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Family visiting for the holidays? Here are some fun things to do in Tampa Bay.

If it’s relatives or simply your kids at home on school break, you may be in need of some diversions.
A cyclist rides along the Riverwalk in Tampa on July 18. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Do you have some relatives in town for the holidays? Are they driving you crazy yet? We’ve got you covered.

If it’s relatives or simply your kids at home on school break, you may be in need of some diversions. Here are some of our favorites. We paid special attention to the ones that are free or cheap destinations to get people out of your house and enjoying the local sights.

Manatees swim in warm water outside TECO's Big Bend power plant in Apollo Beach. The company’s Manatee Viewing Center is open to the public, with picnic spots and educational displays and a boardwalk open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Best of all, it's free.
[ Times (2011) ]
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See the manatees

Nothing impresses those Northern relatives more than a herd of sea cows lolling about. They’ve had a very rough couple of years in Florida. Thousands of manatees have starved to death on the east coast because of the loss of seagrass, their main food. And boats continue to rip through their habitat on the west coast, killing young and old manatees in their wake.

This time of year, the gentle lugs love the warmer water coming out of TECO’s Big Bend power station in Apollo Beach. The company’s Manatee Viewing Center is open to the public, with picnic spots and educational displays and a boardwalk, making it a nice outing. Note: The center is closed on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day, but otherwise open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Best of all, it’s free at 6990 Dickman Road in Apollo Beach. See tampaelectric.com/manatee for live webcams.

The Sanding Ovations sand sculpture event comes to Treasure Island beach every November and the sculptures can still be found for weeks after.
[ Times (2018) ]

Sand sculptures

Sanding Ovations is the annual sand sculpting exhibition on Treasure Island. While the big event with fireworks and music has already passed, the works of art remain on the sand for several weeks after, making for a nice outing. Check out the 1-mile Treasure Island Beach Trail Park, with built-in benches, illuminated at night by turtle-friendly LED lights. It’s a good spot for shell hunting. Treasure Island Gulf Front Park, 10424 Gulf Blvd.

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Shopping and markets

Thanksgiving weekend kicks off shopping season and there’s a big desire this year among shoppers to support local businesses. Small Business Saturday has become a big thing, with credit card companies offering deals if you shop local. American Express is offering points, miles or cash back at their shopsmall.com site.

According to studies, for every $100 you spend at a locally owned small business, $68 stays in the community as employee wages, local services, local supplies, charities and team sponsorships.

The Shopapalooza festival in Vinoy Park will have more than 300 vendors, artists and local businesses on display Nov. 25-26 in St. Petersburg.
[ LUIS SANTANA | Times (2021) ]

Shopapalooza has turned the Black Friday weekend after Thanksgiving into a way to support local businesses in St. Petersburg’s Vinoy Park. They will have almost 300 vendors, artists and businesses with specials, food and children’s entertainment. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (Nov. 25-26). Vinoy Park, 501 Fifth Ave. N.E., St. Petersburg.

Related: Shopapalooza to return with over 350 small businesses

At the Indie Noir Market: B.I.G. Festival, you can shop among more than 100 Black-owned small businesses as you learn about the rich culture and history of “The Scrub” neighborhood. Noon-6 p.m. Saturday (Nov. 25) at Perry Harvey Sr. Park, 1201 N. Orange St., Tampa.

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At Hyde Park Village, you can easily spend a day among the restaurants as well as shops that are a mix of local and name-brand retailers. As a major shopping destination in Tampa, it offers an outdoor lifestyle concept with an open-air layout, where you can stroll from one outlet to another — with plenty of laidback settings, including a garden and fountain area that often hosts public events. 1602 W. Snow Ave., Tampa.

People ice skate at Winter Village along the Riverwalk at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. It returns through Jan. 1 with the ice skating rink, dozens of small local businesses, theme nights and street curling, movie nights, a streetcar singalong and a light show at the top of every hour.
[ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

The Tampa Downtown Partnership’s Winter Village returns to Curtis Hixon Park through Jan. 1. The annual event features an ice skating rink, dozens of small local businesses in the Shops at Winter Village, theme nights and street curling, movie nights and a light show at the top of every hour from 7-10 p.m. See wintervillagetampa.com for a schedule. 600 N. Ashley Drive, Tampa.

If you are out shopping anyway, you can also take in a show at the annual Symphony in Lights at The Shops at Wiregrass in Wesley Chapel. The choreographed dancing light display runs at the top of every hour in the mall. The 12-minute show is set to the music of Trans-Siberian Orchestra and includes falling “snow.” Free. 6-9 p.m. daily through Dec. 31. 28211 Paseo Drive, Wesley Chapel.

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Gardens

The Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo has dressed up what is already a lovely boardwalk stroll with nearly 1 million LED lights. It runs nightly through Dec. 31; they’re asking for a suggested donation of $10. You’ll find lighted figures throughout the gardens set next to large walkways that easily accommodate wheelchairs and strollers. Leashed pets are welcome. There’s free parking at the gardens at 12520 Ulmerton Road and also at 12211 Walsingham Road, Largo. It runs 5:30 to 9:30 nightly. flbgfoundation.org.

Decorating Elves did this lighting display at Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo.
[ Decorating Elves ]

Sarasota’s Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is celebrating its 50th anniversary season of its 45 acres of bayfront sanctuaries. It has a 15-acre downtown Sarasota campus and the 30-acre historic Spanish Point campus in the Osprey area of Sarasota County. The downtown Sarasota campus on Sarasota Bay is the only botanical garden in the world dedicated to the display and study of epiphytic orchids, bromeliads, gesneriads and ferns, and other tropical plants. Aptly dubbed “The Living Museum,” exhibitions and events are planned for both the downtown campus at 1534 Mound St. and the Historic Spanish Point location at 401 N. Tamiami Trail in Sarasota. Of particular note at the Historic Spanish Point location are large-scale prints on aluminum of Clyde Butcher’s iconic photography currently on display of the plants, animals and habitats of Florida among the landscape of the 30-acre waterfront property. It includes photographs of regional locales, including Myakka River State Park and Casey Key. Admission is $26, $11 for ages 5-17. See selby.org. Open daily 10 a.m.- 5 p.m.

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Get active

For bicycle riders, check out the Pinellas Trail, an urban trail stretching from Tarpon Springs to St. Petersburg. The trail has rest stops and parking plazas along the path, and the county’s trail guide, found at pinellascounty.org/trailgd, has maps and even a list of bike and skate rental shops found near the trail.

Play in the snow at the Florida Aquarium on Saturdays and Sundays, Nov. 25-Dec. 24, from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Bring gloves to immerse yourselves in a variety of hands-on winter festivities. The “Snow Fly Zone” will feature a snowball toss and the popular snowball slingshot. There’s also snow painting — where the snow becomes the canvas. Other frost-free activities will include street curling and snowball cornhole. It is included with admission, with advanced ticket purchase required. The aquarium will be hosting a sensory-friendly Snow Days event on Thursday, Dec. 21, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. 701 Channelside Drive, Tampa. See flaquarium.org.

The Snowy Slopes is one of the many attractions at the Snowcat Ridge alpine snow park in Dade City.
[ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Snowcat Ridge is a virtual “blizzard” that has struck Central Florida with an ice slide, ice skating, snow fights in an igloo, Christmas Lane, an Eskimo Outpost and an Alpine Village. General admission includes two hours of sledding. Upgrades available for unlimited sledding and additional activities. Starting at $26.95 (varies by date and time slot). 27839 Saint Joe Road, Dade City. 813-576-1450.

Rent a canoe, a bike or even a golf cart to explore the Hillsborough River State Park, a wilderness park with birds, turtles, gators and 7 miles of nature trails. The park is open 8 a.m. to sundown at 15402 U.S. 301 N., Thonotosassa. Admission is $6 per vehicle of up to eight people. For questions, call the ranger station at 813-987-6771.

Images of Salvador Dalí’s art projected on the 360-degree screen during Dalí Alive 360°, an immersive experience in the new dome structure in the museum's Avant-garden at the Dalí Museum.
[ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Museums

The Dalí Museum holds the largest collection outside of Spain of art by surrealist Salvador Dalí, but also has a current exhibit called “Dalí & The Impressionists.” It explores Salvador Dalí's profound engagement with the Impressionist movement, which played a pivotal role in his early artistic journey. You can also check out the new dome called “Dalí Alive 360°” — in which animations of the Spanish surrealist’s work are projection-mapped from the floor to the ceiling. Melting clocks, fantastical animals and double images swirl around in a symphony of light and music. Tickets are a $15 add-on experience to the $29 museum admission ticket. Dalí Museum, 1 Dalí Blvd. (Bayshore Drive and Fifth Avenue S.E.), St. Petersburg. 727-823-3767. thedali.org.

Creative Pinellas’ Arts Annual show features more than 75 local artists in multiple mediums participating in this exhibit through Dec. 31. Best of all: It’s free at The Gallery at Creative Pinellas at 12211 Walsingham Road, Largo. Head to artsannual.org for the details. Gallery hours are Wednesdays through Sundays, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

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