The Florida Strawberry Festival is beloved by nearly all who call Plant City home. The approximately 2,500 volunteers that make the festival possible help show visitors the easygoing and welcoming nature all of the locals try to offer. You can find so much more of it, though, when you finish your day of excitement at the festival grounds and drive into town.
Split your festival days up and make sure you leave some time to explore some of the local hidden gems. Plant City is a haven for unique shopping experiences. Whether you want to spend the afternoon popping in and out of antique shops in historic downtown — some of which are said to be haunted — or taking a girls’ trip to local boutiques, you can find it all within a 10-minute drive of the festival grounds.
If you want a classy souvenir to commemorate your stay in the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World, head to RAOK and Fringe boutiques. Both stores are run by some of the nicest residents in Plant City and both have classy and unique strawberry-themed merchandise you literally won’t be able to find anywhere else.
People often drive from across several nearby counties to enjoy the offerings of Southern Hospitality, which is one of a handful of companies in Florida to carry Joanna Gaines’, of HGTV’s “Fixer Upper,” line.
Spend an afternoon in historic downtown. Pop in to Mr. Sebas Ice Cream Shop and get a cone of your favorite flavor. Then start the leisurely hunt for the J. Seward Johnson sculptures, which are on display throughout downtown until March. While you hop around looking for the next unique sculpture to take a selfie with you will stumble upon shops your Instagram is dying to get a photo of.
Mere feet away is the train viewing platform where people come from all over the country to watch trains pass by. You can swing in the train depot’s museum while you’re there to learn more about Plant City’s rich locomotive history. The Plant City Photo Archives & History center is also available for those who enjoy delving into the past and learning more about the roots of the town.
If you use Facebook, head to the events tab and search for the Plant City area. Whether it’s at Krazy Kup Coffee House or Keel & Curley Winery, there’s bound to be a plethora of open mics, movie nights or game nights throughout town.
If strawberries are on your mind you should head to Parkesdale to sit on the beloved strawberry throne. It doesn’t hurt that you can pick up strawberry hot sauce and a fresh shortcake while you’re there. The Holiday Inn Express also has a giant outdoor strawberry chair that frequently makes an appearance on social media as guests climb up and pose in its elaborate seat. A quick drive away is the iconic Plant City water tower, which of course is designed to look like a strawberry.
If you’re up for a short drive, hop in the car and head to Metals and Nature on State Road 60. The business has a garden full of animals like peacocks, cats and even a pig. It’s reminiscent of walking through a gothic fairy garden as you never know what you’ll find when you turn the corner. If you enjoy unique decorative pieces this is the place for you.
Dinosaur World is also a once-in-a-lifetime type venue. Just a few exits down from the festival the park has everything from 150 life-size dinosaur sculptures created by Christer Svensson to hands-on exhibits and fun for children.
Just south of Plant City is Edward Medard Park, which is a perfect getaway for nature lovers. There is a 700-acre reservoir used for canoeing, boating and fishing and a three-mile trail. A local Viking reenactment group frequently practices at the park so a walk in the woods could feel like a step back through time.
As good as the food at the Florida Strawberry Festival is, I’m sure those of you visiting town and staying in our hotels aren’t going to want to eat fair food for every meal of the day. If you’re looking for something to eat while you’re here and want to get away from the big chain restaurants, I’m your man.
Brick House Cafe is a safe bet with all the essentials for a classic diner-style breakfast. If I’m downtown, I like going to Krazy Kup for coffee and either a croissant or a strata. Don’t sleep on their baked goods, either.
Who doesn’t love a good burger and fries? If you’re looking for a big, juicy burger and the best tater tots in a 20-mile radius, you’ll like the Strawberry Tap. If you’re looking for a burger that will really knock your socks off and are cool with goat cheese, 1916 Irish Pub has my favorite in town. I prefer it without the Thousand Island sauce, but your mileage may vary.
In the mood for tacos? One of the best spots in town, Taco Loco, is within easy walking distance of the festival grounds. Get you some barbacoa and thank me later. There’s a pretty good chance you’re going to visit or consider visiting Parkesdale Farm Market at some point — and you need to, as those milkshakes really are world-class — and you won’t regret getting some tacos from Plaza Mexico across the street, either. El Mirasol also has great tacos, a well-stocked salsa bar and tasty ice cream on deck. Duke’s Brewhouse may not be a Mexican restaurant in any way, shape or form, but its chicken tacos are comfort food for me. I can’t explain it.
There are many places to get a Cuban sandwich out here and I’ve tried them all, but the best experience I’ve had was with a traditional El Cubano from Ole’ Tampa Cubans. If you’ve got a hankering for seafood, particularly devil crab, Linda’s Crab Shack does it consistently well.
If you’re looking for a steak or some barbecue, here’s a two-for-one deal. Smokin’ Aces Steakhouse does both and does them well. As a Buffalo, NY native, I believe all chicken wing lovers should make a stop there.
Sometimes you just can’t pass up on pizza. We’ve got two pizzerias — Esposito’s and Nick’s — that do it better than anyone around. As a bonus, Esposito’s has the best Italian food you can get in Plant City and Nick’s house sauce for chicken wings is excellent if you like flavor more than heat.
Finally, if you’re big into meal prep, Norma’s Cuban Sandwich Shop recently started selling freshly made meal prep packs that can be picked up on Mondays. The menu changes from time to time, but every option I’ve tried thus far has been delicious. Call (813) 704-6015 or email email@example.com to order ahead for pickup next Monday.