Flora, Fauna & Fun

20 Must-See Florida Attractions

A flaneur technically means someone who strolls idly but has recently come to mean someone who is being a tourist in their own city, taking in its sights and sounds like they’re all new. It’s easy for Floridians to be tourists in our own state with theme parks and beaches galore. But from the weird to the wonderful, Florida has so many attractions outside the usual destinations—and each deserves a visit.

1. Mermaid Shows at Weeki Wachee Springs

Weeki Wachee

Ocala residents have a unique attraction right in their own backyard. For the last six decades, the mermaids at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park have wowed guests with their underwater routines. Grab a seat in the 400-seat auditorium with a window into their underwater world. Check their online calendar for upcoming events. (352) 592-5656, weekiwachee.com/mermaids

2. Shell Factory & Nature Park

North Fort Myers

Seashells, coral, zip lines and… taxidermy? Yes, please. This kitschy, not-so-little shop in North Fort Myers has a little bit of everything, literally. Climb a 40-foot pole, ride bumper boats, visit the animal park, shop the year-round Christmas store and pick out some unique shell specimens. There’s even four museums on-site and multiple restaurants. (239) 995-2141, shellfactory.com

3. Wynwood Art District

Miami

And the Instagrammer’s dream come true: Wynwood Art District in the Wynwood neighborhood of Miami. This area is one of the largest open-air street art installations in the world and is renowned for its vibrant, memorable murals created by international artists. It’s also home to over 70 museums and galleries. The best time to go? Art walk takes place the second Saturday of each month, and the galleries and studios open their doors to the public to enjoy art, music and refreshments. (786) 615-8828, wynwoodmiami.com

4. The Old Spanish Sugar Mill and Griddle House

De Leon Springs

This massive sugar mill was constructed in the 1830s to crush sugar cane using the force of the 16 million gallons of water flowing through the spring each day. It was destroyed and rebuilt many times over its nearly two-century lifespan. It was purchased in 1961 and restored to grind flour in the mill building, and the new owner opened a restaurant and bakery. It is still family owned today. Each table has an electric griddle in the center where customers make their own pancakes from two types of homemade batters—one containing stone-ground corn, wheat, rye, whole wheat and buckwheat flours and the other made from unbleached white flour. Wait times have reached two hours before, so plan to go early on weekends. (386) 985-5644, oldspanishsugarmill.com

5. Butterfly World

Coconut Creek

Florida is home to the largest butterfly park in the world, with over 20,000 live butterflies fluttering about. See countless species you’ve never encountered before in the three-acre butterfly aviary. Purchase native species of chrysalis in the gift shop to take home, watch the butterflies emerge and release them into your own backyard. Butterfly World is open seven days a week; admission is $29.95 for adults and $21.95 for children. Kids age 2 and younger are free. (954) 977-4400, butterflyworld.com 

6. GatorWorld

Wildwood

At GatorWorld (not to be confused with Gatorland), visitors will get an up-close look at alligators in their natural habitat without even leaving their car. Drive along the gravel road to view gators lounging poolside in habitats constructed to simulate natural Florida. At the end of the drive, visitors can feed young alligators on a raised platform, and don’t forget to visit the petting zoo, featuring “Elvis” the goat and “Biscuit” the bunny.  (352) 462-9500, gatorworldparks.com 

7.  Jules’ Undersea Lodge

Key Largo

A diver’s dream come true, Jules’ Undersea Lodge is the world’s only underwater hotel. Have lunch or stay overnight underwater in the lagoon, with a large window into the water. Key Largo Undersea Park also offers scuba training with a depth of 30 feet in a protected setting, perfect for newbies and veterans alike. Guests can earn their open water certification, take a Discover Scuba Diving course or just dive for fun. (305) 451-2353, jul.com 

8. Seacrest Wolf Preserve

Chipley

If a day on a 400-acre preserve for displaced wolves sounds like your kind of fun, you’re in for a treat. Seacrest Wolf Preserve takes visitors hiking through the natural habitats that are now home to numerous types of wolves. They can participate in a hands-on meeting with the animals while learning about their place in the ecosystem. These Saturday Wolf Encounter Tours last approximately four hours and include the chance to feed the raccoons, hug the skunks, play with the foxes and meet Pecos the coyote. Call to schedule your tour before showing up, as all tours are by reservation only. (850) 773-2897, seacrestwolfpreserve.org

9. The Dalí Museum

St. Petersburg

Guests can view seven of Dalí’s most well-known masterpieces, including “The Hallucinogenic Toreador” and “The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus.” They will learn about innumerable other paintings, drawings, sculptures, films and photographs of his as well. Other exhibits rotate in and out, too, like past exhibitions of Andy Warhol and Pablo Picasso works. Be sure to stroll through the Avant Garden, full of surrealist installations, mazes and beautiful flora. Check the museum’s calendar for more information about special events for children and adults. (727) 823-3767, thedali.org

10. Dry Tortugas

Key West

Reachable only by ferry boat or seaplane, the Dry Tortugas is one of America’s most remote, least visited national parks—if you organize the transportation, you’ll be rewarded with some of the most beautiful beaches and scenery Florida has to offer. Go snorkeling, camping and explore Fort Jefferson, a massive brick fortress right on the coastline. Book tours, which include some meals, at drytortugas.com. (800) 634-0939, drytortugas.com

11. Coral Castle

Homestead

After his bride deserted him the day before their wedding, Latvian man Ed Leedskalnin moved to America. Part of a family of stone masons, he used his knowledge to move these 30-ton blocks of fossilized coral. For scale, some stones in the Coral Castle are taller than those in Stonehenge and heavier than the heaviest stone in the Great Pyramid of Giza. It even features stone furniture, like a heart-shaped table for his long-lost love. (305) 248-6345, coralcastle.com

12. Solomon’s Castle

Ona 

If you’ve never visited a medieval castle complete with moat, this is your chance. Sculptor Howard Solomon built his castle out of aluminum printing plates thrown away by the local newspaper. Today it’s a gleaming, three-story, 12,000-square-foot fortress, including the courtyard filled with sculptures and handmade stained glass. It even has a restaurant for visitors. (863) 494-6077, solomonscastle.com

13. Devil’s Den

Williston

Devil’s Den is a privately owned and operated scuba diving site, with gorgeous clear waters, ancient rock formations, stalactites and fossil beds dating back 33 million years. Because the water is 72 degrees year-round, on winter mornings steam rises from the cave’s chimney, which is how the site earned its name. Devil’s Den is only open to scuba divers and snorkelers, and children under age 6 are not permitted. (352) 528-3344, devilsden.com 

14. Spook Hill

Lake Wales

The legend of Spook Hill goes something like this: An Indian chief fought a massive alligator that had been terrorizing his village. Both died on top of the hill, and no one can agree whether the spirit of the gator or the chief haunts the hill.

Today, Spook Hill keeps motorists scratching their heads over its seemingly anti-gravity properties. The city has painted a white line at the base of the hill. If the driver puts their car in neutral, it appears to roll backwards uphill. In reality, it’s an optical illusion, but it feels real enough for anyone in the car or watching it from the roadside. Spook Hill is located on N Wales Drive in Lake Wales.

15. Driftwood Beach

Jacksonville

Just outside North Jacksonville’s suburbs lies Big Talbot Island, home to a beautiful shoreline dotted in petrified driftwood trees. They provide a beautiful backdrop for photos and a natural playground for climbing, exploring and sight-seeing. (904) 251-2320, floridastateparks.org/park/Big-Talbot-Island

16. Two Tails Ranch

Gainesville

Two Tails Ranch opened to the public in 2009 for elephant lovers to meet these sweet creatures up close. Their elephants are rescued, retired or staying over while their own enclosures are repaired at other facilities. The ranch offers tours, hand feedings and even elephant rides. Tours and feedings are scheduled by appointment only, so be sure to call ahead. (352) 528-6585, allaboutelephants.com

17. Monkey Island

Homosassa

Monkey Island is just a short drive away in Homosassa. Book a boat tour around the island to see where the monkeys live and play. Today, it’s home to five spider monkeys, who are fed twice daily and have regular visits from a primate vet and, of course, curious tourists cruising by. The story of the island is somewhat of a sitcom, so be sure to ask your guide about its origins. (352) 628-2474, riversideresorts.com

18. Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary 

Jacksonville

The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is massive and full of interesting animals, but just 20 minutes away is Catty Shack, a ranch that rescues big cats of all types from circuses, illegal private ownership and more. They provide large enclosures and thorough medical care to all their residents and do not breed or sell. Current animals on-site include tigers, lions, cougars, leopards, bobcats, arctic foxes and coatimundis. Visit during their evening feeding to see them at their most active. (904) 757-3603, cattyshack.org

19. Warm Mineral Springs

North Port

Sorry, St. Augustine—some historians believe this ancient sinkhole, filled with 20 million gallons of naturally warmed, mineralized water, is the true Fountain of Youth. Some of the oldest fossils in America have been discovered in its rock formations. Entrance for swimming is $20 for adults, and $10 for children 12 and under. (941) 426-1692, https://bit.ly/2JefJr8

20. Bok Tower Gardens

Lake Wales

Edward Bok immigrated to America from the Netherlands at age 6 and became a Pulitzer-prize winning author. He had a second home in Lake Wales and fell in love with Iron Mountain. He purchased the land to transform into gardens with a majestic Singing Tower and 60-bell carillon. It was Bok’s gift to the American people as thanks for all the opportunities he had been given. Today the carillon sits atop the hill and houses the world’s largest carillon library, with books, articles, recordings, music scores, slides and photographs. Music rings out over the gardens every day at 1pm and 3pm. (863) 676-1408, boktowergardens.org 

Sources: atlasobscura.com, onlyinyourstate.com, roadsideamerica.com, weburbanist.com

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