Article Overview: Historic Sites In Florida
Historic Sites In Florida. More Than Just Parks has 15 incredible must-see sites for you to visit.
I’ve been to so many of these amazing places since retiring from teaching in 2018. Did I mention that I taught history? I spent a lifetime teaching about the history behind these momentous sites. Then I got to see them firsthand. And now I’m sharing the stories of these incredible places with you. It doesn’t get any better than that!
I’m going to give you my list of the 15 Historic Sites In Florida that you’ll want to see.
To be clear, this list includes national park sites (as in sites managed by the National Park Service) as opposed to national parks. It also includes sites not managed by the National Park Service. After all, we’re more than just parks!
If you’re planning a trip to the Sunshine State then one book that I highly recommend is: Florida Bucket List Adventure Guide & Journal: Explore 50 Natural Wonders You Must See!
Without further ado, let’s dive in!
Table Of Contents: Historic Sites In Florida
Historic Sites In Florida
- Top 15 Historic Sites In Florida
- Top 10 Historic Sites In Florida
- The Top 5 Historic Sites In Florida
Top 15 Historic Sites In Florida
15. Lightner Museum
The Lightner Museum is a museum located in St. Augustine, Florida. It is housed in the former Hotel Alcazar building, which was built in 1888. The building was once known for its world-record-sized indoor swimming pool.
The museum features a wide range of exhibits, including fine and decorative arts from the 19th and early 20th centuries, as well as historical artifacts from the hotel’s past.
It is considered an extraordinary attraction and a must-see for visitors to St. Augustine.
14. The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum
Ernest Hemingway House, also known as the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum, is a historic home located in Key West, Florida. It was the residence of the famous author Ernest Hemingway in the 1930s.
The house, which is a Spanish Colonial-style building, was built in 1851 and is located just a short walk from the Key West Lighthouse.
It’s now open to the public as a museum and is known for its beautiful gardens and the presence of around 40-50 six-toed cats, descendants of Hemingway’s own cats.
Visitors can tour the house and learn about Hemingway’s life and work, as well as see the cats that live on the property.
13. Vizcaya Museum & Gardens
Historic Vizcaya Museum and Gardens is a magnificent villa located in Miami, Florida. It was built by industrialist James Deering in the early 20th century and opened to the public as a museum in 1916.
The museum features a grand Main House, with 34 rooms decorated with art and furnishings from the 15th to 19th centuries, and is surrounded by ten acres of formal gardens, including a Main Garden, a Secret Garden, and a Rock Garden.
It’s also known for its scenic views of Biscayne Bay and the beautiful architecture of the main house, which is a combination of Italian Renaissance and Mediterranean Revival style.
It is considered a must-see attraction in Miami and offers visitors the opportunity to experience the enchanting atmosphere of the gardens and architecture while learning about the history and lifestyle of the wealthy during the early 20th century.
12. Kingsley Plantation
Historic Kingsley Plantation is located in Jacksonville, Florida, that tells the story of Zephaniah Kingsley and his family, who lived on the plantation from 1814 to 1837.
The plantation was established in 1763, and it was known for producing Sea Island cotton, rice, and other crops with the labor of enslaved people.
Today, the site includes the main house, which was home to the Kingsley family, as well as the remains of the slave quarters and other plantation-era structures. The main house has been restored and furnished to reflect the period of 1814 to 1837.
The site offers visitors the opportunity to learn about the history of slavery in the United States, as well as the lives of the enslaved people who worked on the plantation and the Kingsley family who owned it.
The site is now under the jurisdiction of National Park Service, which offers guided tours and educational programs.
11. Key West Lighthouse
The Key West Lighthouse is a historic lighthouse located in Key West, Florida. It was originally built in 1848 and stood 50 feet tall with 13 lamps in 21-inch reflectors, and stood on ground about 15 feet (4.6 m) above sea level.
It was built to replace a previous structure that had been destroyed in a hurricane. Over the years, the lighthouse underwent repairs and the height was increased. In 1894 the tower was raised twenty feet, placing the light about 100 feet above sea level.
The lighthouse was decommissioned by the Coast Guard in 1969, and it was turned over to Monroe County. The county then leased it to the Key West Arts and Historical Society, which operates the lighthouse and its associated buildings as the Key West Light House and Keeper’s Quarters Museum.
The museum offers visitors the opportunity to learn about the history of the lighthouse and the lives of the lighthouse keepers who worked there. It is open to the public and tours are available.
Top 10 Historic Sites In Florida
10. Fort Caroline National Memorial
If you enjoy military history then you’ll love Fort Caroline National Memorial. It was established by the French in 1564 as a base for the exploration and colonization of the region.
It was named after King Charles IX of France.
The fort was built by French Huguenots, members of the Protestant Reformation, which led to conflicts with the Spanish, who were Catholic. The fort was attacked by the Spanish and captured in 1565.
Today, the Fort Caroline National Memorial is a unit of the National Park Service and it serves as a reminder of the early French presence in Florida and the interactions between European explorers and American Indians.
The memorial features a replica of the original fort, exhibits and interpretive programs that tell the story of the French and Timucuan people who lived in the area.
Visitors can also hike trails, watch wildlife and enjoy the scenic views of the St. John’s River.
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9. De Soto National Memorial
The De Soto National Memorial is a historical site located in Bradenton, Florida. It commemorates the explorations of the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto and his expedition through the southeastern United States in the early 16th century.
De Soto and his expedition, which consisted of over 600 men, arrived in Florida in 1539, and spent the next four years exploring and searching for gold and other resources. They traveled through what is now Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi, and were the first Europeans to make contact with many of the native tribes in the region.
An Expedition Fraught With Challenges
The expedition was fraught with challenges, including conflicts with native tribes, harsh weather conditions, and a lack of resources. Many members of the expedition died during the journey, including de Soto himself, who died in 1542 in present-day Arkansas.
The memorial was established in 1948 to commemorate the expedition and its impact on the region. It features a visitor center with exhibits and a museum, as well as a nature trail that takes visitors through the local ecosystems, and ranger-led programs that provide visitors with an understanding of the history and significance of the expedition.
The memorial also offers a glimpse of the native cultures, and the impact of the first European contact on the native peoples.
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8. Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
Historic Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, site of the oldest masonry fort in the United States, built by the Spaniards on Matanzas Bay between 1672 and 1695 to protect the city of St. Augustine, in northeastern Florida.
Established as Fort Marion National Monument in 1924, it was renamed in 1942.
Castillo de San Marcos National Monument preserves an incredible 17th century structure that is the oldest existing masonry fort in the continental U.S.
The fort itself has a dark history (especially under US control) having been used by the United States to imprison Native Americans including Chief Osceola and Geronimo.
Things To Do & See
Rangers and volunteers are eager to answer your questions and provide interpretive opportunities throughout the day on the history and culture of the park. There are formal presentations where you can listen to a thematic program, usually 15-20 minutes long.
There are ongoing informal stations where you can engage firsthand with cultural objects, ask your burning questions, and spend as little or as much time as you would like.
Program topics, locations, and times vary on the season, weather, and visitation. Please ask the staff upon arrival or look for a sign in the courtyard area for the upcoming opportunities.
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7. Fort Matanzas National Monument
Another amazing fort is Fort Matanzas National Monument. It’s a historical site located on the southern tip of Anastasia Island. It commemorates the Spanish fort of San Marcos de Matanzas, which was built by the Spanish in 1740-1742 to protect the southern approach to the city of St. Augustine from potential British and French invasion.
The fort was named after the Matanzas River, which runs nearby, and was strategically located on the Matanzas Inlet, which provided access to the Matanzas River and St. Augustine. The fort was manned by a small detachment of soldiers and was equipped with cannons.
It Repelled A British Attack
In 1742, the fort successfully repelled an attack by a British naval force under the command of Governor James Oglethorpe of the British colony of Georgia.
The fort remained active during the 18th century and played a role in the defense of St. Augustine during the American Revolutionary War.
The fort was later abandoned by the Spanish in the late 18th century and fell into disrepair. It was rediscovered by the National Park Service in the early 20th century and was designated as a National Monument in 1924.
Today, the monument is open to the public and offers visitors the opportunity to tour the reconstructed fort, which has been restored to its 18th-century appearance, and learn about the history and significance of the fort.
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6. Nike Missile Base in Everglades National Park
The Nike Missile Base located in Everglades National Park is a historical site that is a remnant of the Cold War era. The base was part of a nationwide network of missile bases established by the United States Army during the 1950s and 1960s to defend against potential air attacks by the Soviet Union.
The Nike missile base in Everglades National Park was built in the early 1960s and was operational until the late 1970s. It consisted of a missile launch site and a control center, both of which were underground. The base was equipped with Nike Ajax missiles, which were short-range, surface-to-air missiles designed to intercept and destroy incoming aircraft.
During its operational period, the base was manned by a small detachment of soldiers, who were responsible for the maintenance and operation of the missiles. The base was also equipped with radar and other electronic systems that were used to detect and track incoming aircraft.
After the missile base was decommissioned in the late 1970s, the land was returned to the National Park Service, which now operates the site as a historical monument. The base has been preserved in its original condition and is open to the public for tours.
Visitors can explore the underground missile launch site and control center, and learn about the history of the Cold War and the role of the Nike missile program in the defense of the United States.
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The Top 5 Historic Sites In Florida
5. Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve
The Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve is a protected area located in northeastern Florida. It was established in 1988 as a unit of the National Park Service to preserve and interpret the cultural and natural resources of the Timucuan people, who lived in the region for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans.
The preserve encompasses over 46,000 acres of wetlands, coastal hammocks, and pine flatwoods, and includes several historic sites and monuments.
These include the Kingsley Plantation, which tells the story of Zephaniah Kingsley and his family, who lived on the plantation from 1814 to 1837, Fort Caroline National Memorial which commemorates the French colony of Fort Caroline, established in the area in 1564, and the Ribault Club, a mansion built in 1928 by wealthy industrialists and used as a private club.
Visitors Can Explore The Natural Beauty Of The Area
In addition to the historic sites, the preserve also offers visitors the opportunity to explore the natural beauty of the region, including the salt marshes, coastal dunes, and pine forests, and to learn about the diverse plant and animal life that thrive in these habitats.
The preserve also offers guided tours, ranger-led programs and recreational activities such as hiking, kayaking, and fishing.
The Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve is a unique opportunity to learn about the history and culture of the Timucuan people, as well as to explore the natural beauty of northeastern Florida.
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4. Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island
Fernandina Beach is a city located on Amelia Island in northeastern Florida. The city has a rich history dating back to the 16th century when the island was first visited by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León.
In the early 18th century, Amelia Island was settled by the French and named “Isle de Santa Maria.” The island changed hands several times between the French, Spanish, and British before being officially ceded to the United States in 1821 as part of the Adams-Onis Treaty.
In 1811, a group of American settlers led by Nathanial Richardson established a small village on the island, which they named Fernandina. This village later became the city of Fernandina Beach. The city grew quickly in the 19th century, driven by its strategic location as a port and its burgeoning lumber, fishing, and tourism industries.
It Was Occupied By Confederate Forces
During the American Civil War, Fernandina Beach was occupied by Confederate forces, but it was later retaken by Union troops. After the war, the city continued to grow, and by the late 19th century, it had become a popular destination for tourists and winter visitors.
Today, Fernandina Beach is a charming coastal city with a rich history and a vibrant downtown area. Visitors can explore the city’s historic district, which features well-preserved Victorian and Queen Anne-style buildings, and take in the local culture and festivals.
Amelia island and Fernandina beach is also home to many outdoor activities such as fishing, kayaking, hiking, and birdwatching.
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3. Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas
Fort Jefferson is a historic fortress located in the Dry Tortugas, a group of small islands located about 70 miles west of Key West, Florida. The fort was built by the United States government during the mid-19th century as part of the country’s coastal defense system.
Construction of Fort Jefferson began in 1846 and continued for several decades. The fort was built to protect the Gulf of Mexico and the shipping lanes that passed through the area. It was designed to be a massive structure, with walls that were 16 feet thick and stood up to 50 feet high. The fort was equipped with more than 400 guns, making it one of the most heavily armed forts in the country.
Fort Jefferson Was Never Called Upon To Defend The Nation
Despite its impressive design and armament, Fort Jefferson was never called upon to defend the nation. Instead, it was primarily used as a prison, and it held some of the most notorious criminals of the time, including Dr. Samuel Mudd, who was convicted of conspiracy in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
In 1874, the fort was officially closed as a military installation, and it was later turned over to the Department of the Interior. In 1935, it was established as a national monument and today is part of the Dry Tortugas National Park.
Visitors can take ferries from Key West to the fort and explore its grounds and learn about its history. The fort is considered as one of the most remote and least visited national parks in the country, despite its historical significance and the natural beauty of the surrounding waters.
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2. Walt Disney World
When it comes to things to do at Walt Disney World there’s no shortage. Among my favorites are:
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park
- Disney Springs
- Magic Kingdom Park
- Avatar Flight of Passage
- Pandora – The World of Avatar
- Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park
- Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park
100 Years of Disney on Display
Now if it’s history that you’ve come to see then how about the history of the man who brought joy to millions.
You can see 100 Years of Disney on Display. Originally opened to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Walt’s birth, the gallery showcases his life story from small-town America to Hollywood.
After your gallery tour, catch a screening of Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream, a 15-minute documentary that showcases the life and times of the visionary creator.
Featuring rare audio recordings, historical footage and rarely seen home movies, this film traces the dramatic tale of how Walt turned his dreams into reality.
1. Kennedy Space Center
The Space Program is considered one of America’s finest moments. Why? Because human space exploration helps to address fundamental questions about our place in the Universe and the history of our solar system.
Through addressing the challenges related to human space exploration we expand technology, create new industries, and help to foster a peaceful connection with other nations.
And this incredible story of America’s exploration into space comes to life at the Kennedy Space Center.
I would recommend beginning your day at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. It features exhibits and displays, historic spacecraft and memorabilia, shows, two IMAX theaters, and a range of bus tours of the spaceport.
Things To Do At The Kennedy Space Center
From the Visitor Center there’s much to see and do. Attractions include:
- U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame
- Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo. Heroes & Legends.
- Rocket Garden. Heroes & Legends
- Astronaut Encounter. Heroes & Legends.
- Heroes & Legends
- Kennedy Space Center Bus Tour
- Apollo 8 and the Firing Room
- Path to the Moon
List Of Historic Sites In Florida
- Kennedy Space Center
- Walt Disney World
- Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas
- Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island
- Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve
- Nike Missile Base in Everglades National Park
- Fort Matanzas National Monument
- Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
- De Soto National Memorial
- Fort Caroline National Memorial
- Key West Lighthouse
- Kingsley Plantation
- Vizcaya Museum & Gardens
- The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum
- Lightner Museum
About The People Behind More Than Just Parks
You should probably know that we don’t just make this stuff up out of thin air. My sons have spent their entire adult lives exploring and filming America’s national parks and public lands.
As for me, I’m a retired lifelong educator and a proud dad of these two wonderful guys who are hopelessly obsessed with the national parks. I taught history for over a quarter of a century. Now I enjoy researching and writing articles for More Than Just Parks. I’m always on the hunt for topics where nature and history intersect so please feel free to share any ideas that you might have with me.
We’ve worked with the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, and the U.S. Forest Service for years creating films on important places and issues. Our work has been featured in leading publications all over the world and even some people outside of our immediate family call us experts on the national parks.
Meet The Parks Brothers
We’re Jim Pattiz and Will Pattiz, collectively known as the Pattiz Brothers (and sometimes the Parks Brothers) and we absolutely LOVE the national parks.
Our goal here at More Than Just Parks is to share the beauty of America’s national parks and public lands through stunning short films in an effort to get Americans and the world to see the true value in land conservation.
We hope you’ll follow our journey through the parks and help us to keep them the incredible places that they are. If you’re interested in joining the adventure then sign up below!