Lingering summer heat still wilting your ‘do? Get ready to be cool outdoors in the Tampa Bay region

Fall is a great time of year to be outdoors in the Tampa Bay area. The weather is getting cooler, summer tourist crowds have dissipated, and there are many fun autumn events and activities happening in the community. 

Yes, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the USF Bulls and Tampa Bay Rowdies play at home throughout the fall season, Busch Gardens Tampa hosts its annual Howl-O-Scream event, and a variety of greenways, parks, trails, rivers and beaches invite locals to enjoy cooler, less humid air and gorgeous autumn sunsets.  

But there are also many, new and creative ways to play outdoors during the start of fall weather in the Tampa Bay area. Here’s a rundown on some autumn happenings you may find to be fun.

Sweetfields Farm Fall Maze & Festival

Did you know there are honest-to-goodness corn mazes in the Tampa Bay area, just like you’ll see up north? The climate in the Bay Area allows farmers such as Ted and Lisa Kessel to grow tall corn stalks that can be transformed into dizzying fall mazes. The Kessels’ 19-acre Sweetfields Farm in Masaryktown, south of Brooksville on U.S. 41, lures thousands of families every October and early November. 

The farm offers a pumpkin patch, organic produce, a petting zoo and hayrides during the annual fall festival, but it’s the fall corn maze that really helps make Sweetfields Farm an unusual and special destination in the Tampa Bay area during the autumn. 

“The corn used in the maze is a special strain that is low in sugar and high in starch and used for livestock feed,” says co-owner Lisa Kessel, who started the farm with her husband nine years ago. “The crop is in rotation.” 

Kessel says the fare at the farm’s fall festival will include a variety of food offerings. “The food changes all the time, and we’ll be offering lemonade, barbecue, kettle corn, and on Saturdays and Sundays Strongtower Winery will be here.” 

Traditionally, the Sweetfields Farm fall festival primarily is a weekend event, but Kessel says they’re adding Mondays and Fridays to the event lineup, too. “November 5th and 6th is our final weekend for the corn maze,” she says. 

Event information: 
  • Sweetfields Farm Fall Maze & Festival
    17250 Benes Roush Road
    Masaryktown, Florida 34604
    (352) 279-0977
  • Fall Festival Info: Runs select days from October 1 through November 6, please see event calendar for hours of operation
  • Activities: corn maze, petting zoo, produce and craft sales, food and drink, hay rides, and more 
  • Admission info: individuals 12 and up, $9.50 plus tax; children 5-11 years, $5 plus tax; children 2 and under are admitted free
Hyde Park Village Fall Festival 

Just as the fall leaves are changing, Hyde Park Village in South Tampa is also turning a new leaf with significant renovations. But a little construction dust isn’t stopping the 31-year-old open-air shopping destination from celebrating the fall season. The Hyde Park Village Fall Festival will be held on October 8 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. 

“It’s very family friendly,” says Hyde Park Village Marketing Director Gabby Soriano. “It’s also an opportunity for us to debut our new pumpkin patch.” The pumpkin patch will be around for the duration of October.

In addition to picking out pumpkins, those who attend the Hyde Park Fall Festival can also enjoy face painting, balloon animals, pumpkin crafting, games, live music, and an array of fare offered by local food truck vendors. 

“It’s a way to bring the community together and celebrate,” she says. “It’s also an exciting time to visit Hyde Park Village.”

With Richard Gonzmart’s popular reincarnation of Tampa’s historic Goody Goody restaurant, several new retail shops and the new On Swann restaurant less than a block away, there’s certain to be some extra foot traffic at this year’s Hyde Park Village Fall Festival.

Event information:
  • Hyde Park Village Fall Festival 
    744 South Village Circle
    Tampa, Florida 33606 
    (813) 251-3500
  • Fall Festival Info: October 8, 2016, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  • Activities: pumpkin patch, face painting, balloon animals, games, live music, food truck vendors 
  • Admission info: free to all individuals; food, drink, and other elements may be separately charged  
University of South Florida (USF) Botanical Gardens Fall Festival 

The Botanical Gardens on the west side of the USF Tampa campus is like an oasis in the middle of bustling North Tampa. In the fall, it is brimming with autumn-blooming flowers, fruits and vegetables. To celebrate the array of fall-flourishing plants that Florida gardeners can plant and enjoy, the USF Botanical Gardens holds an annual plant festival where local “green thumbs” can buy new plants, learn gardening tips and meet fellow gardening enthusiasts. 

“You will find any kind of plant you can imagine,” says Kim Hutton, special events coordinator at the USF Botanical Gardens. “There will be community growers and plant societies,” she continues, “and workshops will also be onsite.” A scarecrow contest will be held. There will also be several interesting lectures. At 11 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 8, will be a vegetable gardening workshop, and aspiring apiary owners should check out the beekeeping lecture on Sunday, Oct. 9, at noon. 

Hutton describes the USF Botanical Gardens Fall Festival as an opportunity for people in the community to get their hands dirty while rejoicing in the cooler fall weather. 

“It’s a wonderful time to stock up on plants that will last through the winter,” she says. “Besides, it’s been a hot summer and people want to get back and enjoy the outdoors again!” 

Event information: 
  • University of South Florida Botanical Gardens Fall Festival 4202 East Fowler Avenue 
    Tampa, Florida 33620
    (813) 974-2329
  • Fall Festival Info: October 8-9, 2016 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Saturday) and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (Sunday)
  • Activities: plant sales, workshops, scarecrow contest, ask-an-expert meet-and-greets
  • Admission info: $5 admission for individuals 12 years of age and older, and free to individuals under 11 and all USF Botanical Gardens members 
Bamboozle Café presents: Bamboooo-zle Halloween Celebration

Things are heating up on the local art scene. More and more non-traditional art galleries are opening, many in community gathering places such as office lobbies, mass transit stations and restaurants. The Bamboozle Café at 516 N. Tampa St. in downtown Tampa is one such local eatery where local artists can showcase and sell their works. From October 8 through November 5, the Bamboozle Café will showcase Halloween-themed works from ten local artists. 

“We do not charge any fee for placing art and only charge 20 percent commission,” says Bamboozle Café Art Gallery Coordinator Jayne Lisbeth. “We do this because we’re passionate about promoting art in the Tampa Bay community.” She and her husband, Tim Gibbons, don’t just talk the talk, they walk the walk. Lisbeth has been expanding the artist gallery program for the past three years, and now has four venues throughout the Bay Area where local art is displayed and sold. 

“We’re looking for more places that might be interested in doing this,” says Lisbeth. Meanwhile, Gibbons is preparing to move Hyde Park Art Studio to the Jewish Community Center, which will soon open at the former Fort Homer Hesterly Armory building at 522 North Howard Avenue in West Tampa. Gibbons has taught art for 45 years. 

As for the Halloween Bamboozle Café art exhibition, several local artists will be exhibiting and selling their art in a public forum. These include 13-year-old Evan Gatscher, whose depiction of torturous monsters and goblins ghoulishly arrest any viewer. 

Event information: 
  • Bamboozle Café Bamboooo-zle Halloween Celebration 
    516 North Tampa Street 
    Tampa, Florida 33602
    (813) 223-7320
  • Fall Festival Info: Halloween art on display at restaurant October 8-November 5, 2016; opening reception is on October 11, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. 
  • Activities: art exhibition, food and drink
  • Admission info: entrance to restaurant is free; food, drink and other elements may be separately charged 
Dancing Goat Open Farm Day Fall Festival

Pam Lunn is a full-time farmer in Odessa who recently became a television star when she appeared on the premiere episode of FarmHer, a program on RFD-TV featuring women in agriculture. Long before making a name for herself on the nationwide television show, she cultivated success as the owner of The Dancing Goat, a popular 3-acre farm in the rural stretches of the Westchase area of Hillsborough County. 

“I have been receiving messages from Idaho to Maine from folks that saw the show,” says Lunn. “It was so amazing this little urban farm was featured on the biggest show of the fall on such a prestigious network as RFD-TV.” Locals can come meet the local celebrity and her hundreds of cute Dancing Goat Farm residents during the landmark’s Open Farm Day fall festival. Lunn describes the afternoon as “goats, goats, goats, and a few more goats!!” There will also be chickens, quail, guineas, alpacas, turkeys, horses, and youth representatives from the Future Farmers of America. Not to mention, goats! 

There will also be tours of the farm, agricultural demonstrations, fresh produce for sale, live music and food vendors. 

Event information:
  • Dancing Goat Open Farm Day Fall Festival
    12505 Maverick Court
    Tampa, Florida 33626
    (813) 818-0305 
  • Fall Festival info: October 9, 2016, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Activities: petting zoo, farming demonstrations, food vendors, shopping 
  • Admission info: $7 for adults 18 years and over, $4 for children ages 5-17, free for children under the age of 5; waivers must be signed prior to admission 
Florida Birding and Nature Festival 

Central Florida is a huge destination for migratory birds from the North, and they fly through the Sunshine State every year during the autumn months. The Florida Birding and Nature Festival, held during the peak migration period, represents a great opportunity for nature lovers to see these beautiful avian species in flight as they glide through the air, many in formation, to escape the colder climes of the north and spend their winter in the mild warmth of the Tampa Bay area. 

“This is the first year of the event,” says Tampa Audubon Society President Mary Keith. While this family event is truly one for the birds, it’s not about birding alone. Guests can learn about alligators and panthers, learn nature photography tips from professionals, find out about local plants, and discover the complex story of how conservation has evolved in Florida. 

There will also be field trips on October 14-16 that take guests to coastal and inland spots where migratory bird flyovers and settling is likely. 

“The tours are going to areas that are not open to the public or are hard to access,” Keith explains. “On Saturday we will offer activities just for children. … The Florida Aquarium will be there along with the YMCA, and The Home Depot will have people there helping the kids build bird boxes.” 

The event also includes social activities such as buffet dinners to help nature lovers connect and network with one another. Meanwhile, more than two dozen on-site lectures will educate attendees on a variety of nature subjects, including birds, insects, plants, mammals and reptiles. Those wishing to invite wildlife to their backyards will enjoy a how-to workshop that teaches homeowners how they can transform their yards into inviting oases for animals of all types.

Event information:  
  • 2016 Birding and Nature Festival 
    Hillsborough Community College South Shore Campus 
    551 24th Street Northeast
    Ruskin, Florida 33570
    (813) 253-7000
  • Fall Festival info: October 13-16, 2016
  • Activities: nature watching, nature tours, lectures and presentations, buffet dinners, children’s crafts
  • Admission info: registration is required; fees range from $10 to $75; children under 12 are admitted free with registered adult; some lectures and seminars are separately charged events and require individual registration
Brooker Creek Preserve Fall Wildflower Festival & Owl-O-Ween 

Brooker Creek Preserve in Pinellas County is a terrific place to enjoy a crisp autumn day. A flurry of migratory birds are seen throughout the cooler days of October and November, and just around Halloween, the red maples, bald cypress, crepe myrtle and other trees at the 8,700-acre preserve start displaying sprays of vibrant fall color. While a trip to Brooker Creek Preserve on any day during the fall can be a pleasant experience, the park is offering special fall events on two days this season. 

Says Education Coordinator Julie Myers, “We have our annual fall wildflower event and this year added a new event called Owl-O-Ween.” The owl-themed Halloween event features owls and other mysterious birds and is sponsored by the Clearwater Audubon Society. “Both the wildflower and owl events are family friendly,” she adds.

The Fall Wildflower Festival is completely free. Owl-O-Ween also offers free admission, but certain elements of the event, such as bird box crafting, require nominal fees. The Fall Wildflower Festival will be held on October 15 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is sponsored by the Friends of Brooker Creek Preserve. Owl-O-Ween will take place on the following weekend, October 22, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. 

Event information:
  • Brooker Creek Preserve Fall Wildflower Festival & Owl-O-Ween (separate events) 
    3940 Keystone Road
    Tarpon Springs, Florida 34688
    (727) 453-6800
  • Fall Festival Info:
    Fall Wildflower Festival – October 15, 2016, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. 
    Owl-O-Ween - October 22, 2016, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. 
  • Activities: educational presentations, tours (Fall Wildflower Festival); educational presentations, animal encounters, and crafting (Owl-O-Ween)
  • Admission info: free to all individuals; some elements may be separately charged 
More local events are listed on 83 Degrees Media’s Filter Tampa Bay group on Facebook. Anyone interested in participating in community events is welcome to join and to add information about events they plan to attend. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees
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Read more articles by Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez.

Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez is a freelance writer who was born and raised in Tampa. He earned his BA in English from the University of South Florida and spent more than three years as a full-time copywriter for a local internet marketing firm before striking out on his own to write for various blogs and periodicals, including TheFunTimesGuide, CoinValue and COINage magazine. He has also authored local history books, including Images of America: Tampa's Carrollwood and Images of Modern America: Tampa Bay Landmarks and Destinations, which are two titles produced by Arcadia Publishing.