Now in its 88th year, the Florida Strawberry Festival in the tiny town of Plant City in northeast Hillsborough County will once again turn on its Southern charm and likely keep its reign as the most-attended fair in the state.
It ranked nationally at No. 30 with more than 540,000 people attending in 2022, well ahead of the Florida State Fair (428,400), more population-dense Miami-Dade’s County Fair (483,312) and the South Florida Fair (335,579).
So how do they do it? With juicy strawberry concoctions, a stellar music lineup and Walt Disney World-level customer service, according to festival president Paul Davis. This year’s festival runs March 2-12 with a midway and a lineup that includes music legends like Willie Nelson and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
The festival was founded in 1930 and retains its old-fashioned appeal with farm animals, funny competitions and, of course, strawberries in every form, from shortcakes and funnel cakes to pickles and strawberry pizzas in the town that calls itself the winter strawberry capital of the world.
But there’s no booze, tobacco or other vices. The festival works hard to keep its image as a quaint piece of Americana that offers friendly roving “ambassadors” wearing bright red visors and red vests who walk the grounds and seek out the lost or bewildered with maps and advice.
“We try to be family-friendly and that has served us well,” Davis said. “The timing, the weather and the popular strawberry help. And I think it’s good we don’t have that one guy who gets over-served and ruins it for everybody.”
Pandemic restrictions that clouded the festival two years ago have eased, but they will still have face masks on hand to give out to anyone who wants one, Davis said. And the festival will have more than 100 hand-sanitizing stations throughout the grounds.
Here’s what to look for this year.
Berries and more
Like any fair, the festival has plenty of food vendors, including the popular Amish doughnuts that are the size of dinner plates and mega corn dogs. But the big draw is the three booths offering strawberry shortcake. You’ll have your choice between shortcake or a biscuit. Try both to decide on a favorite.
- St. Clements Shortcake Booth is a popular choice for its “make your own” option that allows you to pile it high. It is found in the middle of the Parke Exhibit Building, next to the Parkesdale Farms booth.
- Transforming Life Church: Inside the Entenmann’s Strawberry Tent
- East Historical Society Shortcake Booth: South of the TECO Expo Hall
Planning your weekend?
Subscribe to our free Top 5 things to do newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Besides shortcake, there are bushels of special takes on the strawberry. Among them are over-the-top milkshakes that are pricey and also photo-worthy in their construction. You’ll also find a Strawberry Brisket Taco from Johnsons Barbeque, a soft taco with smoked beef brisket topped with a strawberry pico de gallo. New this year is the Strawberry Freeze, a strawberry-flavored snowball coupled with condensed milk and topped with whipped cream and a chocolate-dipped strawberry, found at A&M Concessions on Edwards Street. Also new is a Very Berry Battered Corn Dog, a sweet and salty combination located at the Dessert Factory near Edwards Street.
On the savory side, a new offering this year is the Mac Stack, a hunk of corn bread piled high with pulled pork, a dollop of mac and cheese with BBQ beans, coleslaw and drizzled with barbecue sauce. It’s located at Piggy Palace on the south side of the festival grounds.
Make sure you grab a flat of fresh strawberries to take home because the local farmers pride themselves on putting only their jewel-like best on display for the festival. You can also find farmers selling fresh strawberries along the road outside the festival.
Food on a stick has its appeal but the real draw here is one of the best music lineups of any festival in the country. While it doesn’t have the big star power of years past (Taylor Swift, Garth Brooks and Luke Bryan among them), this year brings Willie Nelson, Sara Evans, pop hitmakers Train, Ludacris and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Concerts range in price from $25 to $60, with some free shows thrown in the mix. Separate tickets are required for concerts, in addition to festival admission.
Here’s the concert lineup for 2023:
- Jimmy Sturr & His Orchestra: March 2, 10:30 a.m., free
- The Oak Ridge Boys: March 2, 3:30 p.m., $30
- Walker Hayes: March 2, 7:30 p.m., $40
- Willie Nelson & Family: March 3, 3:30 p.m., $50
- Halestorm: March 3, 7:30 p.m. $45
- Sara Evans: March 4, 3:30 p.m., $35
- Chris “Ludacris” Bridges: March 4, 7:30 p.m., $40
- The Gatlin Brothers: March 5, 3:30 p.m., $25
- Chris Young: March 5, 7:30 p.m., $60
- Neal McCoy: March 6, 3:30 p.m., $30
- Josh Turner: March 6, 7:30 p.m., $35
- Roots & Boots Aaron Tippin, Collin Raye and Sammy Kershaw: March 7, 3:30 p.m., $35
- CeCe Winans: March 7, 7:30 p.m., $25
- Tanya Tucker: March 8, 3:30 p.m., $35
- The Pointer Sisters: March 8, 7:30 p.m., $40
- Bill Haley Jr. & The Comets: March 9, 10:30 p.m., free
- Tommy James & The Shondells: March 9, 3:30 p.m., $35
- For King & Country: March 9, 7:30 p.m., $40
- Wayne Newton: March 10, 3:30 p.m., $40
- Train: March 10, 7:30 p.m., $50
- Sawyer Brown: March 11, 3:30 p.m., $30
- The Isley Brothers: March 11, 7:30 p.m., $40
- The Leroy Van Dyke Country Gold Tour, featuring Leroy Van Dyke, T.G. Sheppard, Mandy Barnett and T. Graham Brown: March 12, 3:30 p.m., $35
- Lynyrd Skynyrd: March 12, 7:30 p.m., $60
Traffic and parking can be quite the hassle, particularly with an annual draw of close to 50,000 people a day. Exit 19 can be a parking lot when getting off Interstate 4, so those in the know skip the interstate and take State Road 60 or State Road 574 from the south.
Once there, the festival has parking in the Blue, Gray and Red parking lots located on Ritter Street, off U.S. 92 or State Road 574. The nearby neighborhoods and Bryan Elementary School and Tomlin Middle School also offer parking if you are willing to hike it. There are trams running a loop from the festival parking lots. Parking is $5 for cars, pickup trucks and vans under 20 feet.
If you go
Florida Strawberry Festival: Since 1930, the Plant City festival has celebrated the strawberry harvest with a midway, animal shows and a lineup of top country, pop and rock artists. It runs March 2-12 from 10 a.m.-10 p.m. daily at 303 BerryFest Place, Plant City. 813-752-9194.
Admission: $10, $5 ages 6-12, 5 and younger free. You can save $2 by buying tickets in advance at Publix. Concert tickets are $20-$60 in addition to gate admission. There are numerous days with special discounts on admission or the $20-$30 ride armbands. Find them at flstrawberryfestival.com.