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Top 10 things to do in Florida this January, Part 1

1. College Football National Championship events

Tampa is hosting the College Football National Championship game for the first time this year, and it’s going to be awesome. With tickets prices starting at $450 a piece, most Tampa residents will be priced out of the game itself, but the associated concert, beach day, and fan festival the weekend prior to the game are all $10 and under.

Playoff Playlist Live: January 6-8, 2017

This free concert will include performances from Eric Paslay, The Shadowboxers, and Clare Dunn on Friday; Flo Rida, Rachel Platton, and the Cold War Kids on Saturday; and Usher, Gavin DeGraw, and Jamie N Commons on Sunday. On Friday and Saturday there will also be a fireworks show at 11pm.

Location: Curtis Hixon Park in Downtown Tampa

Event Hours: Fri 5-11pm, Sat & Sun 12-11pm

The Outback Bowl Beach Day on Clearwater Beach

Championship Beach Bash: January 8, 2017

If you missed the Outback Bowl Beach Day last weekend, then you will happy to hear that there will be another Beach Day coming up this Sunday courtesy of the National Championship game. The marching bands and cheerleaders will be performing on Clearwater Beach this Sunday as before, and there will be games too. The event is free, but you should bring some cash for parking or the ferry.

Location: Clearwater Beach

Event Hours: 11am-4pm

Playoff Fan Central: January 6-8, 2017

This fan festival at the Tampa Convention Center includes mini pep rallies and performances by the team marching bands, cheerleaders, and mascots. This would make an excellent rainy-day activity, and it is likely to rain on Saturday.

Location: Tampa Convention Center

Event Hours: Fri 3-8pm, Sat & Sun 12-8pm

For additional details, go to:

2. The Annual Epiphany Celebration in Tarpon Springs

The city of Tarpon Springs, FL claims to have the oldest and largest Epiphany celebration in the entire United States. Florida’s “Little Greece,” Tarpon Springs, is home to over 2000 Greek Americans. The Greeks were initially recruited to Tarpon Springs to work as sponge divers in the late 1800’s. According to city records, there were already over 500 Greek sponge divers living in the area by 1905.

With them, they brought their religion and their traditions. On January 6, 1903, they held the first Epiphany celebration in Tarpon Springs, and they have been held every year since then. This year’s Epiphany celebration will feature the usual Epiphany service at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral, a blessing of the waters, a procession from the cathedral to Spring Bayou, and the cross dive. Afterwards, it is traditional to eat, drink, and dance.

Location: St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral and Spring Bayou in Tarpon Springs, FL

Event Hours: Click HERE for the schedule of events.

3. Manatee viewing and festivals

Three Sisters Springs
Three Sisters Springs

Any cold day in winter is a good day to see Manatees in one of Florida’s many natural springs. Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River is perhaps the most popular location for viewing manatees in their natural habitat, but it is not the only place to go see manatees. Blue Spring, about 30 miles north of Orlando, is another popular manatee refuge. Both Crystal River and Blue Spring have manatee festivals this time of year, where you can listen to live music, eat festival food, and take a free shuttle to a manatee-viewing location.

Florida Manatee Festival: January 14 & 15, 2017

Location: Downtown Crystal River

Event Hours: Sat 9am-5pm, Sun 9am-4pm

For additional details, go to:

Manatee Festival: January 28 & 29, 2017

Location: Valentine Park, Orange City

Event Hours: 9am-5pm

For additional details, go to:

4. Attend a Florida BBQ competition

I’ve only attended one BBQ competition in my life, and it was the granddaddy of all BBQ competitions – The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest in Memphis (Memphis in May). I sampled 4 different preparations of Boston butt along the banks of the Mississippi River, and I judged them all to be awesome. I don’t know how the Florida competitions compare, but I am looking forward to finding out. Yay! Barbecue in winter! Life in Florida is great.

Memphis in May

Sonny’s Smokin’ Showdown: January 14, 2017

As a regular of Sonny’s barbecue, I keep seeing all these ads for the Sonny’s Smokin’ Showdown, and I’m curious. It’s a Florida BBQ Association competition sponsored by a national barbecue chain that started in Florida. All signs point to some great Florida barbecue. There will be cooking demos, a rib eating contest, live music (from 3 local central Florida bands and country artist, Frankie Ballard), and BBQ samples for sale. Admission is $5.

Location: Central Florida Zoo, Sanford, FL

Event Hours: 8am-9:30pm

For additional details, go to:

Pigz in Z’hills BBQ & Blues Festival: January 21, 2017

Pigz in Z’hills is both a barbecue competition and a blues concert in Zephyrhills, FL. Spectators can sample BBQ, listen to live blues music, and tour the Zephryhills Museum of Military History at this signature event. Admission is free, but parking is $10. Bring a lawn chair.

Location: Across from the Zephyrhills Municipal Airport

Event Hours: 10am-6pm

For additional details, go to:’Hills_BBQ_&_Blues.php

Lakeland PigFest: January 27-28, 2017

The Lakeland PigFest is one of the largest barbecue competitions in the Southeast. This year, over 150 teams will compete in four categories: ribs, chicken, pork, and brisket. Admission is free, and barbecue samples are available for purchase. Several local bands will be performing at the event.

Location: Sun ‘n Fun, Lakeland, FL

Event Hours: Fri 5-10pm, Sat 10am-5pm

For additional details, go to:

5. Visit an Orange Grove

January is National Citrus Month, and there are still a few orange groves in Florida that will give you a tour.

Indian River Citrus District: Al’s Family Farms in Fort Pierce gives tours from Jan 3 through April 14. Call in advance. While you’re in the area, you can also visit Hale Groves in Wabasso and Pointsettia Groves in Vero Beach.

Central Florida/Orlando area: Ridge Island Groves in Haines City will let you tour the grove in a golf cart for $8.

For a map of Florida Orange Groves throughout the state, go to: Note that not all of those listed are full orange groves – some are citrus store and citrus winery listings.

To be continued…

Part 2 is now posted. Check it out:

Jennifer Ring

Jennifer Ring is a freelance writer & photographer living in the Tampa Bay area, on Florida’s west coast, home to some of the best beaches in the state.