Tuesday, April 21, 2009

State of Attractions

In my efforts to better understand the state I'm in, I'm reading Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams; A Social History of Modern Florida by Gary R. Mormino. I just finished the chapter on tourism and it ended with a tough commentary about the costs we've paid for our tourist based economy in Florida. The author also talks about how smaller attractions mostly disappeared as Disney grew and travel habits changed. "Ironically, while the Florida Turnpike and interstate highways introduced millions of new motorists to Florida, the new roadways bypassed the old tourist attractions" Mormino claims.

Yet a handful of old attractions remain, and I'm doing my best to visit them all while they're still around. To me they are pockets of Florida's past and they offer glimpses into a more innocent, less thrill-based time. Unlike today's theme parks, they often engage your brain and your sense of beauty, not your adrenal glands. One has to look for subtlety at these places, it is not sensory overload like Disney or Universal.

I've broken it down geographically into four regions. Many are now run by the state. Some go back to the early 20th century, some are more recent, but are clearly in the spirit of the old Florida roadside attractions. I also wrestle with the exact definition of attraction- is a museum an attraction? Are botanical gardens attractions? Here is what I've come up with (I'm always looking for more):

Wakulla Springs
Goofy Golf (Pensacola, Panama City and Ft. Walton Beach)
Florida Caverns
Gulf World, Panama City
Gulfarium, Ft. Walton Beach

North Florida
Oldest House, St. Augustine
Oldest School, St. Augustine
Fountain of Youth, St. Augustine
Old Jail, St. Augustine
Zorayda Castle, St. Augustine
Lightner Museum, St. Augustine
Potters Wax Museum, St. Augustine
Ripleys Believe it or Not, St. Augustine
Alligator Farm, St. Augustine
Stephen Foster Memorial, White Springs
Silver Springs, Ocala

Central Florida
Citrus Tower, Clermont
Presidents Hall of Fame, Clermont
Big Tree Park, Longwood
Gatorland, Kissimmee
Homosassa Springs
Cypress Gardens, Winter Haven
Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks
Weeki Wachee
Sunken Gardens, St. Pete
Sarasota Jungle Gardens, Sarasota
Bok Tower, Lake Wales
Sarasota Classic Car Museum, Sarasota
Jungle Adventures, Christmas
HMS Bounty, St. Pete
De Leon Springs State Park
Rainbow Springs State Park
Ringling Museum, Sarasota

South Florida
Thomas Edison Winter Home, Ft. Myers
Key West Aquarium
Miami Seaquarium
McKee Botanical Gardens, Vero Beach
Monkey Jungle, Miami
Jungle Island, formerly Parrot Jungle, Miami
Lion Country Safari, West Palm Beach
Everglades Wonder Garden, Bonita Springs
Shell Factory, North Ft. Myers
Coral Castle, Homestead, FL
Venetian Pool, Coral Gables
Theater of the Sea, Islamorada
Native Village, Hollywood
The Ancient Spanish Monastery, North Miami Beach

National Parks
Castillo de San Marcos
Everglades National Park

Tarpon Springs is home to the famed Spongerama attraction

The Ventian Pool is scheduled to re-open next month after renovations

Now President's Hall of Fame

Former movie prop is available for rentals at the end of the St. Pete Pier

Recently celebrated it's 80th birthday

Like Silver Springs, Weeki Wachee was at one time owned by the ABC television network but is now run by the state. Ironically, Disney now owns ABC.

Moved location and changed name to Jungle Island

A shell of its former self, Marineland is now an "Eco Park" where you can swim with dolphins instead of watching them leap out of the water.


  1. Love those old post cards. I went to Weeki Wachee with my Grandma when I was a little kid. Even then I thought it was a pretty nutty place!

  2. Fantastic post Rick. It's great to have a list of what's still out there. Really enjoying your visits to the attractions!

  3. I had no idea there were caverns in FL. Great read and postcards too!

  4. The caverns are not too far from Tallahassee. While they are no Mammoth caves, they are pretty cool. There also some little "waterfalls" in North Florida too.

  5. In the 50's and 60's no visit to my relatives in Inverness was complete without a day trip to Silver Springs. Loved the slow pace and the glass bottom boats.

  6. What an interesting blog, introduced by a thought-provoking photo. The unusual wall painting of the dwellings is also a strangely modern interpretation. Something like this hieroglyphic view of a park by Swiss painter Paul Klee, http://EN.WahooArt.com/A55A04/w.nsf/OPRA/BRUE-8LT475.
    The image can be seen at wahooart.com who can supply you with a canvas print of it.