The county's eastern edge mixes vintage kitsch with down-home diversions. Visitors might spot gators along the banks of the Hillsborough, but are more likely to encounter fresh fruit stands on the side of the road.


Despite being so well traversed, Hillsborough River State Park manages to feel like a far-off wilderness. Hike or bike trails that snake through nearly 4,000 acres of natural Florida, or rent a canoe or kayak by the hour from Canoe Escape and sight gators, birds and other native fauna while paddling down the river. Take a tour of the 260-acre Safari Wilderness Ranch, where a custom safari vehicle is the only thing separating you from the exotic animals. A faux T-Rex peeks out over the trees along Interstate 4 before you reach the exit for Dinosaur World, where reptiles still roam, or at least stand around a lot pretending to--a must-see for fans of Pee-Wee's Big Adventure.

By Day

Send a basket full of goodies home from the gift shop of Parkesdale Farm Market, which harvests millions of pounds of strawberries, citrus and other produce annually. The high-class Fancy Flea Vintage Home & Garden Market brings scores of vendors to Central Florida twice a year. Shoppers follow in their wake to peruse shabby chic accessories, vintage apparel and mid-century furniture. A working game farm and wildlife preserve, Giraffe Ranch is populated by exotic and domestic species--giraffe, rhino, pygmy hippo and camels as well as herds of Austrian Haflinger horses and Irish Dexter cattle. All are viewable in reservation-only safari expeditions.

By Night

Tampa's largest permanent outdoor music venue, MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheater at the Florida State Fairgrounds, plays host to traveling music fests and massive concert tours, shining brightest when country talent like Tim McGraw and Brad Paisley land on its oversized stage. There's even an annual season pass that gets you into all the shows--the Country Megaticket! Across the way, Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino - Tampa keeps the party going with numerous ways to get your gamble on (slots, poker, Black Jack), drink on (Hard Rock Café, Whammy Bar), grub on (Council Oak steakhouse, Jubao Palace noodle bar) and at the end of the night, with the option of getting your sleep on in a plush hotel bed with Egyptian cotton sheets pulled up to your neck.