Animals, art and aqua

The Tampa Bay area offers more entertainment than a usual Friday night movie ,and summer is the best opportunity to explore what the city has to offer. Here is a sample of activities in the Bay area:

Museums

Tampa is full of culture, including many museums and art galleries. Located on the USF Tampa campus is the Contemporary Art Museum where exhibits change every six to eight weeks. Also on campus is Graphic Studio, where limited editions of artwork are displayed. Another art venue is USF’s Centre Gallery, a student-organized exhibition located in the Phyllis P. Marshall Center. Admission to galleries on campus is free.

Across the street from USF on Fowler Avenue is the Museum of Science and Industry. MOSI, which is an interactive museum, houses the Saunders Planetarium where visitors can view a projected image of the night sky. MOSI is also home to the IMAX dome theater. The museum’s general admission price of $14.95 also includes a full length film. A visit to the Web site (www.mosi.org) is rewarded with a $2 discount.

The Tampa Museum of Art, which is located downtown, features current exhibits ranging from Modern Art in Florida to The Classical World. Admission is $7 for adults, but the Web site () offers a $1-off coupon. A short trip to St. Petersburg provides other museums to visit including the Salvador Dali Museum, Florida International Museum and Florida Holocaust Museum.

Nature

Everyone knows about the animals at Busch Gardens, but there are less expensive ways to view nature in Florida. The Lowry Park Zoo located in Tampa offers an admission price of $9.50 and $35 for an annual pass. The zoo has interactive exhibits such as Stingray Bay and a petting zoo. A new part of the zoo is the Wild Australian Safari where, for an additional $3, guests can take a carriage ride through an area with animals native to Australia.

Another separate ticket they offer is a $10-River Odyssey Eco-tour boat ride. On a ride in the Hillsborough River tortoises, manatees and other animals can be seen.

Tampa is also home of the Florida Aquarium. General admission to the museum is $15 and for an additional $5, visitors can have a behind-the-scenes tour. The aquarium also houses Dolphin Quest where visitors can pay to take a boat ride in the Tampa Bay to view bottlenose dolphins and manatees. The price of the eco-tour alone is $18.95, and guests can get both tickets for $31.95.

And don’t forget USF’s Riverfront Park on Fletcher Avenue. The park is open to students and staff and offers canoeing trips down the Hillsborough River for $3 per hour.

Performance venues

Other Bay area cultural centers include the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater and St. Pete’s Mahaffey Theater. They offer Broadway plays, comedians and performances by the Florida orchestra.

Water

An important aspect to the summer heat is staying cool along the way. Weeki Wachee Springs has been entertaining visitors for more than 50 years. The springs are an hour drive north from the USF Tampa campus and are well worth the visit. There are a number of things guests can do at the park, including visiting Buccaneer Bay, which is equipped with water slides.

Weeki Wachee also features an underwater theater with mermaids performing The Little Mermaid.

Another alternative in the water park is to rent a two-seat canoe or a single-seat kayak and paddle down the springs. The springs’ fresh water and mild currents keep the water crystal clear and attracts a variety of wildlife. Birds, turtles and manatees live in the springs. The water remains at a constant 75 degrees, making it perfect to avoid the summer heat. After three and half hours, guests arrive at the end of the river and the canoe rental agency transports visitors back to the parking area. For more information, including prices for Weeki Wachee Springs canoe rentals and water park admission, visit www.weekiwachee.com information, including prices for Weeki Wachee Springs canoe rentals or water park, visit www.weeki-wachee.com.

Staff writer Annie Curnowcontributed to this story.

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