Before the Mouse and Harry Potter and all the robotics, there were Florida theme parks and large attractions that featured Florida’s natural beauty – its climate and its fauna and flora. Many of those Floridana sites are gone or replaced – like Legoworld replacing Cypress Gardens. Legos don’t water-ski too well.
Fortunately, many of them have survived or have been rescued by the State of Florida and turned into state parks less expensive but still natural attractions. Spring time is a wonderful time to visit parks and outside sights, but the crowds at the big parks of Florida are overbearing and prices are at their max.
Here are some less crowded more natural attractions you might want to visit in Florida:
Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
Located fifty miles north of Tampa off US19, Homosassa Spring is a natural spring with the remains of a large animal zoo and one of the first floating observatories to see the springs and the mix of fish. It is still a wonderful place to see manatees.
When I first visited it years ago Ivan Tors, the TV producer of shows like Flipper, had some of his star attractions here. I went face to face with Gentle Ben (I mean real name Bruno), the star of the movie and TV show. In the book Ben was supposed to be a brown bear in Alaska, but Ivan moved the scene to a friendly black bear in the Florida Everglades.
The Wonderful Fish Bowl with Manatees
Bruno and Tors are gone, but Lu the hippopotamus that grabs full heads of lettuce like an NFL tight end is still performing, and the park has a nice, peaceful river trip from the entrance on US19 to the site. I have seen white-tailed deer, river otters, and gators along the route of crystal clear waters.
Silver Springs State Park
Silver Springs, just off I-75 in Ocala, was Florida’s first natural tourist attraction for steamboats in the 1880’s came from the St. Johns River to the Ocklawaha to the Silver River to visit the deep and beautiful springs. Since the state took over in 2013, the animal attractions are gone, but the famous glass-bottom boats are still operating.
The Springs has a museum and environmental center as well as campgrounds and ten luxury cabins. The area is filled with wild boars, white-tailed deer, armadillos, and gopher tortoises.
Monkeys Say: “Get Off Our Island Unless You Bring Food!”
You can canoe or kayak along some of the best scenery in Florida. The colony of non-native rhesus macaques are still on Monkey Island making a commotion. They are probably mad that they were put there in 1938 by a tour boat operator, who promoted them as cast members of a Tarzan movie. It has been revealed that the film never used any monkeys so “movie stars they are not.”
Weeki Wachee Springs
Weeki Wachee State Park is located off US19 in Spring Hill, north of Clearwater, and is famous for the underwater mermaid shows in the beautiful Weeki Wachee River. Being closer to larger populations, the p[ark maintains a water park called Buccaneer Bay and several animal attractions.
While first time visitors should see the mermaid show, a creation in 1947 by stunt diver Newt Perry, the real beautiful of the river, its manatees, and wildlife is best scene in nature walks and boat trips.
Old Florida Is Peaceful and Calming
In 2007, the Karst Underwater Research team executed dangerous exploration dives into the park’s underwater caves and went 6,700 feet to a depth of 407 Feet Fresh Water Flow (ffw). This makes the cave system probably the deepest known fresh water cave systemn in the United States.
Lion Country Safari near West Palm Beach
I will confess that this is a commercial zoo, ranked in 2009 as the third best zoo in the nation. It is also the first “cageless zoo” when it opened in 1967, and thanks to creative management a 600 acre drive-through safari park, petting zoo, and amudement center.
“If I Pretend I’m A Car Maybe I Can Escape This Joint.”
When I went here in the early days, the lions roamed freely in an area seperated from the other animals and one lioness decided to rest on the hood of my automobile. Now the lions are behind fencing and deep water pits, because “the dumb visitors” keep ignoring the warning signs and keep opening their car doors. I find it amazing our species is still alive on this planet.
You can get right next to the zebras and antelopes, but the park again has to prevent drivers from driving too close to rhinos, who love to exercise by turning tires into junk. I call it “animal road kill in reverse.”