Last updated on March 23rd, 2020 at 04:50 pm
PLANT CITY — This normally quiet agricultural town attracts hundreds of thousands of fans to this epicenter of strawberry fields, where folks have been harvesting strawberries since the 19th Century, giving plenty of cred to its claim as the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World.
Every year since 1930, residents show off their crops at harvest time with Florida’s largest agricultural festival, attracting more than a half-million people every year, rivalling any state fair in the country with its agricultural displays, livestock shows, arts and crafts, local food, music concerts and carnival midway.
The entertainment line-up, year after year, is extraordinary.
The Florida Strawberry Festival marks its 86th year in 2021. The 2021 dates have not been announced, although historic scheduling would suggest March 4-14.
The 2020 Strawberry Festival is over
2021 Festival admission
$10 for adults (13+) and $5 for children 6-12. Children 5 and under free when accompanied by an adult.
Gates open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Concert tickets for the Wish Farms Soundstage are additional (see below).
Concert tickets can be purchased online at www.flstrawberryfestival.com, by phone at 813-754-1996, or in person at the Amscot Main Ticket Gate, 2209 West Oak Avenue, Plant City.
Parking is $5 on the festival grounds and includes free tram service to the entrance gates. Parking is also offered at private lots, churches and nearby schools for $10, $15 — we even saw a sign for $20.
On what was arguably the busiest day of the festival so far, Sunday, March 1, we were still able to find $5 parking on the festival grounds in the Gray parking lot, which is served by a tram that takes you to festival Gate 14.
While long lines of cars clogged other entrances, and many private parking lots were full, the gatekeepers at the Gray Lot entrance almost seemed lonely. We drove right in and easily found parking right next to the tram station.
To get to our secret entrance to the Gray Lot, come in from the east on U.S. 92 (West Baker Street) and turn right onto Seminole Lakes Blvd, which takes you through a nondescript residential neighborhood. In about a quarter mile, you’ll see the entrance. The only signs you’ll see are at the entrance gate. Once inside, park near the tram station.
There’s a second entrance with plenty of signs pointing to the Gray Lot from U.S. 92 on Ritter Road, just past Seminole Lakes Blvd., but you can expect a line of cars to build there as the day progresses. Do yourself a favor and get off 92 at Seminole Lakes.
Headline Entertainment / Wish Farms Soundstage
Concert tickets are not included in festival admission and must be purchased separately. Concert tickets available online at www.flstrawberryfestival.com, by phone at 813-754-1996 or at two locations on the festival grounds.
The 2021 lineup will be announced in November, and tickets should go on sale in mid-December.
The 2020 headline acts included Rascal Flatts, Reba McIntyre, Sara Edwards and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
In addition to the headline acts on the Wish Farms Soundstage, there will be free entertainment on multiple stages throughout the festival grounds.
The limited-seating free section inside the main amphitheater no longer exists, but you can hear the headline acts clearly outside the amphitheater on the festival grounds, an increasingly popular option with rising concert ticket prices.
Battle of the Bands. Preliminary battles take place in the Publix Supermarket Showcase Tent throughout the 11-day run of the festival.
Food and Drink
You’ll find the usual fair food in the Midway, and a lot of unusual food throughout the fairgrounds.
But you’ll find no beer or wine or alcohol in any form. (I looked!)
We love the variations on strawberries throughout the festival grounds.
From strawberry pizza (really!) and Make Your Own Strawberry Shortcake to Strawberry Cheesecake Elephant Ears!
From Tampa: Take I-4 east 18 miles to the Thonotosassa Road exit 19 in Plant City, then go south on Woodrow Wilson to West Oak Ave.
From Orlando: Take I-4 west approximately 56 miles to the Thonotosassa Road exit 19 in Plant City, then go south on Woodrow Wilson to West Oak Ave.
From South Florida: Take Florida’s Turnpike to Exit 193 and follow State Road 60 to State Road 570. Take 570 to I-4 and go west to Thonotasassa Road, Exit 19.
From Gainesville: Take I-75 south to I-4, then east to Thonotasassa Road, Exit 19.
From Daytona Beach: Take I-4 west, through Orlando, to Exit 19, Thonotasassa Road in Plant City.
Parking Tip: It pays to cruise around the festival site for parking, if traffic permits. You will find plenty of official signage that will take you down side streets to good parking (and bypass traffic), so don’t be afraid to wander off the beaten path a little. Try to get into one of the official lots, which have shuttles to the entrance gates.
Places to Stay
Bed and Breakfasts
Strawberry House B&B in the downtown Historic District, near antique shops, dining and shopping. The inn has four rooms with private baths. 805 N. Wheeler Street, Plant City, FL 33563. (813) 759-0279.
Sparkman House B&B in Plant City’s historic district. 1905 Queen Anne style house boasts 12-foot ceilings, wrap-around porch, 5 bedrooms in the main house plus a carriage house. 707 N. Collins St. Plant City, Fl 33563. 813-787-6068.
Palmer House. Country B&B with grandfather oaks features 5 bedrooms, pool and a hot tub. 15 miles from Plant City at 2221 Hinton Ranch Rd, Lithia, FL 33547(813) 654-0961
Back To Eden B&B. Unique plantation-style country inn with a swimming pool on 6-1/2 acres. The owners promote a healthy Christian lifestyle. Five themed rooms. 4906 Thonotosassa Road, Plant City, FL 33565 (888) 808-8018
Reserve lodging near Plant City on Hotels.com (Sponsored)
Campgrounds near Plant City
My wife and I camped at Hillsborough River State Park for a week in our travel trailer and loved it. We scheduled our festival visits around musical performances we wanted to see. On the off days, we kayak the river, hike a few trails, took a day trip to Ybor City in Tampa and visited a friend in Tarpon Springs.
This year, we have already booked our sites at Hillsborough River SP and Alafia River State Park, where we plan to paddle the Alafia River and ride the park’s challenging off-road bike trails.
Plant City is on I-4, between Orlando and Tampa, so there are many campgrounds from which to choose. These are our favorites:
Hillsborough River State Park. 15402 U.S. 301 North, Thonotosassas. 20 miles to Plant City. State park has 112 sites with water, electric, picnic tables, fire ring. Dump station on site. Activities include fishing, canoeing and kayaking. Seven miles of nature trails for hikers. Bicycles permitted on the 2.2-mile Park Loop and the 1.6-mile Wetlands Restoration Trail. Rates: $24 per night, includes water and electric. Some walk-on sites. Reservations accepted by phone, 800-326-3521, or online through ReserveAmerica
Alafia River State Park, County Road 39 S, Lithia. 18 miles to Plant City. Alafia has some of the most challenging off-road bicycle trails in Florida, rambling 17 miles through varying elevations. Hikers and equestrians enjoy another 20 miles of hiking and horse trails. Access to lakes and the river for kayaks and canoes, as well as fishing. Campground lies along the conifer-lined shore of Lake Alafia with great views. There are 30 spacious campsites with electric, water, picnic tables and a fire ring. Rates: $22 per night. Reservations accepted by phone, 800-326-3521, or online through ReserveAmerica.
Edward Medard Park and Reservoir, 5276 Panther Loop, Plant City. 10 miles from Plant City. This 1200-acre park is co-managed by Hillsborough County and the Southwest Florida Water Management District and includes a 700-acre reservoir with a white sand beach and boat access for paddlers and fisherman. Equestrians (bring your own horse) enjoy a 3.25-mile bridle path. There are 40 campsites with water, electric, picnic tables and grills on two heavily wooded loops near the lake. Reservations are not accepted and sites are $24 per night, first come, first served. ($18 for seniors). Call (813) 975-2160 for more information, or visit their web site: Edward Medard Park and Reservoir
Lithia Springs County Park, 3932 Lithia Springs Road, Lithia. 18 miles from Plant City. This county campground has 40 sites for RV, tents and trailers with fire ring, picnic table, water and electric hookups. Dump station on site. I love this 160-acre park for its natural spring swimming hole. The spring flows into the Alafia River for canoeing and kayaking. Rates: $24 ($18 for seniors). No reservations accepted. Walk-ons only, first come, first served. Credit cards are not accepted. Call (813) 744-5572 for more information.
Read more: Camping Near Tampa: Lithia Springs Park
Camping at the fairgrounds
There is an RV lot immediately west of the festival grounds.
For inquiries about reserving a space, call the Festival office at 813-752-9194 ext. 233.
This campground is only open during the Festival.
More nearby camping:
Things To Do in Plant City
Parkesdale Farm Market, www.parkesdale.com The largest family operated strawberry and citrus market in Florida, this farm harvests more than 3 million pounds of strawberries each year. You can also find plenty of citrus and other locally grown produce. 3702 W. Baker Street, Plant City, FL 33563, (813) 752-0502
Fred’s Southern Kitchen, www.fredsmarket.com The Johnson family has turned Southern cooking into a major attraction around Plant City, especially now that the legendary Branch Ranch Dining Room has closed. Fred’s Southern Kitchen is ranked No. 1 of 39 restaurants in Plant City on TripAdvisor. 1401 W. MLK Blvd., Plant City, FL 33563, (813) 752-7763
It’ll be a strawberry pickin’ good time!
If you want to avoid the crowds during the Strawberry Festival, you can visit Plant City any time during the berry-picking season — January through April — and be immersed in the strawberry culture. (Blueberries are also grown here, with the harvest’s peak in May.)
Although most commercial growers in the area do not allow you to pick your own strawberries, there are a few family farms that do. Here’s one that comes recommended by readers at pickyourown.org: Spivey Farms, 6101 South County Road 39, Plant City, FL 33567 (813) 650-8999 (Call for hours)
Tips for picking your own strawberries:
- Dress comfortably. Wear loose fit clothing.
- Wear a hat or cap and bring sunscreen.
- Bring your own containers.
- If you plan to spend the day, take ice to keep berries cool.
- Select only firm, ripe berries.
- Be careful not to remove the tops of the berries.
- Pick every ripe berry on each plant rather than jumping from plant to plant.
Did you pick too many strawberries? Check out Louise Sanchez’ Herbs, Crafts and Gifts blog about canning strawberries that her husband picked at the Strawberry Palace on U.S. 60 in Plant City.
Adventures near Plant City:
Birding near Lakeland: Circle B Bar Reserve
Van Fleet Bike Trail: 29 Miles of Rural Solitude
Withlacoochee River: Scenic kayak trail
Major League Baseball: Spring Training Guide
Manatees: Where to see manatees in Florida
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Directions: Easily accessible from Interstate 4 via Exits 17, 19 and 21. Follow the signs.