The other week my wife and I visited the fabulous Ringling Museums in Sarasota. It was Smithsonian Museum freebie day and the 44 acre property was so jammed with people, we paid for a special tour just to get into the lesser seen rooms of Circus magnate John Ringling’s 56-room waterside mansion Ca’D’Zan.
The trip reminded me that while tourists, snowbirds, and residents attend Florida’s more famous and large museums and centers, the Sunshine State has dozens of lesser known places worth visiting that are rarely the subject of travel brochures and television documentaries.
Here are some of my favorite lesser known attractions:
The Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens in Winter Park is rather unique for and art museum for it is the actual final home for the famed Czech-born sculpture. You can see how he designed his home and decorated it with some 200 major sculptures.
The house is located on beautiful Lake Osceola. Florida was an inspiration to him and at age 71 he married for the first time here.
No museum matches up to its location better than The Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum near the shell-infested shoreline Sanibel Island. This is more than just a massive collection of shells from around the world. You can take educational walking tours along the Gulf of Mexico shores and learn about Florida shells and sea life.
The life size replicas of giant squid, octopus, and nautilus are the favorite of kids. Most adults love hunting in the large gift shop for exotic shells. The museum has thirty-five exhibits.
Thousands of people visit Saint Augustine each week, but most don’t realize a few miles away in Palm Coast is the Florida Agricultural Museum, a huge complex of historic rural buildings complete with livestock whose heritage dates back to the days of Spanish Florida. I love those ugly piney rooter hogs.
Horseback Trails Are Big At Agricultural Museum
There’s a dairy barn, a complete farm homestead, even the site of a 1770 saw mill on the property. Better yet for many there are horses you can rent for trail trips or even take horseback riding lessons.
Florida has several good maritime museums, usually located near a good seafood restaurant and some charter fishing vessels. My favorite is the Florida Maritime Museum in Cortez near Bradenton.
Cortez is still an old-time fishing community centered around the N. E. Taylor Boatworks and a bunch of fishing operations. The museum is located in the old 1912 schoolhouse which once served a community of fishing families, many of them coming to Manatee County in the 1880’s from the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
If you are traveling in Florida and wonder what hidden museum treasures may be just a few miles down the road, I would go online to the Florida Association of Museums website at www.flamuseums.org, where you can look up museums by type and location.