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Cool places to escape to

Finding an outdoorsy place to chill with the family or that special someone takes creativity in a sweltering Florida summer — especially since jetting off to the mountains may not be in the budget this year. So, allow us. We've compiled a few havens in Hillsborough County where you can feel an afternoon breeze, have a good time and perhaps even experience something new.

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Gulf Coast Hurricane Machine

Museum of Science and Industry

4801 E Fowler Ave.

(813) 987-6000.

Winds at 8 to 12 mph feel pretty good on a hot day. Hair flies gently around the face. You imagine leaves swirling on the ground.

It starts out that way inside the Gulf Coast Hurricane Machine, but the serenity doesn't last.

The wind picks up — quickly. At 25 to 31 mph, umbrellas would be difficult to handle. A fresh gale whips through, making it hard to walk. The winds gradually grow to 75 mph, which makes it dangerous even to stand.

Luckily, you're sitting on a roomy bench with goggles to protect your eyes and with earphones to muffle the sound of industrial-sized fans that re-create the natural phenomenon.

For the price of admission to the interactive science center ($20.85 for adults; $16.95 for children), visitors can make unlimited visits to the hurricane exhibit, outside the main building across from the butterfly garden.

The machine sucks in air from the outside, so it's not a frigid wind. But the exhibit is shaded, the volunteers are knowledgeable and the experience is educational. Now that's cool.

Dong-Phuong Nguyen, Times Staff Writer

'Wat Tampa'

5306 Palm River Road

(813) 621-1669

Thai immigrants built a temple with red eaves and gold dragon prows along sleepy Palm River. Wat Mongkolratanaram, better known as Wat Tampa, is the main temple for Tampa Bay Buddhists.

Here, during the dog days of summer, visitors flock to eat authentic foods at picnic tables under oak trees during the Sunday market.

Things to not miss: papaya salad shredded as you watch, milky teas, noodle soups, egg rolls, curry dishes, fried plantains and taro root, and coconut and green onion rice cakes. Offerings usually cost around five bucks.

Then there's the meditation garden.

It's like slipping into another culture without the jet lag. There are golden Buddhas, altars for incense and offerings, and real monks in orange robes.

The market is open from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Sunday.

Elisabeth Parker, Times Staff Writer

Sail Pavilion on the Riverwalk

Tampa Convention Center

333 S Franklin St.

(813) 274-7317

However you arrive at the Sail Pavilion — by foot, boat, bike or car — just get there by sunset.

What? Never heard of it? The Tampa Convention Center's circular bar opened on the Riverwalk a year ago. In-the-know cyclists and boaters find it, conventioneers and hotel guests wander over. Harbour Islanders Meda and Bill Bahlke walk over to shoot the breeze nearly every night, and for live music from 5 to 9 p.m. on weekends.

Sail Pavilion opens at 4 p.m. Monday through Friday; 11 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Bartender Freddy Turner pours complimentary shots at sunset. He's got a full bar, several beers on tap and a variety of wine. During the week, you can munch on hot dogs and snacks. The menu expands to burgers, pizza, chicken fingers and salads on weekends. Last call is usually 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, 11 p.m. other days.

Parking is free, if you can find a spot in the convention center cul-de-sac. Boat docking is, too, at 11 public slips.

Pets get their own treats and all the water they can lap up in stainless steel dishes. Yappie Hour is every Thursday at 4 p.m., with two-for-one draft beers, but your pet gets served first.

Now you're in the know, too.

Amy Scherzer, Times Staff Writer

Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza

University of South Florida

On a hot summer day, the University of South Florida can seem especially big and flat, with maybe a third of the trees a pedestrian might want.

Then, an oasis: USF's Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza.

Its trellised walkway runs more than 100 yards between the Marshall Student Center and the administration building. The shade comes from a thick thatch of bougainvillea vines with bold pink blooms.

The walkway's benches offer an inviting spot to rest, read or gaze at the 26,000-plus students enrolled in USF's summer session.

The plaza also is steps from stops for the occasional visitor: Pick up a Bulls T-shirt at the campus bookstore. Pop into the airy student center for an iced coffee. Check out the USF Contemporary Art Museum (free admission).

Or stay put. Really, why walk around in the sun when you can relax under a canopy of flowers? Class dismissed.

Richard Danielson, Times Staff Writer

Cypress Point Park

5620 W Cypress St.

Cypress Point Park is no urban legend. Who knew you could fly a kite, launch a canoe and spike a volleyball on a dead-end flank of western Cypress Street?

Unexpected pleasures lie beyond billowing mangroves exactly 1 mile from bustling West Shore Boulevard. Look up to blue herons and Jet Blue sharing the flight path. Gaze down to see crabs scuttling in the wet sand.

Tampa Parks and Recreation maintains the beach, nature trails and picnic grills behind a row of office buildings fronting Tampa Bay. There's ample parking and ADA accessibility.

St.-Tropez it's not, just a handy spot to dip your toes and chill.

Amy Scherzer, Times Staff Writer

Ballast Point Park

5300 Interbay Blvd.

The site was first named Jules Verne Park, for the French author who chose Tampa as the setting for his fictional launching pad in the 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon. Renamed Ballast Point, the park, which was developed in 1894, seems an appropriate location as it might offer the city's best unobstructed views of the water, downtown and the heavens.

It includes a wooden pier, with benches and shady shelters for the fishermen who ply the waters daily for redfish and snook. Stand 960 feet out into Old Tampa Bay at the pier's edge and feel the sea breeze, a cooling balm from the summer sun.

Get too cold, and the Taste of Boston Restaurant at the head of the pier offers up creamy New England clam chowder. Too hot, and you can order ice cream. Restaurant hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Justin George, Times Staff Writer

Cool places to escape to 07/22/10 [Last modified: Thursday, July 22, 2010 1:18pm]
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