What’s the best place to park? When’s the best time to visit to avoid the crowds? How can you still watch concerts for free? How can you get in without paying admission? What’s the best thing to eat? As a guy who’s done that drive through horrible I-4 traffic countless times to Plant City, let me help. I’ve learned a lot over the years doing that long drive to the Florida Strawberry Festival from our studios in Pinellas.

Here are my 10 best pro tips from my many visits over the years to the Florida Strawberry Festival in Plant City. Feel free to leave yours on my Facebook page and I’ll add them below.

  • Tip #1: Check the concert calendar

    If there’s a sold out concert, that means thousands of extra cars in those parking lots and bodies creating long lines for rides and food. Pick a night when the headliner won’t draw the enormous crowds. Usually the last day of the festival is particularly busy. Weeknights are usually your best bet. The toughest day to visit is usually the last day of the Florida Strawberry Festival. You have the weekend crowds combined with usually the biggest concert headliner on Sunday. The backups on I-4 can get crazy getting in and out of the festival.

  • Tip #2: When to go...

    Afternoon rush hour traffic combined with Florida Strawberry Festival congestion is a nightmare this time of year on I-4. The earlier you get to Plant City, the better. And definitely launch the Waze app on your cell phone before you head out. It will direct you around the traffic if I-4 is backed up. Often taking the side roads through Brandon can save you some time when the Interstate is jammed up.

  • Tip #3: Buy tickets in advance

    Lines always form at the ticket booth. Instead, grab tickets in advance if you’re at Publix. You’ll save a few bucks too. Regular adult admission is $15 at the gate, but $10 at Publix. Keep an eye on Publix’s social media. They usually announce it there when they’ve got the Florida Strawberry Festival tickets in stock.

  • Tip #4: Get in free!

    There are days when kids get in free. There are days when military and first reponders get in free. Other daily promotions will score you a discount. Check the Strawberry Festival website to see when you might be able to avoid paying admission. Here’s this year’s calendar.

  • Tip #5: Wait a few days

    Opening weekend and closing weekends are when you’ll see the biggest crowds. If you can plan your visit midweek in the early afternoon, you’ll have plenty of space and short lines to wait in. Everyone wants to be the first to snap that selfie for Instagram with some strawberry shortcake. Instead go on day 2 or a weekday after opening weekend.

  • Tip #6: Make an eating plan

    I’m not joking. You’re going to be overwhelmed. Many go to the festival every year just for the fair foods. Instead of buying the first thing you see, check out what’s new this year… or my top 10 picks. You’ll run out of room fast if you fill up on boring stuff like cotton candy and hot dogs. You can get those anywhere… the Florida Strawberry Festival is known for creative wild stuff.  Definitely seek out the Amish doughnuts, Smitty’s corndog and Carnival Eats legend Mama Jane’s creations you’ve seen on The Cooking Channel.  Who has the best strawberry shortcake? I say ask for directions to the St. Clement’s make your own tent!

  • Tip #7: Cell Phone Tips

    Use apps on your phone like Waze or Google Maps to see how the back roads are doing for traffic. When I-4 is backed up, you can often avoid the congestion by taking the back roads into Plant City. Rush hour traffic during the week on I-4 and Strawberry Festival traffic on the weekend is no joke. Make sure your cell is charged up too. With all the people using the same cell towers in a small town, your phone has to work hard to stay connected. Coverage can be spotty and with no WiFi, you’ll see your battery power go fast – especially if you are the type that likes to take a lot of photos or post video to social media.

  • Tip #8: Go in the morning

    The food will be fresher, everyone will be a little perkier since they just woke up and the lines will be short. The festival opens daily at 10am, but few get there until late in the afternoon. Once people get out of work and load the kids in the car, the crowds at the festival grow. Longer lines and congestion isn’t fun. If you can get there around lunchtime, you’ll have the festival all to yourself!

  • Tip #9: Yes there ARE free concerts

    You used to be able to get in free to the big headliner shows, but that’s in the past. There’s that big brand new concert stadium and it wasn’t cheap to build. Not only that… this is how bands pay the bills now. Music acts used to tour to promote their new music. But since the internet came along, that money has gone away. Now bands make their money on ticket sales and merch. So the days of free concerts are a thing of the past. All seats in the new concert venue require a separate ticket. But there ARE free local acts performing around the festival. And they’d love your support so one day they can play the big stage too.

  • Tip #10: Parking options

    There are 3 major lots on Ritter Street, off highway 92 and 574. Don’t worry if you’re not close to the action. There is a tram that’ll take you to the gates. You can also find spots at Bryan Elementary School and Tomlin Middle School. If you like to bargain, many area homeowners offer spots on their lawn for extra cash.

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