If you have young children, you know that the best way to entertain their very active minds and bodies is to take them outside and let them run around. There are few holiday activities happening now around the Tampa Bay area and beyond that embrace this spirit with a festive twist.
All of these events are also stroller-friendly, which is key when it’s 7 p.m. and things start to get a little Grinch-y. And best of all: they all offer free admission for children under 3 years old.
Christmas in the wild
This annual ZooTampa event in Lowry Park is the second holiday event of the year after the Creatures of the Night event that evokes the spooky vibes of Halloween. For Christmas in the Wild, thousands of twinkling lights and holiday-themed areas will fill the zoo for 16 select nights from November 25th to December 25th. 30 after 4 p.m. Some of the new events this year include the Lantern Lullaby, a quiet stroll through the Asia section of the zoo filled with Asian paper lanterns and holiday lullabies (a good way to end the evening with the little ones), and the Gingerbread Jubilee Show. general admission is $29.95; ZooTampa members and those with Pay for a Day tickets get free. Children under 3 years old are free. Event capacity is limited, so online reservations are encouraged. The event runs from 4-10pm on select nights from November 25th to December. 30. 1101 W Sligh Ave. , Tampa. zootampa.org.
Pro tip: Note this for next year: If you continue into 2023, the zoo’s pay-per-day pass will essentially give you free admission to both holiday events. You pay $5 to register for the event but then receive a $5 food voucher to use at the zoo. If you buy early in the year, and if you have kids under 3 they get it for free regardless, that’s totally the deal.
Lights in bloom
Selby Gardens’ annual holiday tradition goes back to its downtown Sarasota campus. Tickets are now on sale from December 11th to January. 5 events bring over 2 million lights to gardens and pathways in peaceful gardens. There is food for purchase at Sarasota spot Michael’s on East, and a cash bar. The peaceful outdoors and wide aisles make it an ideal activity for a stroller. Dine at a spot close to downtown Sarasota (Boca, 19 S Lemon Ave., has a great happy hour and a great kids’ menu) and plan to arrive at 6:30 p.m. before the kids get too tired. The holiday event runs from 6:30-9pm after normal business hours. (Also shout out to the Kids’ Rainforest Garden, a great kids’ play area offered during daily park hours.) $30 for non-members, $25 for members, $15 for kids 5-17, free for kids 4 and under . 1534 Mound Street, Sarasota. selby.org.
Pro tip: Historic Spanish Point in Selby Gardens hosted its first Halloween event in 2022. My husband and I took our kids to Lights at Spooky Point and found it to be a fun activity for a toddler: it was long enough to entertain us, but it wasn’t long until the kids started losing their lives . (They’ve even handed out free bug spray to help avoid bites!) Stay tuned for his return next October, and if you’re a fan of Selby Gardens but haven’t checked out the wooden Spanish Point site, its spectacular sunset view alone is worth the extra 10 minutes drive.
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Holiday lights at florida botanical gardens
Held by the Florida Botanic Gardens Foundation, this event begins November 25th and runs through January 1st. It’s free with a suggested donation of $10 at Largo Gardens, which will be decorated with a million LED lights. There are also some cute light-up figurines throughout the gardens, which are a huge hit with kids who are approx. It’s a nice low key evening event featuring large fairways ideal for double strollers, leash pets welcome. There is free parking in the gardens and at 12211 Walsingham Road. It operates from 5:30-9:30pm nights at 12520 Ulmerton Road, Largo. flbgfoundation.org.
Pro tip: Get to the area a little early to visit one of our favorite places for young kids in Central Pinellas County: Largo Central Park. With its own lighted Christmas tree and lights all over the garden, it’s a great place to let the kids roam freely. Their tree lighting event takes place on December 3rd. Next door to them is the Largo Public Library, which has a great children’s section.