Go off the beaten path and enjoy these roadside wonders.
Florida is full of unexpected and awesome roadside attractions.
Many of these destinations date to the 1920s and ’30s, when the state was an up-and-coming tourist hotspot and the great American road trip still in its infancy. But several more have sprung up since then, joining the tradition of weird and wonderful sights to lure passing motorists — or, just as often, becoming the destination themselves.
Here are the best roadside attractions in Florida for your next trip.
1. Sarasota Jungle Gardens
Sarasota Jungle Gardens has been delighting tourists since 1939. Beloved for its flamingos, which you can hand-feed, it’s also home to macaws, lemurs, turtles and alligators.
True to theme, the garden feels like a tropical jungle, with the occasional ceramic elephant or giraffe to liven up the scenery. Kids will love the petting zoo and playground while adults admire vibrant plant life from around the world. The animal shows are a hit for all ages.
If you have more time: Sarasota has another unusual destination, the Amish and Mennonite community of Pinecraft. Visit Der Dutchman for authentic Amish comfort food like broasted chicken, mashed potatoes and stuffing. Don’t skip dessert — their peanut butter pie is legendary — or the sprawling, homey gift shop.
2. Weeki Wachee Springs
Long before a certain red-headed siren came to Orlando, there were mermaids performing in Florida at Weeki Wachee Springs. You can view mesmerizing aquatic ballets in the underwater amphitheater, just like they did back in 1947.
Even better, Weeki Wachee has its own water park. At Buccaneer Bay, woosh down the water slides, laze on the sandy beach or go tubing down the river. With the tiki bar, kayak rentals, snorkeling and more, you can easily make a day of it.
If you have more time: Hang out in Brooksville. Hunt for mini mermaid sculptures downtown or swing through the trees at FLG X Adventure Course, one of the most extreme zip line and aerial obstacle courses in the state.
3. Bok Tower
Florida’s famed Singing Tower, an intricately carved neo-Gothic and art deco masterpiece, could hardly be more picturesque. The 205-foot carillon, which gives daily concerts, opened with Bok Tower Gardens in 1929 and quickly became an icon of Central Florida, immortalized on everything from Coke bottle caps to The Saturday Evening Post, some on display in the visitors center.
After wandering the beautifully landscaped grounds, take a tour of El Retiro, a 1930s Mediterranean Revival-style mansion, complete with period furnishings and pocket windows to the gardens.
If you have more time: Tour another architectural marvel: the Wonder House of Bartow, FL. Once world-renowned as the “Crazy House” and the “House of a Thousand Gadgets,” this 1920s landmark boasts six floors, 10 porches, around 60 doors and underground escape tunnels. But wait! That’s not all. Take the guided tour and be amazed.
4. Mixon Fruit Farms
This third-generation family-owned citrus grove serves some of Florida’s finest orange ice cream. It began in the ’30s as a modest fruit stand. Now the Bradenton spot has a tram tour, play park, wildlife refuge, bamboo forest, koi pond and deli.
Stock up on fresh fruit like pomelos, starfruit, lemons and oranges galore. During citrus season (November to May), you might even see the packinghouse at work. And there’s always a free cup of OJ waiting for you.
If you have more time: Step back to yesteryear at the Showmen’s Museum in Riverview. This strange yet fascinating collection documents the saga of America’s traveling shows. See one of the world’s first Ferris wheels, a miniature midway, costumes, carnival games and so much more.
5. Ancient Spanish Monastery
Once called the largest jigsaw puzzle in history, the Monastery of St. Bernard de Clairvaux was first built in 12th-century Spain, then shipped piecemeal to the U.S. in 1925 before finally being reassembled in the 1950s as a tourist attraction.
Along with weekly services, the Ancient Spanish Monastery still welcomes travelers. You can browse the exhibits, stroll vaulted cloisters or simply soak up the serenity of the 20-plus acres of flowering trees and greenery.
If you have more time: Off U.S. 1 in Hallandale Beach is a much newer roadside attraction: the 110-foot, 715-ton “Pegasus and the Dragon.” The giant winged horse defeating evil (symbolized by the dragon) is the second tallest statue in the continental U.S.
6. Fairgrounds St. Pete
Technicolor, trippy and utterly immersive, Fairgrounds St. Pete is more than a roadside attraction. It’s an ode to roadside attractions. Their signature installation, FLORIDARAMA, reveals tiny worlds where palm trees grow upside down, swamps ooze sugar and a mermaid will check you into your motel.
Elsewhere, this interactive art museum invites guests to hunt for clues, snap Instagrammable pics or discover wacky Florida stories reimagined by local artists.
If you have more time: Drive by WhimzeyLand, where masks, mosaics, beads and bowling balls overflow from a suburban home in an explosion of color that’s more than worth the detour.
7. Silver Springs
Here’s a roadside attraction that predates the automobile.
On a glass-bottom boat tour today, you’ll glimpse marine life, Native American artifacts and even old Hollywood props. Other attractions include a replica pioneer village and natural history museum.
If you have more time: Cross to the other side of Marion County for Rainbow Springs, another roadside attraction turned state park. This one featured “jungle waterfalls” created in the 1960s to dazzle tourists.
8. Shell Factory
Claiming to be the world’s largest collection of seashells and shell specimens, the Shell Factory & Nature Park in North Fort Myers has morphed over the years into its current expansive state. Founded in the 1930s, it now includes everything a Florida roadside attraction needs: a wildlife park, mini-golf, zip line, restaurants, petting zoo, dinosaur exhibit, gem mining … you get the idea.
Inside, find shells of every shape, size and color plus shell-adjacent treasures like coral, shark teeth, sand dollars and sponges. Then, walk past the fudge shop, taxidermy display and arcade to find the year-round Holiday Palace stocked with thousands of ornaments. Santa on a jet ski, anyone?
If you have more time: See more seashells. Across the bridge from Fort Myers, Sanibel is famous for shelling. After a morning of beachcombing, stop at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum to dive into the mysterious world of mollusks.
9. The Fountain of Youth
The Fountain of Youth’s heyday as a roadside attraction began in the 1920s, but along with the fun and lore, it’s always been about uncovering real history. So explore the recreated Timucuan village and Spanish mission. Marvel at a 16th-century night sky in the planetarium. And, sure, drink from the spring as travelers and natives have for centuries.
If you have more time: See more old places — the 17th-century Castillo de San Marcos, the Oldest Wooden School House and the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park, a collection started in 1893 now the only facility in the world featuring all 24 crocodilian species.
10. Solomon’s Castle
When woodcarver, welder and all-around craftsman Howard Solomon bought swampland in Hardee County in 1970, he built a most unconventional home: a castle covered in shiny aluminum printing plates. Go inside on a pun-peppered tour written by the artist himself to see such wonders as a papier-mâché mermaid mummy, a 190-pound lion made from oil drums and a reconstructed tortoiseshell and wig (“The Tortoise and the Hair,” of course).
The encore tour includes additional upcycled artwork alongside over a dozen immaculate antique cars. Top it all off with lunch at The Boat in the Moat.
If you have more time: Just 30 minutes west is Florida’s only dairy with public tours. Dakin Dairy Farms takes you behind the scenes from the milking parlor to the processing plant. Meet the calves, feed the goats, and order their “ultimate” grilled cheese.