From awe-inspiring historical sites to distinctive geological features, Florida’s landmarks are sure to impress the whole family.
In centuries-old, densely constructed cities like Paris or Rome, the land is marked by statues of scholars and warriors, or perhaps architectural wonders made of brick and stone. In Florida’s cities, however, unique landmarks come in all sorts of forms, from a space pad in which rockets launch to the moon to a nearly 100-foot waterfall whose water disappears from sight into underground caves.
When you want to impress your family visiting from Puerto Rico, skip the old statues and historical plaques to try one or more of these architectural, cultural, scientific, and geological Florida landmarks that coalesce to make the Sunshine State the magical source of wonder it is.
Falling Waters State Park
About halfway between Tallahassee and Pensacola lies the small Panhandle town Chipley, which your family may be surprised to learn contains Florida’s highest waterfall. Falling Waters State Park is home to the Falling Waters Sink–here, creek water falls down 73 feet into a 20-foot-wide and 100-foot-deep sink. Stand at a safe distance on the upper deck of the wooden observation platform near the mouth of the waterfall and watch the streams cascade down steep limestone walls, only to disappear into a hidden cave system deep within the earth. Where the water stops, no one knows. For those not afraid to get a little damp, the lower deck of the observation platform takes you beneath the rim of the Falling Waters Sink. Depending on the water flow–it can be a trickle or a roar depending on the time of year–you may be treated to a gentle mist or some splashes.
Kennedy Space Center
Located about 60 miles east of Disney World, Merritt Island’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex wows the whole family with its exhibits, displays, live shows, multiple IMAX theaters, and bus tours of the massive spaceport. The holiday season is a great time to visit the complex, as its Holidays in Space event, running this year from Dec. 16-30, turns the space center into a festive display of lights, décor, live entertainment, and a projection mapping show. “Starflake’s Holiday Voyage” takes viewers on a journey through the stars, stopping at some familiar sites along the way, like the International Space Station and the James Webb Space Telescope.
Devil’s Den Spring
Take your most adventurous family members to Devil’s Den Spring in Williston, not far from Gainesville, where visitors can scuba dive or snorkel in a pre-historic spring located in a karst cavern. North Central Florida is home to a number of freshwater springs where crowds gather to picnic, sunbathe, and swim in the 72-degree water year-round, but no other open-to-the-public spring can boast being instead of a cavern. To find this hidden gem, follow the steam that rises like smoke from the spring’s chimney opening. You’ll feel like you’re time traveling back eons when you enter the cave–stalactites hang from the ceiling, and fossil beds contain traces of animals dating back to the Pleistocene Age. Only after you get on your scuba gear, see if you can reach the bottom of the spring, whose maximum depth is 54 feet. To top off the experience, stop by the Florida Museum of Natural History on the University of Florida campus—only a 30-minute drive from Devil’s Den—to see displays of fossils dug up from this very site.
Any social media influencers in the family? Line them up first thing in the morning to get their pictures taken with the Southernmost Point of the Continental U.S.A. concrete buoy, located at the corner of Whitehead and South Streets in Key West. As its name suggests, this massive structure marks the southernmost spot in the contiguous United States, though you may very well get an earful from a local who promises you the true southernmost point lies 10 miles away on Ballast Key, a private island southwest of Key West. No matter if it’s nearing 100 degrees on a sunny day or if stormy conditions are so gusty the tide sends splashes shooting up onto the shore, families line up morning, noon, and night to take a picture with this true Florida landmark.
Florida Caverns State Park
There’s one Florida city just south of the Alabama state line with a geological landmark so special, its existence has created a rare ecosystem of plants and animals only found in this corner of the world. The caverns in Marianna’s Florida Caverns State Park were formed over the last million years as naturally acidic groundwater dissolves crevices just beneath the ground’s surface. This slow process has opened passageways to otherworldly caverns replete with glittering stalactites, stalagmites, and other cave-drip formations. Three unique species of cave roosting bats, as well as salamanders and blind cave crayfish, call this habitat home. Make a day of it and explore the surrounding Marianna Lowlands area, which contains crystal blue springs, cliffs, bluffs, and sinkholes. Visit Florida Caverns State Park between Thursday and Monday for a cavern tour given by a park ranger, and arrive earlier in the day, as tours often sell out.
Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
Surely your family members have built castles out of sand, but have they ever been to a 300-year-old fort made nearly entirely out of seashells? Located in downtown St. Augustine, Castillo de San Marcos is a national monument made of coquina, a type of limestone that formed on the shores of northeastern Florida during the last ice age. The fort was constructed by Spanish settlers in 1672 to keep out other settlers from England. History buffs may opt for the full, interior tour, but there’s also magic in simply sitting around the fort’s edges. Grab some ice cream from nearby shop MayDay to enjoy while you take in the scene–usually bustling with tourists from all corners of the globe–and watch the dolphins jump and the party boats pass by in the Mantanzas River.
Bok Tower Gardens
Since opening in 1926 in the central Florida town Lake Wales, Bok Tower Gardens has been marveling visitors from around the world with Singing Tower, a neo-Gothic-meets-Art-Deco-style carillon that plays 30-minute bell concerts every day at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. This national historic landmark is surrounded by 50 lush acres of gardens, a reflection pool, a pair of hiking trails, and the 20-room El Retiro Estate, a grand, Mediterranean-style mansion visitors can tour on their own. After walking the grounds and gazing at the giant Victoria water lilies—which can reach eight feet in diameter—be sure to stop by the outdoor kitchen and edible garden next to the visitor’s center. Here, chefs offer horticultural and culinary demonstrations with the area’s fruit orchard, grape arbors, and raised beds full of vegetables and herbs.
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park
Who doesn’t want to go home from their Florida vacation without a memory card full of spectacular photographs? Show your family a bird’s eye view of the Magic City by visiting the lighthouse at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. Built in 1825, the Cape Florida Light is the oldest standing structure in the greater Miami area. From its wrap-around balcony, you can gaze at or get shots of many Miami points of interest: Miami Beach, the Atlantic Ocean, Key Biscayne, and Stiltsville, a neighborhood of wooden buildings constructed on top of stilts planted in the shallow bay waters. What used to be a hopping hotbed for partying, illegal alcohol, and gambling more than 50 years ago is now is a protected historical site within Biscayne National Park.