Jim Abbott on Travel
Postcards from Florida
December 13, 2009
Before the Disney era, Sunshine State tourist attractions were built on simpler notions.
At these vintage attractions, the fundamental things apply: There's wildlife, a niche long covered in South Florida by the Monkey Jungle, Parrot Jungle (now Jungle Island) and the Seaquarium. Growing up in a Miami suburb, my friends and I favored those destinations on occasional Ferris Bueller-esque escapes from class.
Recently, I finagled a similar field trip from work to visit Sunken Gardens, tucked into the 1800 block of Fourth Street North in St. Petersburg. It thrives on the allure of turning off the cell phone, meandering landscaped paths and thinking about, well, important things, big and small.
No, I didn't find the answer in an hour's pleasant stroll.
Yet the turning-off-your-cell-phone thing cannot be overrated. Transformed into a lush tropical garden by plumber George Turner Sr. in 1903 and officially opened as Sunken Gardens in 1935, the 4-acre site remains reassuringly unevolved.
Cascading waterfalls, flowing ponds stocked with ornamental Asian carp, lush tropical displays, Amazon parrots and macaws yield a quiet charm and romantic backdrop. The latter is the focus on the Wedding Lawn, a scenic spot for exchanging vows complete with a walkway adorned with hearts that crosses over one of the quiet ponds.
Wedding parties also can take advantage of the Garden Room, a newly opened reception hall in the attraction's main building, built in 1926.
If you're not up for that type of commitment, check out the "Growing Stone," along the first turn of the garden's meandering path. The stone is a fossilized limestone rock originally discovered in the sinkhole lake that formed Sunken Gardens.
According to legend, sitting on the ancient stone grants a person "tranquility, inner harmony and the talent to make things grow." A visit to the rock is a ritual for new garden employees, but a shot at that kind of inner peace is worth the stop for anyone.
An hourlong "Awaken Yoga" program is offered at 10 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. Admission is $8 per class or $28 at month. Find out more at sunkengardens.com or 727-551-3102.
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