Generations of guests have captured a moment posing in and around the shark jaws at Marineland in St. Augustine. Joan Whittemore with Marineland says she even witnessed bikers on a cruise on A1A stop to take a picture with someone hanging over the teeth as though they were caught in the grips of a monster.
The giant shark’s jaws are just a taste, so to speak, of the seriously funky and off-beat things you’ll find throughout Florida. Read on for where to find dinosaurs, castles, Indian circles and other weird and fun things.
Dinosaurs Walk the Earth
Speaking of monsters, here’s breaking news: Dinosaurs are found in Florida! Don’t worry, they’re not real. But that doesn't stop us from having fun.
The funkiest dinosaur by far stands in front of Imaginarium in Fort Myers. It is made of metal parts and serves as a landmark. In fact, when locals come to visit the museum, they say "Meet you at the dinosaur."
For a whole world of re-created realistic dinosaurs, Dinosaur World off I-4 in Plant City gets really carried away. They have 150 dinosaur statues of all sizes and shapes in their park. There is a dinosaur around every corner and bush. You’ll even spy one from the interstate.
What is it about dinosaurs and kids? They attract each other like moths to lamplight. The thing is, you grow up but dinosaurs never get old. The thrill is still there when you are an adult. Go for your inner dinosaur.
A Castle Here and There
Why rush off to England or France to see castles? We have a few castles right here in Florida.
Coral Castle on South Dixie Highway in Homestead (south of Miami) is both the funkiest and weirdest of them all. The castle has 1,100 tons of carved rock – and one huge mystery: How did a single man, who stood just over five feet tall and weighed 100 pounds, create this using only hand tools? What makes the heavy coral door swing open so perfectly? Did he know ancient secrets or have help from extraterrestrials?
Edward Leedskalnin, the castle creator, was born in Riga, Latvia in 1887. At the age of 26, he was set to marry Agnes Scuffs. She canceled the wedding the day before the ceremony. His heart was broken. He left Latvia, eventually moving to Florida and starting his monument to lost love.
Ed carved the castle for 28 years. It opened in 1923. When he was alive, he greeted visitors personally. Ed died in 1951. The mystery of how he created the Coral Castle endures.
Castle Otttis sits just off A1A three miles north of St. Augustine. I've driven by it a zillion times and am always startled to see castle turrets standing up above the beach bushes. On my most recent trip up A1A, I finally turned in and read the small sign in front of the locked gates.
The sign says: "Castle Otttis was created as an original landscape-sculpture in remembrance of Jesus Christ." Their website adds that the building is an impression of an Irish castle of 1,000 years ago. Pretty startling to find a castle in Florida right across the street from the Atlantic Ocean
In case you’re wondering if I’ve forgotten how to spell, there really are three "T's" in Otttis, but I'm not sure why. The castle was started in 1984 and the exterior finished in 1988. If you want to check out this funky Florida landmark, be sure to plan ahead. Castle Otttis is closed to the public but open to groups by appointment; groups can see the interior which captures the atmosphere of an abbey during the same Irish time period. Private tours can be arranged by calling (904) 824-3274.
Tucked into the woods north of Myakka River State Park, which is located near Sarasota, is a shining example of one man's vision. Solomon's Castle, built by artist Howard Solomon, carries recycling to a new – and of course, Florida funky – dimension. The shining exterior is made of metal printing plates thrown out by a local newspaper.
Open to the public from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sundays from October through June, Solomon's Castle wears many hats – roadside destination, the artist's home and workshop, and a place to have lunch at the castle's The Boat in the Moat restaurant.
Strange Circle Site in Miami
In 1998, archaeologists checking out a building site near the mouth of the Miami River expected to find some Indian artifacts. State law requires a building site to be checked for anything of historical significance. Apartments had been leveled to make way for a high-rise commercial development. Instead of artifacts, the archaeologist made a major find – an ancient circle 38 feet in diameter carved into limestone.
This mysterious circle of stone was made by Tequesta Indians 2,000 years ago. It could be a calendar or a sacrifice site, or some other use yet to be discovered. In 2000, Florida bought the 2.2-acre site for $26.7 million. Plans to build a visitor's center and riverwalk are still in the drawing board stage.
There is nothing else like the Miami Circle in the continental United States. It is America's Stonehenge, the only known ancient structure we have cut into bedrock. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the actual site was reburied in 2003 for protection from weather. Eventually an eight-foot replica will be built to be seen by visitors.
Looking over from the Miami Bridge, a small billboard proclaims that the Miami Circle is on the river's edge. A chain link fence, hotels and condominiums surround the parcel.
Wherever you roam in Florida, you are never far from something seriously funky, weird or genuinely mysterious.