Summer fun heats up on the Suncoast

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Now that summer is officially upon us, a nice day at the beach or a calming poolside hang can often be derailed by the scorching temps and afternoon deluges. The good news is that there are many cool places to explore on the Suncoast, and area attractions are brimming with summer deals and events that make getting out of the oppressive heat affordable.

All summer long I’ll be offering ideas for your next family outing or special date night by sharing fun excursions, events and under-the-radar places that make surviving the season possible. And I want to hear from you! What are your favorite summertime haunts? Let me know in the comments or in an email to And be sure to send pictures of your summer fun photos to They could end up on the air.

Now, on to the summer fun …

If you’ve not yet experienced the South Florida Museum there’s no better time than summer to get yourself immersed in Florida history, sea life and the cosmos. The two-story, 60,000 square foot facility is home to the largest natural and cultural history museum on Florida’s Gulf Coast, Bishop Planetarium and the Parker Manatee Aquarium.

One of several exhibits, the Curator's Choice Gallery’s Little Buildings: Architecture from a Child's Perspective (located on the second floor of the museum) includes a wide variety of vintage and modern toy buildings, dollhouses and associated figures and vehicles from the mid-19th through the end of the 20th century, including unusual examples like the original Lincoln cabin by Lincoln Logs. A little known fact: Lincoln Logs were invented by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son John Lloyd Wright. Who knew, right?

The Bishop Planetarium is the region’s premier astronomy education facility and multimedia theater, with an impressive 30 foot full dome ceiling that caters to seating for 118 stargazers. The theater is equipped with an advanced all-digital projection system that is three times brighter and has 12 times higher contrast than other projectors. A 15-minute pre-show conducted by Samantha Sprague, Curator of Education, will take you on a 3-dimensional trip through space.

“We can actually fly you to Saturn and through the rings of Saturn, allowing you to see that they are individual pieces. So whereas many projector systems show planets on a very static plain, I can fly you around Saturn and orbit and we can show the distance between stars to appreciate just how far apart they are,” says Sprague.

Current shows at the planetarium include Passport to the Universe, Life: A Cosmic Story, and Perfect Little Planet. All shows are less than 30 min and are included in the general admission price. Check the show schedule for full details, show dates and times.

Family Nights are offered on the first Saturday of each month and include special tours, activities, games and story readings. This month’s activities invite you to come explore the underwater world of sea creatures while also learning a bit of Spanish. A 4:15p showing of Buscando a Nemo (Finding Nemo) is followed by shark dissection and presentations in the Planetarium. On Family Nights the museum is open until 8 p.m. and admission is half price after 4 p.m.

The Parker Manatee Aquarium, part of Florida’s manatee rehabilitation network, is home to Snooty, the oldest known living manatee. The exhibit area within the facility serves to educate the public about manatee anatomy, habitat, nutrition and physiology.

Plan your visit accordingly because July is a busy month for the Aquarium. “Every year we see an increase in traffic during the month leading up to Snooty’s birthday bash on July 19th, where we offer a free outdoor festival with half-price admission. This is a big community event that everyone really rallies behind giving us lots of attention,” says Communications Manager, Jessica Schubick.

Besides the promise of shelter during inclement weather and the comfort of air conditioning, think of the museum as an underutilized community asset. “The museum is essential for bringing together our community and Florida; if you are in this area for a day, a week, a month or you live here, you must experience the museum because you will come here and be amazed; you’ll see how we’re all tied together and be proud of where you live in a way that you may have never noticed before”, says Sprague.

Museum admission gives you a full day pass that allows you to come and go, so feel free to spend a few hours or a full day at the museum. You’ll want to visit the website for full admission details and special presentation pricing and schedule.

The South Florida Museum | Bishop Planetarium | Parker Manatee Aquarium are located at 20110th St. W in Bradenton. You can reach them at 941-746-4131.

Producer for Suncoast View