Florida is a fascinating, beautiful, and sweltering state. It’s a prime location for beaches and holidays. But it is also a treasure trove of historical and modern landmarks. One thing is sure; there are plenty of unique things to do and see in Florida.
Space installations, historical plantations, theme parks and more iconic buildings adorn this list. And that’s not counting the wildlife preserves and natural attractions like springs and beaches. Let’s take a look at all these and more amazing landmarks in Florida.
The Most Significant Landmarks in Florida Worth Visiting
Table of Contents
- The Most Significant Landmarks in Florida Worth Visiting
- 1. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
- 2. Biltmore Hotel Miami Coral Gables
- 3. Bok Tower Gardens
- 4. Busch Gardens Tampa Bay
- 5. Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
- 6. Cathedral Basilica Of St. Augustine
- 7. Ca’ d’Zan
- 8. Cinderella Castle At Disneyworld
- 9. Coral Castle
- 10. Epcot
- 11. Ernest Hemingway House
- 12. Everglades National Park
- 13. Florida State University
- 14. Freedom Tower
- 15. Henry B. Plant Museum
- 16. Historic Spanish Point
- 17. Kennedy Space Center
- 18. Kingsley Plantation
- 19. Naples Botanical Gardens
- 20. Norman Film Manufacturing Company
- 21. Ocala National Forest
- 22. Ocean Drive Art Deco Buildings Of South Beach
- 23. Olympia Theatre
- 24. Overseas Highway
- 25. Pensacola Lighthouse and Maritime Museum
- 26. Salvador Dali Museum
- 27. Sanibel and Captiva Islands
- 28. Southernmost Point of the Continental US
- 29. The Don CeSar
- 30. Three Sisters Springs
- 31. Universal Orlando
- 32. Vizcaya Museum
- 33. Wynwood Walls
- Last Word on Florida Landmarks
In no particular order, the attractions on this list are known for their historical value, attractive visual appeal, or uniqueness.
When you hear a Floridian refer to “the swamp”, you might think they mean the everglades or the murky southern waterways of the coastline. They might be talking about a football stadium, though, and you’d be well advised to wait until you know for certain before you comment.
Ben Hill Griffin was a local fan and contributor to many local projects. The stadium was named after him in 1989. It is located at the University of Florida. Visiting teams often describe the stadium as difficult to play in because of the sheer volume of the crowd. It doesn’t help that the stadium sometimes reaches 100°F on the ground.
Built in 1926, the Biltmore was initially a venue for special events. At the time, it was home to the largest swimming pool in the world. Famously, Thomas Walsh, a gangster known as “Fatty”, was killed in the hotel in 1929 — on the 13th floor, to be exact.
Since then the association with the murder on the 13th floor has yielded a “creepy” reputation for the hotel. But that’s just part of the hotel’s folklore-ish charm. The Biltmore also served as a military hospital in WWII. In the 60s, the building became abandoned for several years, further enhancing its ghostly reputation among neighbourhood kids.
The Biltmore was restored and reopened in 1987 and today has a proud listing on the National Registry of Historic Places.
If you feel like visiting a garden that’s friendly to birds, try the Bok Tower gardens, a bird sanctuary built in 1929. Edward W. Bok’s intention was to create a safe place for people and animals in Lake Wales.
Within the gardens is the Bok singing tower, which has a collection of 57 bells. These bells can be heard throughout the day when visiting the gardens.
The gardens are impressive and took nearly five years to complete. Bok, a Dutch immigrant, had apparently been inspired by his grandmother’s advice to “make the world a bit better or more beautiful because you have lived in it.”
Fancy a little bit of Africa in Florida? This is an African-themed garden and animal theme park that will be a highlight for kids travelling with you. It has all the regular attractions of theme parks like rides and restaurants.
But the kicker is the African theme, which adds a unique touch, making it just different enough to be intriguing. The park attracts more than four million people every year, so book early.
From a world history perspective, this building, built by the Spanish, represents one of the very first European military presences on the continent. The fort was built by the Spanish and has now stood for nearly 450 years, and it is the oldest masonry fort in the US.
It was designated a national monument in 1924 and is now a major tourist attraction. The fort is also notable for its design incorporation of four points, with one wall facing the water.
The colony of St. Augustine, established by the Spanish, is notable for its number of buildings and influences. One of them is undoubtedly the Cathedral Basilica, which serves as the seat of the Archbishop of St. Augustine.
Although the catholic congregation had existed in the area for many years, the current version of the church and Cathedral was only built in 1797. Efforts to maintain and rebuild previous versions of the church had been waylaid by occupations, political distractions, and funding problems.
Call it a mansion, a palace, or just a wild example of the American Dream. Ca’ d’Zan is the home of the famous Ringling family, who became circus moguls in the early 20th century.
The building is largely inspired by the great city of Venice and its buildings. The house itself is nearly 3,500 square metres in area. It has a bright and opulent exterior, and the interior furnishings match the impression given from the outside, too.
Upon his death, John Ringling donated the mansion to the state of Florida. It is an extravagant and extraordinary home, now open to visits from the public.
Most people who have ever seen a Disney movie know what this iconic castle looks like. It is the iconic skyline symbol of the Disney logo. And its spires and towers are one of the most exciting sights a kid might see as they approach a Disney theme park.
In Florida, the castle stands in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. The design for the castle takes its inspiration from many European examples of real castles.
At Walt Disney World, visitors may sometimes see the castle decorated in various colours and decorations, depending on the occasion. For example, the walls will make different colour designs for park anniversaries, Grad Nite and other special occasions.
Note: Here are some more famous castles in Florida for you to see.
Coral Castle sits between the cities of Homestead and Leisure City in Miami-Dade County and is an oolite limestone construction serving as a museum. It is open every day, where visitors can marvel at the 1,100 tons of coral rock that make up the structure.
What is most remarkable about the castle is that a single man built it over a period of 28 years. The diminutive Edward Leedskalnin allegedly stood barely five feet tall but single-handedly built an impressive castle — the most romantic story goes that he built it as a tribute to lost love. In 1984, the castle was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Like most things Disney, the theme park in Bay Lake is one of the most famous attractions in the US and indeed the world. Did you know that Epcot is actually an acronym that stands for “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow”?
The park focuses a lot on educational and concept activities, more so than other Disney parks which feel more ride and entertainment-based. As a personal project of the late Walt Disney, it is at least in conception truly unique — especially for when it was conceived in 1966. Its most famous structural landmark is the giant “golf ball” known as Epcot Center.
The celebrated American writer Ernest Hemingway lived in his Key West home in the 1930s. The house has served as a museum for several years but seems to have been hit by tough times of late, with owners suggesting that the house may indeed have to be closed unless it can find another way to maintain itself.
The double story house with wraparound balcony feels typical of the classic Hemingway era and would be a shame to shut down, as it is a true throwback to pre-war America and Floridian living.
What would Florida be without the everglades and its alligators? This national park represents 1.5 million acres of it — wetlands (some call it a swamp) teeming with birds, animals and vegetation, and marked by miles of waterways.
Besides the famous alligator, you may run into a Florida panther or the rare leatherback turtle. Don’t forget the ever-popular Florida manatee with its bulky cuteness.
Trivia: The word “everglades” is an amalgamation first used by early English settlers. It is part “ever” meaning forever and “glades” meaning grass. When they looked out over this region, all they saw was endless fields of long grass. Easy.
We’re talking about landmarks, and Florida State fits the bill. It’s a famous campus, in part because it sits on the oldest education site in America. That is to say, this particular location has been used as one form of education facility or another, since early settler days.
The University as we know it today was founded in 1851 and is a public university. It has a fairly amicable acceptance rate of 36%, making it a popular application choice for many students hoping for higher education. The iconic view of the main building from the fountain plaza and plaque is an image of pride for many graduates.
Today Freedom Tower is a contemporary art museum, but the building itself has a storied history with deep and important connections to the significant Cuban community in Miami. It is sometimes lovingly referred to as the Ellis Island of the south, in honour of the many Cuban refugees who entered the US from their native land.
The building was originally the site of processing and documentation for refugees from the Cuban revolution in the 1960s. It also served as a de facto medical centre for many of them. The building was eventually sold to private owners in 1974 after the main crisis had ended.
Plant Museum is a living throwback to older times — a museum that documents what life was like back in the 1890s. Part of its unique appeal is that many of its exhibits contain actual furnishings and artefacts of the time.
The museum focuses on what high-end tourists might have experienced as a lifestyle back in those days. Unique and fascinating exhibits like an exploration of the war of 1898, lifestyles of the service staff and gentry, and even entertainment in the park can be enjoyed.
The “Historic” in the name actually refers to what scientists estimate the early settlements of some 5,000 years ago to have been like. Evidence has been found here that early Native American people would have gathered here to fish and hunt.
Today, this outdoor museum attempts to tell the story of these early human activities, with middens of old shell and bone instruments and exhibitions suggesting how they lived. In essence, this is an approximation of what a village from American pre-history might have been.
From the past to the future and beyond. Kennedy is the official launch site for most of NASA’s human space flights and has been since 1968. A mere 45 miles from Orlando, it’s a popular destination for families fascinated by mankind’s exploration of space.
Good timing for a tour of Kennedy can pay off — you can witness an actual rocket launch, explore the education centres, and even listen to a chat by a real astronaut. Decommissioned shuttles are on display, and a re-simulated launch in the mission control room are just a few of the highlights.
This historic plantation is part of the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve and can be visited. The island upon which the plantation sits has evidence of human settlement dating back to prehistory. But under Zephaniah Kingsley’s ownership, the estate became known for its multiracial residence and odd, if troubling, relationship with slavery.
Kingsley was a slave owner but freed several, including Anna Jai, whom he eventually married (not an uncommon occurrence in 1800s Florida). Kingsley, however, did not seem to directly oppose the idea of slavery, though he applied a relatively liberal form of the practice — at least, compared to many other states and slave owners.
Take a 45-minute walk through the 170-acre garden in a small group for a lovely distraction. Many visitors claim that they are so impressed by the garden’s beauty, they end up spending many hours there afterwards.
The garden features plants from all around the world. It was founded in 1993 and has several sub-gardens, marked by walkways, plant sculptures, and themed gardens. Highlights include the Asian garden and water garden. That said, all of it is outstandingly well-kept and maintained.
Something for special interests! This is a former film studio that specialized in film during the silent era. It stands today as one of the very few studios from that era and never made the transition to sound.
Norman Studios was notable for its early inclusion of African American actors. For that and other reasons, there is a strong interest in restoring the studio as a research and learning centre. It currently operates as a nonprofit with an eye to re-establishing its legacy as a silent film studio.
For a bit of water-based recreation, try the Ocala national forest, which is a sand pine scrub forest. Within, there are lakes and ponds to explore — Lake George is one of the most popular — as well as trails and springs.
Visitors here love to boat, kayak, and mountain bike amongst the wonderful natural settings, taking in the forest flora and fauna. The forest is around 600 square miles large.
Miami’s beachfront art deco designs are legendary. It would be a shame to visit Miami and not take some time to just drive along the ocean road and admire the colourful and distinctive curves of the buildings, many of which do not reach above three or four stories.
Miami has the highest concentration of art deco buildings anywhere in the world. Because of their iconic status, many believe that they alone have prevented Miami from becoming a collection of high rise apartments and hotels. That said, some of these awesome buildings are in fact hotels — why not go the whole hog and try to book one?
The Olympia Theater was established in 1926. It was originally one of Miami’s main attractions. The theatre is now officially managed by the City of Miami. It is now part of the National Register of Historic Places, after being saved from demolition in the 1970s.
One of the unique aspects of the theatre is its simulated night sky, which adds a somewhat surreal atmosphere to any performance here. The restoration, in part, was handled by the legendary John Eberson. It is one of very few “Eberson theatres” still standing today.
You might have seen the highway that seems to head out to see in a movie set in Miami. The Overseas Highway is a real thing, stretching 113 miles through the entire Florida Keys. It’s technically a series of bridges between the islands but is nonetheless thrilling to drive across.
At some points, especially on the seven-mile-long Knight’s Key Bridge, you cannot see the next landfall, so it does resemble a stretch of road that goes nowhere. Interestingly, many parts of the highway were built on sections of the railroad that originally carried goods and people across the waters. There are 42 bridges in all, running from Key Largo to Key West.
Famed for its view, the Pensacola Lighthouse offers exhibits, a look back at history and a potentially romantic or loving family memory to place in a photo album. The lighthouse has a history dating back to 1823, although the Spanish had settled Pensacola as early as the mid-1500s.
Through the years, the lighthouse played important roles in the Civil War and the coastal history of potential and real disasters, among other things. Famously, it was also struck by lightning twice, just a year apart. All of this history can be further explored in the in-house exhibits that are open to the public.
The famous surrealist artist Dali is in St Petersburg. Famous works by the artist are on display, but visitors can also take a break and sketch. There’s an Avant-garden in which to relax with a snack and some fresh air, too, if you don’t mind a bit of mind-bending concept art to entertain your senses.
The snack can be acquired from the Café Gala on-site, which offers a taste of the artist’s native Spain. One more note — you’ll know you’re at the right building when you see the large blue bubble adorning the design of the structure. Trust me, it’s unmissable.
If you’re a nature lover, a stop on Sanibel Island is a must. More than half the island is designated as a preservation area for wildlife. At the east end of Captiva is a small village, in which the streets are still made of sand. This is an awesome experience well worth making the trip for.
On Sanibel, there is also a historic village, which has several buildings well worth a look. Even if the historical aspects are of secondary interest, the islands are prime beach destinations, so there’s something to enjoy here anyway.
Note: Into history? Here are some more historical places in Florida to explore.
The southernmost point of the US (besides Hawaii and some islands), is marked by a buoy that is placed on land just two minutes’ walk from the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory. There is a helpful note painted on it — stating that it’s 90 miles from here to Cuba.
Something to note — technically, there is another point on Key West that sits more south: the beach area of Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park. But that doesn’t detract from the notion that the buoy is worth visiting for a photo and a story to tell at the next Thanksgiving.
This legendary hotel is known for its high-end clientele dating back to the 1920s, the Don CeSar and the famed Pink Palace of St Pete beach holds a special place in American history. Famously, owner Thomas Rowe died in the lobby after suffering a heart attack
Through the years, it was used by the government as a hospital and VA centre, fell into disrepair, and was lovingly restored by private citizens. Today it is still frequented by the rich and famous, and you may well spot a celebrity or two in the vicinity, assuming you can get close enough.
This is a popular water getaway for holiday-makers, and offers all kinds of fun water activities around its 19 springs. The three sisters in question are actually the three lobes of the water system.
The palmy, green setting is very appealing, resembling something out of a movie on its best days. Kayaking and swimming are allowed, but guests are reminded that this is a wildlife area, and you can only access water activities through the waterways themselves — which means kayaking or canoeing there.
In some ways, Universal Orlando is one of the big daddies of tourist attractions in Florida. The resort comprises three parks: Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, and Volcano Bay water theme park.
Visit the rides and shows that remind you of some of your favourite movies of all time. You can also just wander the parks and enjoy the holiday atmosphere of the restaurants and bars — highly recommended is the Hogwarts Express. Be advised, the tickets to Universal aren’t cheap, but the experience is by all accounts more than worth it.
Vizcaya Museum, like many such estates in Florida, is the former residence of a well-known mogul, in this case, James Deering. The main house was built between 1914 and 1922. It reflects a fine Mediterranean tradition in architecture.
The front of the home — the gardens and walkways — are by themselves spectacular. Parts of the main house can be toured as a museum, and there’s even a Viscaya Village under development to further restore the history and historical vibrancy of the estate.
Fans of modern art will be thrilled to visit the Wynwood Walls Urban Graffiti Art Museum. It’s a unique and innovative restoration project in the warehouse district of Wynwood, first conceived in 2009. With several of the buildings falling into disrepair, activist Tony Goldman thought it a perfect canvas upon which to display street art and urban expression.
It is now considered a space where some of the world’s greatest artists produce work alongside key emerging ones. Murals and individual pieces can all be explored here. And for mementoes, visitors can explore a book and gift shop.
So, if for some reason you were in doubt about visiting Florida, hopefully, this list convinces you of its interesting attractions and fun activities. Can you think of any more worth adding to this list? Drop me a line! I’d love to hear about your favourite landmarks.
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