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Contrary to what most people think, Florida isn’t all theme parks and beaches. There is a huge amount of rich history and regional significance in 42 national landmarks listed by the National Park Service. From America’s oldest city to the country’s largest freshwater swimming pool, Florida has something for every type of history lover. Here are a few of the most impressive landmarks in Florida that you have to see for yourself.
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Certainly one of the most attractive historical landmarks in the Sunshine State, Bok Towers boasts a beautiful 250-acre garden and bird sanctuary in Lake Wales. In addition, this National Historic Landmark has a 205-foot Singing Tower with some of the world’s best carillon bells. It’s considered one of the most beautiful gardens in Florida.
A former villa of agricultural industrialist James Deering, this early 20th-century Italian-inspired estate is currently a museum with 34 ornately decorated rooms filled with vintage art and antiques. The 10 acres of lush tropical gardens and hardwood hammock forest situated on the gorgeous Biscayne Bay are worth the visit alone.
From 1931 to 1961, the celebrated author Ernest Hemingway resided in this beautiful Spanish Colonial home in the heart of Key West, up until his death. Private and for-profit, guests can tour the residence, hear stories of Hemingway, and observe the sixty seven-toed cats that are descendants of the late author’s pets. It’s considered one of the top attractions in the Florida Keys.
Originally established in 1565 and later reconstructed during the 18th century, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine is the oldest parish in the United States. With a Spanish-Renaissance bell tower, replicas of paintings in the Vatican’s Pauline Chapel, and Victorian stained glass windows, this site is a must-see for history buffs.
Originally built in 1928, the armor-plated Ferdinand Magellan located in Miami at the Gold Coast Railroad Museum, also known as US Car Number 1, was used as a Presidential Rail Car to transport President Roosevelt. It was the first passenger rail car built for a President since Abraham Lincoln and remains the only railcar designated a National Historic Landmark. The railroad car was also used by other presidents including Truman, Eisenhower, and Reagan. In fact, the famous photo of President Truman, in which he holds a newspaper with the incorrect headline that Dewey won the election, was taken on the rear platform of the car.
Near Titusville, you will find the first National Wildlife Refuge created by President Roosevelt, set aside for native bird breeding in 1903. Now a reflection of a historic past, Pelican Island is said to be one of the world’s largest and most diverse lands for wildlife.
The oldest fort of its kind in the US, Castillo de San Marcos is a fun place to explore. This masonry fort in St. Augustine was constructed in 1672 by a Spanish engineer when Florida was a part of the Spanish Empire. Declared a National Monument in 1924, Castillo de San Marcos was once used as a military prison for Native American tribes.
Built for his third wife, oil tycoon Henry Flagler constructed this 55-room Beaux-Arts-style home back in 1902. Decorated in historic European styles, the now-open-to-the-public museum still contains many of its original furnishings in addition to unique historical exhibits, artwork, and antique furniture.
Climb to the top of the 203 steps of Ponce de Leon Lighthouse to soak in a breathtaking panoramic view atop the tallest lighthouse in Florida and one of the tallest in the US. Completed in 1887, this 175-foot historical landmark offers visitors a chance to learn about the rich history behind the tower.
One mile off the coast of Cape Florida you will find wood structures 10 feet above shallow waters in an area called Stiltsville. Dating back to 1930, several offshore clubs developed here and has been a hotspot throughout the years for wealthy and influential visitors who indulged in gambling and partying until a hurricane damaged the area in 1965.
Advertised as a “Venetian Casino” in 1924, this Venetian coral rock quarry is the largest freshwater swimming pool in the US. In addition to the 820,000 gallons of freshwater it dispenses daily, it is the only pool on the National Register of Historic Places and an ideal spot for cooling off on one of Florida’s hot summer days.
Popular for snorkeling, diving, kayaking, and birdwatching, Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park is the largest masonry structure in the Western Hemisphere. With a view that you won’t find anywhere else in Florida, this coastal fortress composed of 16 million bricks also holds mysterious legends of treasure chests and shipwrecks.
Located in Sumter County, this 80-acre park full of pine flatwoods and live oak hammocks preserves the site of an important battle. This historic site is the spot that sparked the Second Seminole War started in 1835, with local history buffs commemorating the event by holding re-enactments every year to educate the public through live storytelling and exhibits.
In the south wing of the University of Tampa’s campus, the Henry B. Plant Museum educates visitors on Gilded Age tourism with artifacts collected from around the world. Built in 1891, this Moorish Revival architectural feat served as a resort for the wealthy and elite and was used throughout the Spanish-American War.