There are countless reasons to plan a getaway to the Sunshine State in February. Perhaps the best is the Florida State Fair, an annual festival held for 12 days every February outside of Tampa. Situated in the massive 330-acre Florida State Fairgrounds, this fun-filled event features indoor and outdoor exhibitions of animals, kid-friendly games, wine tasting, rides and competitions, and a variety of foods. Since 2009, the fair has expanded to include even more attractions, such as a live shark exhibit and a rodeo.
The 2014 State Fair
The Florida State Fair is scheduled for February 6 to 17, 2014, in Tampa, Fla. The fair is spread across several venues, including the Bob Thomas Equestrian Center, where all of the horse races and other equestrian events are held. At the heart of the entertainment and family fun is a festival with the goal of showcasing the state's agricultural industry. Those visitors that are interested in the serious side of the festival shouldn't miss the Expo Hall, which has exhibits from most counties in Florida and agricultural organizations.
Since the Florida State Fair opened its gates in 1904, agribusiness and family fun have been celebrated as a Tampa tradition. Hundreds of thousands of visitors flock from near and far to the fair. In fact, over the 12 days, the park grounds welcome almost a half million visitors. Take advantage of Discount Days, an arts and crafts showcase, student, senior and military days, livestock shows, a petting zoo, fireworks, horse shows and cheer & dance competitions. There's sure to be a boatload of tasty foods, including beef jerky, pork rinds and kettle corn.
No trip to the state fair is complete without stepping back in time in Cracker County, Tampa's only living history museum. Founded in 1978 to preserve Florida's rural heritage, the museum houses a collection of 13 original buildings - dating back to 1870 - that were relocated from across the state. The buildings range from public stores and train depots to private homes. The museum even has costumed interpreters who portray daily life as Florida pioneers.
On these rustic grounds, you get an opportunity to experience the sights and smells of Florida from a hundred years ago. Take home a newspaper printed hot off the antique printing press, or try a taste of real sugar cane before witnessing its juice being boiled into syrup. History buffs will love learning about the art of spinning, blacksmithing, woodcarving, and making cow whips. Cracker County is a great way to end the afternoon, as you munch on a bag of fresh kettle corn or beef jerky and sip on a lemonade. Beyond the fair, Cracker County brings in around 20,000 school children every year.
While some rides and concerts cost an extra fee after the price of admission, there is also a long list of free entertainment. In 2012, free special attractions included an Elvis Extravaganza, a Cheer and Dance Competition, and a Lumberjack Show. Kids will want to check out the exotic petting zoo and the pig races. There is also an international stage and arts and crafts showcase.
In 2013, adult tickets on weekdays cost $10 and children cost $5 (kids under 5 were admitted for free). On Saturday and Sunday, the ticket cost was slightly higher at $12 for adults and $6 for kids (children under 5 are free on weekends as well). Discounts were available at local supermarkets. Check the official fair website for details on how you could save a few dollars on each ticket. In addition to paying for regular admission, armbands can be purchased to enjoy the fair's rides. No re-entry is allowed.
The Florida State Fairgrounds are situated only 7 miles east of downtown Tampa. You can access it via interstates 75 or 4, and Martin Luther King Blvd., also called Highway 574. There is a free park and ride shuttle service on the weekends that runs continuously between Highland Oaks, located at Interstate 75 and Highway 574 exit, and the entrance gates. There are three entrances to the property: Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., U.S. Highway 301 and Orient Road.
The Fine Print
When planning a day at the Florida State Fair, there are a few things to know in advance. Parking at the fair is free, and a lot of entertainment is included in the price of admission. On weekdays, gates open at 10 a.m. and on weekends, the gates open earlier at 9 a.m. until midnight. There are so many concerts, shows, rides, food, and shopping at the fair that guests might want to peek at the map of the fairgrounds ahead of time to strategize their must-sees. The official fair website offers the chance to sign up for an e-newsletter. This way, the latest news on entertainment, new additions to the fair and details on concert tickets will be delivered right to your inbox. There are also additional events held throughout the year at the Florida State Fairgrounds.
Vacation Rentals for the Florida State Fair
The Florida State Fair offers 12 straight days of entertainment, so why not make a vacation out of it? Choose a HomeAway rental in Tampa and soak up the Florida sunshine with days of fun. If you're planning a family event, you will appreciate the extra space and privacy that a vacation rental provides. The convenience of a kitchen helps to keep costs down by stocking your fridge with healthy snacks. After a long day at the fair, you'll have a comfortable and spacious place to relax.