Florida never ceases to amaze me. If you’re looking for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, look beyond the theme parks and you’ll see that Florida is full of them. Where else can you find an underwater cemetery, a wolf preserve. and a pirate-themed Mardi Gras all in one state?
1. Visit an Ancient Spanish Monastery.
How did a monastery that's older than this country end up in North Miami Beach? This 12th-century marvel was purchased by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst in the '20s, but his plans were sidetracked by shipping complications. It was finally purchased again in the '60s and reassembled in Florida.
2. Get up close and personal with real wolves.
The big-hearted folks at Seacrest Wolf Preserve in Chipley started this non-profit to raise public awareness of the perils these magnificent creatures face by being removed from federal protection.
3. Take a dip in the country's largest freshwater pool.
The Venetian Pool in Coral Gables is the only swimming pool on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built in the '20s in a coral rock quarry in the style of Venice, Italy.
4. Visit a cottage right out of a fairy tale...in Tallahassee.
Nestled away in the woods near FSU is a time capsule in the form of an English Tudor cottage that looks more at home in a storybook than in Florida. Lichgate on High Road, as the creator called it, was the passion project of a woman named Laura Jepsen, an English professor at the university, who wanted her home to be a gateway to the eras she loved so much in her favorite literature.
5. Vacation alongside the Amish in Sarasota.
You may not have known there was an Amish community in Florida, but now that you do, you could probably guess that it's different from all others. The Pinecrest Amish ride bikes instead of buggies, and the homes in the community have electricity because they're intended for vacationers and retirees. Don't miss the amazing Amish food (especially the pie) at restaurants like Yoder's.
6. Tour Monkey Island...From a Safe Distance.
Monkey Island came into being when a man developing what would later become Homosassa Wildlife State Park needed a place to keep his misbehaving monkeys where guests could watch them from a safe distance. The tiny place is still attracting curious visitors today.
7. Peruse the World Erotic Art Museum.
This adults-only museum in Miami Beach is home to a private collection of over 4,000 X-rated pieces from all around the world.
8. Journey into a giant sinkhole.
Devil's Millhopper Geological State Park in Gainesville, gives guests the opportunity to hike into a 120-foot sinkhole with a mini-rainforest, small waterfalls, and lush foliage.
9. Explore an underwater cemetery that doubles as an artificial reef.
Neptune Memorial Reef is the brainchild of artist Kim Brandell and is located three miles off the coast of Key Biscayne. Ashes are cast into memorials that make up a 16-acre artificial reef divers are encouraged to explore.
10. Party like a pirate.
Gasparilla Pirate Festival is named for Tampa's patron pirate Jose Gaspar, "the last of the bucaneers." The winter festival has been compared to a pirate-themed Mardi Gras celebration, so there's also a separate festival for children around the same time.
Please share any other unique places and events you can only find in Florida in the comments below!