By SUSAN B. BARNES
When it comes to the Sunshine State and all it has to offer, Central West Florida presents a little of the best of everything: powder-soft, white-sand beaches; thrilling theme parks; back-to-nature spots; a vibrant nightlife; captivating world-class museums; and much more.
A Day in...
Crystal River/Citrus County

Begin your day feeling wonder again. Swim with manatees in the amazing springs of Crystal River’s Kings Bay. Take the trolley to the Three Sisters Springs boardwalk. It’s like a national park in a single acre. At the Kings Bay waterfront, dine on seafood fresh from the Gulf of Mexico. Afterward, explore the shops of Heritage Village in downtown Crystal River. Later, take a sunset cruise or enjoy the show from Fort Island Gulf Beach. For dinner, reserve a table at Vintage on 5th, winner of Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence seven years in a row.

Dunedin

Cycle to Honeymoon Island, Florida’s most visited state park, to swim, fish and snorkel in the warm Gulf waters. Or pack a picnic and ferry over to Caladesi to hike, paddle or bask on award-winning beaches. After lunch return to historic downtown Dunedin to shop and stroll through waterfront parks. Sample craft beers at the Dunedin Brewery. Admire the sunset and dine on fresh seafood at the Olde Bay Café and Dunedin Fish Market. During spring training, cheer for the Toronto Blue Jays at the newly renovated Dunedin Stadium.

St. Pete/Clearwater

Watch sunrise at North Shore Park in St. Pete. Grab breakfast at a St. Pete indie coffee house. Walk to the Dalí Museum to view the artist’s largest collection of works outside of Spain. Lunch at Parkshore Grill before heading to Clearwater Beach to soak up the sun and splash in the warm Gulf waters. Stroll along Pier 60. Fish or enjoy nightly entertainment from 6 to 9 pm. Sip a tropical cocktail at Tommy’s Tiki Bar at the Hilton Clearwater Beach. For dinner with a view, the outdoor patio at Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill ends a perfect day.

Tampa Bay

Savor fresh guava turnovers and Cuban coffee at La Segunda Bakery & Café in Ybor City before exploring Tampa’s eclectic Latin Quarter, one of Florida’s two historical districts. Visit José Martí Park, the only piece of American soil owned by the people of Cuba. Enjoy paella and sangria at Columbia Restaurant, Florida’s oldest dining establishment. Ride the TECO Historic Streetcar Line to the Tampa Riverwalk and nearby museums and attractions. Order cocktails at Franklin Manor, followed by a sunset dinner at Ulele and a nightcap at Ciro’s Speakeasy and Supper Club.

ANNUAL EVENTS
JANUARY
  • Downtown Dunedin Art Festival
  • Gasparilla Pirate Festival, Tampa
  • Outback Bowl, Tampa
FEBRUARY
  • Brooksville Native American Festival
  • Downtown Dunedin Craft Festival
  • Dunedin Mardi Gras Parade and Festival
  • Gasparilla Distance Classic
  • Krewe of Sant’ Yago Illuminated Knight Parade, Tampa
MARCH
  • Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
  • Florida Strawberry Festival, Plant City
  • Fort Cooper Days, Inverness
  • Gasparilla Festival of the Arts, Tampa
  • Tampa Pride
MARCH - APRIL
  • Food and Wine Festival, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, weekends
APRIL
  • Bern’s Winefest, Tampa
  • Dunedin Highland Games & Festival
  • Mainsail Arts Festival, St. Petersburg
  • Pier 60 Sugar Sand Festival, Clearwater Beach
  • Tampa Bay International Dragon Boat Races
MAY
  • Riverfest, Tampa Riverwalk
JUNE
  • St. Pete Pride Festival and Parade
JUNE - AUGUST
  • Summer Nights, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
SEPTEMBER - OCTOBER
  • Clearwater Jazz Holiday
  • Creatures of the Night, ZooTampa at Lowry Park
  • Tampa Bay International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival
NOVEMBER
  • Christmas in the Wild, ZooTampa at Lowry Park
NOVEMBER - JANUARY
  • Christmas Town, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
DECEMBER
  • Outback Bowl New Year’s Eve Parade, Ybor City
  • Victorian Christmas Stroll, Henry B. Plant Museum, Tampa