- The Washington Times - Friday, February 16, 2007

It’s getting to be time to plan your spring break — not a wild college-student party, but something for the family, an excuse to head south to overindulge in food that makes you think of warmer weather, to be outdoors without your parka and mittens.

Just east of Tampa, the aptly named town of Plant City is the home of the March 1 through 11 Florida Strawberry Festival — www.flstrawberryfestival.com — a flavorful way to celebrate the change of seasons. According to the Web site, the people of Hillsborough County take their produce seriously; the county has more than 2,000 farms, including about 5,000 acres of strawberries. Along with a chance to eat your way out of your winter doldrums by sampling strawberry shortcake, milkshakes, sundaes and ice cream, it’s a great reason for a party. The concert schedule shows Randy Travis, Clint Black, LeAnn Rimes, the Oak Ridge Boys and Hootie & the Blowfish. If you doubt that this is really farm country, click on Entertainment — one of the acts is Robinson’s Racing Pigs.

After the concerts, food and fun at the festival, turn west to the Tampa Bay area — www.visittampabay.com — where you can get into everything from beaches and fishing to art museums and night life. Click on Visitors and then Things to Do to dig into attractions such as Busch Gardens Tampa Bay or the Florida Aquarium, which says certified scuba divers can swim with sharks. There’s a Salvador Dali Museum and the Tampa Bay Automobile Museum. A click on Shopping will guide you to places such as the Centro Ybor district of shops, restaurants and entertainment, or the Gonzalez y Martinez Cigar Co., where employees still roll cigars by hand. Take a minute to check out Area Info for maps, culture and possible itineraries around the metro area.

On the west side of Tampa Bay, try out the golf courses of St. Petersburg-Clearwater — www.floridasbeach.com — or the miles of white-sand beaches on eight major barrier islands that face the Gulf of Mexico. The gulf means fishing, boat tours and charters, which you can check out under Things to Do. (Sit back because it’s a long directory.) While you’re there, explore Family Fun for such activities and attractions as dolphin-watching boat tours, canoeing and Great Explorations, the Children’s Museum.

Just east of Plant City is Central Florida’s Lakes Country — www.sunsational.org — also known as Polk County, which some people might miss in their dash to the theme parks around Orlando. Click on Things to Do and Attractions for spots such as the Bok Sanctuary — www.boksanctuary.org — 60 acres of gardens landscaped by Central Park, N.Y., architect Frederick Law Olmsted and featuring daily concerts by a 60-bell carillon. This part of Florida is also the home of the venerable Cypress Gardens — cypressgardens.com/welcome.asp — at Winter Haven, a landmark of water-skiing shows, concerts and gardens. There’s even a Water Ski Hall of Fame and Museum in Polk City. While you’re in Things to Do, click on Great Outdoors to learn about Polk County’s bird-watching, boating, fishing and hiking and its parks, including the 1,200-acre Allen David Broussard Catfish Creek State Preserve.

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