2016 Dates: March 3 - 16
Dubbed a "Hometown Salute to America", Hillsborough County's Florida Strawberry Festival has been a much-anticipated spring event since its inception in 1930. Held each year in Plant City - the Strawberry Capital of the World, located between Brandon and Lakeland, this event has been continuously touted as one of the "Top 50 Fairs in the U.S."
The festival began with the local Lions Club, which wanted to devise a way to celebrate the huge harvest of strawberries in Plant City and the neighboring towns of Hillsborough County. The area now boasts about 2,600 farms that grow berries, for a total of about 5,000 acres of strawberries in all. The Plant City Lions are still heavily involved in the organization of the annual activities, along with several other civic organizations in the area. And thanks to continuing contributions of time and money from those organizations, it has never been subsidized by local taxpayers.
The festival includes days and nights full of fun and exciting activities for the whole family. And not unlike a traditional county fair, visitors can compete in a number of categories or merely enjoy roaming the fairgrounds admiring others handiwork. Competition opportunities exist in livestock showing, gardening, a clogging contest, baby parade, a fine arts show, and several other categories. A competition is also held to choose the Strawberry Queen and there's a chance for younger girls to vie for the opportunity to be Junior Royalty.
In addition to livestock shows, exhibits, and displays, there is plenty of entertainment to be enjoyed. Much of the entertainment is free and included with the general admission to the fair.
Some entertainment calls for extra ticket purchases. Each year a variety of entertainment from local favorites to big-name stars and groups. Typically there are two or three events each day, ranging in price from free to $10 - $50 with the higher prices for biggest-name entertainment.
Past year's headline entertainers include some of the most well-known names in music like Kenny Rogers, Lady Antebellum, Rick Springfield, Charley Pride, Doobie Brothers, .38 Special, George Jones, Kellie Pickler, Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Bros, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Jake Owen, Third Day, Rodney Atkins, Taylor Swift, Randy Travis, Brenda Lee, Travis Tritt, Jeff Foxworthy, Kool and the Gang, Julianne Hough, Jessica Simpson and many more!
An old-fashioned Midway area offers an extensive selection of carnival rides, games, and food. For several days, and on Friday nights, patrons can purchase Ride-a-thon bracelets that allow them to ride all the mechanical amusements for one low price.
A Kiddie Coral area caters to young visitors. This section includes not only kid-sized amusements but also activities suited to children, including a baby contest and baby parade, a shoebox float contest, and the Grandpa Cratchet show, which entertains and educates about fire safety.
The Neighborhood Village, located in the Expo Building, is an area where local artisans and crafters can display their work. This display is for adult-only entries and includes categories such as baking, cake decorating, home decoration ideas, jewelry and beading, needlework, knitting and crocheting, quilting, scrapbooking, doll making, and clothing design.
In addition, the Florida Strawberry Festival has its own post office and visitors can head there to have letters postmarked with a special hand-stamped Strawberry mark. Operated each day, it resembles an old-fashioned post office with antique furnishings and old mail boxes.
The Florida Strawberry Festival fairgrounds are conveniently located off Exit 19 of Interstate 4, easily accessible from the Tampa or Orlando areas. Gates open at 10 am and close at 10 pm. Ample parking is available on site.