‘Stay-cations’ for students on a budget

Planning summer vacations can be difficult for college students. Summer classes and work schedules often conflict with vacation plans, leaving many students looking for weekend getaway ideas. Economic conditions have also taken a toll on summer plans, with many students planning for a “stay-cation” this year.

Students with a short time frame and an even shorter budget might want to consider looking in their own backyard for relaxation and summer fun. Here is a list of inexpensive or free Florida attractions students can take advantage of this summer:

1. The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art — Nearby Sarasota is home to “the greatest show on earth.” The Ringling Museum features exhibits and artifacts that pay homage to the world-famous circus and houses John Ringling’s personal art collection. The collection features American, Asian and European masterpieces from a variety of artists including Rubens, van Dyck, Velázquez, Titian and Tintoretto.

Admission is $7 for students.

2. St. Augustine — The oldest settled city in the U.S. is filled with history, architecture, food and shopping. Explore the city on your own for free or take part in guided tours in various parts of the city. St. Augustine Beach is also a great location to fish, tan, play volleyball or picnic for just $5.

3. Plant City berry picking — Many of Plant City’s citrus and strawberry farms are open to the public for picking. It’s a fun way to spend the day, and you get to eat what you pick. Prices vary by farm but typically reflect the going rate for the fruit and are cheaper than supermarket prices.

4. Silver Springs — Silver Springs in Ocala is a 99.8 percent freshwater spring with a long history. Aside from attracting tourists with its crystal clear waters and wildlife viewings, Silver Springs also has an amusement park featuring river cruises, wildlife exhibits, rides, botanical gardens, shopping and dining.

Tickets are $30 with advance purchase and Silver Springs also offers $10-off and buy-one-get-one-free coupons online at silversprings.com.

5. Cedar Key — An ideal location for students who enjoy the outdoors, this National Wildlife Refuge — about 135 miles north of Tampa — is great for bird watching, fishing, boating and hiking. The refuge is free for visitors and boat rentals are available.

6. Coldwater Creek — Coldwater is one of the purest sandy bottom creeks in the country and is the ideal location for swimming, canoeing, camping and fishing.

The creek is located in the Blackwater River State Forest in Munson near Pensacola and is open to the public for just $3 per vehicle.

7. Weeki Wachee Springs — Florida’s oldest roadside attraction is most famous for its live mermaid show. Weeki Wachee stretches for 538 acres, and the $25 admission includes wildlife observation, riverboat cruises, a live mermaid show, canoeing, kayaking, swimming and access to the Buccaneer Bay Waterpark.

8. Ichetucknee Springs — This spring, named a National Natural Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior, is the beginning of the six-mile Ichetucknee River. Tubing is the main attraction here, with three tubing expeditions ranging from 45 minutes to 3 hours. Visitors can bring their own tube or rent one. Park admission is $5 per vehicle and includes tubing, picnicking, snorkeling, canoeing, swimming, hiking and wetland observation.

9. De Leon Springs — Once rumored to hold the fountain of youth, De Leon Springs has been a tourist attraction since the 1980’s. For just $5 admission per car, visitors can enjoy swimming or boating in the natural springs, eco-history boat tours, hiking along the four-mile Wild Persimmon Hiking Trail and bird watching. Boat, canoe and kayak rentals are available, while personal boats can be launched for no extra charge. Diners at The Old Spanish Sugar Mill, a restaurant next to the springs, cook their own pancakes on a griddle in the center of the table.

10. Kennedy Space Center — View the historic pieces of NASA astronauts’ trips to outer space at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Between launches, the Center is open to the public and features exhibits, shows, the Astronaut Hall of Fame, IMAX
movies and interactive spaceflight simulators.

Admission is $38 and tickets allow for a return visit within 7 days.

11. Florida wineries — Wine fanatics are in luck, with 13 Florida wineries to choose from. Floridian wine may not compare to Napa Valley’s, but its wineries offer local flavor, wine tastings and tours of their facilities.

Admission varies by location but is usually free or inexpensive.

12. Bok Tower Gardens — This National Historic Landmark is located in Lake Wales and has been home to some of the most beautiful grounds in Florida since the 1930’s. The $10 admission fee allows visitors to admire the Singing Tower, explore beautiful gardens, observe over 100 species of wild birds in the bird sanctuary and hike along the Pine Ridge Trail. An additional $6 will grant an inside peek at the Pinewood Estate and its exclusive gardens.

13. Sanibel Island — Sanibel Island is home to some of Florida’s most beautiful shores. The lack of entrance fees means that a day at the beach costs nothing more than gas money and visitors can spend the day boating, fishing, water skiing, golfing or swimming. Boat and bike rentals are available throughout the island. Sanibel Island’s unique geography makes it ideal for shell hunting so be sure to bring a bucket.

14. Beaches — When looking for a new way to spend a summer day, try venturing away from Clearwater to explore a new beach. The entire peninsula is covered with prime coastal locations. Most have free public beach access, so the only expenses are gas, parking and refreshments.

Popular beaches include Pensacola, Daytona, Cocoa Beach, Key Largo, Key West, Fort Myers, Panama City, and Miami.

For more inexpensive day trip ideas, check out visitflorida.com.