Summertime means packing up the car and taking the family on that long-planned road trip to Orlando or Tampa or the Keys. And while hitting up the Magic Kingdom with the kiddos is a great deal of fun filled with wonder and whimsy, there's always room to make things vastly more interesting and creepy and weird on your family vacation.
Because Florida is home to some of the weirdest roadside attractions anywhere on the map. From a giant lobster sculpture in Islamorada to a huge conch shell in Key West to an inexplicable statue of a barefoot mailman in Hillsboro, there is no shortage of weird crap to look at as you drive Florida's highways and byways. Most of them were put there because it just seemed like the thing to do, while others seem to have a capricious purpose to the grander underbelly of Florida's overall bizarre vibe.
Here now are the five weirdest roadside attractions you should hit up this summer:
5. The Elian Gonzalez Museum House (2319 NW Second St., Miami)
Remember that iconic shot of Elian Gonzalez being torn from his Little Havana home by federal agents in 2000? Well, that same exact home has been turned into the Elian museum absolutely no one was clamoring for! That's right. The kids' uncle turned the house into a sort of Elian/Cuba shrine for anyone who ever wonders, "Hey what's up with Cuban history and that kid from Cuba and Janet Reno?" Weirdly, the museum is still used as a house, which doesn't make things awkward at all. But hey, you can see the closet where Elian was hiding before the scary mustached guy with the big gun took him back to his dad in Cuba. There are no set hours for the museum, so just walk up to the door and knock. No, really. The uncle is usually there and ready to accept total strangers into his house to look at his stuff. AMERICA!
4. World's Smallest Police Station (U.S. Highway 98, Carrabelle)
During a moment in history historians like to call "back in the day," the Town of Carrabelle had police but no police station, which seems lazy and arbitrary, but whatever. Instead, the local cops just parked their squad cars next to a telephone booth on the main intersection and waited for the phone to ring. People would call the telephone to report stuff, which was probably a real pain in the ass if some local kid was on it talking to his girlfriend at the same time. Eventually, Carrabelle cops stopped using the telephone booth as a police station because the telecommunications age came along and also because it's stupid. The booth still stands, and most folks visit it to take in a piece of old Florida history and teach their kids about phone booths. Kids just look at it like the monkeys look at the monolith at the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
3. First White Man Killed in America Marker (3498 W. Marion Ave., Punta Gorda)
Little-known fact: American history is really incredibly superracist and awful toward Native Americans. And nothing — and we mean NOTHING — brings home that fact more than this weird-ass marker found in Punta Gorda that goes out of its way to honor the very first white man to die in America. It's hard to see it, because nobody has bothered to preserve it, but if you walk up close enough to the marker, this is what it says:
On this day, May 24, ships were sent to seek a mainland colony site and to sound and chart the newly found "Bay of the Holy Spirit." For three weeks explorations continued, seldom by land. There were at least three meetings with the Caloosas; once they offered "guanin" (low gold) and skins for trade and promised more. But in other meetings fighting erupted and "several Indians" and one Spaniard were killed. Thus, the first white man died in America, victim of Indian arrows, and the place of his death was called "Matanca"
Holy and crap. Never mind the thousands of Native Americans ("several Indians") that were killed when their land was raped and pillaged by white dudes in armor who showed up unannounced and just took whatever they wanted; we need to commemorate when the FIRST WHITE GUY DIED. The man apparently died when meetings "erupted" into fights, which no doubt meant that he wanted something the Native Americans were not willing to part with and he got supermad and started killing people in a major hissy fit, as conquistadors were wont to do. The good news is this dude died by getting shot by arrows, which we imagine is a gruesome and painful way to go. Sucks for that guy, but hey, SHRINE!
2. Skunk Ape Research Headquarters (40904 Tamiami Trail, Ochopee)
Here's something wacky you may not know: Bigfoot probably exists in Florida. Except he's not called Bigfoot or Sasquash ’round these parts. He's called a skunk ape. Apparently it's because he smells. Now, according to the United States National Park Service, the skunk ape does not exist. But an entire facility in Ochopee, Florida, is dedicated to proving the USNPS wrong because what the hell do they know? Hence, the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters is a thing. The facility is run by two brothers who claim that a whole family of skunk apes is roaming the wilds of the Everglades, which is weird because with so many skunk apes running around out there, you'd think someone would've found some definitive proof. Yet, just like its Yeti and Sasquash cousins, the skunk ape appears to show up in purported photos of it looking obscure or out of focus. Skunk ape ain't about that paparazzi life. But if you visit the Skunk Ape Research Center, you can buy DVDs of skunk ape sightings, coincidentally shot by the owners of the facility. You can also see a life-sized plaster cast of a skunk ape footprint, some apparent photos, and other oddities that prove the skunk ape is very real and very much walking around the swamps and generally stinking things up. The facility also holds a Miss Skunk Ape contest every June. So there's that.
1. Potter's Wax Museum (31 Orange St., St. Augustine)
Want to hit up a wax museum where Richard Nixon looks like a Jack Nicholson impersonator, Abe Lincoln has inexplicably thick eyebrows, and Captain Jack Sparrow looks like some dude dressed like a hobo? If so, then Potter's Wax Museum is the wax museum for you. That's right. Potter's is kitschy enough that the wax figures not looking quite right becomes kind of entertaining. Take the Albert Einstein figure, for example. Absolutely no effort was made to make his hair look normal, and they put him in a leather jacket. So he basically looks like a hipster out-of-work street artist who sells paintings of dogs for $5. You have to admire that complete and total lack of dedication for accuracy and noncraftmanship. Potter's is the best place to visit to be thoroughly creeped out by wax figures that don't look right yet it not mattering.