There are so many wonderful things about the State of Florida and many of them are just plain free! On this site, I'll be exploring the free side of Florida as well as low cost options for your weekends or vacation. But because I don't want to steer you wrong, I'll post after I visit these places myself. Have a great time on the site and on your own adventures!

Be sure to click the tab below for a full list of reviewed locations!

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John Gorrie Museum State Park, Apalachicola, FL

Dr. John Gorrie Museum State Park
When I first heard of Dr. John Gorrie, I was thrilled. This was the guy that got air conditioning off the ground - what a hero in Florida! So when I discovered there was a museum dedicated to this man worthy of worship, I had to see it. ...but then I arrived...

What appears to be a fourth
grade science project.
Apalachicola is a nice little waterfront town known for ice. Yes, ice. That is what Dr. Gorrie first invented - a machine to make artificial ice. He held the first patent on such a machine which led to the invention of air conditioning. And Apalachicola has a stranglehold on that notoriety. ...and really nothing else. So when they made a museum dedicated to this physician/inventor/postmaster/banker/politician, wouldn't you think they would have some information on him? Okay, to be fair, they did have what appeared to be the science project of a fourth grader tucked away in the back corner of the tiny museum. And they did have a 3/4 scale replica of Dr. Gorrie's ice machine perched in the center of the room. But that's it.

The rest of the museum was based on the history of Apalachicola's industry during the relatively small time frame of when Dr. Gorrie lived there, rather than on the fascinating man himself. Unfortunately, there's more information about him on the Florida Heritage Landmark sign across the street at his grave site than in the museum "dedicated" to him.
The most information you'll find on
Dr. John Gorrie at the museum.

I would not recommend a trip to Apalachicola just to see this State Park Museum. But if you happen to be in the area and have 10 minutes and $2 to kill, knock yourself out.

At least it was air conditioned.

For more information on the John Gorrie Museum State Park, please click the name or go here: http://www.floridastateparks.org/johngorriemuseum/  Incidentally, the picture on the State Parks' website for the museum is actually of the church across the corner - not even of the museum itself.

Click HERE for a map.



Florida Caverns State Park, Marianna, FL

Florida Caverns State Park, Christmas Tree Room
Strictly speaking, this location does not meet the "Under $10" guidelines set forth to eligible for this website... However, if you pack a few people in the car with you, it does. The reasoning is such: The cave tour itself costs $8 per person. But entrance to the park to begin with is $5 per vehicle, up to 8 people. So if you have at least three people in your car, it meets the budgetary guidelines of Free Time Florida. See? It really does work out!

Now on to the review...

Upon arrival at the Park, a native Floridian will notice the rolling hills (well, hills by Florida standards) and change in the types of trees and flora. The reason for this is that unlike most of Florida, the Caverns park is located in a Temperate climate region, rather than tropical. It's actually subject to four real seasons! When walking the trails, there are the feelings of northern state/national parks until one comes to a patch of palmettos and is swiftly brought back to the fact that you are in Florida. Rather a neat feeling. Another tip from Free Time Florida is to apply some insect repellent. This is a state park and the mosquitoes can be somewhat aggressive on the grounds outside of the caves.

Florida Caverns Gift Shop
The first thing you should know about the Caverns tour is that they are closed, due to budgetary restraints, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. As such, they are subject to a lot of school or camp outings on the remaining three weekdays, as well as general tourist traffic on the weekends. The recommendation by a few of the park rangers is to arrive early and make your reservation for a cavern tour that day. They are on a first come, first served basis and can sell out quickly depending on who shows up that day. You can make these arrangements at the gift shop.

Once your scheduled time arrives, tours are scheduled approximately 1/2 hour apart throughout the day, the guide takes a group of up to 25 people to the cave entrance. This is a fantastically surreal doorway to the underworld. It's as if you are entering the lair of Gollum. But once inside, you are quickly assured everything is safe and not to touch any of the walls or stalactites/stalagmites, as it may kill them. It's then that the tour starts it's journey through a series of "rooms", seeing everything from an ancient sea urchin permanently on display as a fossil in the ceiling of the entry to an also-ancient shark tooth trapped with the stone. There is a room where couples can get married with a wedding party of 25 or less, a room where visitors may or may not get to see live (non-threatening) bats in there with them, another that has what they refer to as a Christmas tree.
Typical passageway within the Caverns.

Please note: If you are the least bit squeamish about being in dark, enclosed spaces or passing through very narrow passages or under heights of around four feet at times you may want to reconsider this visit. For everyone else, I highly suggest a tour of these caves. They really are a fantastic sight and certainly one not to miss on your travels through Florida! There are even camp sites available on a limited basis.

For more information on Florida Caverns State Park, please click the name or go here: http://www.floridastateparks.org/floridacaverns/

Click HERE for a map.


Florida Historic Capitol Museum, Tallahassee, FL

Florida Historic Capitol Museum with the
New Capitol rising in the background.
First occupied in 1845 when Florida became the 27th state, this Capitol housed all three branches of the Florida government. Restored to it's 1902 splendor, the brick and wood building sits gracefully atop Apalachee Parkway, with the architecturally hideous 'New Capitol' peering from behind. Now an expansive museum, the 'Old Capitol' allows visitors to roam it's historic hallways unguided and for free. But be forewarned, if you plan on reading every single word printed on every display you'll be there for days. There is a lot to read. It's certainly interesting material, but man alive somebody was long-winded when creating the informational side of the displays. My thought is to see all the rooms, but pick out what is most interesting or important to you and only read those offerings.

Supported by donations, the Museum greets it's visitors in the central rotunda, beneath a beautiful sub-dome (be sure to look up) providing light to the gorgeous Grand Staircase. From there, we began our tour on the first floor, north end. Hugging the right side of the hallway down and back, the first room one comes to is where an 8-minute civic lesson is given. Moving beyond, and at the time of this writing, was a display regarding the 100th Anniversary of the Girl Scouts, with several uniforms, cookie boxes (presumable empty), and medals and plaques. Finishing up the north end of the museum's first floor is the Governor's offices, meeting rooms, and stenographer office, complete with turn of the century furnishings.
Florida's House of Representatives Chamber

The South end belonged to Florida's Judicial branch, with displays concerning Civil Rights, voting, the infamous presidential election of 2000 and Florida's pivotal role (sigh), as well as great events that have occurred during Florida statehood. At the end of the first floor south hall is the former Florida Supreme Court Chamber.

Moseying on up to the second floor guests can wander through the Legislative branch, choosing to first visit the House of Representatives Chamber in the north end or Senate Chamber in the south end. Either way, one is exposed to the elegance of design of those times.

New Florida State Capitol building.
Finally, a stop at this Capitol wouldn't be complete without a quick visit to the New Capitol. Although it is less than ravishing, the new building is certainly imposing. Standing at 22 stories with a public observation deck on the top floor (from which, visitors get a bird's eye view of both FAMU and FSU campuses), the interior does show much better than the exterior. The floors to see in this structure are 1, 5 and 22. Additionally, the new Florida Senate and House buildings flank the New Capitol, and the Florida Supreme Court building is simply a block away.

For more information on Florida Historic Capitol Building please click the name or go here: http://www.flhistoriccapitol.gov/

Click HERE for a map.




Mel Fisher's Treasure Museum, Sebastian, FL

In a rather unassuming building, in a seemingly sleepy, beach-side community on Florida's east coast, one can find gold and treasure the likes of which few have ever seen. Gold, rubies, emeralds, and weaponry not seen by human eyes in over 300 years has been found and is on glorious display at Mel Fisher's Treasure Museum in Sebastian, FL. His words, "Gold shines forever", is a saying that  is proven true and evidenced by the amazing displays.

Upon entering the facility, the visitor is greeted by a gentle lady to collect the modest entry fee and guide guests to the theater to the left. Once inside, guests are shown on continuous loop an approximately 25 minute video that spans the life and careers of Mel Fisher,  including the 15 years he and his team spent looking for the Nuestra Senora de Atocha - a Spanish galleon ship that sank during a hurricane in 1622 while en route from Cuba  to Spain. Once found, the treasures contained within the site quickly became the second most valuable shipwreck in history, in the Western hemisphere.

After the video, visitors are free to wander the rest of the museum at their own leisure. Dioramas, religious displays with incredible luster, and time lines are up first. Next, one enters the main display room that houses information on Mel and his family, displays on Spanish and French weapons, coins, personal items, and even  health devices (which, quite frankly, can be a little scary!). Ever heard of a cloister pump or a poison cup?


Finally, after seizing the opportunity to hold an actual gold bar, recovered from the underwater wreckage, visitors are directed through the inevitable gift shop. Here one can purchase actual coins, bits of gold and numerous pirate related items. Unfortunately, most of these fares are far out of the reach of Free Time Florida's budget. ...but they are nice to look at!

This is a small  place, but definitely worth a look if you're in the area. After all, how often does one get to hold priceless Spanish treasure?

For more information on Mel Fisher's Treasure Museum, click the name or go to: www.melfisher.com.

Click  HERE for a map.

The Sponge Docks of Tarpon Springs, FL

Spongeoramas Sponge Factory
It's loud. It's kitschy. It's very touristy... and if you think you won't get fussed at by a bossy little Greek woman, think again.

It was fantastic.

Tarpon Springs has been known for it's natural sponge divers for decades and still makes a great deal of money from that reputation - though not always from the sponges themselves. This tourist-laden district just a few minutes north of Clearwater is a really great way to spend a day if all you're looking for is an amazing gyro with oddly fantastic Greek-style fries, a lot of shopping, and a bit of entertainment.

The place to begin your visit is Spongoramas Sponge Factory on the north side of the main drag. Even though it is sort of a strange souvenir shop and one could spend a lot of bucks there, the reason it's being mentioned in this article is because they actually have a free "sponge museum" complete with a video history lesson of the area. And the truth is, the video is ancient, but not too bad. The museum, however, was a little dark, a little bit lacking, and in some spots a little creepy. But the best part of the whole experience there was watching the woman at the entrance to the shop yell at people as they entered, instructing them in no uncertain terms that they were to enter the theater to watch the history of sponge diving unfold right before their very eyes.

She didn't ask. She told.
Tarpon Springs dockside.

So other than the questionable sales tactics of the Greek Diva, the rest of Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks is pretty relaxing. There are a lot of shops, food places, and if you're walking along the dock side of the street a rather inexpensive trip (less than $10) one can take to witness an actual sponge diver in the classic diving suit venturing under the waves.

A tip about parking: Keep a close eye out for the Tarpon Springs Chamber of Commerce on the north side of the street. If there is an available parking spot in the small parking lot, grab it. Most other places charge a fee but the Chamber lot is no charge.

For more information on Spongeorama, click the name or go to: http://www.spongeorama.com/. For more information on the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks, click the name or go to: http://www.spongedocks.net/.

Click HERE for a map.