A Lasting Reminder of Florida Golden Age of Tourist

I moved to South Florida at the end of the golden era of the tourist industry. Back then Parrot Jungle was located in Ft. Lauderdale, Six Flags over Atlantis was a water park in Hollywood, and there was an Ocean World right off the 17th Street Causeway. I can still remember touching to dolphins in a shallow pool that would make any PEDA member pissed. We weren’t very animal friendly back then. 

  In the mid-80s, these traps disappeared as families were more interested in spending time on the beach, shopping, and a more real Florida. So I was kind of surprised to find in Florida one of those long lost tourist destination reimaged.

       dscn3709  In the 1960s The McKee Jungle Gardens opened up. Spreading over 48 acres, it offered the traveler a glimpse of paradise that Florida was trying to sell. In reality, Florida was still a big swamp back then. With its imported tropical plants, birds, and monkey. It was a place of wonder, delight and a detraction of the real Florida. Sadly, like so many of these sites, it went belly up in the 80S.  Most of its acres were sold off and turned into golf courses. But 18 acres were saved and turned into the McKee Botanical Gardens.

While doing some research on what to do in Vero Beach, I came across a local blogger take on this place. She talked about a beautiful garden and something to kill a couple of hours. So I jotted it down in my notes, so if laying by the pool was busted, I had a backup.

           dscn3727     Turns out, laying by the pool did bust, OJ had surgery on his hand, and he was in the cast. So the pool was out of the questions. So after brunch at a great little café in Vero Beach, we headed over to the gardens to check it out.

After paying the $10.00 charge to get it, we wondered the twisting path around the property. It was the tail end of the lilies being in bloom. The ponds around the property were alive with purple, blue and yellow lilies.

There were a couple of unique things to check out. One was a large grill that would be any barbecuer dreams. We weren’t sure why they had a grill, but it is worth checking out.

Another attraction is the sleeping tree, which is a type of tree that grows sideways instead of up and down.

dscn3769 The gardens also had an art displayed done by Patrick Dougherty called The Royals. He is an artist that twists branches into three dimensional shapes. These were three heads like statues that you can walk around and through.

Along the path are reminders of the past. There were the runes of the aviary that once held a collection of exotic birds, a couple of waterfalls that used to be part of a larger exhibit, and the historical markers talking about what was there.

In its own way the gardens, play homage to the past, admitting it once was a cheesy tourist trap, while being a beautiful gathering of native Florida flora and fauna. Florida’s originally named Pascua Florida, meaning Flowering Easter. There are certain times of the year that Florida lives up to its name.

Wandering around the gardens took about a couple of hours, and I would suggest a bottle of water and some bug spray. The gardens are very well kept, in a natural way, so make sure you have a pair of good walking shoes.

I did realize something, I miss these long ago tourist traps of my youth, and I wonder what my today self would have thought of these places. 

                If you are up in Vero Beach, it is worth checking out.

Check out my pictures

Vero Beach Flicr


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