Florida: An appreciation of history comes naturally

Dry Tortugas National Park features Fort Jefferson, one of the largest 19th-century forts in the country. CONTRIBUTED BY DRY TORTUGAS NATIONAL PARK
Dry Tortugas National Park features Fort Jefferson, one of the largest 19th-century forts in the country. CONTRIBUTED BY DRY TORTUGAS NATIONAL PARK

Dry Tortugas National Park

Get a taste of both history and natural beauty with a visit to Dry Tortugas National Park. It’s located nearly 70 miles west of Key West, and the only way to get there is by boat or seaplane. Yet it’s worth the trouble. The 100-square-mile park features seven small islands surrounded by crystal-blue waters, coral reefs and abundant marine life. The centerpiece is Fort Jefferson, and guests can take a tour of one of the largest 19th-century forts in the country. It’s located on Garden Key, the hub of the park’s activity. Visitors travel directly from Key West to Garden Key. There you’ll find the park headquarters, visitor center, campgrounds and swimming and snorkeling areas. Guests immerse themselves in everything from kayaking and paddle boarding to scuba diving. Others simply bask on the powder-white beaches of Garden Key.

40001 Fla. 9336, Homestead. 305-242-7700, drytortugas.com.

Coral Castle Museum

This mysterious monument, featuring a hand-carved castlelike structure and massive sculptures made from coral, has been drawing visitors since the 1940s. Edward Leedskalnin built it himself as a tribute to Agnes Scuffs, the woman who left him the day before their wedding. Leedskalnin spent a total of 28 years secretly carving more than 1,100 tons of coral rock at night. When asked how he did it, he simply told visitors he knew “the secret of the pyramids.” He would charge onlookers 10 to 25 cents to tour the grounds. Coral Castle was a work in progress, and Leedskalnin continued carving up until his death in 1951. Unfortunately, his sculpting secrets died along with him. Today the curious continue visiting Coral Castle, which landed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. The mystique still surrounds Coral Castle, and its operators take advantage. On the first Saturday of each month, it plays host to Psychic Saturday with palm readers and fortune tellers.

28655 S. Dixie Highway, Miami. 305-248-6345, coralcastle.com.

St. Augustine

Billed as the oldest continuously inhabited city in the United States, St. Augustine offers volumes of history-rich experiences. Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park blends living history re-enactments with a working archaeological dig. Guests can even sip from the infamous springs. An array of museums — ranging from St. Augustine lighthouse and its 219 steps to a host of historic homes and forts — can be found. Those who want a sweeping look at the old town can take a trolley tour of the historic area.

visitstaugustine.com.

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