21 Historical Sites To See in Florida with Fun Facts
There could be more historical sites in Florida than any state in the union. Florida is a big state with many different cultures, influences and natural phenomena that produce some fun historical facts and anomalies.
Our travels to every county in Florida allow us to see some unique historical places in Florida that make great road trips. Our collection below is some of our favorite historical sites to see in Florida.
North Florida Historical Sites
We suggest that St. Augustine is the most historical site in Florida and perhaps the country. The city itself is a large museum of places to see in Florida. The architecture, the streets, the museums and various old buildings collectively make it a complete history lesson about Florida’s past.
Of the many attractions in St. Augustine, none get more traffic than Fort Castillo de San Marcos. The fort was originally built by the Spanish in 1672. Then, 100 years later the British overran the fort and took control only to relinquish it back to Spain a couple decades later. Eventually, the United States took control of Florida (and the Fort) in 1821.
During this period various countries brought changes to the architecture, culture, and inhabitants including Native Americans and African Americans.
More Florida Historical Places to See in St. Augustine
Fort Mose State Park is the historical place in Florida of the first legally sanctioned black settlement before the Civil War.
You must take a tour of the city in a horse-drawn carriage that will highlight the changing cultures throughout the streets. There are at least another half dozen historical places to see within the city.
We believe anyone truly interested in the history of Florida should make a trip to St. Augustine to visit this historical place in Florida.
Silver Springs, Florida
Florida has well over 700 active springs. Many are state parks and all were the lifeblood of the Native Americans, settlers and travelers. These springs produce clear water feeding many of Florida’s rivers. One of the largest and most well-known is Silver Springs.
With over 550 million gallons of water daily flowing into the Silver River, the springs have been a natural attraction in Florida for hundreds of years. Today, Silver Springs State Park attracts thousands of visitors who get to see the beauty and power of a spring.
Many people will remember old movies and television shows like Tarzan, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Sea Hunt, and the James Bond movie Thunderball – all were partially made here.
Silver Springs is near Ocala, Florida in the central part of the state. This attraction is an easy day trip from Orlando, Jacksonville and about 2.5 hours from Tampa.
Historical Sites in Florida Along the Forgotten Coast
With all the glitz and glamour of Miami, Orlando and Tampa, sometimes people forget about The Forgotten Coast of Florida. While there are no specific lines of demarcation, the “forgotten coast” is generally considered to be Franklin, Gulf and Wakulla counties in the panhandle of the Gulf Coast of Florida.
The remarkable thing is there are dozens of historical sites in Florida represented in these counties. Here are some of our favorite sites to see in Florida;
This fishing town was once the largest oyster-producing area of Florida. Today the quaint town is a treasure of old Florida.
This forest and springs is anchored by a large spring and lodge built in the early 1900s. The springs feature a large swimming area along with kayaking, hiking and paddleboarding.
65,000 acres were set aside in 1931 to keep the natural beauty and habitat along the coast of Florida. A brief walk through the refuge will quickly remind you of what Mother Nature used to challenge the settlers hundreds of years ago.
Sometimes history is today! Traveling some of the backroads of Florida you will find areas that haven’t changed in decades. One of those areas is Rt. 98 along the Gulf coast. The people, the towns and the landscape have bypassed our modern world. This section of 98 is that road.
St. George Island
Situated just off the coast of Florida, just east of Apalachicola is one of Florida’s largest barrier islands. St. George Island is rich in history. The fish, oysters, and crabs saved many starving ship crews in the 1800s. This is one of our family’s favorite destinations.
St. George Island is a barrier island located in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Florida’s Panhandle. It has a rich history dating back centuries. Our overview of the history of St. George Island is below.
Before European contact, the Apalachee and Creek indigenous peoples inhabited the region. They used the island for fishing and as a seasonal hunting ground.
Spanish explorers, including Panfilo de Narvaez and Hernando de Soto, ventured through the area in the 16th century. These explorers were among the first Europeans to set foot in what is now Florida.
Florida became a Spanish colony in the late 16th century. St. George Island and the surrounding areas were used as a vital link for Spanish ships traveling to and from Mexico and the Caribbean. The Spanish maintained a fort, the San Carlos de Austria Presidio, on the nearby mainland.
Control of Florida shifted between the Spanish, British, and Americans during the 18th and 19th centuries. St. George Island was part of this territorial struggle.
Like many coastal areas, St. George Island saw its share of pirates and smugglers during the 18th century, with its remote location making it an attractive spot for illicit activities.
In the 19th century, after Florida became a U.S. territory and later a state, St. George Island was developed for cotton and timber production. Plantations were established, and enslaved people were forced to work on them. The island also saw the construction of lighthouses to aid in navigation.
During the American Civil War, St. George Island, like much of Florida, saw military action. Union forces attempted to blockade the area, and there were skirmishes and conflicts.
After the Civil War, the island’s economy shifted away from plantations. Fishing, oystering, and later, tourism, became important industries.
Today, St. George Island is known for its tranquil and picturesque beaches, charming coastal communities, and a thriving tourism industry. Its history, from indigenous settlements to colonial outposts, to modern resorts, reflects the broader historical developments of Florida and the southeastern United States.
The island also has the St. George Island Lighthouse which has its own history.
More Northern Historical Sites to See in Florida
- Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse, located just north of New Smyrna Beach, Florida, was built in 1887. Climb the 175 stairs for an amazing view and be part of history at the same time.
- Mission San Luis in Tallahassee is the site of a former Apalachee Indian village and Spanish mission. This mission was one reason Tallahassee was made the capital of Florida since it was halfway across the state.
- Fort Pickens is the site in Florida of a Civil War era fort. You can self-tour of the grounds or take a guided tour.
- Marjory Stoneman Douglas estate in Cross City, Florida. See where she lived and did much of her writing in north Florida.
These are just a few of the attractions in the area. We can only imagine what challenges our forefathers had to manage as they settled this forest-laden part of Florida. The Forgotten Coast may be a reminder of days gone by.
South Florida Historical Sites
Bok Tower Gardens
Built on one of the highest points in Florida (295 feet), Bok Tower Gardens is a visual paradise. Located in Lake Wales, Florida, the attraction has seen over 29 million visitors since its inception in 1929. The reason goes beyond the tower.
The gardens around the tower are splendidly adorned with tropical species that are a photographer’s dream. In addition, the view into the valley surrounding the hill is magnificent. Bok Tower’s website claims there are over 126 bird species that visit the gardens. This historical site in Florida is worth a visit.
Key West – One of the Best Historical Places to See in Florida
It is no secret that Key West is one of our favorite places in Florida to visit. It is true that Key West has become an international destination.
However, long before the parties on Duval Street, Key West was once the richest city in America per capita. Around 1835 Key West was a bustling seaport. With plenty of industry, fishing and salvaging, the city and its founders were thriving.
Today, Key West is a hub of historical significance. Consider all these attractions in one place;
- Museum of Art and History – a year-by-year history recollection.
- Hemingway House – the award winning author spent winters in Key West writing novels.
- Key West Cemetery – A cemetery, you say? Oh, but it tells a tale of history.
- Key West Lighthouse and Keepers Quarters – climb the 88 steps to the tallest building on the island since 1848.
- Fort Jefferson
- Fort Zachary Taylor State Park
These are just a few of the many Key West historical sites to see in Florida. Key West has more sites to see in Florida because of the island’s long rich history.
Key West and the Florida Keys were important islands to the development of Florida. Visitors today can find as many historical sites in this Florida town as they can find bars along Duval Street.
Fort Jefferson and the Dry Tortugas National Park
- The fort was built in the mid-1800s.
- It took over 16 million red bricks to construct.
- Built to be protection for access to the Gulf, Fort Jefferson became a prison for Civil War prisoners.
- One of the most famous inmates was Dr. Samuel Mudd – supposedly a conspirator in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
The history of Fort Jefferson alone is enough reason to visit. The Dry Tortugas, a group of small islands around the fort make this a great Florida road trip. The clear clean waters loaded with coral, fish and lobster are perfect for snorkeling and diving. Some of the tour operators even offer a picnic on the beach.
We think the best way to enjoy a trip to Fort Jefferson is by seaplane from Key West. It is a 45-minute plane ride, but a 3-4 hour boat ride. More of our coverage of Fort Jefferson is here.
This is one of the best sites to see in Florida for Civil War buffs.finding
The Seven Mile Bridge and Pigeon Key
One of the most breathtaking long bridge drives you can take is the 7-mile Bridge in the Florida Keys. The expanse runs from Marathon to Bahia Honda Key. The history involved with the bridge is a story of a dream and a hurricane. This is one of the top sites to see in Florida.
Henry Flagler was a partner in Standard Oil Company in the late 1800s and early 1900s’ Flagler built a chain of hotels along Florida’s east coast, but he had a bigger dream. There was no way to get through the Keys except by boat.
Flagler wanted to build a railroad from Miami all the way to Key West. People thought he was crazy, but in 1905 he started the project. It took seven years, but in 1912 the Florida Overseas Railroad rolled into Key West. The railroad was a huge boost to the economy of Key West and the rest of the Keys, but it was short-lived.
On Labor Day, in 1935 a hurricane more intense than had ever been recorded struck the middle keys. The winds destroyed Flagler’s railroad, killed over 400 World War I veterans that were working on the Overseas highway and crushed everything in its path. Most of the workmen killed were housed on Pigeon Key.
Today, the 7-mile Bridge is a work of marvelous construction and a beautiful drive. However, the remnants of history can still be seen along the highway. You will see the old railroad tracks along parts of the bridge. Note that the pillars are still standing after weathering for over 100 years. You could easily consider the entire old railway as part of a list of all historical sites in Florida.
Some of the attractions along the way include;
- Pigeon Key – the key today is an island you can visit. It is hard to imagine anything or anyone surviving a hurricane with winds over 185 miles per hour. Pigeon Key is just at the east end of the 7-mile bridge.
- Bahia Honda State Park – the park is a great place to teach children about saltwater flats. Plenty of shallow water. You can see the remnants of the railroad bridge from the beach
Enjoy the drive and the reminiscing about how they built a railroad 110 years ago across these waters.
The Gamble Plantation Historic State Park, often referred to simply as the Gamble House, is a historic site located in Ellenton, Florida (near Bradenton). It is known for its significant historical and architectural importance, particularly as the only surviving antebellum plantation house in South Florida.
The Gamble House was built in the 1840s by Major Robert Gamble. Major Gamble was a successful sugar planter from South Carolina who moved to Florida to establish a sugar plantation. He acquired the land on which the plantation was built through a federal land grant.
The plantation, known as the Gamble Plantation, was one of several plantations in the area that cultivated sugarcane. Sugar was a major cash crop in Florida during the mid-19th century, and plantations like the Gamble Plantation played a crucial role in the state’s economy.
Like many Southern plantations of the time, the Gamble Plantation relied on enslaved labor to cultivate and process sugarcane. Enslaved African Americans worked in the fields and in the sugar mill.
During the American Civil War, the Gamble Plantation was used by Confederate forces as a supply depot and hospital. Major Gamble, who had served in the Confederate Army, was captured by Union forces in 1864.
After the Civil War, with the abolition of slavery and the economic challenges faced by the South, the Gamble Plantation and other similar plantations in the region saw significant changes. Many former slaves became tenant farmers or sharecroppers.
The town of Ellenton, which grew around the Gamble Plantation, was named after Ellen Gamble, Major Gamble’s daughter.
In 1925, the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) purchased the Gamble Plantation house and surrounding land. They then donated it to the state of Florida in 1927. The state established the Gamble Plantation Historic State Park to preserve the historic house and educate the public about its history.
Today, the Gamble House is a museum that provides visitors with a glimpse into the history of Florida’s antebellum period, the sugar plantation system, and the experiences of enslaved people. The site is also known for its beautiful and well-preserved architecture, featuring elements of Greek Revival and Gothic Revival styles.
The Gamble House in Ellenton, Florida, is an important historical site in Florida that sheds light on the complex history of the American South, including the plantation economy, slavery, and the impact of the Civil War. It serves as an educational resource and a reminder of the region’s past.
The Ringling Museum of Art
The Ringling Museum of Art, located in Sarasota, Florida, is a renowned cultural institution with a rich history. It was established by the vision and efforts of John Ringling, one of the five Ringling brothers who owned and operated the famous Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Here’s a brief history of the Ringling Museum of Art:
John Ringling, along with his brothers, amassed great wealth through their circus empire during the early 20th century. John Ringling was particularly interested in art and culture, and he began collecting art in the 1910s.
John Ringling’s art collection grew rapidly. He acquired an impressive assortment of European paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, and other treasures. His collection included works by artists such as Peter Paul Rubens, Diego Velázquez, and Thomas Gainsborough.
In addition to his passion for art, John Ringling also wanted to preserve the history and heritage of the American circus. He established the Circus Museum on the grounds of his estate in Sarasota to house a vast collection of circus memorabilia, including costumes, posters, wagons, and other artifacts.
John Ringling was instrumental in the preservation of the Asolo Theater, an Italian Renaissance-style theater that was originally built in Asolo, Italy, in the late 19th century. He had it dismantled and shipped to the United States, where it was reassembled on the Ringling estate grounds.
John Ringling’s dream of establishing a museum of art to house his extensive collection became a reality in 1927 when he officially opened the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art to the public. The museum building, designed in the Mediterranean Revival style by architect John H. Phillips, was inspired by the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy.
In addition to the museum, John Ringling also bequeathed his art collection and the surrounding estate to the state of Florida upon his death in 1936. He hoped to create a lasting legacy for the people of Florida and future generations to enjoy.
Over the years, the Ringling Museum of Art has undergone expansions and renovations to improve its facilities and enhance the visitor experience. The museum’s collection has also continued to grow through acquisitions and donations.
Today, the Ringling Museum of Art is part of a larger complex that includes the Circus Museum, the Ca’ d’Zan mansion (John and Mable Ringling’s former home), beautiful gardens, and the Asolo Repertory Theatre.
It is a major cultural and historical site in Sarasota, Florida, and it continues to celebrate the legacy of John Ringling, his love for the arts, and his contributions to both the art world and the circus industry.
Fort Foster Historic Site in Florida
Fort Foster Historic Site, located in Thonotosassa, Florida, is a well-preserved example of a 19th-century military fortification. It played a significant role during the Second Seminole War (1835-1842) and serves as a valuable historical site today
Fort Foster was constructed in 1836 during the Second Seminole War, a conflict between the United States government and the Seminole Native Americans, who were resisting forced removal from their lands in Florida.
The fort was built under the orders of General Thomas S. Jesup, who aimed to establish a chain of forts in Florida to maintain control and protect settlers and military supply routes. Fort Foster was strategically positioned along the Hillsborough River to guard against potential Seminole attacks and control access to the Alafia River.
Fort Foster served as a supply depot and military garrison during the war. It housed soldiers, provided storage for food and munitions, and served as a base for operations against the Seminoles.
During its operation, Fort Foster did experience Seminole attacks. The Seminoles, led by chiefs like Osceola, used guerrilla tactics and were skilled at hit-and-run attacks. Fort Foster played a role in efforts to combat these raids.
The Second Seminole War officially ended in 1842 with the Treaty of Payne’s Landing, but sporadic fighting continued for several years. Fort Foster was abandoned and fell into disrepair after the conflict.
In the 20th century, efforts were made to preserve and restore the fort as a historical site in Florida. The fort was reconstructed using historical records and archaeological research to accurately depict its appearance during the Second Seminole War.
Today, Fort Foster Historic Site is open to the public and serves as a living history museum. Visitors can explore the reconstructed fort, view historical reenactments, and learn about the history of the Second Seminole War, the role of the fort, and the experiences of both soldiers and Seminole people during the conflict.
This historical site offers educational programs and guided tours to provide visitors with a deeper understanding of the fort’s history and the broader historical context of the Seminole Wars in Florida.
Fort Foster is not only an important historical place to see but also a valuable resource for understanding the complex history of conflicts between Native American tribes and the U.S. government during the 19th century, as well as the challenges faced by both military personnel and Native communities during this tumultuous period.
Koreshan State Park – One of the Most Unique Historical Places to See in Florida
Today. Koreshan State Park is the commune. Buildings have been restored to their origins and daily tours are available. Discover how this religious sect lived near their Ft. Myers commune.
Historical Sites in Florida are Everywhere
History is everywhere. The number of historical places to see in Florida is incredible because of the state’s complicated past. You will find where Ponce de Leon traipsed all across the state. Monuments to de Leon are everywhere.
Calusa Indians were all over the southwest with plenty of museums to document their existence and creativity. Marco Island was a Calusa village and their culture are recreated at the Marco Island Historical Society.
The Spanish went from the east coast of Florida to the west coast along the Spanish Trail. Their history is all along Route 90 that crosses Florida.
Almost every city and county have historical sites in Florida. We have a wild wonderful state – we love it!
Florida History – the timeline of Florida’s past.