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From beaches to swims with manatees, oh-so-Florida ways to spend the holidays

It's the most wonderful time of the year — according to the song — but your Christmas doesn't look anything like the idyllic snow-blanketed scenes on every TV station.

What you have is even better. Christmas in Florida is one of the most pleasant times of the year for the Sunshine State with temperatures maxing out in the mid 80s and dipping into the 50s at night.

So while your friends and relatives spend their holidays shoveling snow or dodging chilly rain, you can head outside to experience the best parts of Florida without dealing with the sweltering heat of every other time of the year.

There are plenty of outdoor activities this week no matter your preference. From leisurely strolls to full-on camping trips, local businesses are here to accommodate if you want to get outside. And if you're not really an outdoorsy person, there's always a slew of concerts and parties taking advantage of this magnificent weather.

Just remember take selfies hashtagged #XmasInFlorida to elicit the right amount of jealousy from friends.

Five outdoor activities for the holidays

Try out that new bike

Hit the Pinellas Trail, one of the best paved bike paths on the west coast of Florida. Other options: the Withlacoochee State Trail or Suncoast Parkway, a favorite training ride for Tampa Bay area roadies and triathletes. Don't forget your helmet.

Pitch a tent

The holidays are a great time to go camping. Nothing says Christmas like a good campfire. Florida has the best state parks in the nation. Local favorites include Hillsborough River State Park, Myakka River State Park and Lake Kissimmee State Park.

Tour the tunnels

If you have guests in town, take them to Sarasota's Lido Key where you will find several outfitters offering kayak or canoe tours of nearby mangrove tunnels. The trip takes about an hour, and it is ideal for beginners. Bring your binoculars and bird book.

Take a beach hike

There is no better way to bring in the new year (or Christmas) than a long morning walk on the beach. Top beach walks include Fort De Soto County Park, Clearwater Beach, Caladesi Island and Honeymoon Island State Park. Resist the urge to go barefoot — the sand can get cold.

Swim with the manatees

All it takes is one good cold front to get those manatees moving toward Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River. December and January are peak months for manatee viewing. Remember: Look but don't touch. There are a half-dozen reputable companies that offer tours of the springs. Get there early.

Local events to wrap up 2015

Ooooh, pretty

More than 750,000 twinkly lights, lasers and animated figures deck the paths of the Florida Botanical Gardens, 12520 Ulmerton Road in Largo, every night for Holiday Lights in the Gardens. Proprietors suggest a $4 donation, and kids under 12 can see the new 6-foot-tall snowman for free. The lights begin at 5:30 p.m. and run through 9:30 p.m. through the end of the year. (727) 582-5800.

Rock on, Santa

Jingle all your bells and grab a couple of beers while you're at it Friday night at the New World Brewery's annual New Granada's Xmas Night Extravaganza featuring Meatwound, Rec Center, Empire Cinema and Mountain Holler. $10. Doors open at 8 p.m. at 1313 E Eighth Ave. in Tampa. newworldbrewery.net.

Quicker snappers

The beauty of untouched Florida awaits for those budding photographers who'd like to see the wild side of the state. The seasons of photography hike will take people through the Brooker Creek Preserve, 3940 Keystone Road in Tarpon Springs, at 8:30 a.m. Saturday for free. Preregistration is required. Sign up at brookercreekpreserve.org/guided-tours.htm.

Spread your wings

Run off that Christmas dinner at 10:15 a.m. Sunday at the Hooters End of the Year Last Chance Beach 5K. The $40 race includes a separate 1-mile ocean swim at 9:15 a.m. for the daring, and free beer and wings at Hooters for the registered. The race starts at Hooters and the Lookout Bar, 381 Mandalay Ave. at Clearwater Beach. tbtim.es/hooters5k.

Is that Jeter's house?

Tour Davis Islands the fast way with a 15-mile bike ride around the well-to-do enclave at 8 a.m. Sunday. Riders must bring helmets and maintain a 10 mph speed. The free meetup begins at the Hillsborough Community College Corporate Training Center, 39 Columbia Drive in Tampa. Call (813) 598-4944.

Downward Dalí

Relax your mind and take in exceptional views during the Yoga + Dalí class Sunday at the Dalí Museum, 1 Dalí Blvd., in St. Petersburg. The vinyasa/ashtanga-based class opens its doors at 11:30 a.m. to start at noon and costs $15 for guests and $10 for members. Bring your own mat and towel and stretch in the Avant-Garden, weather permitting. thedali.org.

Party time, excellent

Get wrapped up in all the hype of the Outback Bowl without having to pretend to root for one of the teams in the stadium — and while enjoying the great Florida weather at the beach. From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday, live music, skydivers, tug-of-war and other fanfare will greet the Tennessee Volunteers and the Northwestern Wildcats during the Outback Bowl Beach Day at Pier 60, 10 Pier 60 Drive on Clearwater Beach. See more details at outbackbowl.com/events, and for more bowl-related fun, see Page 3.

From beaches to swims with manatees, oh-so-Florida ways to spend the holidays 12/22/15 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 22, 2015 4:38pm]
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