Florida and roadside attractions are made for each other, and discovering them can be a special perk for road travelers.
SUNKEN GARDENS, ST. PETERSBURG
Billed as St. Petersburg's oldest living museum, Sunken Gardens is -- indeed – sunken; the 100-plus-year-old gardens with exotic plants, waterfalls and wildlife were started in an ancient sinkhole.
Inside, I was particularly fascinated by a flock of flamingoes, which were great at posing for photos.
Give yourself at least one to two hours to see all the four-acre attraction has to offer.
GOOFY GOLF, PANAMA CITY BEACH
Grab your putter and get ready for some fun. Goofy Golf, a vintage roadside attraction that opened in 1959, is loaded with visual delights. Look for it behind strip malls on Highway 98A; you can’t miss the Sphinx and Easter Island head. If you visited as a kid, come back with your children and grandchildren, and bring a camera. Goofy Golf is open May to September.
INDIAN TEMPLE MOUND & MUSEUM, FORT WALTON BEACH
Part of the City of Fort Walton Beach Heritage Park & Cultural Center, the Indian mound dates back to 800 A.D., and it’s one of the largest prehistoric earthwork found near saltwater – standing 12 feet tall and 223 feet wide, with stairs to the top.
The Temple Mound Museum has a great collection of ancient Native American pottery and artifacts dating back to 1200 B.C. Both the mound and museum are closed on Sundays.
Explore 1.3 million gallon series of dolphin habitats at Marineland's Dolphin Adventure calls “the world's first oceanarium” on A1A south of St. Augustine. My parents took me there, and I still remember sitting in the bleachers "oohing" and "aahing" as dolphins leapt out of the water. Two generations of my family have visiting since then with the same "oohs" and "aahs."
Dolphin encounters range from a quick Touch & Feed program that takes place from the deck to in-water swim programs in both shallow and deep water. They also have several camps (some for children and others for adults).
Stay for the day; Marineland has a small café that sells snacks and drinks.
It is not very often that a piece of property has been cherished and nourished by generations of owners. Washington Oaks Gardens State Park (off A1A, two miles south of Marineland), which was once owned by a distant relative of George Washington, is such a place.
Old, stately, tall trees lining the sidewalks, beautiful gardens and carefully tended pools reflect a deep commitment to this special place. In 1936, Louise and Owen Young purchased the land, named it “Washington Oaks” and built a winter retirement home, formal gardens and a citrus grove. It’s now owned by the state of Florida and managed by Florida Park Service. On the grounds, you’ll find Owen D. Young Visitors Center, the Young’s former home. The living room is re-created just like it was in the 1950s.
THE ORANGE SHOP
North of Ocala on U.S. 301 in the small town of Citra is a landmark attraction that has been around since 1936. You'll see the sign before you see the shop. The Orange Shop has its own groves right behind the shop, which are open to the public, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week, from mid-October to mid-May (citrus season). Their grapefruit comes from Indian River.
You will find culinary surprises here: Their orange honey, jellies and marmalades make great gifts for family and friends.
BULOW CREEK STATE PARK
Bulow Creek State Park, off Old Dixie Highway five miles north of Ormond Beach, protects a strand of ancient live oaks. The reigning tree is the Fairchild Oak, which has been around for 400 years and is still growing. In the world of trees, the Fairchild Oak is a national monument.
Bring a brown bag lunch, and have a respite in a shady pavilion or table.
SILVER RIVER STATE PARK
The headwaters of the Silver River pump out 550 million gallons of water a day, and it is crystal clear. Silver Springs on S.R. 40 in Ocala still has the famous glass-bottomed boat rides (invented here in 1878) down the Silver River.
While you’re there, enjoy the Lighthouse Ride, which takes up to six people 80 feet above Silver Springs for an unobstructed, panoramic view of the river; a children's playground with a replica of a 1800s riverboat; and a botanical garden with native and exotic plants.
Sugarland Tours in Clewiston takes you on a 4.5 hour tour of the sugar farm, citrus juice plant and the Clewiston Sugar Mill via a 24-passenger bus. It includes lunch at the historic Clewiston Inn. Tours are offered during the sugar cane season from October through March.
THE SMALLEST U.S. POST OFFICE
The smallest U.S. Post Office in the United States is located on U.S. 41 in Ochopee. It’s so small that it actually used to be a tool shed. Tour buses stop here regularly, and the clerk keeps a stack of postcards so you can get your Ochopee postmark.
ROBERT IS HERE FRUIT STAND
Robert Is Here Fruit Stand in Homestead started in 1959 when Robert was 6 years old. His dad sent him to this very corner, 19200 SW 344th Street, to sell some of the family's cucumber crop. Now, it is a roadside attraction and part of the Historic Redland Tropical Trail. Robert will cut mangos for you to eat as you wander around, and don't pass up an opportunity to try his Key Lime Milkshake.
EVERGLADES ALLIGATOR FARM
Everglades Alligator Farm, a privately owned attraction in Homestead started in 1982 hosting airboat rides. Today, it is a working alligator farm that offers observation areas, snake and ‘gator shows and other wildlife.
Your quest for roadside attractions can go hand in hand with the "Worth the Drive" program by VISIT FLORIDA and the American Automobile Association (AAA). Along the way, you'll find great roadside attractions.