Three weekends. That's all we have left before the new school year is upon us.
Because Florida kids have to go back so much earlier than their Northeast cousins who get all the way through Labor Day before the school bell rings, our summers can slip away from us. Schools open for students in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties on Aug. 10, and in Pasco and Hernando counties Aug. 14.
Instead of grumbling, get planning. Here are some ideas to squeeze out the last drops of summer fun with your kids before you go shopping for backpacks.
A DAY AT THE MUSEUM
In addition to being blissfully air-conditioned, some of the kid-friendly museums have added new features this summer.
Glazer Children's Museum The hands-on museum in Tampa's Curtis Hixon Park just opened a new Pop Art exhibit, running through Aug. 13. Kids can experiment with pop art techniques such as silkscreen and rubber stamping while adding their own self portraits to a collaborative gallery wall. The gallery has been decorated with giant bananas (an homage to one of Andy Warhol's most recognizable works) and cartoonish screen prints that call back to the work of Roy Lichtenstein. Another new addition to Glazer is an indoor climbing playground called Free Play on the second floor. Add to that Forts, with loads of sheets, pillows and furniture for kids to build their own pillow forts. Free Tuesday at the Glazer Museum is Aug. 1. Regular admission is $15, $12.50 military/seniors, $9.50 children, younger than 1 free. 110 W Gasparilla Plaza, Tampa. (813) 443-3861. glazermuseum.org.
The Art of the Brick A world-famous exhibit of elaborate Lego sculptures is in Tampa through Sept. 4, and it's free to check it out. The elaborate display of more than 100 pieces by artist Nathan Sawaya include an eye-catching sculpture of a man ripping open his chest, a 20-foot-long T-Rex skeleton and replicas of famous works like the Mona Lisa. It's open 10 a.m.-6 p.m Wednesdays through Sundays at 802 E Whiting St., Tampa. (813) 301-6500. artofthebricktampa.com.
CHARLIE KAIJO | Times
Museum of Science and Industry In a push to give visitors one last chance to experience MOSI before it closes from Aug. 14 to Nov. 18, the science museum has added a heap of events. It will be remodeled and shrink in both size and admission price when it reopens before moving downtown in a few years. On the weekends of Aug. 5-6 and Aug. 12-13, MOSI's All-American Eclipse Festival will show kids how to get ready for the once-in-a-lifetime solar eclipse on Aug. 21 by building a pinhole projector. Or, see one last IMAX movie such as Wild America or Robots. One film is included with MOSI general admission through Aug. 13. See the schedule at mosi.org/imax. In addition to regular MOSI exhibits, kids can play in Cardboard Space Adventures, a play area designed to spark creativity by constructing an outpost in outer space entirely from cardboard. $26.95, $25.95 seniors, $20.95 ages 3-12; 2 and younger free. Parking is $5. 4801 E Fowler Ave., Tampa. (813) 987-6000. mosi.org.
NIGHTTIME AT THE ATTRACTIONS
Partly inspired by the oppressive daytime heat, some area attractions have extended their hours this summer and have added extra features.
Busch Gardens Summer Nights Through Aug. 6, the Tampa theme park is open until 9 p.m. on Sundays through Thursdays and until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. There are themed party zones throughout the park, a mini version of its food and wine festival. Catch a new ice show, and ride thrill rides such as the new Cobra's Curse spin coaster in the dark.
Lowry Park Zoo Lifelike, life-size dinosaurs have been visiting the zoo this summer for the Dinos Alive! exhibit running through Aug. 13. They move, blink and roar. Activity areas include a "Fossil Fun" dig site. In addition, the zoo brought back its Summer Sunset Celebration Fridays and Saturdays through July 29. Stroll the zoo as the sun sets and you'll find live music, roaming entertainment, special dining options and an expanded light show finale at 10 p.m. It's included with admission, and there's a special admission of $22.95 after 4 p.m. Regular admission $32.95, $24.95 ages 3-11, 2 and younger free. 1101 W Sligh Ave., Tampa. (813) 935-8552. l owryparkzoo.org.
Adventure Island The water park across the street from Busch Gardens is spread across 30 acres, with a family-friendly lazy river, kids' play areas and lots of slides. The Island Nights sunset party keeps the park open until 8:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. It's running through Aug. 6 with tropical entertainment, games on the beach and a live DJ. Admission is $54.99, or take advantage of a deal to get unlimited admission on weekdays through Sept. 4 for the $54.99. 10001 N McKinley Drive, Tampa. (888) 800-5447. adventureisland.com.
What else can you do in this steamy heat? Fortunately, you can choose between some of the world's most beautiful beaches, some affordable splash zones at the public pools or crystal-clear springs for tubing in Florida's spring-fed parks. Here are some other ways:
Horse Surfing On Anna Maria Island near Bradenton you can find a less-conventional way to enjoy the waterfront: riding a horse on the beach. After a trot through the sand you can then ride your horse into Palma Sola Bay. You'll be on a horse that's actually swimming. Packages start at $139 at beachhorses.com. (941) 907-7272. Book early because some weekend packages have sold out.
SunWest Park Without a beach close by, Hudson residents have a huge inflatable obstacle course on the water and slides. Regular features of the park include a wakeboard cable, paddleboards, volleyball nets and a mile-long beach hugging the spring-fed, freshwater lake. Parts of the park book up fast on the weekends so make reservations. It's $5 to park and from there you pay for various activities such as $10-$15 for the Aqua Park, $10 for kayaking for 45 minutes and $28-$48 for wakeboard sessions. Open daily 10 a.m.-7 p.m. 17362 Old Dixie Highway, Hudson. (727) 569-6472. sunwestpark.com.
Beach adventures Instead of just going to the beach, hunt for adventure. A good spot to hunt for shark's teeth is on Caspersen Beach in Venice, a sleepy town 60 miles south of Tampa. The Sarasota County shoreline is famous for its cache of prehistoric, fossilized shark's teeth. The best time to search is in the early morning in an area that claims the title of the "Shark's Tooth Capital of the World." An adventure of the historic sort can be found at Fort De Soto, built for the Spanish American War. Find a playground off the beach at the fort itself, with old cannons and jail cells to explore. You can even bring along the dog since the Fort De Soto Paw Playground offers an off-leash dog beach and playground. 3500 Pinellas Bayway S, just off Tierra Verde.
SEE A SHOW
IncrediBello: Bello Nock, one of the most famous daredevil clowns of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, returned to the stage this summer for audiences in Sarasota only. With his distinct foot-high yellow hair, Nock's show features magic and illusions and traditional circus stunts such as a high-wire act. He performs two shows a day through July 29 at the Historic Asolo Theater, 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota. (941) 358-3180. ringling.org.
Masters of Magic: Running Sundays through Aug. 13, this series of family friendly magic shows at Tampa's Magic Emporium features award-winning magicians such as this week's show of visual artistry in Spheres by Blaise or Scott Humston, as seen on BBC's Now You See It (Aug. 6) and sleight of hand humorist Geoff Williams (Aug. 13). $15. 7 p.m. Sundays. 4429 Gunn Highway, Tampa. (813) 265-9263.
Sundays at Rays games: Home games at Tropicana Field on Sundays are a Family Fun Day with free parking for all cars with at least four people, giveaways aimed at kids and before- and after-game activities such as running the bases. This Sunday kids get a free Chris Archer Emoji Pillow for the 1:10 p.m. game against the Rangers. Even on July 30, when the Rays are out of town, there's a family-friendly watch party with a giant screen set up on the sand on St. Pete Beach behind the Guy Harvey Outpost: A Tradewinds Resort, 6000 Gulf Blvd. (Free admission, $10 parking). Other Sunday giveaways for kids include swim goggles (Aug. 6) and Rays Retro Socks (Aug. 13). Ticket price vary by game at 1 Tropicana Drive, St. Petersburg. Toll-free 1-888-326-7297. raysbaseball.com.
MORE THINGS TO DO
Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at [email protected] Follow @SharonKWn.