If You Go ...
Bradenton is only 65 miles outside of Tampa-St. Pete and close to Sarasota, so you're in the midst of spring-training nirvana: Spring-training venues that are within easy driving distance of Bradenton include Lakeland (Detroit Tigers), Tampa (New York Yankees), Clearwater (Philadelphia Phillies), Dunedin (Toronto Blue Jays), and St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay Devil Rays). You can expect your trip to spring training to be filled with lots of baseball in the Tampa area.
Bradenton is still a sleepy citrus town (it's home to the main Tropicana orange-juice plant), so there are not many attractions near the stadium. Those looking to soak up some sun should head to Longboat Key and Anna Maria Island, both of which known for their sandy beaches and relaxed atmospheres. Bradenton is also known for its manatees: the South Florida Museum is home to Snooty and Mo, two West Indian Manatees that swim and play in the museum's specially designed 60,000-gallon aquarium.
Tampa/St. Pete, of course, has its own set of attractions. If you're bringing the kids, a possible stop is Busch Gardens, a theme part built around a zoo, various rides, and a water park. I will confess it's been many years since I've visited Busch Gardens -- in fact, Anheuser-Busch still owned the park when I last visited -- so I can't wholeheartedly recommend Busch Gardens.
Those more in a mood to party will want to head to Ybor City, Tampa's Latin Quarter. It's a gentrified area that was once home to cigar factories that's now a shopping and entertainment mecca. Ybor City's larger buildings can be seen a ways away, and the district -- located on 7th Avenue East between 15th and 20th streets -- is well-served with many road signs showing the way. Notable nightlife spots include brewpub Barley Hopper's International Alehouse, the Green Iguana bar, and the Centro Ybor, which houses several clubs and restaurants. At night Ybor City gets pretty rowdy, as the music clubs bring them in. Oh, and you can still find hand-rolled cigars in Ybor City as well.
Also worth a trip is the Pier, located on the waterfront in downtown St. Petersburg, The Pier features a five-story inverted pyramid with giant tubes bubbling with fish and creatures from the sea, complete with a second-floor aquarium filled with native and tropical fish and sharks. You'll also find educational exhibits from the Great Explorations Museum and the historic H.M.S. Bounty docked pierside.
For the truly surreal, there's the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Pete. Get it? Surreal? Good.
If you're looking for more excitement, you can head into Orlando, which is 75 miles up I-4. Spring-training venues in Orlando include Cracker Jack Stadium (Atlanta Braves) and Kissimmee (Houston Astros).
Where to Stay: There are several hotels close to the stadium in Bradenton: the Holiday Inn Riverfront, the Hampton Inn, the Park Inn and Suites, and the Quality Inn. But you could very easily stay in Tampa or St. Pete.
Flying In: Sarasota-Bradenton Airport is obviously the closest airport to Bradenton and the most convenient. It's a small, regional airport served by Northwest Airlines, Continental, ATA, Delta, US Airways, and a few smaller regional airlines.
The largest airport closest to Sarasota is Tampa International Airport and the most convenient. It's not the biggest airport in the world and is easy to navigate. All the major airlines fly into Tampa.
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