While the rest of the country is still fighting off Jack Frost, Florida weather is ripe for getting outside. Here are four easy-on-the-wallet ways to take advantage of the sunshine.
- March 2-3 in Amelia Island: Amelia Island Garden Show. Spring is in full bloom at Central Park, where more than 50 vendors will showcase flowers, fruit trees, herbs, container gardens and more. Experts will be on site to answer all your brown-thumb questions. And don't miss the Raptor Experience, an up-close encounter with Florida's birds of prey. Admission is $5 for Saturday and Sunday, or $4 for Sunday only. Kids 12 and under get in free. Get more info at AmeliaGarden.com or 904-491-4872. Bonus: If you need lodging, mention the garden show and get a special rate from Amelia Hotel at the Beach.
- March 2 in Key West: 51st Annual Conch Shell Blowing Contest. My dad would love this. Try your hand at making "music" on a fluted conch shell as part of this Key West tradition. The contest is free and open to all ages; there are even age categories, so your kids can be as embarrassed as you. The fun goes down in the garden of the Oldest House. For details, call 305-294-9501.
- March 15-17 in Winter Park: Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival. For this free event, more than 200 artists compete for $67,500 in prize money... so rest assured these aren't finger paintings. (Or if they are finger paintings, they're at least esoteric commentaries about class warfare.) The art show happens in Central Park, where you can browse row after row of paintings, photography, jewelry, sculptures and more. There's also live entertainment and a Children's Workshop Village. Find all the info at WPSAF.org.
- March 22-24 in various locations: Nature Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival. This free celebration can hardly contain itself, taking place in multiple parks across Hernando, Pasco and Citrus counties. Events include a keynote speech by nature photographer/illustrator Reinier Munguia, guided excursions and - if you dare - something called the Bat and Owl Prowl. Prices vary, but many events cost $5 or less. Find details at NatureCoastBirdingFestival.com.
If you attend one of these outdoor events, you'll probably walk away with some pretty stellar photos. Feel free to show them off on my Facebook page.