ATTRACTIONS: Places for thrills, chills and enlightenment
Area attractions run on a rotating basis as space allows.
DeSoto National Memorial: north end of 75th Street West
The park includes a half-mile, self-guided nature trail that winds through a display of native plants. Admission is free. Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily at the visitors center. Park grounds are open from sunrise to sunset. Information: 941-792-0458.
The Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex: 5309 29th St. E., Ellenton (north of Prime Outlet Mall)
An 115,000-square-foot facility features a field where soccer, flag football, dodgeball and “paintless” paintball are played. Public skating sessions are $8 general admission and $6.50 for seniors 55 and older. Information: 941-723-3663.
Felts Audubon Preserve: 4600 24th Ave. E., Palmetto
The Felts Preserve, owned and operated by the Manatee County Audubon Society, is open 8 a.m.-noon the first Saturday of every month. Come watch birds from the bird blind. Hike natural paths to view native flora and fauna. Parking is inside the fence. An Audubon Society member will be on hand to answer questions. Admission: free. Information: 941-729-2222.
Florida Maritime Museum at Cortez: Cortez Road and 119th Street West
The museum houses exhibits including replicas of ships, a Navy uniform, handmade mullet net and a Native American canoe that could seat a large family. The museum complex consists of the newly restored 1912 Cortez Schoolhouse and the 1895-era Burton/Bratton store, which housed the community’s first post office. The museum store is open for sales of books and shirts, and docents are being scheduled. Call Ted Adams to volunteer, at 708-6120. Hours: 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Information: 941-708-6120.
Florida Railroad Museum: 12210 83rd St. E, Parrish
Enjoy a 1950s train excursion featuring air-conditioned lounge cars, cabooses and open-window coaches. The round trip to Willow lasts 75 minutes. Trains depart from 83rd Street and U.S. 301 at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Call for admission prices. Tickets must be purchased at the office. Information: 877-869-0800 or www.FGCRRM.org.
Gamble Plantation: 3708 Patten Ave., Ellenton
The 1850s antebellum mansion is open for guided tours at 9:30 and 10:30 a.m. and hourly 1-4 p.m. Thursday-Monday. Learn about the challenges of living on a 19th century Florida frontier sugar plantation. No tours Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Call for admission prices. The park grounds are open 8 a.m.-sundown daily. Information: 941-723-4536.
Manatee Village Historical Park: 1404 Manatee Ave. E., Bradenton
The exhibits “Pioneer Voice,” “Vintage Vogue - Part I,” and “Jr. Cow Hunters Corner” feature a hands-on children’s activity area. Come explore what life was like for the early pioneers of Manatee County. Park buildings include a chapel, a general store, a “cracker” house and the first courthouse in Manatee County. Hours: 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday and the second and fourth Saturday of each month. Admission is free; complementary guided tours by request. Information: 941-749-1800.
Mixon Fruit Farms: 2525 27th St. E., Bradenton
Mixon Fruit Farms offers more than just oranges, tangerines and grapefruit. The Groveside Market has a unique selection of gifts and Florida souvenirs. Mixon’s Groveside Café offers salads, sandwiches, soups and bakery goods along with a specialty coffee bar featuring WiFi. Ride the Orange Blossom Express Tram through the grove 11 a.m. and 1 and 3 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Call for admission prices. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday October-May. Closed Sundays. Deli (941-746-6127) hours: 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Information: 941-748-5829 or www.mixon.com, Facebook or Twitter.
Palma Sola Botanical Park: 9800 17th Ave. NW.
The park features landscaped grounds, specialty gardens, lakes, a gazebo, screened pavilion and playground. Admission to the park is free from 8 a.m. until dusk daily. The venue can also be used for weddings and parties for a rental fee. Information: 941-761-2866 or email@example.com.
Palmetto Historical Park: 515 10th Ave. W., Palmetto
The Manatee County Agricultural Museum, in the Palmetto Historical Park, features commodities, equipment and photographs that reflect the rich agricultural heritage of Manatee County. Site includes the Carnegie Library (built in 1914), Palmetto’s first post office (built in 1880), one-room schoolhouse (built about 1920), Cottage House Museum (built about 1913) and a Heritage Chapel (built in 1999). Park hours: 10 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and the first and third Saturdays of every month. Guided tours are available by request. Admission is free. Information: 941-723-4991.
South Florida Museum: 201 10th St. W.
Bishop Planetarium: A state-of-the-science, all-digital full dome planetarium/theater features astronomy presentations, sound and light shows, and wide-screen large format programming. Check website for show schedules and ticket prices. Tallant Collection, Land of Change, Archaic Man, new dioramas, Ice Age skeletons and more. Parker Manatee Aquarium: See Snooty in the museum’s 60,000-gallon, multilevel manatee aquatic refuge. Call for admission prices. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sundays. On the first Saturday of each month the complex will be open until 9 p.m. Information: 941-746-4131 or www.southfloridamuseum.org.
Village of the Arts: Between 14th and Ninth streets west, and between Ninth and 17th avenues west, Bradenton
The village features more than 40 galleries and studios exhibiting all forms of art from cookies, jams and pizza to ceramics, jewelry, paintings, photos, sculptures and more. Art walks are held the first Friday and Saturday of each month. Most galleries are open each Friday and Saturday. The streets come alive with art lovers and shoppers visiting 1920s-style bungalows that showcase an eclectic mix of artwork. Information: www.villageofthearts.com.
Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary: 7101 Palmer Blvd.
A safe haven for exotic cats, bears and native wildlife, the Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary provides educational programs to the public about the animals and encourages their appreciation. The habitat now includes fun and enlightening educational demonstrations at 1:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sunset Safari tours are 12:30-4 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays. Tours features lions, tigers, bears, primates, camels, lemurs, birds and more. Reservations are required. Call for admission prices. Information: 941-371-6377 or visit www.bigcathabitat.org.
Big Top Tours: John & Mable Ringling Museum parking lot, 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota
Big Top Tours will share the sights, hidden gems and legendary stories that date back to the 1920s when John Ringling moved “The Greatest Show on Earth” to Sarasota. Lifelong performer Toby Ballantine hosts the sightseeing trips through America’s Circus City aboard the colorful “circus coach” through April 27. Each two-hour tour will depart from the Ringling Museum parking lot at 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Call for admission prices. With only 12 seats aboard the “circus coach,” advance pre-paid reservations are encouraged and available by calling 800-895-0071 or visiting www.bigtoptours.com. For special group tours, call 941-706-6965.