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  • Tara Crutchfield

Florida’s Wacky Strange & Curious

Some of the Sunshine State’s Most Unusual Destinations

Beaches, Disney World, snowbirds, alligators, and ‘Florida Man’ are about all the space most people have in their heads for our peculiar peninsula. I’m not sure if it’s the heat, invasive pythons, or what, but we tend to attract (or create over time) a different breed of folks. My native Floridians, we are not absolved from this – we’re all a little cooky here.


Some 900 people move to Florida every single day. That’s 900 new bad drivers, consistent sunburn havers, Pub Sub face-stuffers, and oversize fiberglass statue lovers (I personally find the giant wizard in Kissimmee to be a real delight). That’s also 900 new brains to think up ideas for offbeat roadside attractions and questionable tourist traps – two of my favorite things. You’ll find plenty of them on this list of very ‘Florida’ destinations.


Through personal experiences, scouring the web, and using www.atlasobscura.com as an invaluable source, I’ve done my best to compile a motley mix of odd and interesting so that the least ‘Florida’ of you and the most ‘Florida’ of you will get something out of it. Psychics, haunted dolls, gator feeding, underwater hotels? We’ve got it! Erotic art, wax figures, serial killers, snake milking? You better believe it.


I’d like to think that if this list were any more ‘Florida’ it would be in the county jail with pending ‘theft of a taxidermied flamingo’ or ‘use of hotdogs as nunchucks,’ or ‘robbery of a 7-Eleven wearing suspenders connected to assless chaps’ charges. Anyway… I hope you like it!


 

Weeki Wachee

Over 70 years ago, on October 13, 1947, guests gathered in an 18-seat theater to watch the first Weeki Wachee mermaid show. In the decades following, the park has grown and continued its magical mermaid tradition.


Weeki Wachee was named by the Seminoles, meaning “little spring” or “winding river.” A seemingly bottomless natural spring, its absolute depths have yet to be reached. One hundred and seventeen million gallons of 74-degree, crystal clear spring water flows every day from the spring into the Weeki Wachee River before making its way another 12 miles into the Gulf of Mexico.


By the 1950s, Weeki Wachee was one of the nation’s most popular tourist attractions. In 1959, the American Broadcasting Company purchased Weeki Wachee and started promoting the mermaid shows across America. They updated the theater to sit 16-feet below the surface of the spring. The three-inch glass walls across the front allow everyone in the 400-seat theater to see the show. By the 1960s, there were 35 mermaids, eight shows a day, and a half-million visitors a year. Limestone makes up the side of the spring’s 100-feet wide basin where the mermaids swim.


In 1982, Buccaneer Bay water park opened. The park is Florida’s only spring-fed water park. Kayak rentals and paddling adventures are also available at the 538-acre Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, which became a Florida State Park in 2008.


A know before you go update for the park on www.floridastateparks.org/WeekiWachee states: Effective May 21, 2021: Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is open 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The mermaid show and the ranger experience offer limited seating. Guests who wish to secure a seat for the mermaid show are encouraged to arrive when the park opens.


6131 Commercial Way, Spring Hill

(352) 592-5656


 

Robert the Doll

Apology letters routinely arrive at the Fort East Martello Museum in Key West – all of them addressed to one Robert the Doll. The 117-year old doll is well-worn, donning a sailor suit and cap, holding a stuffed puppy of his own, looking at patrons through the museum glass with eyes as dark as the deepest recesses of Hell. That’s right, Robert the Doll is – you guessed it – HaUnTeD! This little demonic cutie can be traced back to toymaker, the Steiff Company, credited with being the first to manufacture the Teddy Bear.


Before his residency at the museum, Robert belonged to a little boy of the same name, Robert Eugene Otto. As legend would have it, Otto began to blame strange and terrifying happenings on the doll. Otto kept him into adulthood, even placing him in an upstairs window at his home. According to Atlas Obscura, “Schoolchildren swore that he would appear and reappear, and they avoided the house.” Even upon changing hands to Myrtle Reuter after Otto’s death, the oddities continued from changing expressions on the doll’s face, sounds of giggling and footsteps, lights flickering, and Robert moving around on his own. Robert the Doll was donated to the museum in 1994.


Robert’s reign of terror continues. Museum patrons are encouraged to introduce themselves to Robert and ask his permission before snapping a photo. And don’t dare leave without saying goodbye. Those who find themselves on Robert’s bad side report temporary camera malfunction and repercussions after leaving the museum from a string of bad luck to divorce and even injury.


Specter seekers can now go on a ghost hunt featuring Robert the Doll. The adventure takes place throughout Fort East Martello, a Civil War fortress built in 1862. The museum claims the most extensive collection of haunted artifacts in the state. Gutsy ghost hunters can expect a 60-minute guided hunt through the glim fort and a 25-minute sitdown lockdown with Robert the Doll. Be sure to mind your manners, or you may pay dearly and find yourself begging his forgiveness.


Fort East Martello Museum

3501 S Roosevelt Blvd, Key West

(305) 296-3913


 

Spook Hill

Ah, Lake Wales, Crown Jewel of the Ridge, home to Bok Tower Gardens, rows of blossoming citrus trees, the friendliest people, and (wiggles fingers in a menacingly scary way) Spoooooook Hill.


Posted on a sign just before the hill is the legend of Spook Hill. The sign reads:


“Ages ago, an INDIAN TOWN on Lake Wailes lake was plagued with raids by a HUGE GATOR. The town’s GREAT WARRIOR Chief and the gator were killed in a FINAL BATTLE that created the huge swampy depression nearby. The chief was buried on its north side. Later PIONEER HAULERS coming from the old ARMY TRAIL atop the ridge above found their horses LABORING HERE… at the foot of the ridge … and called it Spook Hill. IS THE GATOR SEEKING REVENGE, OR THE CHIEF PROTECTING HIS LAND???”


Then it states simple instructions: Stop car on white line, place in neutral, and let it roll back. I’ve heard that Spook Hill is an optical illusion, but I’m not sure what’s so spooky about it. When I tried it with a group of friends, all we could collectively conceive was that maybe there was a smaller hill at the bottom producing this trick of the eye.


Though I didn’t see the chief or the giant gator, it was fun to try out. I give Spook Hill three out of five Exorcist head spins since it was not very scary but made for a fun trip with plenty of laughs!


 

Shell Museum

The only accredited museum dedicated solely to shells and mollusks in the United States, the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum uses “exceptional collections, aquariums, programs, experiences, and science to be the nation’s leading museum in the conservation, preservation, interpretation, and celebration of shells, the mollusks that create them, and their ecosystems.”


Daily programming includes Touch Pools in which guests can touch live mollusks while learning about the animals, a Scavenger Hunt testing your knowledge of shells and mollusks with different levels and prizes, and a Mollusk Movie – a short film about mollusks in Sanibel. The museum offers over 30 permanent exhibits as well as several temporary ones like “Shells of Sanibel & Captiva,” “Shells from Around the World,” “Record-Breaking Shells” (including some of the largest shells ever found on display), “Shells in Architecture, Art, and Human History,” and “She Sells Sea Shells by the Seashore.” (That last exhibit is a joke, of course.)


3075 Sanibel Captiva Rd, Sanibel

(239) 395-2233


 

Skunk Ape Headquarters

You’ve heard of the Yeti, an abominable snowman-type creature covered in hair as white as the snowy mountainous landscape they’re said to roam. And Bigfoot, the elusive giant ape-man that traverses the backcountry of the Pacific Northwest only to be caught in a blurry photo or two. Florida has its own legendary creature – the Skunk Ape. The Florida Skunk Ape is said to be a tall, bipedal animal with reddish-black fur and a strong odor similar to rotten eggs.


In the heart of the Everglades, about three hours south of Polk County within the Big Cypress Preserve, past a speckling of airboat tours and the tiny Ochopee post office is The Skunk Ape Headquarters. After a selfie with the Skunk Ape replica or the 28-foot fiberglass cougar statue out front, tourists can enter the small gift shop and purchase a magnet, hat, t-shirt, mug, or their very own copy of the Everglades Skunk Ape Research Field Guide. For a fee, visitors can step through a door in the back to see a collection of animals – different species of snakes, including a massive Reticulated Python, baby alligators, turtles, and birds, to name a few.


A part of the Trail Lakes Campground, this one-stop-Skunk Ape shop and research headquarters was started by Dave Shealy, an authority on the creature and a self-described Skunk Ape expert.


Shealy heard tales of the Skunk Ape growing up and became obsessed with the cryptid when he first encountered it at age ten. Dave and his older brother Jack were hunting in the glades when Jack saw something walking in the distance. Only about 100 yards from the boys, Dave couldn’t see it over the tall grass. “He picked me up, and I looked, and there it was,” said Dave. They agreed that it looked exactly as it had been depicted in the stories they’d heard growing up. Dave has dedicated most of his life to researching the Skunk Ape. He’s taken multiple photos and a video of the creature. Shealy has been featured on The Discovery Channel, The Travel Channel, TLC, Inside Edition, and other national and international media outlets.


40904 Tamiami Trail E, Ochopee

(239) 695-2275


 

Jules’ Undersea Lodge

Key Largo, Montego, baby, why don’t we go to… Jules’ Undersea Lodge (we’ll scuba fast and then we’ll scuba slow… that’s where we want to goooooo… to Jules’ Undersea Lodge instead of Kokomo). This oceanic inn began as La Chalupa research laboratory, “an underwater habitat used to explore the continental shelf off the coast of Puerto Rico.” The lodge is located in a mangrove lagoon plentiful with reef fish like tropical angelfish, parrotfish, barracuda, and snappers, along with anemones, sponges, oysters, and feather duster worms. The underwater structure sits on legs roughly five feet off the lagoon floor and is filled with compressed air, preventing water from flooding the rooms.


Divers enter the hotel through a five by seven-foot “moon pool” and into a wet room. The lodge’s most notable feature is a 42-inch round window in each room where guests can look out into the lagoon and the wildlife teeming within it. Principal developers of the project, Ian Koblick and Dr. Neil Monney, named the lodge after “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” author Jules Verne.


The Lodge’s unique experience has drawn celebrity guests, including former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, rock stars Steve Tyler of Aerosmith and Jon Fishman of Phish.


According to their website, Jules’ is the first and only underwater hotel in which scuba diving is the only way to get to your room and the first underwater research lab to be made accessible to the public. According to Ian Koblick, owner and codeveloper of the Lodge, as quoted on their website, “Jules’ Undersea Lodge serves as an artificial reef, providing shelter and substrate for marine animals. And the flow of air to the Lodge constantly adds oxygen to the entire surrounding body of water, creating a symbiotic relationship between the technology of man and the beauty of nature.”


51 Shoreland Dr, Key Largo

(305) 451-2353


 

The Bubble Room

“It’s always Christmas at the Bubble Room.” The eccentric eatery opened in 1979 and began its whacky multi-themed decor with 1930s and 1940s toys. Now a Captiva Island staple, The Bubble Room is a colorful, whimsical, kitschy restaurant with year-round Christmas lights, an ‘Elf Room,’ moving trains on all three floors, photos covering the walls, and a rainbow Candyland-esque facade.


15001 Captiva Dr, Captiva

(239) 472-5558


 

Last Resort Bar

A last resort destination for those who prefer their ice-cold beer with a bloody backstory is a biker bar in Port Orange. At the Last Resort Bar, on January 9, 1991, one of America’s most notorious female serial killers, Aileen Wuornos, was finally apprehended by police. Wuornos murdered at least seven men between 1989-1990.


5812 S Ridgewood Ave, Port Orange

(386) 761-5147


 

Coral Castle Museum

The 28-year toil of one man, the Coral Castle (now a museum) in Miami was carved by Ed Leedskalnin between 1923 and 1951. The sculpture kingdom is made up of over 1,100 tons of coral rock, including a 9-ton gate that ‘moves with just a touch of the finger,’ as well as rocking chairs and a Polaris telescope constructed entirely from stone. “Since it is documented that no one ever witnessed Ed’s labor in building his beloved Coral Castle, some have said he had supernatural powers. Ed would only say that he knew the secrets used to build the ancient pyramids, and if he could learn them, you could too,” reads the Coral Castle Museum website (coralcastle. com). Guests can take narrated and guided tours through this otherworldly realm of rock with narration available in English, Spanish, French, and German.


28655 S Dixie Hwy, Homestead

(305) 248-6345


 

Monkey Island

Amidst what resembles a nautical-themed miniature golf course on an island in the Homosassa River, spider monkeys reign supreme. In a kingdom all their own, these mischievous monkeys spend their days swaying from ropes, scampering along platforms, up their miniature lighthouse, and on their beached boat, the USS Primate. Barriers act to keep curious boaters from trespassing on the island (which is under 24-hour surveillance), and the water keeps curious monkeys from escaping and monkeying around Homosassa.


You can see these playful primates from the Florida Cracker Riverside Resort (formerly the Homosassa Riverside Resort), The Florida Cracker Monkey Bar, or by walking down an adjacent observation dock.



 

Spongeorama

Tarpon Springs is a coastal Gulf town known for its rich Greek heritage, culture, shopping, food, and for being the Sponge Capital of the World. Boat tours and sponge diving demonstrations with divers in full vintage diving gear, complete with the hard-hat helmet, are a great way to learn about the town’s former leading export. Or, you could stop in at the world-famous Spongeorama Sponge Factory, complete with a museum exploring Tarpon Springs, the Sponge Docks, and the Sponge Industry. After a stroll around the sponge museum, you can learn what exactly a sponge is and where they come from in their movie theater (both the museum and movie are free). Their gift shop features many aquatic gifts like conchs, barnacles, and of course, sponges.


510 Dodecanese Blvd, Tarpon Springs

(727) 943-2164


 

Stiltsville Off Key Biscayne

stiltsvilletrust.org

Beyond the cerulean shallows of Biscayne National Park is a smattering of wooden structures built on stilts, now aptly called ‘Stiltsville.’ The first of these seemingly floating flats was built in the 1930s by “Crawfish” Eddie Walker, followed by more construction over the years. According to a post by the National Parks Service, this ocean hamlet stirred up stories of illegal alcohol and gambling, which led to several police raids on the Bikini Club and Quarterdeck Club. The article (www.nps.gov/bisc/learn/ historyculture/stiltsville.htm) goes on to say, “At its peak in 1960, there were 27 structures on the flats, but hurricanes, fires and the ravages of being in such an exposed place made every building relatively short-lived. In 1985, the bottomland on which the stilt structures sit was deeded by the State of Florida to the Federal Government as part of Biscayne National Park. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew left only seven buildings standing, none of which existed during the area’s heyday.”


Public access to the structures is by permit only (contact the Stiltsville Trust for permit details), but there are several charter boat tours to choose from, like the Stiltsville Guided Historic Tour from Deering Estate, Ocean Force Adventures Miami Boat Tours, and Island Queen Cruises and Tours.


 

Christ of The Abyss

visitflorida.com

If you dive down about 25-feet off the coast of Key Largo in the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, you will literally have a ‘Come to Jesus’ meeting. A nine-foot-tall, 4,000-pound bronze statue of Christ by Italian sculptor Guido Galletti was submerged there in 1965, the final of three to be installed in oceans around the world. The first statue was situated beneath the waves of the Mediterranean Sea in 1954, followed by another off the coast of St. George’s, Granada, in 1961. The Key Largo blessed bronze depicts Christ with arms outstretched and face towards the heavens. Christ of the Abyss is a popular site for scuba diving and snorkeling.


 

History of Diving

Dedicated to aquatic avocation, the History of Diving Museum tells “the international story of the attempts to explore, understand and venture under the sea. We also celebrate the special role that South Florida and the Florida Keys played in this untold story.” Dive into exhibits like the Timeline of Diving, Underwater Photography, The Treasure Room, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Deep Diving in the Abyss, or their featured exhibition, Diving in Pop Culture.


82990 Overseas Hwy, Islamorada

(305) 664-9737


 

Robert is Here Fruit Stand

The year is 1959. Six-year-old Robert was set on a corner to sell his father’s cucumber crop. As the story goes, “Robert sat all day that Saturday, and no one even stopped. That evening, Robert’s father decided that ‘There can’t be that many people who don’t like cucumbers; they must not see this little boy standing here on the corner.’” Determined to sell his crop the next day, Robert’s father placed signs around the little fruit stand with big red letters that said: “Robert is Here.” The signage must have done the trick because, by noon, Robert was walking home after selling out of his father’s cucumbers. A neighboring farmer added produce to his display, and Robert took on occasional help from his little sister Rose. His mother arranged for the bus to pick him up and drop him off each day at his fruit stand, which grew with such gusto that by age nine, Robert hired a neighbor to work for him while he attended school. The young fruit-selling mogul bought his first ten acres when he was fourteen, on which he planted an avocado grove and rented out the house.


Today, passers-by are drawn in by the “Robert is Here” signage, now in huge white lettering atop a much larger building than the stand in which he started. What began as a modest fruit stand continues as a family-owned and operated tourist destination specializing in rare and exotic fruits and veggies grown mostly on their Homestead, Florida farms. In addition to produce, guests can indulge in fresh fruit milkshakes and homemade key lime pies. There is also an animal farm, play area, picnic tables, and live music on weekends and holidays.


19200 SW 344th St, Homestead

(305) 246-1592


 

Barberville Yard Art Emporium

On occasion, I drive by a mini-golf course and think to myself, ‘A 7-foot fiberglass T-Rex would be a tasteful addition to my front yard.’ If you have similar thoughts, head on down to Barberville Yard Art Emporium for all your yard art needs. Do they have a lifesize pink rooster? Probably. The Virgin Mary? You betcha. The Statue of Liberty and a Big Boy Burger boy? I’d certainly hope so.


Sprawling over two acres, you’ll find an eclectic selection of indoor and outdoor items, produce, jams, boiled peanuts, peanut brittle, and more. Items at the Barberville Yard Art Emporium range from average to oversize, and most are made of aluminum or wrought iron. They also boast an array of Authentic Talavera Pottery, handmade and brought directly from Mexico.


140 West, FL-40, Pierson

(386) 749-3562


 

Showmen’s Museum

Ladies, gentlemen, boys, and girls – step right up and win a prize! The International Independent Showmen’s Museum boasts over 54,000 square feet of artifacts, midway memorabilia, and photographs that capture over a century of traveling shows in America. This collection of carnival vestiges preserves American carnival and traveling show history through exhibits like acres of show wagons, one of the first Ferris wheels in the country assembled and in operating condition within the museum, one of burlesque performer Gypsy Rose Lee’s slinky black beaded costumes, and an outfit worn by the 9-foottall, 425-pound, “Viking Giant,” Johann K. Petursson.


According to their website, “The museum features thousands of rare photographs of carnivals, circuses, wild west shows, and early traveling shows that brought the main and sometimes the only form of entertainment that many towns throughout America would enjoy all year. Visitors will also be able to walk through antique wagons and trailers with ornate facades where show people lived or ran the day to day business of the carnival.” The International Independent Showmen’s Museum is open every Saturday and Sunday from 12-5 pm.


6938 Riverview Dr, Riverview

(813) 671-3503


 

Cassadaga

Known as the “Psychic Capital of the World,” this unincorporated community of Spiritualists was established over 120 years ago and is now on the National Register of Historic Places. According to www. cassadaga.org, after being told during a seance that he would be instrumental in founding a Spiritualist community in the South, a young New Yorker, George Colby, would see that prophecy fulfilled. Colby put roots down in Cassadaga while continuing to travel for work as a medium. In 1894, the Southern Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp Meeting Association was formed, and in 1895, Colby deeded over 35 acres to its founders. Today, the Spiritualist camp is sprawled over 57 acres and made up of 55 homes and a community of spiritual folks, including many mediums, psychics, and healers.


As defined on their website, Spiritualism is “The Science, Philosophy, and Religion based upon the principle of continuous life demonstrated through mediumship. Spiritualism embraces the concept of individual responsibility and the belief that the door to reformation is never closed.” The resident Spiritualists of Cassadaga welcome believers, skeptics, and the curious alike. Things to check out in addition to visiting the Camp (and its bookstore) are the historic and allegedly haunted Hotel Cassadaga, The Shoestring Theatre, The Cassadaga Spiritualist Psychic Center, and the Devil’s Chair. The latter of which is a brick throne of sorts, sitting graveside at the Lake HelenCassadaga Cemetery. Legend has it if you sit in the Devil’s Chair at midnight, Lucifer himself will communicate with you. Plan your visit now! I bet they already know you’re coming.


 

The Wonder House

Built without blueprints by inventor and oddities collector Conrad Schuck, The Wonder House sits in grand juxtaposition to the average neighborhoods surrounding it. Currently a full-time private residence, this Bartow abode is open for historic tours on a limited basis.


As the name implies, the spacious estate is full of wonders. The house is made with a blend of steel-reinforced concrete inlaid with glass and tile mosaics and stands four stories tall with two stories underground. The Wonder House amalgamates an eccentric dreamer’s boundless imagination and vision, from beautiful tile mosaics and hand-painted ceiling panels to hidden rooms and clever inventions.


Some of the home’s notable features include a moat with two bridges spanning it and two pools on the third floor (one of which has since been concreted in by a previous owner) used as bathtubs, swimming pools, and then koi ponds. According to their website, “The house featured many time-saving devices like delayed light switches, a laundry chute, and inventions including air conditioning in the 1920s!”


Historic Tours of the Wonder House are available only by booking a reservation online in advance.


1075 Mann Rd, Bartow

FB @wonderhousebartow


 

Tour The Bulk Candy Store

Have you ever had sweet dreams of touring the history and production of candy at a one-of-a-kind candy emporium? At the Bulk Candy Store in West Palm Beach, you can ‘experience the evolution of candy’ through a live guided tour and video presentation. The family-owned candy shop has been slinging sweets and treats since 1992. Throughout a 40-minute tour at their candy store, guests will sample the sights and tastes of confections and have the opportunity to shop copious candies and over 50 flavors of gourmet popcorn.


235 N Jog Rd, West Palm Beach

(561) 540-1600


 

Reptile World Serpentarium

Opened in 1972, Reptile World Serpentarium in St. Cloud houses a collection of over 80 species of snakes from around the world. This includes six species of cobra (including an over 13-foot king cobra), a black mamba, East African green mamba, and 11 kinds of rattlesnakes, in addition to more innocuous non-venomous snakes. Also on display are several species of lizards, a Nile crocodile, an alligator, turtles, and tortoises.


What sets them apart is their regular venom extraction shows performed in front of visitors. According to their website (www. reptileworldserpentarium.com), “Though there may be only fifty snakes on public display at any given time, behind the scenes are hundreds of venomous snakes just waiting to be “milked” for their valuable venom. Reptile World Serpentarium ships this precious commodity worldwide for use in medical and herpetological research.”


Venom shows begin with a verbal presentation about snakes and their venom. Then, behind a glass barrier, owner George Van Horn handles venomous snakes, which are “coaxed into sinking their fangs through a clear membrane stretched over a collection glass” for medical and herpetological research purposes.


5705 E Irlo Bronson Memorial Hwy, St Cloud

(407) 892-6905


 

Dysfunctional Grace

In this Ybor City art gallery and gift shop, you may find antiques and oddities from skulls and skeletons of various animals to vintage door knockers or a pair of taxidermied squirrels playing a game of cards. “The only shop in Ybor where death and dysfunction dance in a graceful ballet.”


1903 E 7th Ave, Tampa

(813) 842-0830


 

Dome House

Four stilted concrete dome structures (initially six) make up an abandoned home sitting about 300 feet offshore from Cape Romano just south of Marco Island. These domeshaped pods commissioned by now-deceased oil producer, Bob Lee, seem to be a testament to perhaps what ‘the future’ looked like from a past perspective. The smattering of pillared domes, construction of which began in 1980, today attracts fishermen and tourists.


 

Solomon’s Castle

Solomon’s Castle is one man’s masterpiece, tucked amongst orange trees and cow pastures in Ona, Florida. Howard Solomon, who unfortunately passed away in 2016, had an imagination that overflowed into everything he did. According to Solomon’s daughter, Alane Solomon, after buying the property and realizing there wasn’t much room to build out, he built up. What came of that was an eclectic castle. Solomon estimated the property to be about 10,000 square feet with a restaurant in a 65-foot ship made of recycled wood called “The Boat in the Moat,” a lighthouse, a replica facade of the Alamo, and more. The artist’s work throughout the property is made from carburetors, gas tanks, oil drums, beer can bottoms, coat hangers, and other recycled materials. Solomon made everything from people, creatures (real and imaginary) to boats, cars, and beyond.


Today, guests can tour the castle, meandering through the galleries and home of its builder, boat, and lighthouse. Taking the tour several years ago, my tour guide, Cindy, described Solomon as “The Da Vinci of debris, the Rembrandt of reclamation, the wizard of odds and ends, and the savior of salvage.”


4533 Solomon Rd, Ona

(863) 494-6077


 

Shell Factory And Nature Park

A tourist draw for over 80 years, the Shell Factory (now including their Nature Park and Scallywags Fun Park) offers over 50,000 square feet of shopping, including millions of shells, gifts, nautical décor, jewelry, pearls, toys, coral, fine jewelry, Christmas collectibles, pick your own pearl, and much more. The eclectic destination offers a “dizzying and constantly changing array of diversions and amusements reminiscent of Florida roadside attractions of yesteryear, which, by the way, the Shell Factory was one of the first. The changes will never be complete,” according to their website. Die-hard holiday fans will love The Shell Factory’s year-round Christmas House, or if that’s not up your alley try the Fossil and Gemstone Mining Rig, Game Room, US Post Office, Gulf Coast Homemade Fudge and Ice Cream Shop, and a Hunt Brothers Pizza shop.


Scallywags Fun Park & Mini Golf boasts a zip line, and the Nature Park has over 400 animals, a petting farm, three walk-thru aviaries, a full-scale dinosaur exhibit, and a Touch Center with daily shows in which kids can touch and hold animals.


16554 N Cleveland Ave., North Fort Myers

(239) 995-2141


 

National Comedy Hall of Fame

It is often said that laughter is the best medicine. I guess that makes the National Comedy Hall of Fame the pharmacy. The NCHF aims to “preserve and celebrate the history of Comedy and to honor the “Great Legends of Comedy” who have dedicated their lives to improve the world we live in by sharing with us their humor and bestowing upon us the greatest gift of all, laughter.” The museum has a substantial collection of comedy memorabilia, from original movie posters and comedy albums to authentic puppets, studio photographs, and more. “Short films that display rare footage accompany each comedian’s exhibit, like Charlie Chaplin’s slapstick, Jack Benny’s violin dexterity and Phyllis Diller’s wit,” according to the museum’s website (nationalcomedyhalloffame.com). Guests can chuckle and howl at short films and comedy sketches in the museum’s in-house theater.


2435 US-19, Holiday

(727) 944-4453


 

Gatorama

This roadside wildlife attraction, open for some 60 years, promises the biggest gators and crocs along with plenty of thrills and education. Gatorama offers your run-ofthe-mill (for Florida, that is) gator and croc feeding shows as well as up-close encounters with tortoises, pythons, and more. Brave Gatorama guests can opt for the Fast Hands Challenge and feed hungry leaping gators and crocs from the bridge. Not for the faint of heart is the Face to Face Challenge in which you can get up close and personal with these prehistoric monsters with ‘little more than a Gator Stick between you’ and feed the beastly gator, Big Daddy. Of course, you’ll need a photo for bragging rights and probably a new pair of shorts. If you’d prefer less thrill and more education, check out their numerous exhibits of alligators, crocs (including Orinoco, Cuban, and Saltwater), other reptiles, Kinkajou, bobcats, and the Florida panther.


10665 N US Hwy 27, Palmdale

(863) 675-6023


 

The World Erotic Art Museum

Expect your fair share of tasteful hoo-hoos and ha-has in this steamy Miami museum dedicated to all things erotic. Standing erect in the Art Deco Historic District of Miami Beach is The World Erotic Art Museum, or WEAM. The museum has received global attention and was founded by Naomi Wilzig (1934-2015), known as ‘an authority on exotic art.’ In part, her obituary reads, “Naomi Wilzig presented her collection with the aim of imparting a historically and culturally comprehensive picture of erotic art. She explained that she wanted to evoke the sensual experience of the pleasure and pain of love, and also wanted to send a message of tolerance in acknowledgment of the community and diversity of mankind.” The extensive collection at WEAM includes African - Native North American Art, Art Deco, Asian Art, Glass Art, Folk Art, Gay Art, Indigenous Art of the Americas, Pin-Up, Photography, Boxes, Figurines, and Hidden Art, Humor, Iconic Artists, India - Tibet Art, Lady Godiva, Leda, and the Swan, Outsider Art, P and P, Prints, Realism, Surrealism, and Wunderkammer.


1205 Washington Ave, Miami Beach

(305) 532-9336


 

Fairyland Figures

Tampa’s Ulele eatery features native-inspired food and spirits as well as an on-site brewery. Only slightly more magical than their Gouta Grouper or Seafood Risotto is the collection of remnants from Tampa’s former attraction, Fairyland, which ran from 1957 into the 1990s. According to their website, “The Humpty Dumpty character on the Ulele roof is part of 11 remaining vignettes,” from Fairyland. “Columbia Restaurant Group owner Richard Gonzmart bought the discarded figures at a city auction last year because Richard had such fond memories of them from childhood visits. He recently had them restored by local artist Jason Hulfish.”


1810 N Highland Ave, Tampa

(813) 999-4952


 

Potter’s Wax Museum

St. Augustine is the oldest and one of the most haunted cities in the country. So, of course, this spooky settlement would vaunt America’s first and oldest wax museum (with an entire section devoted to horror movies) located within the country’s oldest pharmacy. Potter’s Wax Museum opened in the mid-century by George Potter and now houses over 160 wax figures, including Harry Potter, Henry the VIII, Freddy Krueger, Abraham Lincoln, Jack Sparrow, Cleopatra, Annie Oakley, and more. “Potter set out to preserve the likenesses of great American leaders and statesmen for posterity and proceeded to procure the very best wax from France, the finest hair from Italy, and the most highly skilled artisans to give shape and form to it all. Belgium was where the first production facility was located, and the first run of wax figures found their way to what would become Potter’s Wax Museum back in 1949,” according to their website. Guests can take photos with the likenesses of celebrities, politicians, historical figures, musicians, sports stars, royal families, and an expansive list of fictional characters.


31 Orange St, St. Augustine

(904) 829-9056

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