Got visitors in town? Do you have kids whining that they just want to stay plugged into the Xbox all day? We have some easy ways to explore the Tampa Bay area that will make your guests think you are a seasoned tour guide.
If you're feeling the need to venture out on Christmas Day, not everything is shuttered. Some suggestions:
Stroll along Tampa's Riverwalk: Park near the St. Pete Times Forum so you can have a look at where the Republican National Convention will be starting Aug. 27. Cruise past the Convention Center where the working press will set up shop, then wind your way around toward Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and take in the views along the Hillsborough River (this is about a mile in length, so wear comfortable shoes). If you're feeling energetic, cross the bridge at Kennedy and explore the massive verandah at Plant Hall on the University of Tampa campus.
Get cozy by a fire pit: An outdoor area at the Vinoy Renaissance in St. Petersburg features massive fire pits with outdoor bar service and a beautiful view of the Vinoy Basin. At the Sandpearl Resort at Clearwater Beach, Tate's Fire Island Grill lights up an authentic beach fire pit every day if the weather is cooperative (not a lot of wind). And because both are at resorts, kids are welcome (but you might want to leave the newly acquired karaoke machine at home).
Hunt for Florida snowmen: Or make one of your own. For the past few years, the stretch of sand between the snack bar and the Don CeSar at Pass-a-Grille has featured several sand people, ranging from tiny 2-footers to some that are life-sized and carved out of the sand. Be sure to bring a camera to document. (They'd make a perfect Christmas card from Florida next year.)
Outside day at the Dalí: The Dalí Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, closed Christmas Day but open New Year's Day from noon to 7 p.m. But don't let the posted business hours keep you away, it's a cool place to visit OUTDOORS because you have that wonderful maze for kids to play in; the place itself is fun to look at; and there are patches of places where you can sit and visit or take photos in the Avant Gardens. Plus, there is a great and little-used kids park across the street at Albert Whitted Airport that has lots of aviation themes. Even better, it's all free.
Go fish: The Sunshine Skyway fishing piers are rich with fins around the old bridge, which has been turned into fishing piers on the north and south sides with snack bars and picnic areas open every day of the year, 24 hours a day. You don't need a fishing license because they have a pier fishing license that covers all of their guests. Rod rentals are $8 a day with deposit and they'll even loan you a bucket. Pier admission is $4 per car, plus $4 per adult, $2 for children 6 to 11, 5 and under free. skywaypiers.com.
Out and about in the Tampa Bay area
Here are some tried-and-true favorites for showing off some of the area's best features for your visitors.
See the manatees: Nothing delights Northern relatives more than seeing our famous sea cows up close. Your best bet is Tampa Electric's Big Bend Power Station, which features a wooden boardwalk over the water, garden and habitat displays, a snack bar and decks to view the manatees, which are attracted to the plant's warm water. The center is at 6990 Dickman Road, next to the power plant at the end of Big Bend Road. It's open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission and parking are free. See a live web cam at tampaelectric.com/manatee. The center closes at 3 p.m. Christmas Eve and is closed Christmas Day.
Dolphin's tail is quite a tale: Check the new Winter's Dolphin Tale Adventure at Clearwater's Harborview Center. Fresh off the success of the Dolphin Tale movie, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium's new prop and movie set exhibit recently opened, featuring movie sets, interactive games and theaters for showing behind-the-scenes footage. The exhibit is 2 miles from Winter's home at the aquarium, but they are linked by a free Jolley Trolley shuttle. Two-site combo tickets are available on site. Both the aquarium and exhibit will be closed at 2 p.m. Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve and closed Christmas Day. Harborview Center, 300 Cleveland St., Clearwater. $11.95, seniors $10.95, kids 3–12 $9.95.
Soak up some sponges: Sponges may not be sexy, but the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks make them road-trip worthy. You can kill a day and get some great Greek food checking out the quirky shops (the Spongeorama museum of all things sponge is our favorite retro haunt), see sponge divers in action and even rent a bike to hop on the Pinellas Trail. spongedocks.net.
Sink a mini putt: Take advantage of the beautiful weather and hit a miniature golf course. Smuggler's Cove locations in Indian Shores and Madeira Beach are two of the best. They are open from noon to 11 p.m. Christmas Day. Give them your e-mail address and they'll send you a coupon for money off a round. smugglersgolf.com.
Take in the local attractions: If you have little ones visiting, the Tampa Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa will be open Christmas Day. Busch Gardens will be open from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the holiday (and insiders say that day and Christmas Eve are two of the least crowded times to go). The Florida Aquarium, Lowry Park Zoo and Great Explorations Children's Museum are all closed Christmas Day, but will be open the rest of the week.