Sometimes it’s hard to convince people that there is a lot more to the Sunshine State than Disney and beaches (although those do have their charms.)
After writing a Family Travel blog post about seeing manatees in Florida at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, I remembered another Citrus County landmark nearby – the Crystal River Archaeological State Park about 75 miles north of Tampa/St. Petersburg.
This is a pre-Columbian Native American ceremonial complex where you can still climb up some of the six mounds on the property.
The lush vegetation and feathery gray Spanish moss hanging off of everything give it a vaguely spooky air (and you’d better have bug spray in hand or be chewed alive, since it borders a marsh.) There’s a small interpretive museum on site, with a video theater, artifacts and park Ranger assistance.
Also near Homosassa is a remnant of Florida’s plantation and sugar-production heyday, the Yulee Sugar Mill Ruins Historic State Park.
David Levy Yulee was Florida’s first U.S. Senator, the first Jewish person elected to the Senate and an important railroad man.
His sugar plantation operated here (with slave labor) from 1851-1864, and much of the mill equipment is still intact.
Preservation work was in progress when I visited, and there are special park Ranger educational programs available if you call ahead.
While you’re in the area, look for one of the many roadside fruit and produce stands; you should be able to find something local and yummy at any time of year.