If you don’t have the time or the budget for a big summer vacation, or if you’re just looking to cure a case of summertime cabin fever, there are plenty of options for fun and educational day trips around the Tampa Bay area. Whether it’s the history of flight, great art collections or a chance to see an incredible collection of buildings designed by America’s most renowned architect, this list will help you tear the kids away from their computers and smart phones and enjoy some world-class venues without breaking the bank.
Fantasy of Flight
1400 Broadway Blvd. S.E.
Polk City, FL 33868
Located about half-way between Tampa and Orlando on Interstate 4, Fantasy of Flight has more than 40 historic military and civilian aircraft. Almost everything in the collection is flyable and on any given day with suitable weather, owner Kermit Weeks might take just about any of them for a spin. There aren’t many places where you can see WWII vintage P-40 or Spitfire blazing through the central Florida skies. Parents and two children under 12 can experience Fantasy of Flight for under $100 dollars at any time, but seasonal specials have popped up from time to time for Florida residents that can bring the price even lower. Flights on vintage barnstorming aircraft and a challenging ropes course are available for extra charges.
The Frank Lloyd Wright Collection
Florida Southern College
111 Lake Hollingsworth Drive
Lakeland, FL 33801
The fact that the largest single grouping of buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright resides at Lakeland’s Florida Southern College is one of Florida’s best-kept secrets. According to the college’s official history, then-president Ludd M. Spivey had the audacity to reach out to Wright in 1936 to pitch his dream of a “college of tomorrow” among the orange groves and sandy soil of central Florida. Wright agreed and the campus centerpiece that became known as the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel was finished in 1941. Eventually, the college would feature a dozen structures designed by Wright. One-hour guided tours are available for $20 per person with reservations suggested. Specialty and group tours are available for an extra charge. Self-guided tours are free.
The Dali Museum
1 Dali Blvd.
St. Petersburg, FL 33701
What became the largest private collection of Salvador Dali’s art began in 1943 when A. Reynolds Morse and his wife Eleanor bought their first Dali painting after seeing a display of his work at the Cleveland Museum of Art. The Morse’s collection outgrew their Cleveland home and then a small building in Beechwood, Ohio before they went on a nationwide search for a new location and chose a St. Petersburg marine warehouse that hosted the collection starting in 1982. In 2011, the new location on St. Petersburg waterfront instantly became one of the area’s most recognizable landmarks with its distinctive design that combines the simplicity of a cube with the elegance of geodesic glass bubbles. Admission prices start at $21 for adults with discounts for seniors and children.
Related: Best flying adventures in Tampa Bay
Bishop Planetarium & Parker Manatee Aquarium
South Florida Museum
201 10th St. W.
Bradenton, FL 34205
The Bishop Planetarium became a hangout for rock music lovers in the 70s and 80s with elaborate shows set to the music of space rockers such as Pink Floyd and Yes. Its companion attraction, the Parker Manatee Aquarium, became famous in its own right as the home of “Snooty,” the oldest known manatee in captivity. Both have had significant upgrades in recent years and the $15.95 admission fee offers a full day’s entertainment between a visit to Snooty’s swimming pool, the all-digital planetarium and the South Florida Museum.
5401 Bay Shore Road
Sarasota, FL 34243
Founded by circus magnate John Ringling and his wife Mable to house their collection of Old Master paintings, the Ringling Museum opened in 1931. On Ringling’s death in 1936, the Museum ownershp passed on to the State of Florida. Works from El Greco, Reubens and Veronese are on display along with a constant parade of special exhibitions. General admission prices begin at $25 for adults and $5 for children ages six to 17 with three-day passes available. With 66 acres and four venues available, visitors are advised to wear sturdy walking shoes and pack plenty of sunscreen and water. Tours led by knowledgeable docents are available at the various venues. Some require an extra $5 charge and others are included in the regular admission price. Self-guided tours are free.
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Mike Hennessy is a veteran news man who has won Florida AP awards for feature reporting and covered almost every kind of story imaginable from on-the-scene coverage of Hurricane Andrew, to some of the highest profile murder and corruption trials in Florida history. Mike is versatile and has the curiosity it takes to get to the bottom line of any story. His work can be found at Examiner.com.