A great aspect of Florida is that no matter what time of year it is, you can enjoy being in the outdoors. Florida is also packed full of history and culture that is exciting to explore - so why not combine the outdoors and history? This combination is what makes open-air museums so intriguing, and the perfect way to spend your day immersed in sun, stories of the past, and sensational views of nature and water. Imagine walking through a magnificent historic estate on the bay, learning the living history of the Seminole Indians, re-discovering the Fountain of Youth, or exploring a Civil War-era fort surrounded by water!
Step Back in Time At - Manatee Village Historical Park
Be transported to the turn of the 20th century at the Manatee Village Historical Park in Bradenton. Walk through 14 different points of interest that convey the beginnings of the city before there were paved roads or electricity. Explore the pioneer past as you visit the courthouse, one-room schoolhouse, farmhouse, general store, boat shop, steam engine, and cowhunter bunkhouse.
The exhibits are meant to realistically display what they would’ve looked like back in the day, including stocked goods in the general store. You can also visit the Whistle Stop Gift Shop to take home a piece of your experience. The park is primarily wheelchair accessible, and admission is FREE! If you want to heighten your experience, you can be granted a key to the 1850 Manatee Burying Grounds, the oldest cemetery in the county; historical but also very spooky!
Hours: Monday – Friday 9a.m. to 4p.m. 2nd & 4th Saturdays each month, 9a.m. to 4p.m.
Indulge In The Arts At - The Ringling
Spread across 66 acres of the most beautiful waterfront property in Sarasota, The Ringling offers thrills and relaxation - whichever you choose - as you’re surrounded by art, architecture, and sculptures. The Ringling was once the estate of John and Mable Ringling (of circus fame) and has been dedicated to the community and visitors as a playground for the arts. In one building you will find the State Art Museum of Florida, housing complete art collection of the Ringlings from Reubens galleries to a fascinating Skyspace in the open courtyard, plus thrilling temporary exhibits. In the center of the U-shaped building is a statue garden and fountain, where you could probably spend a whole day alone. But it’s time to move on!
There are two buildings dedicated to the circus and telling the story of the famous Ringling Brothers. The grounds themselves are an attraction to behold: a beautiful children’s playground beneath the trees, a fragrant rose garden first planted by Mable Ringling and still thriving, huge banyans and a secret garden, and an expansive view of the Sarasota Bay. On the bay sits the magnificent Ca’d’Zan, the opulent home of the Ringlings with guided tours available; although you may be happy to sit on its bayfront patio and watch the ships on the bay. There is a restaurant as well as a coffee shop and cafes scattered throughout the grounds. There are constant events happening here throughout the year, so be sure to check The Ringling’s calendar!
Hours: Daily 10a.m. to 5p.m., Thursdays until 8p.m.
Admission: Adults $25, Children (ages 6-17) $5, Children 5 & under FREE, Seniors $23, Military $15, FL Teachers $10, College Students $5
Discover Living History At - Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum
Located on the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation in Clewiston (just outside of Orlando) is the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, which celebrates, preserves, and interprets Seminole culture and history. This museum is home to more than 180,000 unique artifacts and archival items. During your experience, you will spend part of your time indoors in the beautiful and intriguing museum building, which offers permanent galleries and temporary exhibits. The permanent galleries provide a glimpse into life as a Seminole in the 1890s, including lifelike portrayals of different activities. Head outdoors for even more incredible experiences, including a recreation of ceremonial grounds with several chickees, or open-sided structures made from palmetto and cypress, as well as a recreated hunting camp. Visit the beautiful Seminole Village, where Modern Seminole artists are often present and are more than happy to answer questions and demonstrate traditional arts and crafts, which are available for purchase.
Perhaps the highlight of your outdoor time will be your trip down the Boardwalk. The elevated boardwalk winds through a beautiful 60-acre cypress dome with opportunities along the boardwalk to rest, enjoy the scenery, and learn more about the Seminole culture. About a quarter of the way through the right side of the boardwalk is the Clan Pavilion, which tells the story of the clans through colorful panels. Don’t miss the museum’s many events and programs that help you further delve into Seminole culture!
Hours: Daily 9a.m. to 5p.m. (Boardwalk closes at 4p.m.)
Admission: Adults $10, Children (ages 4-18) $7.50, Children 4 & under FREE, Seniors $7.50, Family Group (2 Adults, up to 4 Children) $30, Military $7.50
Rediscover The Child Within At - Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park
There are few places in Florida that can take you as far back in time (metaphorically, of course) as Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park in St. Augustine, which goes back to 55 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock! This park transports you to the very beginnings of European settlement in Florida, and celebrates the lifelong mission of the Spanish conquistador Ponce de Leon. The area was discovered by 1513 and settled by Pedro Menendez de Aviles in 1565.
15 waterfront acres will provide you with hours of enjoyment, and honestly you could spend the entire day relaxing by the water or underneath the shade of the towering trees. Don’t be startled if you see a peacock wandering around - you can even feed them if you want! Look over the park from the Observation Tower, sample the waters from the natural spring (Ponce de Leon's legendary Fountain of Youth?) or watch a historical reenactment the Timucuan Village, and the reconstructed First Mission of Nombre de Dios. Have a pet? They can enjoy the park, too!
Hours: Sunday - Saturday 9a.m. to 6p.m.
Admission: Adults $15, Children (ages 6-12) $9, Children 5 & under FREE, Seniors $14, St. Johns County residents receive 50% off admission!
Live The Simple Farm Life At - Florida Agricultural Museum
A perfect attraction for families, the Florida Agricultural Museum in St. Augustine offers a glimpse into real Florida life from the 1800s with a 460-acre living history exhibit that includes a five-building citrus complex, a 5,000-square-foot dairy barn, an 1880s farmstead with all of its outbuildings, a turn-of-the-century country store, the archaeological remains of a British colonial period sawmill, and an exhibit that tells the story of Africans and African Americans in Florida's cattle industry. The museum also maintains herds of heritage livestock, including Florida Cracker Horses and Cattle.
Hands-on activities and authentic collections bring Old Florida to life and connect children with the past with activities like vegetable picking and horse rides that include guided trail rides. The old mercantile store offers items that make perfect souvenirs of Old Florida.
Hours: Wednesday - Sunday 9a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday - Tuesday Closed
Admission: Adults $9, Children (ages 6-12) $7, Children 5 & under FREE, Family Group (up to five members) $30
Embark on An Unforgettable Journey At - Dry Tortugas National Park
Perhaps one of the most unique eco-attractions and open-air museums in the world is the Dry Tortugas National Park, located 70 miles off the Florida Keys. Comprised of seven small islands spanning 100 square miles, the park’s crown jewel is the historic Fort Jefferson, which was once used as a prison during the Civil War. Explore the fort and learn the story of the outlaws and soldiers stationed here with an in-depth tour from a guide (and be on the lookout for ghosts!). Discovered by Ponce de Leon in 1513, the Dry Tortugas were named after the many sea turtles living in the island’s surrounding waters (“Tortugas” means turtles in Spanish) and Ponce de Leon himself caught over 100 sea turtles during his time on the island. The clear, shallow, and undisturbed waters surrounding the islands are perfect for snorkeling, diving, and paddlesports - the coral reefs here are a particular joy to see. You can truly get away from it all with a stay in the campground here, which offers some of the best stargazing you could imagine.
The only way to get to the park is by boat or seaplane, and fortunately there are comfortable rides available aboard the park’s official ferry: The Yankee Freedom III. The ferry departs from Key West, and makes its way to the park for a little over a two-hour trip. Stay out on the sundeck to catch some rays, or head inside to the comfortable seating in the air-conditioned cabin. Included with your ferry tickets are entrance to the park, breakfast and lunch, Fort Jefferson tours, and complimentary snorkeling equipment.
Hours: Ferry runs daily. Park open daily, 24 hours.
Admission: Day trips on the ferry $180 for adults, Children $125, Seniors $170, Military and Students $170. If you’re taking other transportation, it’s $15 per adult (ages 17+) and that fee is good for seven consecutive days.
More Museums to Explore
Pioneer Village at Shingle Creek
Discover what life was like in the 1890s, a time when Central Florida was known for its citrus groves and cattle ranches. The Pioneer Village tells the story of some of Osceola County’s founding families and features historic structures such as a schoolhouse, general store, church, family homes and farm buildings, an original citrus packing plant, Seminole settlement, and a cow camp like those used by Florida cracker cowmen. The village is adjacent to a 7-acre nature preserve and is located in Shingle Creek Regional Park offering walking and biking trails, kayaking, and picnic areas.
Pioneer Village at Shingle Creek
2491 Babb Road, Kissimmee FL 34746
Hours: Open Daily 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Admission: $7 adults | $3 children (4-12)
Guided Tours: $10 adults | $5 children
The Lake Wales History Museum invites your family to explore history up close when you visit their three authentic train cars and renovated train depot filled with fascinating exhibits! Visitors of all ages will enjoy exploring the history of the Lake Wales area through a self-guided tour of the museum’s collection of artifacts, images, and documents that chronicle the evolution of Lake Wales from its native people to the development of the railroad industry. Discover living history at cityoflakewales.com