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4 Unexpected Florida Adventures

With its sandy-white beaches, sunny skies, and, of course, a multitude of theme parks, Florida will always be one of America’s top travel destinations. If you’re looking to infuse a little off-beat adventure into your Florida vacation, there’s no shortage of great options.

Here are four unexpected Florida adventures that may not be on your radar.

Hang out with Mermaids in Weeki Wachee Springs

When I say the words Little Mermaid and Florida, you probably think Disney. But I think Weeki Wachee State Park, about an hour north of Tampa. Newton Perry, a former U.S. Navy man, opened this underwater attraction in 1947, featuring actual, real-life mermaids! Or at least as close to real mermaids are you’re going to find outside of the movies. Performers don mermaid tails and perform synchronized ballet moves underwater while breathing from submerged air hoses. Grab a seat in the underwater theater to watch a show like you’ve never seen before!

There’s more to enjoy at Weeki Wachee Spring than mermaids. Check out the waterslides, lazy river, and white sand beach at the park’s Buccaneer Bay. You may also sign up for a short river boat cruise or rent kayaks to explore the park at your leisure.

Kayak with Manatees in Crystal Rivers

During cooler months, over 400 manatees migrate to Kings Bay, the headwaters of the Crystal River. Florida Kayak Company offers public and private three-hour kayak excursions where participants are encouraged to passively observe this unique species. Though these aquatic mammals often weigh over 1,000 pounds, they are gentle giants who love to swim slowly as they munch on seagrass. Manatees are an endangered species, and the Crystal River is one of the only rivers in Florida where people can legally observe them in their natural habitat. Best part? This eco-tour donates 10 percent of tour fees toward manatee conservation.

Catch Your Dinner in Islamorada

I love the Florida Keys. In fact, my husband and I honeymooned there! Key West gets all the press, but for less of a party vibe, check out Islamorada. Known as the sport fishing capital of the world, there are plenty of opportunities to get out on the water. Whether that’s reeling in snapper in the backcountry or deep-sea fishing for sailfish, the variety of fish in this area is staggering. There are a few charter companies on this key, and you can’t go wrong with Bud N’ Mary’s. Established in 1944, this old-school charter company teems with character and employs passionate guides who know the best fishing spots and will clean anything good for eating. They’ll even bait the hook for you if you’re a wimp like me!

Bring your fish to Lazy Days, a restaurant just down the road from Bud N’ Mary’s. This beachfront restaurant will cook your catch for a small fee. You choose the preparation and sides. Just try not to fill up on the complimentary banana bread before your meal arrives.

Pretend You’re a Pirate in St. Augustine

Considered the oldest town in the United States (dating back to 1513!), you know there’s lots of cool history in St. Augustine. Satiate your inner buccaneer at the Pirate & Treasure Museum. While adults will enjoy the experience, it’s the perfect place for kids. They can put their hands all over many interactive displays, all while soaking up a history lesson. Oh, and you learn how to tie cool knots and fire a cannon.

If you’re into spooky stuff, get in touch with Ghost Tours of St. Augustine. Explore the city at night, either on foot or by trolley, learning all about the people who used to (or maybe still do!) live in the old homes and buildings around town. For those who love maritime legends, the experience includes eerie, lantern-lit ship and marina tours.

Not all “pirates” were about booty. Some, like Ponce de Leon, just wanted to figure out how to live forever. When he arrived in what would later be St. Augustine, de Leon believed he’d discovered the fountain of youth. It was at this same spot that Pedro Menendez de Aviles settled the first European colony in 1565. Today, visitors to the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park can experience a taste of life in the first colonial settlement. Attention birders: there’s also a muster (aka flock) of 30 Indian peafowls. These boisterous birds’ calls can be heard throughout the park, but the real show is watching the male peacocks spread their feathers. Spring kicks off the peafowl mating season, making it the ideal time to visit.

Additionally, the park pays homage to the Timucua, the Native American tribe that once inhabited the area. The park includes a recreation of their village and a sacred burial site. And because I’m sure you’re wondering, there is a fountain that’s said to be the spring of eternal hope. Take a drink and let me know if you feel any younger!

What are some of your favorite lesser-known Florida Adventures? Share in the comments!

If you’re looking to infuse a little off-beat adventure into your Florida vacation, there’s no shortage of great options. Here’s four unexpected Florida Adventures that may not be on your radar.

Photos: 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5


This Post Has 17 Comments

  1. My favorite adventure is Florida is visiting my kids in Panama City Beach every year. The white sandy beaches are beautiful and the places to eat are plentiful.

  2. Stephen Foster state park in White Springs — real north Florida wilderness to explore year round, right on the Suwanne River.. Also site of the Florida Folk Festival each Memorial Day weekend, with great food, music, storytelling, and crafts from all over the state.

  3. Tampa Aquarium has a unique flow; from the headwaters on the top floor on to the ocean at the bottom, with a beautiful main tank in the middle. Very enjoyable visit.

  4. Bok Tower Gardens is a central Florida hidden gem. 45 minutes south of Orlando, in Lake Wales, the 250 acre garden is home to a 205-foot (62 m) tall Singing Tower with its carillon bellis. A National Historic Landmark, contemplative garden, and bird sanctuary built in 1929 and underwent a major renovation in 2016 to include a children’s garden, cafe, gift shop and visitors center.

  5. Going to the Weeki Wachee Springs has been a dream of mine since I first started mermaiding! Oh my gosh… the waters look so clear and blue ♥
    It would be fun to go on one of the Ghost Tours too.

    Your article’s got me dreaming noooooow ♥♥♥

  6. I love that you included the Castillo and Crystal River in your list because those are two really special places we’ve gotten to take our kids. And oh my, Weeki Wachee… Hilarious and we completely regret skipping it on each Florida trip we’ve done. Next time…

  7. As someone who was born and raised in Florida, I would also add finding shark teeth at Venice Beach. The white sandy beaches of Destin are also unique and a beautiful sight to behold.

  8. A couple of favorite places I enjoy visiting is the Alligator Farm at St Augustine and Gatorland in Kissimmee, both in the spring and early summer. And not for the alligators but for the nesting birds. You can literally get up close and personal with many of the different species and their young. Many close enough you can get good cell phone shots! And, of course, while you’re at it enjoy all that St Augustine and the Kissimmee area has to offer as well.

  9. A boat ride off the coast of MIAMI will take you out to Stiltsville. A storied collection of houses built in the 1920s during prohibition. Most are privately owned but can be rented for the day as a home base for water activities. An interesting part of Florida history.
    For the state’s most beautiful beaches head to the NW FLORIDA coast and the area off Hwy 30A. The sand is like powdered sugar, the water crystal clear up to your neck. Great shopping and fantastic culinary. Don’t miss the town of Rosemary Beach.

  10. We visited Florida for Christmas back in 1959. My grandparents lived in New Port Richey then. One of the places we visited was Weekie Watchi & watched the mermaids perform. I had no idea it was still in existence, as Cypress Gardens is gone. Another place I loved was a bird sanctuary with a beautiful tower in the center – Bok Tower. It was on the highest point in Florida. Carillon bells in the tower would ring every 15 minutes. So lovely!

  11. We visit Marsh Trail in Ten Thousand Island NWR at least once a year. Plenty of birds and an observation tower 1/4 in on the trail. Usually lots of alligators and an occasional snake. It is a spectacular wilderness. It is easy to miss the parking lot which is off of US 41 on the right side going south around MM 31

  12. For those who enjoy a laid back vacation without the crowds, the Big Bend of North Florida’s Forgotten Coast offers great fishing, seafood restaurants, boating and beautiful beaches in Carabelle, St. George Island, Apalachicola, and Mexico Beach. There are also several national parks in the area and camp grounds.

  13. A trip to Gainesville to see the Payne’s Prairie Preserve. Wandering alligators and people make for one of the most adventurous mornings. Seriously- the most gators I have ever seen in one place. And NO fences! You may also see a band of wild Spanish Hirsed who descend from the explorers of long ago. Oh- and buffalo!
    A few minutes away is the Devil’s Millhopper, a double sinkhole with trees growing in the bottom that barely reach the top of the sinkhole. Fresh water pours over the side to create a waterfall effect that lends a primordial feel to your walk down to the bottom.

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