It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year in Tampa Bay
Do not let the lack of snow and frosty temperatures get you down this holiday season in Tampa Bay. While building a snowman, taking a sleigh ride, and skiing are all surely out of the question, festive seasonal fun still abounds throughout the metro. From Santa parades, to illuminated boat parades, to jingle bell 5ks, and even a real ice skating rink, there are plenty of enjoyable seasonal activities to look forwards to this holiday.
Here’s a rundown of the best affordable things to do this Christmas season in Tampa Bay.
Free seasonal fun
Snowfest St. Pete – Over 60 tons of snowfall arrive in St. Petersburg’s North Straub park for this popular annual event. Here’s your unique (and likely) only chance to go sledding down a hill with palm trees in the distance. This Tampa Bay article details how the snow is made possible.
Shops of Wiregrass Symphony of Lights – This outdoor shopping mall in suburban Wesley Chapel features a spirited choreographed Christmas tree light show featuring music from Trans Siberian Orchestra. If you stay through the whole show, you may just get caught in a rare Florida snowstorm. More info on Symphony of Lights.
There’s Snow Place Like Tarpon Springs – The biggest holiday event in Pinellas County features horse drawn carriage rides, a snow play area, holiday movies, and even falling snow! Tarpon Springs Event Calendar
Boat parades in Tarpon Springs, Dunedin, Madeira Beach, & downtown Tampa – Almost every coastal community in Florida puts on an extravagant boat parade. The communities mentioned above put on the biggest and boldest illuminated parades in the Bay. Get out early to score a prime view! Boat parade schedule
Santa Parade at North Straub Park
The annual Christmas parade in St. Petersburg is about as festive as festive gets. The weather may be mild, but there is no lack of holiday spirit here. St Pete holiday events guide
Holidays Lights extravaganza
Lights of Largo Central Park – Take a beautiful stroll through 2 million colorful lights at this free & festive event which comes in as the biggest in Pinellas County. Largo events calendar
Florida Botanical Gardens – This free display ($10 donation suggested) includes a variety of whimsical nature and tropical themed light displays. A Florida tradition not to be missed! More info on the Florida Botanical Garden’s holiday lights.
St. Petersburg waterfront lights – Several parks (North & South Straub, Vinoy) along the St. Pete waterfront come alive with colorful lights and Christmas displays.
Holiday Spectacular at Riverwalk Tampa – Take a stroll along the downtown Riverfront trail and enjoy a number of festive sights including a 35 foot tall floating tree, a synchronized light show, and a real skating rink. Riverwalk events
The grandest Christmas trees
Downtown Dunedin – Head over to Edgewater Park near the Dunedin marina to check out this beautiful tree.
Hyde Park Village – The gorgeous tree in Tampa’s most beautiful shopping village draws big crowds each December. Bonus – while you are in the vicinity, you can get some Christmas shopping done and enjoy a mug of the best local coffee in the city at Buddy Brew. Also, there are a number of great restaurants here including Irish 31. Hyde Park Village directory
Downtown Tampa – Tampa’s tree lighting ceremony takes place sometime around the first week of December each year. The cityscape background makes for an especially memorable experience. Tampa holiday events schedule
The best neighborhood light displays
Lights of Lake Park Estates – Drive through 3 miles of houses decked out Griswold style for the holidays. It’s one of the brightest spots in all of Tampa Bay, and thus, if you love Christmas lights, do place this one on your itinerary. Donations support Suncoast Hospice. More info on Lights of Lake Park
Indian Trail HOA Lights – While not as grandiose as the Lights at Lake Park, this subdivision in Palm Harbor also goes all out. The drive is 3 miles long with a majority of the neighborhood getting into the festive spirit. It’s free. It’s fun. And, it is a great add on holiday activity while in the vicinity.
Oakdale Christmas house – This massive display has grown to include over 1/2 million lights since its’ inception in 1977. A little over the top on the cheese factor, but hey, it’s all part of the fun! The over-the-top decor has earned it many awards including the number 1 spot on HGTV’s “All out Christmas.” Note – a bit too much religious evangelical advertising. Location: 2719 Oakdale St S, St. Petersburg
Ice skating at Westfield Countryside Mall – An ice rink in a mall? Surprisingly, this is not at all an unusual sight today. Even in Florida! Enjoy the unique opportunity to skate on a real rink in Florida. Then, treat yourself to a Peppermint Mocha (Starbucks on-site) after your session! Westfield directory
Curtis Hixon Winter Village – Enjoy a festive skating session on a real rink surrounded by festive lights. Afterwards, enjoy a local cup of coffee from Kahwa and enjoy the free synchronized light show. More info on Winter Village
Themed 5ks – Burn off all those extra holiday calories in a fun way by signing up for a festive 5k. Check out Run Tampa’s schedule of upcoming races.
Columbia – This Spanish restaurant (the largest in the world) is worth visiting anytime of the year for the black bean soup alone. During the holidays, the dining room transforms into a festive winter wonderland. Check out my full review of Columbia.
Sips Specialty Coffee House – One of Tampa’s best local coffee houses puts on quite the festive display. Oh, and their coffee and bagels are excellent. Location: 6118 Gunn Hwy, Tampa
Tampa Theater – Every holiday season, this historic theater screens a number of classics. Recent screenings have included It’s A Wonderful Life, White Christmas, and Miracle on 34th Street on the big screen just like in the old days. Check out Tampa Theater’s lineup of holiday films.
Florida Orchestra Holiday Pops – There’s no better place for traditional holiday music lovers during the holiday season than at the symphony. More info.
Straz Center – The Straz Center is the place to go for world class entertainment. During the holiday season, you can look forward to a number of great holiday productions including The Nutcracker. Check out the Straz lineup of events.
Where to shop
Robert’s Christmas Wonderland – Shop til you drop everything Christmas at one of America’s largest specialty Christmas shops. Location: 2951 Gulf to Bay Blvd, Clearwater
International Mall – Featuring over 200 retailers and 16 restaurants, this upscale mall is the perfect destination for an afternoon of high end shopping. International directory.
Westfield Countryside – This casual Clearwater shopping center is a great place for a laid-back shopping experience. Asides from plenty of shops, there are a number of great restaurants (PF Changs and Cheesecake Factory), an ice rink, and a movie theater.
Downtown Dunedin – A number of small local boutique shops line this charming Main Street. Great place to pick up Florida based souvenirs or unique gifts. Check out my full guide to exploring downtown Dunedin.
Shops of Wiregrass – This outdoor mall features a mix of big name retailers and small shops. A number of popular restaurants are on-site including Noble Crust, a trendy Florida based pizza chain. Don’t miss the Symphony of Lights and the synthetic ice rink. Tip: Stop by Le Macaron for a sweet treat and espresso. Wiregrass directory
Westshore Plaza – The best mall in Tampa features a nice mix of high and mid end retail. Highlights include Maggiano’s (best Italian chain) and Cafe Luna (a great local coffeeshop). Bonus – this mall has the best holiday decor! Westshore directory