Fun fact: From the Keys to the farther reaches of the panhandle, you'll travel nearly 1000 miles. Bound to be at least one or two Florida roadside attractions to see along all those miles, eh? If you want to see roadside Florida, you'll need to get off the Interstate. But once you do, there's a bounty of Florida roadside attractions waiting for you!
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park | U.S. 19
This "City of Live Mermaids" is the quintessential Florida roadside attraction – in the 1940s, mermaids clad in bikinis would stand on the side of US 19 and beckon drivers off the road and into the underwater theater. It was the first time a Floridian realized they could get money from tourists in exchange for offering them a fantasy – long before Disney made it fashionable.
Goofy Golf | Highway 85
Fort Walton Beach
This fantastical mini golf course may lack the spectacle of more modern ones, where kids can feed baby gators (don't see how that could go wrong at all), but what it lacks in luxe mini golf, it makes up for with vintage roadside charm. Built in 1959, Goofy Golf still stands today, with ginormous purple snakes, a comely Krishna and other retro plaster figurines dotting the beach town's course.
Theater of the Sea | U.S. 1
Sure, anyone can swim with a dolphin in Florida, but for something that will really impress your friends, try swimming with a shark at Islamorada's Theater of the Sea. No one needs to know the sharks are docile, small and sweet; let your friends think Jaws and you'll have tons of street cred. Still too much? Ask to swim with Mimi, the flirtatious sea lion who can't help but make you laugh.
Totch Brown's Airboat Rides/Airboat USA | U.S. 41
Real Floridians know Totch Brown as a legend in the Everglades – he poached wildlife, caught fish and – most notably – ran drugs, for which he went to jail but came home a hero. Totch died a few years back, but his kin keeps his airboat business afloat (pun intended). Think of it as a thrill ride through a mangrove jungle.
Wakulla Springs State Park | Highway 61/Highway 267
Remember The Creature From the Black Lagoon, arguably one of the best B-movies of all time? It was filmed at Florida's Wakulla Springs State Park, a true Florida gem. This roadside attraction boasts the only state-run lodge in the state, guided boat tours down the Wakulla River (where a Tarzan movie was also filmed) and swimming in the clear blue Wakulla Spring.
Silver Springs State Park | Highway 35/Highway 40
Near Ocala, this vintage roadside attraction offers glass-bottom boat tours. Fun fact: these boats started in the 1920s as canoes with pieces of glass in the bottom. Today, this attraction offers larger boats, a trip to a private river island and plenty of river wildlife.
Sarasota Jungle Gardens | U.S. 41
Nothing defines the idea of a Florida roadside attraction like a bird on a bicycle, and you will find such a bird at Sarasota Jungle Gardens, specifically, a blue and gold macaw, but the show also does a bang-up job of letting guests learn about Florida's native wildlife. A short nature trail brings you face-to-beak with a flamboyance of flamingos and yes, you can feed them (actually, the flamingos insist).
Mai Kai | U.S. 1
No list of Florida roadside attractions would be complete without mentioning this South Pacific-themed dinner and show. You have two options here: Stop in at the Molokai bar, which looks like a set straight from South Pacific, and have a drink (this bar invented the Derby Daiquiri) served by a sarong-clad wahini, or get the full experience with a traditional Pacific Rim dinner and Tahitian fire dancers.
Florida Caverns State Park | U.S. 90
Florida's not as flat as you think. Up in the panhandle, we have enough altitude that you can take a tour through dry air caves. After the official tour, wander through the park and look for the secret cave where Seminole Indians hid when General Andrew Jackson came to town looking to kill them.
Flora-Bama Bar | Highway 292
Don't be fooled by the dive bar sign. The Flora-Bama's not only the best bar in the state (really), it's so much more: beachfront restaurant, package store, home to the Interstate Mullet Toss, a church, music venue and a crucial part of Florida's hurricane history. A mere six feet away from Alabama, every spring thousands of people come here to toss mullet (think fish, not haircuts) across that state line.
Most every night they have live bands on any number of stages, on Sunday mornings they have church services and they always have Royal Red shrimp and their trademark Bushwhackers. If you have time, ask about the sand in the walls from 2004's series of hurricanes.