Water parks, hiking trails, museums and more

A complete guide to summer recreation on land and water

WATER AMUSEMENTS

ADVENTURE ISLAND, 10001 Malcolm McKinley Drive, (813-987-5660). This 30-acre water park features a huge variety of amusements, including slides, corkscrews, water falls, a wave pool, children's water playground and other family attractions. Additional amenities include outdoor cafes, picnic and sunbathing areas, gift shops, arcades and a white-sand volleyball complex. The park is open daily March through October; hours vary. Single-day passes are $36.95 adults, $34.95 ages 3-9; children 2 and younger enter for free ($6 parking fee). Combo tickets for Busch Gardens and Adventure Island are also available. adventureisland.com.

AQUATICA, 5800 Water Play Way, Orlando, across from SeaWorld, exit 71 (888-800-5447). SeaWorld's brand spanking new waterpark opened its gates to the public in March. Aquatica's highlight is Dolphin Plunge, which features 240-feet of clear tubes that spiral through a lagoon with black-and-white Commerson's dolphins; other offerings include restaurants, 36 slides, a lazy river, interactive play areas, 80,000 square feet of sandy beaches and plenty else. Open daily; hours vary. Admission is $38.95 adults, $32.95 ages 3-9 (children 2 and younger enter for free). aquaticabyseaworld.com.

CLEARWATER MARINE AQUARIUM, 249 Windward Passage, Clearwater (727-441-1790). The nonprofit aquarium is dedicated to public education, marine research, and the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of sick or injured dolphins, sea turtles and river otters. Visitors can see all of these rescued animals in addition to hourly animal care and training presentations, underwater viewing of native sharks and fish, standard and "hands-on" exhibits and more. New renovations have given the aquarium a facelift and features include a 100-seat widescreen theater, windows in the dolphin pool and an expanded gift. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.- Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun. Admission is $11 adults, $9 seniors, $7.50 ages 3-12. cmaquarium.org.

DISCOVERY COVE, 6000 Discovery Cove Way, Orlando (877-434-7268). This reservations-only, man-made aquavaganza features swim areas where visitors can actually splash about with bottlenose dolphins and rays, snorkel among exotic fish in a coral reef lagoon, wade in freshwater pools and rivers, hand feed birds and relax in hammocks. The prefab Tahitian-style day resort boasts sandy white beaches, thatched huts and a "high level of personal attention." Only 1,000 guests are admitted per day, so reservations are required. Open 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily. Admission is $289 ($299 Nov. 2-Dec. 20), and includes all cove adventures, a freshly prepared meal, free access to amenities (snorkel gear, wet suits, towels, lockers, beach umbrellas, chairs, hammocks and a personal guide), and a seven-day pass to Sea World and Busch Gardens; for $189 ($169 Nov. 2-Dec. 20), you get all of the above, minus the dolphin swim. discoverycove.com.

THE FLORIDA AQUARIUM, 701 Channelside Drive, Tampa (813-273-4000). This impressive downtown Tampa attraction focuses on Florida marine life and habitats. See indigenous sea creatures displayed in more than a million gallons of fresh and saltwater, an invasive species exhibit, limestone caverns, underground aquifer, beaches and marshlands, and hands-on shark and ray exhibits, Eco-Tours on a 64-foot catamaran (for an additional price), dive shows and more. 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Admission is $17.95 adults, $14.95 seniors, $12.95 ages 11 and younger (kids 2 and under enter for free). flaquarium.org.

LEBARGE TROPICAL CRUISES, U.S. 41 at Marina Jack's, Sarasota (941-366-6116). A fun and unusual way of exploring Sarasota's marine life and history, Le Barge offers three different tours in addition to private charters, special events and late-night cruises. Dolphin-watch cruises depart at 11 a.m. Mon.-Sat.; narrated sight-seeing cruises depart at 2 p.m. daily; sunset cruises with live entertainment, a light menu and a full bar depart between 5 and 7 p.m. Mon.-Sat. Tickets are $20 for the dolphin and narrated cruises ($15 for children 12 and younger), and $23 all ages for the sunset cruise (children 3 and younger ride free). lebargetropicalcruises.com.

MOTE MARINE LABORATORY, 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota (941-388-4441). Mote's aquarium features everything from the puffer fish and seahorses to sharks and anglerfish and sea stars as well as touch pools and other interactive exhibits. Visit the Mammal Center, where Mote biologists rehabilitate sea turtles, whales and dolphins, and make sure to check out the giant (dead) squid on display, preserved in all its colossal-eyed grandeur. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Admission is $17 adults, $16 seniors, $12 ages 4-12 (free for kids 3 and younger); eco boat tours are offered daily by Sarasota Bay Explorers and combo tickets are $35 adults, $28 ages 4-12 (free for children 3 and younger). mote.org.

THE PIER AQUARIUM, 800 Second Ave. N.E., St. Petersburg (727-895-7437). Giant vertical tubes — bubbling with fish and other sea life — lead from the lobby of The Pier up to the second-floor aquarium. The tanks feature native and tropical fish, sharks and other creatures while various displays — A Sea of Sound, Florida Red Tide and Into the Eye: Hurricanes — focus Florida's environment and ecosystems. 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Sat., noon-6 p.m. Sun. Admission is $5 adults, $4 students and seniors (children 12 and younger enter free; $2.50 admission on Sundays). pieraquarium.org.

SEA WORLD, 7007 Sea World Drive, Orlando, exit 71 (407-351-3600). This aquatic wonderland features live action shows and tanks of exotic marine life. Watch Shamu glide and leap through the water. Let your feet dangle while braving Kraken, a roller coaster that whirls over water and underground at 65 mph. The Journey to Atlantis water flume ride explores the mysterious city on high-speed rails (oh yeah, and a near-vertical 60-foot drop). Visit the Odyssey Circus, take a simulated helicopter ride into the Wild Arctic or travel through Key West, a duplicate of the South Florida paradise, filled with turtles, dolphins and stingrays. Hours vary from week to week. Entry is $67.95 adults, $57.95 ages 3-9, and for Florida residents, this includes unlimited admission through the rest of the year (children 2 and younger enter free); combo Busch Gardens and Aquatica tickets also available. seaworld.com.

SILVER SPRINGS, 5656 E. Silver Springs Blvd., east of Ocala on S.R. 40, exit 352 east off I-75 (352-236-2121). This 350-acre nature theme park offers glass-bottom boat cruises on Silver River, as well as other river cruises; wildlife exhibits featuring a white alligator, Florida panther, bears and more; rides; reptile and snake shows; various dining options and botanical gardens. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Admission is $33.99 adults, $30.99 seniors, $24.99 ages 3-10 (children 2 and younger enter free). silversprings.com.

SOUTH FLORIDA MUSEUM AND PARKER MANATEE AQUARIUM, 201 10th St. W., Bradenton (941-746-4131). It's hard to believe Ice Age mammals roamed through Southwest Florida 12,000 years ago, but at the South Florida Museum, visitors can see life-size casts of these extinct creatures. SFM specializes in Florida history from the prehistoric to the present. Check out the Tallant Collection of artifacts, dating from the Paleo-Indian period to the arrival of the Spanish explorers in the early 1500s.10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. Sun. (open daily Jan.-April and in July). Admission is $15.95 adults, $13.95 seniors, $11.95 ages 4-12 (free admission for children 3 and younger). southfloridamuseum.org.

SS AMERICAN VICTORY, 705 Channelside Drive, Tampa (813-228-8766). The SS American Victory served during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War as a cargo carrier and is now open to the public for self-guided tours and various special events. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. Sun. Admission is $8 adults, $7 military, veterans and seniors, $4 kids 4-12 (free for children 3 and younger). americanvictory.org.

TARPON SPRINGS AQUARIUM, 850 Dodecanese Blvd., Tarpon Springs (727-938-5378). A 120,000-gallon reef tank houses more than 30 species of fish, including nurse sharks, bonnet head sharks, snook and the goliath grouper (aka Jewfish). There are also octopus, live coral, anemones and alligators. Featured diversions include narrated shark and alligator feedings, and a stingray petting tank. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. Sun. Admission is $5.75 adults, $5 seniors, $3.75 ages 3-11 (free for children 2 and younger). tarponspringsaquarium.com.

WET N' WILD, I-4 to exit 75A, 6200 International Drive, Orlando (800-992-WILD). This Orlando water park features more than 30 acres of amusements, including several slides with long vertical drops (like the "Brain Wash" extreme tube slide and the "Mach 5" flume ride), the "Disco H20" light- and music-enhanced tube ride and a four-passenger toboggan adventure. Other amenities include a kid's park with miniature versions of all the rides, several dining options and swimwear shopping opportunities at the Breakers Beach Shop. Open year-round; hours vary. Admission is $39.95 adults/$33.95 ages 3-9/$32.95 seniors (free for children 2 and younger). wetnwildorlando.com.

WEEKI WACHEE SPRINGS, 6131 Commercial Way, Weeki Wachee (352-596-2062). This attraction includes the world famous Mermaid Shows, riverboat rides, animal shows, scuba diving opportunities and Buccaneer Bay, a spring-fed water park, beaches, flume rides and more. Add to this the distinction that Elvis visited here once upon a time. Hours vary season to season. Admission is $24.95 adults, $16.95 ages 3-10 (ages 2 and younger enter free). weekiwachee.com.

GULF COAST BEACHES

ANNA MARIA ISLAND, 40 miles south of Tampa, seven miles west of Bradenton (941-742-5923). There are three major public beaches on Anna Maria: Coquina, Manatee and Bayfront Park. Coquina (west side of Gulf Drive/State Road 789) is a 96-acre stretch of clean beach popular with both families and kids. Free parking, lifeguards, concessions, pine-tree-shaded picnic tables, restrooms, showers, a playground and nearby boat ramps add to the attraction. Manatee Beach in Holmes Beach (State Road 64 and Gulf Drive) gets crowded easily; it boasts lifeguards, restrooms, picnic tables, an adjacent playground, free parking, showers and concessions, but no shade. The narrow Bayfront Park (316 N. Bay Blvd.) features restrooms, sheltered picnic tables, grills, a playground and great views of Tampa Bay. These beaches also allow fishing.

ANCLOTE KEY, three miles off the north coast of Tarpon Springs (727-469-5942). A 19th-century lighthouse stands on the southern end of this island preserve, which is accessible only by private boat, great for outdoor enthusiasts who prefer to visit the area's less-traveled beaches. Fishing and camping are allowed, and picnic pavilions and grills are located near the camping area at the north end of the island. Open 8 a.m.-sundown.

BELLEAIR BEACH, Causeway and Gulf boulevards, between Clearwater and Indian Rocks beaches (727-595-4747). The area boasts 2 miles of sand with several beach access areas, a boat ramp and a municipal marina.

BEN T. DAVIS BEACH, 7650 Courtney Campbell Causeway, Tampa (813-282-2909). This narrow beach is ideal for those who like to keep their car nearby (or for those who like to tan on the hood), and don't mind the swift-moving traffic on the nearby causeway. It's also quite the scene for jet skiers. Parking isn't usually a problem, and dogs are allowed.

BEER CAN BEACH, Davis Islands Seaplane Basin (Severn and Martinique avenues). Beer Can Beach (really no more than a tiny cove) is especially popular with dog owners. It's not gorgeous, but the easy-to-access area offers breathtaking views of the sunset. There are no restrooms, parking is limited, but it's hardly ever crowded.

BEER CAN ISLAND, located at the end of North Shore Road, Longboat Key. This small, uninhabited island — which can supposedly be reached on foot at low tide and can definitely be reached by boat via Longboat pass — has 2,000 feet of primitive coastline and is a favorite spot for fishing, sunning and partying.

BLIND PASS, one mile north of the Charlotte County line on Manasota Key Road, Manasota Key. One of the most isolated beaches on the Key, Blind Pass boasts 2,900 feet of Gulf beach, as well as a nature trail with dunes and wildflowers. There are no lifeguards, but there are restrooms and parking is free.

BROHARD PARK, Harbor Drive S., located on the Venice airport property at the southernmost tip of Venice. The 67-acre beach has a 740-foot fishing pier with bait and snack shops, and public restrooms. The wetland area draws bird watchers from all over. Lifeguards on duty; leashed dogs welcome.

CALADESI ISLAND, accessed by ferry boats from Honeymoon Island State Park, One Causeway Blvd., Dunedin (727-469-5918). Beginning at 10 a.m., an hourly, 70-passenger ferry ride makes the trip to Caladesi Island in 20 minutes (no roads or bridges link it to the mainland). The roundtrip ride is $9 for adults and $5.50 for children (free for kids under 4); boaters pay a $4 docking fee per day ($9.35 with electric hook-up), and $20 per slip per night. Snorkelers favor the barrier island's gulfside waters, which boast more than 2 miles of beach; the Bay side features mangroves, slash pine forests and maritime hammocks. A 3-mile nature trail winds through the island's interior. Concessions, restrooms, picnic areas, changing rooms and showers are available.

CASPERSON BEACH, Harbor Drive, south of Venice Airport. Two-thirds of the beachfront has been left untouched, making it a favorite for shell seekers and amorous couples. Amenities include restrooms, a 1,100-foot boardwalk, picnic area and a lovely nature trail. No lifeguards on duty.

CLEARWATER BEACH, take Memorial Causeway across Clearwater Harbor to beaches (727-562-4800). This beach has two sections — the northern part at Palm Pavilion and the main beach at the Holiday Inn/Surfside. This is the hot spot for spring break crowds and other hormone-fixated types; families like it for the shallow water and gentle surf. Beach umbrellas and chairs can be rented, and Clearwater's Pier 60 Park Pavilion boasts a spacious playground and a snack bar. Metered parking is $1 per hour during the week and $1.25 per hour Sat.-Sun.; lot parking by Pier 60 is $1.50 per hour; and cashier-operated lots are $1.50 an hour during the week, $2 Sat.-Sun.

CORTEZ BEACH, between Fifth and 13th streets off Gulf Drive, Bradenton Beach. There's only 140 feet of beach here, but it's nevertheless a favorite among boaters and beachcombers alike. There's even a concession stand and showers in the public restrooms.

EGMONT KEY, 4905 34th Street S., St. Petersburg. Accessible by boat only, this small wildlife refuge is located between Anna Maria Island and St. Pete Beach. Part of the island's north and south ends are closed to the public, but the open areas feature secluded, pristine beaches good for swimming, fishing and picnicking. Egmont also boasts a working lighthouse originally constructed in 1858, as well as the ruins of Fort Dade. For ferry information, call the state park headquarters at 727-893-2627.

FORT DE SOTO BEACH, 3500 Pinellas Bayway S., Tierra Verde (727-582-2267). The undeveloped local beaches at this park are some of our favorites. Serene, raw and rarely crowded, Fort De Soto's five interconnected islands offer forested areas with picnic tables. The 1,136-acre park has a 238-site family campground, two piers, floating docks for boat access, canoe and kayak rentals, a 6.8-mile recreational trail and pavilions with grills. Grill reservations are available. Parking is free, but tolls cost 85 cents.

INDIAN ROCKS BEACH, Gulf Boulevard, between First and 28th avenues (727-595-2517). The 2.7 miles' worth of beach has numerous access points, the most popular (1700 Gulf Blvd.) featuring restrooms and plenty of nearby shopping and dining. Parking (50 cents per hour) is often at a premium.

LIDO BEACH, one half-mile southwest of St. Armands Circle on Ben Franklin Drive, Lido Key. This is a popular stop for locals due to its convenient location, easy parking, restrooms and 15 acres worth of unspoiled waterfront. Further up Lido Key is North Lido Beach, which has considerably less parking and no lifeguards.

LONGBOAT KEY BEACH, along Gulf of Mexico Drive, Longboat Key. There are two beaches here, North Longboat Key Beach (accessible at Jay, Coral, Palmetto, Seabreeze, Broadway and Gulfside roads) and Longboat Key Beach (accessible at Bay Isles Road, Neptune Avenue and Buttonwood Drive). The limited access to these beaches is part of what makes them so popular; indeed, there is very little parking at either. See some of Sarasota and Manatee County's most expensive real estate while sauntering along the waterfront.

MADEIRA BEACH, Gulf Boulevard between 128th and 154th avenues, between Clearwater and St. Pete beaches (727-391-9951). Tourists and locals alike love this large beach. A rock cooking grill and a few picnic tables are available, and coolers are welcome (no bottles). Archibald Memorial Park offers a pavilion, restrooms and parking. Nearby John's Pass Village (129th Avenue E. and Gulf Boulevard) features a fishing pier and boardwalk with stores, restaurants and parking. Metered parking is $1 per hour.

MANASOTA BEACH, at the west end of Manasota Beach Road, Manasota Key. Small and large shelters dot this quarter-mile beach, great for shell-collecting and relaxing. The lifeguard station is manned year-round and there's a 620-foot dock that continues as a boardwalk winding through the mangroves.

NOKOMIS BEACH, directly west of Albee Road Bridge, Casey Key. At only one-fifth of a mile long, Nokomis Beach is a tiny jewel in south Sarasota County. It's popular with families and fishermen, and features restrooms, concessions, picnic shelters, a boat ramp and boardwalk.

NORTH JETTY PARK, located on the southern tip of Casey Key, Sarasota (941-316-1172). Arguably one of the best places on the West Coast for surfing, the beach features restrooms, picnic shelters, volleyball and horseshoe courts, concessions and lifeguards on duty year-round.

NORTH REDINGTON BEACH, located on Gulf Boulevard between 164th and 174th avenues in the town of Redington Beach, Pinellas County (727-321-1158) or (727-391-4848). Quiet and secluded, this beach is great for reading a book without interruption or gettin' it on with your honey. The beach has six public accesses along Gulf Boulevard.

PALMA SOLA CAUSEWAY, Manatee Avenue W. and Palma Sola Bay, Manatee County. On the local bus route, this beach is 3,000 feet long and located on both sides of the causeway. Amenities include picnic tables and boating facilities.

PALMER POINT, Beach Road on the southern tip of Siesta Key and the northern end of Casey Key. This primitive beach has no lifeguards or restrooms. If you want to see Siesta Key the way the dinosaurs saw it, this may be the closest you'll come.

PASS-A-GRILLE, Gulf Way, between First and 22nd avenues in southern St. Pete Beach (727-363-9247). This gay-friendly stretch of sand is one of the nicest beaches in the Bay area, and it's directly across from the popular Hurricane restaurant. Restrooms with showers and concessions are available, including a snack bar with great grouper sandwiches. Metered parking is $1.25 per hour, $5 for the day.

PICNIC ISLAND BEACH, 7404 Picnic Island Blvd., Port of Tampa (813-274-8615). Despite its location in an industrial area near MacDill Air Force Base, this beach is quite peaceful. The small stretch of sand is seldom busy and offers a great view of the Bay. There's a small fishing pier (not that you'd want to eat anything you caught), grills and shelters.

REDINGTON SHORES, Gulf Boulevard between 174th and 183rd avenues (727-397-5538). Quiet, pristine beaches can be accessed at the County Park, 18220 Gulf Blvd. Parking is free.

SAND KEY PARK, 1060 Gulf Blvd., Clearwater (727-588-4852). This 95-acre beachfront park is overwhelmingly popular during the sunny, temperate seasons and offers a stunning view of the sun setting across the Gulf of Mexico. In addition to swimming and fishing, the park features a boardwalk, a playground, a picnic area, great bird watching, restrooms, showers and umbrella/cabana rentals. Open 7 a.m.-dark, with lifeguards on duty every day from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Metered parking is 75 cents per hour.

SANIBEL AND CAPTIVA ISLANDS, 23 miles W.S.W. of Fort Myers, off I-75 (239-472-1080). These barrier islands, approximately two hours south of Tampa Bay, are well worth the drive. The island beaches are rated among the best shelling grounds in the world and can be reached via a toll bridge on the Sanibel Causeway for $3 round trip. Beach area's include Bowman's Beach, on Sanibel's northwest end; Gulfside Park, off Casa Ybel Road; and Lighthouse Park, at Sanibel's southern end. All offer public access. Sanibel is the more rustic of the two, while Captiva has more rowdy beach bars and restaurants. Pets are not allowed on Captiva beaches. Parking is $2 per hour.

SHELL ROAD BEACH, located off Shell Road on Siesta Key. It's hard to find, though the line of cars down to the end of the block offer some indication of where the beach is. No facilities, just a quiet alcove of coastal bliss.

SIESTA BEACH, at Beach Road and Ocean Boulevard on Siesta Key (941-861-7275). This 40-acre park is roughly an hour south of Tampa Bay, and consists of nature trails, concessions, soccer and softball fields, tennis and volleyball courts, playground and picnicking facilities, and year-round on-duty lifeguards. And although there are 800 parking spaces, you better get there early if you want one. Siesta's pristine white sands are 99-percent quartz, pulverized to a fine powder; the sand's so reflective it feels cool on even the hottest days.

SUNSET BEACH, W. Gulf Boulevard, St. Petersburg. This beach, located between Treasure Island and St. Pete Beach, runs along a small road that continues after Gulf Boulevard turns toward St. Pete Beach. Beach Nutts (9600 Gulf Blvd.), one of a trio of bars that line the entrance to Sunset Beach, makes a good landmark. The beach's charm and popularity as a surf spot is partially attributed to its inaccessibility and difficulty to find. There's a public access parking lot but no facilities. However, it is a relaxed beach community, so if you need a bathroom, just buy something at one of the nearby bars and restaurants; it's all good.

ST. PETE BEACH, along Gulf Boulevard (727-367-2735). This 1.5-mile-long beach located just north of the Don CeSar is conveniently situated near a variety of popular beach bars and restaurants. A favorite spot with the locals. Parking meters cost $1.25 per hour or $5 for the day.

ST. PETERSBURG MUNICIPAL BEACH, 11260 Gulf Blvd., Treasure Island (727-360-3278). The municipal beach is one of the widest in Florida, stretching a quarter mile from the water to Gulf Boulevard. The beach has five volleyball courts, a small playground, concessions, showers, picnic tables, grills and restrooms.

TIKI GARDENS BEACH, 10601 Gulf Blvd., Indian Rocks Beach. This popular beach-access park was once a tiki-themed amusement center. It features basic beach amenities, including benches, water fountains, restrooms and a 170-spot parking lot.

TREASURE ISLAND BEACH, Gulf Boulevard and 112th Avenue, Treasure Island (727-547-4575). Treasure Island's beach is wide and busy. A nearby selection of restaurants and stores makes it feels like a little piece of the Jersey shore right here in Florida; access at 10400 Gulf Blvd.

TURTLE BEACH, located on Midnight Pass Road near the south end of Siesta Key (941-861-5000). Picnic shelters, free boat ramps, restrooms, dune walkovers, volleyball, playground equipment and more available. Walk for miles down the beach all the way to Casey Key. Prehistoric petrified sharks teeth buried in the sand make nice little souvenirs. No lifeguards on duty.

VENICE MUNICIPAL BEACH, Venice Avenue W. at the Gulf of Mexico. This is a fully stocked beach that comes complete with restrooms, volleyball courts, picnic tables, a pavilion and a lifeguard station. It's also a great place to hunt for shark's teeth.

Visit tampabaybeaches.com or bestbeaches.org for further info.

PARKS & TRAILS

The following parks and trails are free and open dawn to dusk unless otherwise indicated.

A.L. ANDERSON PARK, 39699 U.S. 19 N., Tarpon Springs (727-943-4085). Dedicated in 1966, this hilly, wooded, 129-acre site overlooks Salmon Bay and Lake Tarpon, and features a boat ramp, a boardwalk and nature trail, a playground, picnic shelters and restrooms. Open daily 7 a.m. to dark.

ALDERMAN'S FORD PARK, 100 Aldermans Ford Park Drive S., between State Road 39 and Lithia Pinecrest Road in Hillsborough County, (813-757-3801). This 1,141-acre site has a history: It was one of the first fording spots on the Alafia River, and the land encompasses the area where the Alafia River branches into its north and south prongs. The park features a popular canoe launch, several picnic areas, a path/biking loop, and a boardwalk and foot bridges. Open 8 a.m.-8 p.m. daily.

BOYD HILL NATURE PRESERVE, 1101 Country Club Way S., St. Petersburg (727-893-7326). This 245-acre preserve is located along the shores of Lake Maggiore, and features include group camping, picnic and playground facilities, although the focus of the park continues to be the three miles' worth of nature trail and boardwalks, and the environmental education study center and library. Open 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Tues.-Thurs.; 9 a.m.-.6 p.m. Fri.-Sat.; and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sun. Trail admission is $3 for ages 17 and older, $1.50 for ages 3-16.

BOCA CIEGA MILLENIUM PARK, 12410 74th Ave. N., Seminole (727-588-4882). The Pinellas County Millennium Time Capsule is located at the entrance to this 184.6-acre park. Other amenities include an observation tower, a canoe launch, picnic shelters, restrooms and bicycle/pedestrian paths. The park's marshy layout has its environmental benefits as well: The five ponds on the park property serve to treat stormwater runoff and hydrate the wetlands before moving on to Boca Ciega Bay. Open 7 a.m. to dark.

BROOKER CREEK PRESERVE and BROOKER CREEK PRESERVE ENVIRONMENTAL OUTREACH CENTER, 3940 Keystone Road, Tarpon Springs (727-453-6800). This 8,500-acre wilderness preserve is located in northeastern Pinellas and it supports populations of white-tailed deer, wild turkey, otter, gopher tortoise, bobcat, and coyote, which aren't found anywhere else in the county. The education center features hands-on displays and free educational lectures and activities every week. The 4-miles' worth of hiking trails are open from 7 a.m. to dusk daily, with two-hour guided hikes every Saturday beginning at 9 a.m. The center is open 9 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Wed., 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Thurs.-Sun.

THE CHILDREN'S GARDEN, 1670 10th Way, Sarasota (941-330-1711). With whimsical, delightful sections such as the Sunflower House, Safari Land, Moon Garden, Flamingo Road and Mint Mountain, you're unlikely to find another local park or garden like it. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues.-Sun. Admission is $10 for ages 13 and up, $5 for ages 3-12, and free for kids under 3.

CRYSTAL RIVER PRESERVE STATE PARK, 3266 N. Sailboat Ave., and CRYSTAL RIVER STATE ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE, 3400 N. Museum Point, Crystal River (352-795-3817). The clear, spring-fed waters around this 30,000-acre refuge are a favorite for manatee sightings, fishing and bird watching. The archaeological site includes a museum of artifacts and some of the largest Indian mounds found in Florida. Guided walking tours are available but require reservations two weeks in advance. The visitor center/museum is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily; the park, 8 a.m.-sunset. ($2 per vehicle, $1 per person, pedestrian, bicyclist, extra passengers, etc.)

DADE BATTLEFIELD STATE HISTORIC SITE, 7200 C.R. 603, South Battlefield Drive, exit 63 off I-75 (352-793-4781). This site marks the battle that started the Second Seminole War. A visitor center contains artifacts and exhibits about the battle; the surrounding park features horseshoe and volleyball courts, a picnic area with covered shelters, and a large rental hall and kitchen. Camping is not allowed. The park is open from 8 a.m. to sunset; the museum, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is $2 per car (up to eight people).

EUREKA SPRINGS PARK, 6400 Eureka Springs Road, Tampa (813-744-5536). This 31-acre botanical park features a greenhouse, trellised walks, interpretive trails, boardwalks, and a picnic area. The prime attraction remains the large collection of rare and unusual plant life collected and nurtured by the late Albert Greensburg, who donated the property to Hillsborough County in 1967. Open 8 a.m.-6 p.m. daily. Greenhouse is open 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

FORT DE SOTO PARK, 3500 Pinellas Bayway S., Tierra Verde (727-582-2267). This 1,136-acre park encompasses five islands at the mouth of Tampa Bay. Camping, fishing, boating and swimming are the most popular pastimes here. Two fishing piers and a bait store attract anglers while the remains of an early fort poke out of the sand at the southern tip of Mullet Key. There's a donation box for visitors, with money benefiting the Friends of Fort De Soto. Open daily 7 a.m-dark.

FRED HOWARD PARK, 1700 Sunset Drive, Tarpon Springs (727-943-4081). Named in honor of a former Tarpon Springs mayor, this 155-acre bayside park offers fishing and swimming opportunities, playground activities, a sheltered picnic area, and a ball field with restrooms and shower facilities. Open 7 a.m.-sunset.

HILLSBOROUGH RIVER STATE PARK, 15402 U.S. 301 N., Thonotosassa (813-987-6771). This 3,950-acre park follows a good stretch of the Hillsborough River and offers visitors a deep glimpse into the charm of old Florida. Native flora and fauna — including alligators — abound in this area and are easily spotted by the quiet seeker. Canoe rentals ($8 per hour/$20 for four), a large swimming pool, and two large camping sites make this a popular, sometimes crowded destination. $4 gate entry fee per carload (up to eight people).

HISTORIC SPANISH POINT, 337 N. Tamiami Trail, Osprey (941-966-5214). Burial mounds more than 1,000 years old, a restored 19th-century pioneer home and some elaborate gardens are set against the backdrop of south Sarasota County wilderness. This 30-acre site is convenient enough for a day trip, but offers enough middle-of-nowhere charm to keep visitors coming back. Open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Sat. and noon-5 p.m. Sun. Admission is $9 for adults ($8 Florida residents and seniors), $3 for ages 6-12 and free for members and children 5 and younger. historicspanishpoint.org.

HOMOSASSA SPRINGS WILDLIFE PARK, 4150 S. Suncoast Blvd., Homosassa (352-628-2311). This 168-acre state wildlife park features an underwater observatory, boat trips, nature trails, a children's education center, alligator programs, manatee programs and animal encounters. Creatures to look for include manatees, alligators, crocodiles and Florida snakes. Strolls along the nature trails sometimes offer glimpses at bear, bobcats, otters and cougars (which remain at a safe distance). The park's name derives from its central attraction, a huge 45-foot deep spring from which millions of gallons of fresh, clear water bubble every hour. Open 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily (ticket gate closes at 4 p.m.). Admission is $9 for adults, $5 for ages 3-12. Kennels and strollers are available.

HONEYMOON ISLAND STATE PARK, One Causeway Blvd., Dunedin (727-469-5942). One of the few northern barrier islands accessible by car in Pinellas, Honeymoon Island features a popular beach and nature trail, plus facilities for fishing and picnicking. Open 8 a.m.-sunset. Admission is $5 per carload of up to eight people.

JOHN CHESNUT SR. PARK, 2200 E. Lake Road, Palm Harbor (727-669-1951). This 255-acre park on the eastern shore of Lake Tarpon features a canoe trail, a playground, a fishing pier, a volleyball court and a softball field. Formerly known as Brooker Creek Park, Chesnut Park is entirely separate from Brooker Creek Preserve; a golf course is wedged between the two. Open 7 a.m.-dark.

JOHN S. TAYLOR PARK, 1100 Eighth Ave. S.W., Largo (727-588-4847). Surrounding the Taylor Reservoir and Lake, this 122-acre park offers boating, fishing, exercise trails, ball fields, a playground and a disk golf course. A sheltered picnic area with restrooms is available, and there's also an entrance to Pinellas Trail from the park. Open daily 7 a.m. to dark.

LAKE PARK, 17302 N. Dale Mabry, Tampa (813-264-3806). This 600-acre park boasts five lakes, a cypress swamp, and several pine and hardwood stands. In addition to fishing and boating, recreational opportunities include a BMX track, a radio-control car track, archery range, horse arena, trails for hiking or horseback riding, picnic shelters and equestrian facilities. Open 7 a.m.-8 p.m.

LAKE SEMINOLE PARK, 10015 Park Blvd., Seminole (727-549-6156). Bordering the eastern shore of Lake Seminole, this more than 250-acre park features boating facilities, fishing areas, volleyball courts, jogging/exercise trails, playground facilities and sheltered picnic areas. Leashed pets are welcome. Open daily 7 a.m. to dark.

LEMON BAY PARK AND ENVIRONMENTAL CENTER, 570 Bay Park Blvd., Englewood (941-474-3065). A favorite location for weddings, this 204-acre picturesque park is dedicated to nature study and has an environmental center where classes are held regularly. Also, guests can enjoy the butterfly garden, fishing, nature trails and picnicking on the grounds. Hours vary.

LETTUCE LAKE PARK, 6920 E. Fletcher Ave., Tampa (813-987-6204). Located near USF-Tampa, this shady, 240-acre riverside park has a scenic 3,500-foot boardwalk and observation tower for bird watching, fitness and biking trails, picnic shelters, and a playground. This is a very popular, often crowded destination. Open 8 a.m.-7:30 p.m.

LITHIA SPRINGS PARK, 3932 Lithia Springs Road, Lithia; 10 miles southeast of Brandon (813-744-5572). This Hillsborough County park sits on the Alafia River and offers overnight camping (water, electricity), fishing, canoeing (but no canoe rentals) and swimming. Food is sold in the picnic area, while a bathhouse makes even a quick dip in the cool spring waters quite convenient. Open 8 a.m.-7 p.m. daily.

LITTLE MANATEE RIVER STATE PARK, 215 Lightfoot Road, Wimauma (813-671-5005). This 2,400-acre park includes 4.5 miles of steep shoreline along the Little Manatee River, a 34-site campground (water, electricity) and several miles' worth of horseback and hiking trails. Fishing, hiking and canoeing are the favorite pastimes. Open 8 a.m.-sunset. Admission is $4 per vehicle.

MAXIMO PARK, 34th Street S. and Pinellas Point Drive S., St. Petersburg (727-893-7335). At the tip of the Pinellas peninsula, this 70-acre waterfront park meets the shores of both Tampa Bay and the mouth of Frenchman's Creek. The park offers excellent boating and fishing opportunities, and the Maximo Beach Archaeological Site is one of the few large shell middens remaining in St. Petersburg, the deposits dating from the late Archaic through the Spanish Contact periods. The beach area features picnic and playground facilities. Open daily 7 a.m.-dusk.

MEDARD PARK, 5737 Turkey Creek Road, Plant City; 2 miles south of State Road 60 off Turkey Creek Road (813-757-3802). This 1,284-acre park has a collection of old mine pits that were converted into a 700-acre reservoir some 20 years ago. Most noted for excellent fishing, the park also features camping, swimming, boating, restrooms and water fountains, horseback trails and a playground. Open 6 a.m.-sunset.

MOCCASIN LAKE NATURE PARK, 2750 Park Trail Lane (off Drew Street, east of U.S. 19), Clearwater (727-462-6024). The park consists of 50 acres of wooded area, a lake, a large educational facility with nature classes and sheltered picnic facilities. Open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues.-Fri., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on Sat.. Admission is $2.79 ages 13 and up, $1.85 ages 3-12.

MYAKKA RIVER STATE PARK, 13208 S.R. 72, Sarasota (941-361-6511). Fifty-three square miles of wetlands, prairies and woodlands constitute one of Florida's oldest and largest state parks. Developed in the '30s, many of the historical buildings (including five rental log cabins) are still in use and family, group and primitive camping is offered as well. Guided tours, bikes, kayaks and canoes are all available for a fee. You may need to use all of them, too; with 39 miles of trails, there is a lot of ground to cover here. Open 8 a.m.-sunset. Admission is $5 per vehicle (two to eight people). myakkariver.org.

OSCAR SCHERER STATE PARK, U.S. 41, six miles south of Sarasota, Osprey (941-483-5956). This park stretches over 1,300 acres and features scrubby flatwoods, mesic flatwoods, tracts of depression marshes, pine forests and a blackwater stream called South Creek. Florida scrub jays abound here, along with bobcats, river otters, bald eagles and alligators. Take the self-guided nature trail, dip into the freshwater lake, rent canoes or have a picnic at this lovely park. Also on the premises is the Lester Finley Nature Trail, specially built to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities. Open 8 a.m.-sunset. Admission is $4 per carload of up to eight people.

PHILIPPE PARK, 2525 Philippe Parkway, Safety Harbor (727-669-1947). Named for Count Odet Philippe, who introduced citrus culture to Florida, this 122-acre park is one of the prettiest in the area. Amenities include a boat ramp, fishing, picnic facilities, a nature trail, two playgrounds and ball fields with restrooms. Part of the original Philippe plantation, the park also claims a large Indian mound, where you can sometimes find old arrowheads, implements and other artifacts left from the earliest natives of the Bay area. There's also a great view from the top of the mound. Open 7 a.m.-dark.

PINELLAS TRAIL, middle entrance at 12020 Walsingham Road, Largo (727-549-6099). Converted from an unused railroad corridor, this 34-mile paved trail is a favorite among hikers, bikers, skaters and more. The trail starts in South St. Petersburg and winds northward through Largo, Clearwater, Dunedin, Palm Harbor and Tarpon Springs. Rest stops, service stations, restaurants, pay phones, bike shops, park areas mile markers, water fountains, benches and other various amenities are located along the trail.

SAWGRASS LAKE PARK, 7400 25th St. N., St. Petersburg (727-217-7256). This site boasts nearly 400 acres of natural land that encompass both Sawgrass and Arrow lakes, and features one of the largest maple swamps on the Gulf Coast. The park features a boardwalk/nature trail, an outdoor classroom, environmental education center, and lots of trees and squirrels. Picnic facilities and restrooms are also available. Open 7 a.m.-dusk daily.

SHAMROCK PARK AND NATURE CENTER, 3900 W. Shamrock Drive, Venice (941-486-2706 or 941-316-1172). Eighty-two glorious acres offering fun activities for active and non-active types alike. Sporty types can jog the trails and play tennis or basketball. Those less inclined to break a sweat can take leisurely strolls through preserved natural habitats for endangered plants and animals, or just swing at the playground. Nature study classes are offered at the environmental center.

SHELL KEY PRESERVE, located at the southern end of Pass-A-Grille Channel (727- 464-4761). Each year, thousands of birds take refuge on this 180-acre barrier island/preservation area. Natural features include mud flats, mangrove islands and seabed flats. Don't forget to bring sanitary supplies if you decide to go camping here, because there are none located near the campsites.

E.G. SIMMONS PARK, 2401 19th Ave., 2 miles northwest of Ruskin on Tampa Bay (813-671-7655). This 469-acre bayside park features mangrove shallows and beach line along the shore, making it a popular area for water sports. A boat launch and an 88-site campground with water, electricity and a bath house are available. Open 8 a.m.-8 p.m. daily in Summer, hours vary in other seasons.

UPPER TAMPA BAY PARK, 8001 Double Branch Road, Tampa (813-855-1765). This 2,144-acre park includes an environmental study center jointly operated by the county Parks Department and Hillsborough Community College. The site includes brackish and saltwater marshes, oyster bars and a mangrove forest — viewable from a boardwalk. Though most of the area is preserved, three nature trails, a playground and picnicking facilities are available. Open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

WALSINGHAM PARK, 12615 102nd Ave. N., Largo (727-549-6142). Split by a 100-acre lake, this 350-acre park features boat launches and parking for boat trailers, as well as eight picnic shelters, grills, water fountains, restrooms and playgrounds. The park is partially landscaped with sidewalks through the magnolia, pine and oak trees. Open 7 a.m.-dark.

WEEDON ISLAND PRESERVE, 1800 Weedon Drive, St. Petersburg (727-579-8360). A half-dozen surrounding islands complement this 3,164-acre shore preserve. Mangroves, birds and abundant sea life make Weedon most popular with nature watchers, though visitors also enjoy fishing from the preserve's pier, or attending any of the various programs offered by the educational center. For info on guided hikes, call 727-453-6500. Open 7 a.m.-sunset.

WITHLACOOCHEE RIVER PARK, 12449 Withlacoochee Blvd., seven miles east of Dade City in Pasco County (352-567-0264). This heavily wooded 260-acre area features picnic shelters, playgrounds, a fishing dock, primitive campsites, a reconstruction of an Indian village, an observation tower and 12 miles' worth of nature trails. Swimming and water recreation are popular, too.

WITHLACOOCHEE STATE FOREST, Forest Headquarters at U.S. 41 and County Road 476 in Hernando County (352-754-6896). The Withlacoochee State Forest incorporates several separate sites surrounding the town of Brooksville. Its greatest features are the dozens of trails — for hiking, nature walks, canoeing, horseback riding and bicycling — widely ranging in length. The forest's Croom district includes camping and recreation sites, one of the nation's finest motorcycle parks (permit required) and a large area for dogs. Informative brochures describing the features of the various districts are available from the forest headquarters.

ATTRACTIONS

ANIMAL KINGDOM, I-4 East to Walt Disney World exits, (407-824-4321). This Disney attraction is a hybrid zoo theme park running the gamut from "wild creatures of southern Asia" to gibbons and other exotic animals. Top attractions include the jungle safari, a Jeep-style tour through the bush; and Dinosaur, a virtual encounter with beasts of the past. Open daily; hours vary from week to week. Single day passes are $63.60 adults, $54 ages 3-9 (free for tots 2 and younger); Disney combo ticket packages and discounted multi-day passes are also available. disneyworld.disney.go.com.

BEACH GAMELAND, This 21st-century family fun center features both traditional and high-tech gaming opportunities. Hours are 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Fri.-Sat., and 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun. 162 129th Ave. W., John's Pass. 727-398-4494.

BIG CAT RESCUE, 12802 Easy St., Tampa (813-920-4130). This 45-acre facility is the world's largest nonprofit sanctuary for big cats who've been abused, abandoned or are retired from performing. More than 100 lions, leopards, cougars, tigers, lynx, caracals, bobcats, ocelots, servals and others call it home. The 90-minute guided tours are offered at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Mon.-Fri., and at 9:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Sat. (ages 10 and up only); admission is $25 per person. The one-hour Kid's Tour (for children 9 and younger, $15) is offered 9 a.m. Saturdays. Feeding tours, photo tours and night tours available for $50 per person; other tour options also available. bigcatrescue.org.

BUSCH GARDENS, 3000 E. Busch Blvd., Tampa (813-987-5082). This 300-acre African-themed park and zoo boasts more than 2,000 animals, some scattered across a mock Serengeti Plain, some swinging in the trees of the Myombe Reserve. Attractions include a three story tree house playground, Land of the Dragons, roller coasters like Kumba, Montu, Gwazi, and the newest, SheiKra, and plenty of other rides. Edge of Africa features hyenas, giraffes and other jungle creatures, and a variety of guided Jeep tours allow guests to feed, observe and learn about giraffes, ostriches and other animals (for an additional charge). Visitors can also choose from an assortment of shows, restaurants and gift shops. Open daily; hours vary from week to week. Admission is $64.95 adults, $54.95 ages 3-9, and for Florida residents, this includes unlimited admission through the rest of the year (children 2 and younger enter free); parking is $9 (combo Sea World and Aquatica tickets also available). buschgardens.com.

EPCOT CENTER, I-4 East to Walt Disney World exits (407-824-4321). In the land where pigs and carrots sing, this renowned Orlando attraction makes learning fun. Be sure to check out Mission: SPACE, a thrilling interactive adventure. Future World features informative displays about technology and science, and Test Track takes visitors on the longest, fastest ride in the Disney Triumvirate, where guests see and feel the Arctic cold and desert heat, then zip along at 65 mph. Hours vary from week to week. Single-day passes are $63.90 for adults, $54 for ages 3-9 (free for tots 2 and younger); Disney combo ticket packages and discounted multi-day passes are also available. epcot.com.

FLORIDA BOTANICAL GARDENS, 12520 Ulmerton Road, Largo (727-582-2100). See what's in bloom at this cute, 182-acre park, which is filled with native Florida plants and exotic tropicals displayed in both natural and formal gardens. The park is also a natural habitat for Florida wildlife and serves as part of Pinewood Cultural Park, its neighbors Heritage Village and Gulf Coast Museum of Art. Open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. daily. Free admission (donations welcome). flbg.org.

GATORLAND, I-4 East to exit 62, 14501 S. Orange Blossom Trail, Orlando (800-393-JAWS). Established in 1949, this place claims to be the alligator capital of the world, and hey, who wants to argue? Step through the gaping gator mouth entrance, take the swamp walk and watch gators lounge, stroll down a wooden boardwalk through a canopy of trees and enjoy a view of the 110-acre natural habitat from a 3-story observation tower, or check out the park from the safety of the Iron Horse train. There's a petting zoo (sorry, no gators), reptilian shows, an aviary, educational programs, and Lilly's Pad, a water fountain park for kids. After working up an appetite, sample smoked gator ribs and deep-fried gator nuggets at Pearl's Smokehouse. Open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily. Admission is $22.99 adults, $14.99 ages 3-12. gatorland.com.

HISTORIC SPANISH POINT, 337 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota (941-966-5214). An environmental, archaeological and historic site featuring a prehistoric Indian mound, pioneer homestead buildings, trails, boardwalks, a butterfly garden and gardens from the estate of Mrs. Potter Palmer. Open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Sat., noon-5 p.m. Sun. Admission is $9 for adults ($8 Florida residents and seniors), $3 ages 6-12; children 5 and younger enter for free. historicspanishpoint.org.

ISLANDS OF ADVENTURE, Universal Studios grounds, 1000 Universal Studios Plaza (East I-4 to exit 75A), Orlando (407-363-8000). This mega-theme park dazzles visitors of all ages and tastes with five distinct islands in which to indulge. Visit Seuss Land, which is based on the popular children's books, or check out Marvel Superhero Island. Jurassic Park lets you ride the Dueling Dragons inverted roller coaster with two trains speeding, at times, 12 inches apart. The Triceratops Encounter is a peek at virtual 'saurs — including a 24-foot Triceratops that feels, acts, smells and even defecates like the real prehistoric pets. Hours vary from week to week. Admission is $69.99 adults, $58.99 ages 3-9; children 2 and younger enter for free. universalorlando.com.

ELLENTON ICE AND SPORTS COMPLEX, 5309 29th St. E., Ellenton (941-723-3663). The 115,000-square-foot site features two NHL-sized rinks for public and inline ice skating, youth and high school ice hockey league opportunities, video games and a fitness center. Hours and prices vary. ellentonice.com.

TAMPA'S LOWRY PARK ZOO, 1101 W. Sligh Ave., Tampa (813-935-8552). Recognized today as one of the top three midsize zoos in the country, Lowry Park Zoo currently features 41 acres of lush, natural habitats. Natural outdoor exhibits of more than 2,000 animals from Florida and similar locales include a Florida wildlife center, manatee hospital, Asian Gardens, Primate World, free-flight aviaries, an Australian-themed children's zoo, and Safari Africa. The park also encompasses rides, shows and hands-on interactive exhibits. Hours: 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Admission is $18.95 general, $17.95 seniors, $14.50 ages 3-11, and free to children 2 and younger. lowryparkzoo.com.

MAGIC KINGDOM, I-4 East to Walt Disney World exits (407-934-7639). Visit your old pals Mickey and Minnie and enter the hub of Florida tourism. Get sick on the spinning Mad Tea Party ride, laugh at the Pirates of the Caribbean's animatronic mateys, watch the kiddies ride around in circles on Dumbo and pilot your own star cruiser in the interactive Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin. Hours vary from week to week. Single day passes are $63.90 adults, $54 ages 3-9 (free for tots 2 and younger); Disney combo ticket packages and discounted multi-day passes are available as well. disneyworld.disney.go.com.

MARIE SELBY BOTANICAL GARDENS, 811 S. Palm Ave., Sarasota (941-366-5731). The lovely waterfront gardens boast a living (6,000-plus) orchid collection and more than 20,000 plants spread generously over the 9.5-acre property. Other features include distinctive areas like the Bamboo Pavilion and Banyan Grove, a koi pond, the Christy Payne Mansion (a historic home that holds rotating botanical art and photography exhibits), an indoor rainforest, a butterfly garden and a dart frog collection. This is a great place for plant and outdoor enthusiasts, tourists, out-of-town guests and anyone seeking solace from the daily grind. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Admission is $12 adults, $6 ages 6-11 (free for members and children 5 and younger). selby.org.

MGM STUDIOS, I-4 East to Walt Disney World exits (407-824-4321). If you love movies but hate L.A. (and who doesn't?), this park offers a behind-the-scenes look into the film industry. Battle with the evil Empire in Star Tours, a simulated ride inspired by the Star Wars movies; delight in rock star treatment via MGM's Rock 'n' Roller Coaster; catch the popular Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular; take the Backstage Studio Tour; and much more. Hours vary from week to week. Single day passes are $64.30 for adults, $54 for ages 3-9 (free for tots 2 and younger); combo ticket packages and discounted multi-day passes are available as well. disneyworld.disney.go.com.

THE PIER, 800 Second Ave. N.E., St. Petersburg (727-821-6443). The Pier's five-story inverted pyramid-shaped building is filled with a variety of shops, restaurants and fun stuff for the kids. At the ground level, visitors can take advantage of a myriad of adventure opportunities, from Segway tours to boating and dolphin tours. The 2,000-square-foot Pier Aquarium takes up the second floor and features a handful of exhibits; new admission rates for the aquarium are $5 general/$4 students and seniors ($2.50 admission on Sundays). The Columbia Restaurant — located on the fourth floor — offers a menu of fine Spanish/Cuban food, and on the top floor, visitors can have a frozen drink at Cha Cha Coconuts while taking in a spectacular view of Tampa Bay. Other dining includes Captain Al's and the Dockside Eatery. Hours are 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat., and 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sun.; attractions and restaurant hours vary. stpete-pier.com.

SUNKEN GARDENS, 1825 Fourth St. N., St. Petersburg (727-551-3100). Paths meander through this four-acre, 100-year-old garden, which drops 15 feet below street level and combines lush tropical areas with flowing ponds and waterfalls. There's also a Butterfly Aviary with 300 native butterflies, exotic flowering and fruit trees, and wildlife and gardening programs. Hours: 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Mon.-Sat., noon-4:30 p.m. Sun. Admission is $8 adults, $6 seniors, and $4 ages 2-11 (free for members and children under 2). stpete.org/sunken.

TAMPA BAY GHOST TOURS, locations vary (727-398-5200). Four tours are offered: "Maritime Mysteries & Pirates of the Pass" in John's Pass Village (tours leave 7:30 p.m. daily, $14 adults/$10 ages 11 and younger); "Haunted Halls & Horrifying Hermits" in Pass-A-Grille/St. Pete Beach (6:30 p.m. Wed., Fri. and Sat., $32/$19); "Guys & Ghouls" in Gulfport (8:30 p.m. Tues., Fri. and Sat., $14/$10); and "The Dark Side of the Sunshine City" in downtown St. Petersburg (8 p.m. Tues.-Wed., 8 and 10 p.m. Thurs.-Sat., $14/$10). Reservations are required. allthebesthaunts.com.

UNIVERSAL STUDIOS, 1000 Universal Studios Plaza (East I-4 to exit 74A), Orlando (407-363-8000). This Hollywood-inspired theme park boasts movie-based rides such as Back to the Future, Terminator 2 ... 3D, Twister ... Ride it Out! and Jaws. You can also see the Nickelodeon set and the house used in Psycho. After you've toured the movies, trek through Citywalk, a 30-acre hot spot featuring a stadium movie theater, shops, nightclubs, and restaurants, including Hard Rock Cafe, NBA City and Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville. Hours vary week to week. Admission is $69.99 adults, $58.99 ages 3-9; children 2 and younger enter for free. universalorlando.com. Citywalk hours: 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily. Admission is free, but some clubs may charge a cover; an all-access Party Pass is available for $11.99, or a Party and Movie pass for $15. universalorlando.com.

MUSEUMS:ART

THE ARTS CENTER, 719 Central Ave., St. Petersburg (727-822-7872). With five separate galleries, the center boasts a wide range of art by locally, nationally and internationally known artists. Currently on display: Jun Kaneko, an extensive exhibit of ceramic sculpture, drawings and paintings created over the past two decades by contemporary artist Jun Kaneko, through May 10. Upcoming: three exhibits held in conjunction with the biennial Handweavers' Guild of America conference that all features artists working in fiber — Practical to Poetic: Fiber Invitational, Salsa y Salsa: Convergence Juried Exhibition, and Laura Militzer Bryant: Crossings, May 23-Aug. 16; and Re:Member September, the center's annual non-juried members' exhibition, Sept. 5-28. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues.-Sat. Free admission. theartscenter.org.

FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL MUSEUM, 244 Second Ave. N., SPC Downtown Center, St. Petersburg (727-341-7900). A parade of traveling exhibits pass through the museum on a regular basis. Currently, FIM presents Vatican Splendors, one of the largest touring collections of art, documents and historically significant objects spanning 2,000 years and culled from Saint Peter's Basilica, the Vatican Museums and the Swiss Guard. Among the 200 rare objects are mosaics, paintings, papal rings and jewels, gifts to popes from figures like Napoleon and the Dalai Lama, and armor, swords and vestments of the Papal Swiss Guard, through May 11. 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sun. Admission is $20 adults, $17 seniors, $15 military, $13 students (free for ages 5 and younger). floridamuseum.org.

FLORIDA MUSEUM OF PHOTOGRAPHIC ARTS, 200 N. Tampa St., Suite 120, downtown Tampa (813-221-2222). Currently on display at the nonprofit photography museum is Masters of Black and White Including Selections from The Drapkin Collection, an exhibit of images by significant American 20th century photographers, among them, Berenice Abbott, Diane Arbus, Ruth Bernhard, Harry Callahan, Paul Caponigro, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Jill Freedman, Philippe Halsman, Dianora Niccolini, Len Prince, Eugene Smith, Aaron Siskind and Edward Weston, through May 31. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues.-Sat. Admission is a suggested $4 donation. fmopa.org.

GULF COAST MUSEUM OF ART, 12211 Walsingham Road, Largo (727-518-6833). Mysterious Clarity: Mark Messersmith, Ray Burggraf, Lillian Garcia-Roig features Florida landscape paintings done in three radically different styles, May 17-July 27; large-scale abstract landscape paintings are presented in Victoria Block: Narrations, Aug. 9-Sept. 28; and Studio Works is the annual juried Studioworks exhibit spotlighting GCMA's instructors and students, Aug. 9-Sept. 28. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tues.-Sat., noon-4 p.m. Sun. Admission is $8 adults, $7 seniors, and $4 students with valid I.D. and ages 7-18 (free for museum members and kids 6 and younger). gulfcoastmuseum.org.

JEFF WHIPPLE ART MUSEUM AND SPASM GALLERY, Seventh Avenue at 16th Street, Centro Ybor, Tampa (813-223-6190). Tampa-based Whipple heads up a new ongoing cultural attraction within Centro Ybor that traces 30 years of his career via nearly 200 paintings and drawings. Within the museum is the Spasm Gallery, which features new exhibits each month. Regular hours are 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sat.-Sun.; admission is $5.

LEEPA-RATTNER MUSEUM OF ART, 600 Klosterman Road, SPC-Tarpon Springs Campus, Palm Harbor (727-712-5762). Much of the museum's permanent collection includes works by figurative expressionist Abraham Rattner (1893-1978) and his stepson, Allen Leepa (b. 1919). LRMA currently hosts Dorothy Gillespie: Shaping Sculpture, a collection of 29 works — on loan from Virginia's Radford University Art Museum — that serves as a 50-year retrospective of Gillespie's career, through May 28. Upcoming exhibits held in conjunction with international fiber conference Convergence 2008 Tampa Bay are California Dreaming: California Fibers at Convergence 2008, a juried exhibit of contemporary fiber arts from the California Fibers Guild; and Tapestries of Abraham Rattner: Created at the Mambush Artists' Village in Israel, which features seven tapestries from LRMA's permanent collection, June 8-Aug. 3, with an opening reception 7-9 p.m. Sat., June 7 ($10). 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues.-Sat. (open until 9 p.m. Thurs.), 1-5 p.m. Sun. Admission is $5 adults, $4 seniors (free for children and students). spjc.edu/central/museum.

MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS, 255 Beach Drive N.E., St. Petersburg (727-896-2667). MFA's impressive permanent collection contains approximately 4,600 works extending from antiquity to today; artists represented include Cézanne, Monet, Renoir, O'Keeffe, Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein, Avedon and Adams. Current exhibits include Unveiled: Rarely Seen Art from the Collection and Mrs. Stuart's Legacy, both offering a glimpse of treasures from MFA's permanent holdings, through Aug. 26 (Hazel Hough Wing); Revelations: Works by Self-Taught African-American Artists, through July 27; and Theater in Ancient Art: The William Knight Zewadski Collection, which features 40 Greek and Roman antiquities, through March 31, 2009. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues.-Sat., 1-5 p.m. Sun. Admission is $12 adults, $10 seniors, and $6 students with I.D. and ages 7-18 (free to children 6 and younger). fine-arts.org.

RINGLING MUSEUM OF ART, 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota (941-359-5700). If you're a local, you already know about it. If you're a tourist, you probably plan on seeing it. Here's what you can expect: in the permanent collection are works by Rubens, Poussin, Hals and others. More than 10,000 works are on display, as is Ca d'Zan, the winter residence of circus magnate John Ringling, and a work of art itself. Elsewhere on the grounds is the Circus Museum, which features costumes, a circus-in-miniature and the 1952 film The Greatest Show on Earth (filmed in Sarasota) running in a continuous loop. The Circus Museum's Tibbals Learning Center is also open, spotlighting Howard C. Tibbals' enormous miniature circus. Currently on display is Focus on Asian Art: Guanyin Personified, an exhibit of sculptures and images that focus on the Buddhist god of compassionate wisdom, Guanyin, and his representations in Asia, through June 15; Ringling Retro: Modern & Contemporary Art, which features some of the museum's most important modern and contemporary paintings and sculptures from the 1960s to the 1990s, and by artists that include Jules Olitski, Trevor Bell, Robert Rauschenberg, Louise Nevelson, Jackie Ferrara, Thomas Struth, and many others, May 10-Oct. 26; and in Phantasmagoria: Spectors of Absence, artists William Kentridge, Christian Boltanski, Regina Silveira and Jim Campbell use shadows and fog as an artistic medium, May 24-Aug. 10. 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily. Admission is $19 adults, $16 seniors 65 and up, $6 children ages 6-17, students, military and teachers with valid I.D., and free for members. ringling.org.

SALVADOR DALÍ MUSEUM, 1000 Third St. S., St. Petersburg (727-823-3767). Featuring the most comprehensive collection of Salvador Dalí's works in the world, the museum holds several key masterworks that wear you out just looking at them. ("Hallucinogenic Toreador," anyone?) Visitors also get an excellent overview of Dalí's major themes, symbols, influences and inspirations. Currently, the museum presents Dalí & Film, which investigates the relationship between the art and films of Dalí with a collection of seven Dalí paintings from the museum's permanent collection, through June 1. An upcoming exhibit, Women: Dalí's View, consists of 70 paintings, drawings, watercolors, prints and objects from the permanent collection that trace the evolution of Dalí's depiction of women, from his early student days, to later when his wife Gala was his chief model and muse, June 13-Sept. 21. 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Mon.-Wed. and Sat., 9:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Thurs., 9:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Fri., noon-5:30 p.m. Sun. Admission is $15 adults, $13.50 seniors, military and police, $10 students, $4 children 5-9 (free admission for children 4 and younger; $5 admission 5-8 p.m. Thursdays). salvadordalimusuem.org.

TAMPA MUSEUM OF ART, 2306 N. Howard Ave., Centro Espanol, Tampa. (813-274-8130). TMA has moved to an interim location while its fancy new facility is erected in downtown Tampa. The permanent collection will remain in storage until then, but the museum will continue to present a changing schedule of exhibits, including Small Expressions. The 24th annual international juried exhibition — which coincides with a Tampa-hosted conference by the Handweavers Guild of America (HCA) in June — showcases fiber techniques like interlacing, felting, paper, beading and embellishing, with each small-scale work not exceeding 15 inches in any direction, through July 6. Upcoming: It's Not Easy Being Green, an exhibit of artist-produced sustainable living solutions, products, and more, July 11-Sept. 28. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tues.-Sat. Admission is free. tampamuseum.com.

USF CONTEMPORARY ART MUSEUM, located on West Holly Drive at USF-Tampa, 4202 E. Fowler Ave. (813-974-2849). Cameron Gainer: Impact Sight is a solo exhibit of photography and video with which visiting resident artist Gainer explores the presence and power of the image in modern pop culture. Gainer also presents three large-scale sculptural works: an indoor/outdoor installation at the museum; a sculpture protruding from USF Botanical Gardens' Lake Behnke that recreates a famous 1934 image of the Loch Ness Monster; and a "Forest Through the Trees" life-size, film-inspired embodiment of Bigfoot at USF's Riverfront Park. The Second Annual MFA Graduation Exhibition consists of work by graduating students of USF's Master of Fine Arts program. And Moving Thought examines different aspects of the artist's book, from artist-designed printed books to the one-of-a-kind, handmade variety. The mobile phase brought a 31-foot classic Airstream trailer with an exhibit and sale of artists' books to various libraries around the Bay area; the trailer and books are now on display at USF CAM together with an exhibit about the trailer's travels. All are featured through May 24. Visit arts.usf.edu for additional info. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 1-4 p.m. Sat. Free admission. ira.usf.edu.

MUSEUMS: HISTORICAL

DR. CARTER G. WOODSON AFRICAN-AMERICAN MUSEUM, 2240 Ninth Ave. S., St. Petersburg (727-323-1104) Named for the father of Black History Month, this museum focuses on the culture, history and achievements of African-Americans in St. Petersburg and beyond. Currently on display: A Legacy of Courage, Vision & Hope, an exhibit that celebrates the contributions African-American attorneys have made to the local community, through July 31. Open 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Mon., Wed. and Fri. Free admission (donations appreciated). woodsonmuseum.org.

THE DUNEDIN HISTORICAL SOCIETY MUSEUM, 349 Main St., Dunedin (727-736-1176). Operated by the Dunedin Historical Society, the museum contains 2,000 artifacts, 2,500 photographs and a library that holds 200 volumes of local and Florida history. Among the living history programs is Dunedin Cemetery's "History Comes Alive," in which actors portray long-gone locals and tell tales of the area's pioneering families and industries. The society also sponsors the Pinellas Vintage Base Ball League, where players don reproductions of authentic equipment and uniforms, and play by 1890s rules. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tues.-Sat. Admission is a suggested $2 donation. dunedinmuseum.org.

THE EDISON-FORD WINTER ESTATES, 2350 McGregor Blvd., Fort Myers (239-334-7419). Enjoy extensive guided tours of the neighboring winter estates of inventor Thomas Edison and industrial innovator Henry Ford. Aside from the homes, the 7-acre grounds include lush botanical gardens, one of the first modern swimming pools, a museum featuring more than 200 Edison-created phonographs and, of course, a laboratory. 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily. Tours range in price from $12-$24 for adults, and $1-$11 for children 6-12. efwefla.org.

FLORIDA AIR MUSEUM, Sun 'n Fun Fly-In, 4175 Medulla Road, Lakeland (863-644-0741). This museum and education center tracks 100 years of aviation history with a rather large collection of vintage aircrafts and aviation artifacts from around the world. Also featured is an extensive collection of Howard Hughes memorabilia, from medals to flight suits to photographs. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat., noon-4 p.m. Sun. Admission is $8 adults, $6 seniors (55-plus), $4 ages 8-12 (kids 7 and under enter for free). sun-n-fun.org/museum.

FLORIDA GULF COAST RAILROAD MUSEUM, 12219 83rd Street E., Parrish (877-869-0800). Take a 13-mile train ride through a section of Manatee County on an antique diesel locomotive — a rolling museum — and look at various artifacts while learning history along the way. 90-minute trips depart at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Sat.-Sun. Fares are $11 adults, $7 ages 3-11 (free for children 2 and younger). fgcrrm.org.

FLORIDA HOLOCAUST MUSEUM, 55 Fifth St. S., St. Petersburg (727-820-0100). The permanent collection features History, Heritage and Hope, which details the history of Holocaust victims and survivors; Milt Kohn Holocaust Collection, one of America's largest private collections of Holocaust letters and artifacts; and Heroes: Courage and Sacrifice, an expanded "Wall of Heroes" sharing the stories of 21 unsung heroes of the Holocaust. On the short term, The Greatest Crime of the War: The Armenian Genocide During World War I features text and image panels that track the history of the Armenian people and the political and international events leading up to their widespread extermination, through Oct. 19. Also on display: Tous Ensemble, an exhibit of mixed-media paintings, photographs, sculpture and installation by French artist Marc Ash, through June 22. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Admission is $12 adults, $6 students under 18. flholocaustmuseum.org.

GULF BEACHES HISTORICAL MUSEUM, 115 10th Ave., St. Pete Beach (727-552-1610). The museum offers a look back at the history of Pinellas County's barrier islands through news clippings, photographs and artifacts dating from the 1500s through today. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 1-4 p.m. Sun. Free admission (donations appreciated). pinellascounty.org/Heritage/gulf_beach_museum.htm.

GULFPORT HISTORICAL MUSEUM, 5301 28th Ave. S., Gulfport (727-327-0505). This quaint museum reflects the history of Gulfport from 1867 to 1940. 2-4 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-noon Sat. Free admission (donations welcome). gulfporthistoricalmuseum.homestead.com.

HERITAGE VILLAGE, 11909 125th St. N., Largo (727-582-2123). This 21-acre, open-air living history village features 28 historic structures reflecting turn-of-the-century lifestyles of Pinellas pioneers. An archive library contains more than 3,500 volumes, along with photos, maps and other materials. Docents in period costumes offer tours and demonstrate embroidery, basket making, pine needle and palm frond weaving, quilting and much more. Upcoming event: Civil War Days featuring the 25th Annual Heritage Village Skirmish (9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat., May 17). Regular hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tues.-Sat., 1-4 p.m. Sun. Free admission (donations accepted). pinellascounty.org/heritage.

HENRY B. PLANT MUSEUM, located on the University of Tampa campus, 401 W. Kennedy Blvd., Tampa (813-254-1891). A National Historic Landmark, the museum's housed in what was once the luxurious Tampa Bay Hotel. Exhibits include original artworks from private collections, period sporting goods, clothes and décor. The museum also happens to house a permanent Spanish-American War exhibit and mementos from Teddy Roosevelt's frequent visits. On display through Dec. 31: Mementos from Under the Minarets, an exhibit of rare souvenirs, trinkets, memorabilia, letters and collectibles related to the Tampa Bay Hotel. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tues.-Sat., noon-4 p.m. Sun. Admission is a requested donation of $5 for adults and $2 for children under 12. plantmuseum.com.

KORESHAN STATE HISTORIC SITE, I-75, Exit 123, Corkscrew Road just past U.S. 41, Estero (239-992-0311). Before Texas had David, Chicago had Dr. Cyrus Teed. In 1869, Teed had a revelation that he was the Messiah. In 1894, having already changed his name to Koresh, Teed led his wealthy followers to Estero. While the group didn't create a "New Jerusalem," they did manage a self-contained community, with a power plant, printing shop (for their weekly newspaper), bakery, living quarters, an art hall and more. The colony began diminishing after Teed´s death in 1908, and in 1961, the last four members deeded the land to the state. Today, it stands as a testament to one man's religious dementia. 8 a.m. to sunset. Tours are offered 10 a.m. Sat. and Sun., $2 for adults, $1 for kids; admission is $4 per vehicle. Canoes and campsites are also available. floridastateparks.org/koreshan.

NATIONAL COMEDY HALL OF FAME MUSEUM, 154 129th Ave. W., Madeira Beach (727-398-5761). More than 450 comedians are represented via biographies, original videos and artifacts used by the comedians themselves, including Phyllis Diller's cigarette holder, George Burns' cigar and Minnie Pearl's hat. Hours are 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Sat., noon-6 p.m. Sun. Admission: $6.50 adults, $6 seniors and students (ages 6 and younger enter for free). comedyhall.com.

PANAMA CANAL MUSEUM, 7985 113th St., Suite 100, Seminole (727-394-9338). The current exhibit is Role of the West Indians 1904 to 1914, which honors the role that West Indian laborers played in the building of the Panama Canal; on display through Dec. 31. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Mon.-Sat. Free admission. panamacanalmuseum.org.

PIONEER FLORIDA MUSEUM, 15602 Pioneer Museum Road, off U.S. 301 N., Dade City (352-567-0262). Life doesn't seem so hard after visiting this museum, which depicts how the pioneering folk of Florida's past lived. On display are tools of the cracker-era, a turn-of-the-century Porter Steam Engine, a two-story farmhouse from the 1860s, a 100-year-old schoolhouse and a Methodist church circa 1878. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues.-Sat. Admission is $5 adults, $4 seniors, $2 students (children 5 and younger enter for free). dadecity.com/museum.

SAFETY HARBOR MUSEUM OF REGIONAL HISTORY, 329 Bayshore Blvd. S., Safety Harbor (727-726-1668). Museum exhibits trace the history of Safety Harbor and the surrounding Tampa Bay area from prehistoric to modern times. Domestic dioramas and displays of fossils, projectile points, shell tools, beads and pottery tell the story of Florida's first people and the arrival of Spanish explorers in the 16th century. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tues.-Fri., 1-4 p.m. Sat.-Sun. Admission is $4 adults, $3 seniors and youths 7-8 (free for children 6 and under). safetyharbormuseum.org.

SARASOTA CLASSIC CAR MUSEUM, 5500 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota (941-355-6228). Car buffs can explore 60,000 square feet of automotive history: turn-of-the-century horseless carriages, vintage and classic cars from the '50s and '60s, and exotic cars from around the world, more than 100 in all. The extensive car display is augmented by the Antique Game Arcade, with operational games that cost only a few cents to play. The museum, which opened its doors to the public in 1953, is one of the oldest car museums in the nation. 9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily. Admission is $8.50 adults, $7.65 seniors, $5.75 ages 13-17, and $4 ages 6-12 (free for ages 5 and younger). sarasotacarmuseum.org.

ST. PETERSBURG MUSEUM OF HISTORY, 335 Second Ave. N.E., on The Pier approach, St. Petersburg (727-894-1052). The Vision exhibit traces the history of St. Petersburg and Pinellas County from prehistoric times to today with creative displays and hundreds of historic photos and objects, like a parlor car from Florida's old Orange Belt Railway. Other highlights include the World's First Airline exhibit, and a gallery devoted to St. Pete neighborhoods and heritage groups. On display now through Aug. 27 is St. Anthony's Hospital Story, which outlines the hospital's history, medical breakthroughs and pioneering technologies as well as the area's progress in health-care service as a whole, through Aug. 27. Also on display: Royalty ... Triumphs and Tragedies, which documents society's fascination with all things royal via fashions, artifacts and memorabilia, through Sept. 30; and Major League Baseball in St. Petersburg, an exhibit that commemorates the 10th anniversary of the inaugural season of baseball in St. Pete with artifacts and documents, like signed uniform jerseys and baseballs, newspaper accounts of opening day, catcher John Flaherty's batting helmet and plenty else, through Sept. 30. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues.-Sat., 1-5 p.m. Sun. Admission is $12 adults, $9 seniors and students, $7 ages 7-17, family of four admission $24 (free admission for kids 6 and younger;). spmoh.org.

VETERANS MEMORIAL MUSEUM AND PARK, 3602 U.S. 301 N., Tampa (813-744-5502). This tribute to America's fighting men and women offers a walk through military history, starting in the 1500s. Museum hours: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat.-Sun. and patriotic holidays. Park hours: 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily. Free admission (donations welcome).

YBOR CITY STATE MUSEUM, 1818 E. Ninth Ave., Ybor City (813-247-6323). The museum and state historic park honors the history of Ybor City's founders, workers and culture via photographs and artifacts from 1886 through today. The complex also features a restored casita, once known as canones (cannons) or shotgun houses, where cigar factory workers lived; a scenic fountain-enhanced garden; and the Ferlita Bakery (listed on the National Register of Historic Places). A special exhibit, Sicilians in Tampa — Unfolding the Journey, highlights the contributions of Sicilian immigrants to Tampa's heritage with artifacts and materials collected from members of Sicilian families, USF's Florida Special Collections, and the local community; on display through Dec. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. General admission is $3 (free for children 5 and younger). ybormuseum.org.

MUSEUMS: SCIENCE AND HANDS-ON

THE CHILDREN'S MUSEUM OF TAMPA, 7550 N. Boulevard, Tampa (813-935-8441). The museum's Kid City is a miniature outdoor metropolis with streets, sidewalks, park benches, shade trees, picnic tables and 16 child-sized buildings representing the various businesses found in a typical city — a library, restaurant, courthouse, doctor's office, school, police station, firehouse and others, each containing an array of interactive exhibits and activities for children. Also featured is the Cob House, a structure created with clay, straw, sand and cement blocks by the YouthALIVE! teens of Kid City. 9:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Wed. and Fri., 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat. Admission is $5 ages 1 and older; free entry to children 11 months and younger. flachildrensmuseum.com.

CROWLEY MUSEUM AND NATURE CENTER, 16405 Myakka Road, Sarasota (941-322-1000). The pioneer history area features a museum with Crowley family and Old Miakka area artifacts dating from the late 1870s to the early 1900s, including household furnishings, tools and items from the original Old Miakka general store and post office. There's also a single-room pioneer cabin, a working blacksmith shop and sugar cane mill, the Tatum House — a 2-story restored 1892 "Cracker" house — and 190-acre nature preserve complete with meandering trails and a 2,000-foot boardwalk with an observation tower overlooking the marshlands. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Thurs.-Sun. Admission is $7 adults, $3 ages 5-12 (children 5 and younger enter free). crowleymuseumnaturectr.org.

G WIZ: THE GULFCOAST WONDER AND IMAGINATION ZONE, 1001 Boulevard of the Arts, Sarasota (941-309-4949). Sarasota's only science and technology facility features newly installed hands-on exhibits every few months by ExploraZone, a well-respected science facility in San Francisco. Currently, G Wiz presents How People Make Things: Inspired by the Mister Rogers' Factory Tours, which offers firsthand info about tools and processes used to make everyday objects, May 24-Sept. 7. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.- Sat., noon-5 p.m. Sun. Admission is $9 adults, $8 seniors, $6 ages 3-18 (free admission for kids 2 and younger). gwiz.org.

GREAT EXPLORATIONS: THE HANDS-ON MUSEUM, at Sunken Gardens, 1925 Fourth St. N., St. Petersburg (727-821-8992). This museum for kids has interactive exhibits like the Fit4Allkidsville healthy lifestyle exhibit. Other amusements include "Dinosaurs Hollywood Style" as well as a child-size (faux) market place, veterinary office, fire house and plenty else. 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Mon.-Sat., noon-4:30 p.m. Sun. Admission is $9 ages 2 to 54, $8 seniors (free admission for members and ages 11 months and younger). greatexplorations.org.

MUSEUM OF SCIENCE & INDUSTRY (MOSI), 4801 E. Fowler Ave., Tampa (813-987-6300). The not-for-profit educational institution is the largest science center in the Southeast. Museum highlights include two replica diplodocus dinosaur skeletons; the IMAX Dome Theatre and its 82-foot hemispherical movie screen; BioWorks Butterfly Garden, an engineered ecosystem that emulates natural wetlands; the Back Woods, 40 acres of special water conservation elements and outdoor exhibits; Kids In Charge! The Children's Science Center, an educational center created from theories about intergenerational play, learning and skill-building; and two permanent exhibits, Demystifying India, which features items reflecting India's history, culture and contributions, and Disasterville, which consists of dramatic simulations that demonstrate the science behind natural disasters occurring throughout the world. Museum hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. A traveling exhibit, Magic: The Science of Illusion, consists of artifacts, films and hands-on exhibits that track the history, art and science of magic, and show how physical science, math and psychology used in magic relate to everyday life, through May 26. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Sat.-Sun.. Admission is $23.95 adults, $21.95 seniors, $17.95 ages 2-12 (includes a standard length IMAX film and entry to all exhibits). mosi.org.

SCIENCE CENTER OF PINELLAS COUNTY, 7701 22nd Ave. N., St. Petersburg (727-384-0027). The Science Center features a Native American village, 30-seat planetarium, the Carol Samuels Observatory and its Meade telescope, 600-gallon marine "touch tank," 12 classrooms/labs, White and Xeriscape gardens, and numerous exhibits, including Discoveries by African-American Scientists and Inventors. 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Mon.-Fri., with planetarium shows on Fridays at 3 p.m. Admission is $5. sciencecenterofpinellas.com.

ST. PETERSBURG COLLEGE PLANETARIUM AND OBSERVATORY, SPC-Gibbs Campus, 6605 Fifth Avenue N., St. Petersburg (727-341-4320). The planetarium's shows are at 7 and 8:15 p.m. every Friday while school is in session (summers included). The domed observatory on the roof of the Natural Science Building houses several telescopes and is open for viewing following the Friday evening shows, weather permitting. Free admission.

Scroll to read more News Feature articles

Newsletters

Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.