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Free and cheap things to do in Tampa Bay: free USF performances, train rides, fossil museum

During the month of October, you can take the kids on a free train ride around Largo Central Park or make a cheap date night of a free jazz show at USF.
The University of South Florida has announced that college of arts performances are now free. The USF Jazztet will perform Oct. 26 at 7:30 p.m. in Barness Recital Hall.
The University of South Florida has announced that college of arts performances are now free. The USF Jazztet will perform Oct. 26 at 7:30 p.m. in Barness Recital Hall. [ University of South Florida ]
Published Oct. 3

As we navigate higher prices for everything from school supplies to groceries, the cost of entertaining ourselves has also gone up. In this space we regularly will take a look at some of the deals to be found and highlight things happening around the Tampa Bay area that won’t break the bank.

Here are some options in October:

USF performances: The University of South Florida’s College of Arts performances are now free, the college has announced. That includes shows by the USF Orchestra, Jazz Ensemble and the Jazztet, the premier small group in the USF Jazz Studies Program, who have performed at numerous international jazz festivals. The Jazztet will perform in Barness Recital Hall at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 26. There are also new art exhibits at the Wilson Gallery, as well as the college’s Steinway Piano Series and the Fall Dance Concert with works by both students and faculty Oct. 27-30 in Theater 1. Some performances require registration to accommodate seating. You can see the full descriptions of the free shows at usf.edu/arts/events.

Passengers board the train at the Largo Central Railroad, which offers free rides the first weekend of every month at Largo Central Park.
Passengers board the train at the Largo Central Railroad, which offers free rides the first weekend of every month at Largo Central Park. [ LUKE JOHNSON | Times (2014) ]

Train Rides: The first weekend of every month, train fans of all ages can climb aboard an accurately modeled scale locomotive for a 1-mile loop through the lush scenery of Largo Central Park, a trip that includes a tunnel and a waterfall pond. Children must be at least 1 year old to ride. The public is invited to ride, weather permitting, from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Oct.1 and 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Oct. 2. Upcoming train ride days are Nov. 5 and 6 and Dec. 4. The rides are free, but donations are appreciated to keep the trains running by the all-volunteer club. Largo Central Park, 101 Central Park Drive. lcrailroad.org.

Paleo Preserve Fossil Museum: One of the best-kept secrets in southern Hillsborough County is the Paleo Preserve Fossil Museum, located inside Camp Bayou Nature Preserve. In 1983, a huge deposit of Pleistocene fossils was uncovered in a shell pit near Ruskin, giving paleontologists a window on the creatures of the early ice age, more than 1.5 million years ago. The pit has long since closed, but many of the fossils discovered there, as well as photographs and articles from its excavation years, are on display at the museum. You can see a mammoth’s tooth and feel some real fossils at the touch table. For $5, kids can dig for “fossils” next to the museum and keep what they find. Pack a picnic lunch and eat at the preserve’s pavilion. Formerly an RV park, Camp Bayou is now a nature preserve. Its 160 acres contain trails, a nature center, native people camp, picnic tables and the fossil museum. It is open to the public 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. The museum, which is free, is open 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays at 4140 24th St. SE, Ruskin. paleopreserve.com.

Eco Tours: The Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center at the St. Pete Pier has a new lineup of eco tours that take guests on trips out on Tampa Bay with marine science educators. Leaving from Gate 23 on the St. Pete Pier, new tours include a 90-minute Discover Dolphins trip and a new Salty Science 90-minute tour to learn about estuary habitats, animal adaptations and the fish of Tampa Bay. Other eco-vessel tours include Sunset Tours and Birding on the Bay. Tickets are $16-$28 at tbwdiscoverycenter.org/eco-tours.

Every Friday night, weather permitting, the historic Mirror Lake Shuffleboard Club courts are open for play.
Every Friday night, weather permitting, the historic Mirror Lake Shuffleboard Club courts are open for play. [ SCOTT KEELER | Times (2019)  ]
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St. Pete Shuffle: Every Friday night, weather permitting, the historic St. Petersburg shuffleboard courts are open for play. Club volunteers will help you get set up on a court and show you how to play while a fun music playlist keeps things lively. You can pack a cooler of your own food and drinks, but no glass containers are allowed on the courts. It’s $10 for nonmembers. You can become a club member for $40, which lets you bring up to three guests to play for free every Friday night. 7-10 p.m. Fridays. Mirror Lake St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club, 559 Mirror Lake Drive N, St. Petersburg. 727-822-2083. stpeteshuffle.com.

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