There are so many amazing places in Florida that most people have never heard about. Whether they’re underwater, out in the woods, or just notoriously hard to find, we’ve rounded up a few hidden gems that are worth the effort of seeking out.
We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life as we all practice social and physical distancing. While we’re continuing to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, we don’t expect or encourage you to go check them out immediately. We believe that supporting local attractions is important now more than ever and we hope our articles inspire your future adventures! And on that note, please nominate your favorite local business that could use some love right now:
1. Caladesi Island State Park, Dunedin
This beautiful beach can be reached via ferry from Honeymoon Island (near Dunedin) or by starting on Clearwater Beach and taking a long walk. Here, visitors can hike, swim, fish, canoe and kayak, or just relax with a picnic.
2. Solomon's Castle, Ona
Artist Howard Solomon built this entire aluminum covered castle by himself as a home for his family and his art, and it's become a classic Florida roadside attraction. It's located out in the middle of nowhere, and finding it can be tricky even with GPS, but this quirky castle/gallery is worth the effort.
3. Christ of the Abyss, Key Largo
This iconic underwater statue located in the Key Largo Dry Rocks near John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is on many divers' bucket lists around the world. There are many companies in Key Largo offering excursions to see the statue, including glass-bottom boat tours, so you can see the Christ of the Abyss even if you can’t dive or snorkel.
4. Dames and Peace Caves, Withlacoochee State Forest, Brooksville
While Florida only has one cave system with public tours (in Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna), there actually are a few others to be found, if you look hard enough. One of the most impressive examples are these caves in the Withlacoochee State Forest in Brooksville. There are other caves in the expansive forest (over 157,000 acres), but Dames Cave and Peace Cave are well-marked and relatively easy to reach. They’re also beautiful examples of unique karst topography and some of the oldest cave systems in Florida. To visit the caves, you should take Trail 22, which you can reach from Citrus Way. It’s always smart when exploring caves to bring a flashlight and a buddy. Call (352) 797-4140 for more information or help with directions.
5. Bob's Train, Sarasota
Bob’s is unique in the world as the only place you can dine on a privately owned circus train, lined wall to wall with circus memorabilia. There’s one car for dining and two more museum-like cars for exploring. This unique restaurant sits on old tracks in an old yard, which many visitors have reported is hard to find but worth the effort.
6. Stiltsville, Miami
The stilt houses that make up Stiltsville were built in the early 1930s when gambling was legal a mile offshore. It started with a couple of clubs, like Crawfish Eddies and the Calvert Club, and by the ’50s and early ’60s, it was the coolest place in town for wealthy locals. Now, the few houses that have survived all these years are finally being restored and some can even be rented for events.
7. Dry Tortugas National Park, Key West
This small group of islands is located about 70 miles from Key West. This park is only reachable by ferry or seaplane. Visitors here can explore the remnants of Fort Jefferson, go swimming and snorkeling in the clear, blue water, and birdwatching. It's also one of the best spots for stargazing in Florida.
8. Spook Hill, Lake Wales
Legend has it that a giant gator used to torment the Native Americans on this land, until a huge battle took it down. Since then, strange things have happened at Spook Hill, and if you park your car at the bottom of the hill, it will supposedly roll up the hill backwards.
9. Cayo Costa State Park, Captiva
This remote island is reachable only by ferry, chartered boat or helicopter. If you've ever dreamed of spending the day on your own island, this might be the closest you'll ever get. Its unspoiled natural beauty will blow you away. You can even spend the night in the rustic cabins for a real getaway.
10. Jules Undersea Lodge, Key Largo
Welcome to the only underwater hotel in the country, where guests must scuba dive 30 feet underwater to get to their rooms,. Here you can truly get away from it all, spending time at the large windows, just watching the marine life go by.
These are just a few of the little-known gems hiding in the Sunshine State. What are your favorite hard-to-find places in Florida?