15 Best Things to Do in Plant City (FL)

Written by Bart Meeuwesen
Updated on
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A community defined by agriculture and the railroads, Plant City is named for the railroad developer Henry B. Plant (1899-1899).

That was an act of thanks. Plant’s South Florida Railroad came through in the mid-1880s, giving a big lift to local commerce. 

Some 140 years later, downtown Plant City is still at the junction of two CSX lines. There’s a superb museum at the historic Union Depot detailing this rich heritage. 

I’ve buried the lede a little here, because Plant City is best known for winter fruit. Most of all strawberries, and since 1930 the city has hosted the famous Florida Strawberry Festival. 

This is officially one of the top fairs in North America, attracting half a million people to the city.

1. Florida Strawberry Festival

Florida Strawberry FestivalSource: Florida Strawberry Festival / Facebook
Florida Strawberry Festival

Going strong since 1930, The Florida Strawberry Festival brings upwards of 500,000 people to Plant City every spring. 

Typically running for around ten days from the end of February, this event has everything you can imagine and more. 

Naturally you’ve got a smorgasbord of delicious local food, and the strawberry is king. I’m talking, fresh strawberries, world-famous strawberry shortcake, strawberry milkshake, strawberry parfait, jam, cream puffs, dole whip, and even strawberry pizza.

The Neighborhood Village is a whole community of arts and crafts vendors, while there’s a giant carnival midway, agricultural displays and livestock shows. 

I haven’t even mentioned the live entertainment, which is one of the things that brings the crowds. Tickets for the main Wish Farm Stage are hot property, and the lineup is announced as early as Thanksgiving the previous year.

2. Robert W. Willaford Railroad Museum

Robert W. Willaford Railroad MuseumSource: The Robert W. Willaford Railroad Museum / Facebook
Robert W. Willaford Railroad Museum

The railroads are such a big part of Plant City’s story that a visit to this museum is a must. The Robert W. Willaford Railroad Museum is at the old Plant City Union Depot, dating back to 1909.

On the National Register of Historic Places since 1974, this captivating place crackles with decades of railroad heritage.

There’s a real trove of artifacts to pore over. But what thrilled me most of all was the Seaboard Air line, no. 5735 Caboose, commissioned in 1963 and now completely restored. No less special is the 1942 Whitcomb Locomotive a few steps away. 

Right across is the Plant City Train Viewing Platform, and I’ve saved a separate entry for this spot below.

3. Dinosaur World

Dinosaur World, Plant CitySource: Richard Elzey / Flickr
Dinosaur World, Plant City

Billed as the world’s largest dinosaur attraction, Dinosaur World has hundreds of life-size dinosaur models on 20 acres of scenic woodlands.

The primordial setting helped sell the whole Jurassic experience for me, with giant statues coming into view among tall pines and live oaks. If this is too much ground for little legs to cover there’s a train ride. 

Meanwhile, the park’s indoor inhabitants are animatronic and interact with you as you pass by. Kids will also love the gem mine and fossil dig. 

Unlike a lot of attractions like this, you’re also encouraged to bring your own snacks and drinks. Dogs are welcome everywhere except for the indoor exhibits.

4. Parkesdale Farm Market

In or out of strawberry season, you have to pay a visit to Florida’s largest strawberry, citrus, and produce market.

This is a third-generation business, beginning with a 10-acre strawberry patch in the 1950s. Set in the west of the city, the market has a massive range and is an integral part of the Florida Strawberry Festival. 

You’ve got strawberry plants, garden decor, houseplants, sauces and salsas, seasonings, nut butters, gift baskets, and loads more.

As far as I’m concerned, no visit is complete without picking up the world-famous strawberry shortcake, available January through mid-April. 

The shortcake, baked with a family recipe, is topped with sliced berries, fresh from the fields. This is all capped with a decadent dollop of whipped cream. Among the other tasty prepared items are strawberry milkshakes, sundaes, and Florida-style boiled peanuts. 

5. Historic Downtown Plant City

With almost 50 places to shop, dine and drink, there’s a lot to love about the historic heart of Plant City. Something that lends this place a lot of character is active CSX lines running through the townscape. 

Right by the east-west tracks, McCall Park is a lovely spot to take a break in the shade of the trees. It’s even prettier in lights at Christmas.

It’s worth taking a look around the historic district, taking in some of the historic buildings. One that caught my eye was the State Theatre (1936), a Streamline Moderne movie theater, painted in pastel pink. 

Outdoor concerts, classic car meets, and events like A Night Out in Downtown help keep the city abuzz. If you’re in town with kids in tow, there’s a train-themed scavenger hunt with clues throughout downtown.

6. The Florida Air Museum

Florida Air MuseumSource: flickr
Florida Air Museum

In a building and hangar annex at nearby Lakeland Linder International Airport you’ll find the state’s official aviation museum.

Established in 1986, the museum’s origins were modest, as a mini attraction in the corner of Hangar A.

Over the years, it has grown and now includes a unique collection of more than 40 restored planes. These are presented with masses of equipment, photographs, and memorabilia relating to both civil and military aviation.

Some of the best parts for me were the deep-dive on Howard Hughes, the lineup of pitch propellers, and the ION engine for deep space travel.

I was also fascinated by the account of the first ever scheduled commercial passenger flight. This took place in Florida in 1914 between St. Petersburg and Tampa.

7. Edward Medard Regional Park

Edward Medard Regional ParkSource: kellyv / Flickr
Edward Medard Regional Park

South of Plant City, this sprawling 700-acre park was donated to The Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) in the late 1960s by a mining company. 

Developed by Hillsborough County, Edward Medard Regional Park has more than three miles of trails along the lake’s indented shoreline. 

The landscape is covered with beautiful native vegetation. From a safe distance, wildlife encounters are common too, with alligators, turtles and numerous wading bird species in plain view on my visit. 

Hiking, fishing, biking, horseback riding, and paddling are popular activities within the park. Meanwhile there’s a campground with 42 sites, a disc golf course, and a 40-foot observation tower for wildlife watching.

8. Keel & Curley Winery

Keel & Curley WinerySource: Keel & Curley Winery at Keel Farms / Facebook
Keel & Curley Winery

In the countryside on the northwest side of Plant City, Keel & Curley is an award-winning wine producer specializing in fruit wines. 

The businesses began in 2003 with blueberry wine, and this was soon joined by peach, strawberry, key lime, and wild berry varieties. 

The farm is open to the public for a variety of experiences. Seven days a week you can visit to enjoy the restaurant’s handcrafted menu. There are also immersive tasting sessions, where you’ll get to try Keel & Curley’s beers and ciders.

If you want to know more about the ins and outs of winemaking, there’s a complete tour of the facility. I’m happy to tell you that this also gives you the chance to sample the winery’s range.

9. Plant City Plant and Flea Market

On the scene since 1978, there’s a huge farmer’s market and flea market at 708 W Sam Allen Rd in the north of Plant City.

This is one of the largest markets of its kind in the Southeast United States, with a local economic impact in the hundreds of millions.

The farmers’ market trades seven days a week. I’d urge you to get here as early as you can. The gates are open at 3 am and a lot of the vendors have already gone by 11. What you’ll find is a mountain of local produce at wholesale prices.

The flea market is open Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. The biggest day is the traditional Wednesday market, with up to 500 dealers across three sections. Again, the early bird gets the worm, with business starting at 7 am.

10. Lower Green Swamp Nature Preserve

North of the city, an enormous sweep of former farmlands was officially protected by Hillsborough County in the 2010s.

The Lower Green Swamp Nature Preserve is just shy of 13,000 acres. The wetlands and pine flatwoods are gradually being restored, and kept purposely in a primitive state to allow wildlife and native plants to thrive.

There are several loops to explore. I tried the Southeast Loop (red blazes), with a trailhead at 3540 E Knights Griffin Rd. Just over 1.5 miles long, this was a pleasant hike through open native grasslands. 

In the space of about 30 minutes I saw plenty of white-tail deer and what looked like buzzards roosting in the nearby trees.

11. The Mercantile

A beautiful old brick building downtown has been repurposed as a multi-vendor vintage marketplace.

The Mercantile is in the Kilgore Seed Building (1916), a piece of local agricultural heritage, constructed to store seeds and fertilizer. 

Both rustic and spacious, there’s more than 18,000 square feet of gallery interior. Inside you can work your way through a wealth of vendor booths. 

You’ll find heaps of antiques, as well as repurposed vintage items, and brand new crafts, from furniture to jewelry. 

When I took a look around the owner told me about plans to expand the marketplace, and establish a classroom space on the upper story.

12. Jump Florida

Jump Florida SkydiveSource: Jump Florida Skydive / Facebook
Jump Florida Skydive

If, like me, you have a hard time doing math in your head, 18,000 feet is slightly less than three and a half miles. 

That number is significant because it’s the height at which skydivers at Jump Florida plunge  from an airplane. 

If you want to know what it’s like to freefall at speeds greater than 120-miles-per-hour, you can take part in a tandem jump

Ideal for first-timers, this is an exhilarating and safe way to get a bird’s eye view of the Plant City and Tampa area. You won’t need any training, as all of the work will be done by a USPA-certified instructor. 

With jumps from three different heights (11,000 ft, 14,000 ft, and 18,000 ft), Jump Florida’s rates are surprisingly inexpensive. You can also opt for video and photo packages for a souvenir.

13. Plant City Train Viewing Platform

Another great way to connect with Plant City’s railroad heritage is at this purpose-built view platform.

Set right by the diamond junction, this structure was completed in 2013. From here you can look along both stretches of track, now owned and run by CSX. 

From the upper level, there’s also a commanding view of the Union Depot to the north. Below, there’s plenty of shade under the canopy, and a couple of benches facing the tracks. 

Given that trains were the lifeblood of Plant City for so long, I don’t think you need to be a rail buff to appreciate the importance of this place. 

Meanwhile, kids going through their railroad phase are sure to love seeing the trains roaring past.

14. Mike E. Sansone Community Park

Though to outsiders the name Mike E. Sansone may not ring any bells, to locals, it’s synonymous with public service, patriotism, and community pride.

On nearly 80 acres near downtown, Mike E. Sansone Community Park is named after an Italian immigrant who came to Florida before World War I.

He went on to serve in the military in the Great War. When he came back, he opened a barber shop and became heavily involved in scouting.

The park offers a variety of active recreation options. Easily the biggest is baseball, with a complex of nine fields for youth and senior leagues. 

There’s a concession stand open during games, as well as a paved nature trail, a skate park, three picnic pavilions, six basketball courts, and a playground.

15. Sir Henry’s Haunted Trail

A spooky season staple for more than a decade now, Sir Henry’s Haunted Trail is one of the region’s big halloween attractions.

When I compiled this article there were four nerve-shredding attractions to check out. These included three interactive haunted trails: Moonlight Massacre, Tales of the Dead and Wicked Waters.

All of these horrifying scenarios are populated by a Murderers’ Row of costumed characters, with super convincing movie-level makeup. 

A new attraction at the time of writing was a haunted hayride, taking you deep into the woods, where an evil witch is lurking. 

To go with the haunts there are two escape rooms and a laser tag game. Also be sure to check the schedule for special events at Christmas and Valentine’s Day.

15 Best Things to Do in Plant City (FL):

  • Florida Strawberry Festival
  • Robert W. Willaford Railroad Museum
  • Dinosaur World
  • Parkesdale Farm Market
  • Historic Downtown Plant City
  • The Florida Air Museum
  • Edward Medard Regional Park
  • Keel & Curley Winery
  • Plant City Plant and Flea Market
  • Lower Green Swamp Nature Preserve
  • The Mercantile
  • Jump Florida
  • Plant City Train Viewing Platform
  • Mike E. Sansone Community Park
  • Sir Henry's Haunted Trail