainment. Food, beer and wine available for purchase. Proceeds benefit Miles for Hope. More info at 4thfridayclearwater.com.

2. GASPARILLA RACES: Technically, this is free only if you're going to just watch the runners. (Hey, no throwing beads at them, either!) The Gasparilla Distance Classic 15K and 5K get going at 7 a.m. Saturday in downtown Tampa, with the race extending along Bayshore Boulevard. Meanwhile, the Gasparilla Marathon and Half Marathon get under way at 6 a.m. Sunday, starting at Platt and Parker streets. If you want to join the runners, admission varies depending on the race and the date you sign up. See tampabayrun.com for the details.

3. FLORIDA AFRICAN-AMERICAN HERITAGE CELEBRATION: Let me take this opportunity to officially apologize for the Largo remark earlier. No hard feelings? The city's Heritage Village hosts a day of live music, dance, storytelling and art celebrating African-American culture. Traditional African and Caribbean art and cuisine are available for purchase. The event is from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at 11909 125th St. N. Read more at www.pinellascounty.org/unity.htm.

4. YBOR CITY FIESTA DAY: It's so unfair that Ybor City gets one short day of recognition each year; devil crab rolls, Cuban sandwiches and mojo should be celebrated nightly! But this festival in Tampa's Latin quarter commemorates more than cuisine. Look for an arts marketplace, exhibits and multicultural entertainment from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. Meanwhile, Flan Fest — with recipe contest and the infamous flan-eating competition — begins at 11 a.m. at Centennial Park, 1800 E Eighth Ave. Both events are free, with charges for food purchases. See www.ybor.org for more information.

5. GASPARILLA'S OUTBOUND VOYAGE: Everyone's happy and carefree — i.e., drunk — when those town-pillaging pirates arrive in Tampa. But who remembers to show up and bid their ship, the Jose Gasparilla, a teary farewell when it weighs anchor and heads home? The last hurrah begins at 2 p.m. at Jackson's Bistro, Harbour Island and the Tampa Convention Center with live bands and up to 500 party-pooped pirates. Mayor Pam Iorio even gets the key to the city returned to her! A final cannon blast at 6:30 signals it's time for the ship to shove off.

PAY TO PLAY AT THESE:

If you have a few more coins to spare, there are a few other outdoor fiestas this weekend worth your time and currency:

JOURNEY FEST: Can you really have Journey Fest without, you know, Journey? Blackberry Smoke and the Charlie Daniels Band headline this family-friendly event. Sertoma Youth Ranch, 85 Myers Road, Brooksville. 5 p.m. Friday to Sunday evening. journeyfest.org.

ST. PETERSBURG WINE & FOOD FESTIVAL: Wine and dine under the stars Friday at this outdoor event featuring dishes from local restaurants and more than 50 wines. Les Sabler provides live jazz. 7 to 9:30 p.m., Straub Park at Beach Drive and Fifth Avenue N.E., St. Petersburg; $50. Start the party at 5:30 p.m. with $75 VIP access. Benefits the American Lung Association. (727) 347-6133, ext. 1406 or 1407.

BAY AREA RENAISSANCE FESTIVAL: The weekly tributes to Thee Good Olde Days go until March 28. This weekend's theme: "Wine, Chocolate and No Pants." Wait, that's "Romance." Sorry. The kilts and tights threw us. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, grounds next to Tampa's MOSI. $17.95, adults; $14.95, seniors; $9.95, children 5 to 12. Discounts for advance purchases. bayarearenaissancefest.com.

Top 5: Free outdoor festivals for winter-weary Floridians 02/22/10 [Last modified: Monday, February 22, 2010 8:32am]

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