Doug Alderson is the author of many books, a naturalist and an avid Florida outdoorsman. This is an excerpt from his newly released second edition of A New Guide to Old Florida Attractions: From Mermaids to Singing Towers, published by Pineapple Press.
With reviews such as “odd funky place with Old Florida feel” and “one of Florida’s best-kept secrets,” Boyett’s Citrus Attraction near Brooksville just might pique your interest.
There is a makeshift mine for panning gold, a mini golf course, a wildlife park with a wide range of animals, and an animated pterodactyl. Oh, and there are various types of citrus, vintage arcade games, hand-dipped ice cream, and funky stuff for sale in the “Huge Florida Tourist Trap Gift Shop.” Boyett’s website only covers part of what is offered.
The attraction started in 1966 as an open-air citrus market for the Boyett family citrus grove, but it quickly took on elements of old-time roadside attractions that once dotted the Florida roadscapes.
“You can only do so much with making oranges exciting,” said co-owner Kathy Oleson, a Boyett daughter who manages the attraction with her husband, Jim.
“And there was a severe freeze in the 1960s that destroyed much of the grove, so people started donating animals to us because we had acreage, and it just evolved from there. With all the problems we’ve had with growing oranges and grapefruit in the last few years, such as citrus greening, I’m glad we diversified.”
On my visit, Kathy first handed out 3-D glasses to me and my family for the brightly painted wacky art gallery featuring works by her son James. Then she led us through a backdoor entrance to the heart of the attraction.
“Now, there are four doors and four loops, so make sure you go through all four doors,” she said.
There are lots of twists, turns, passages, and doors, but fortunately the four main doors are marked because the attraction is a fun maze to figure out. At one point you are in a cave with animated dinosaurs illuminated by black lights, something very young children might find a bit frightening if they don’t know the difference between make-believe and real life.
Other loops feature larger-than-life pirates, aquariums, a massive stuffed great white shark, an Old West gold mine and statues of gunslingers, animal skulls and mounts, mermaid statues, a skunk ape, a moonshine still, 1920s-era roadsters, and a vintage citrus-packing area that is still used.
Mixed in are videos running on loops and displays of Old Florida souvenirs from bygone attractions. And that is all before you get to outdoor pens of live animals such as zebras, ostriches, monkeys, parrots, and llamas, some of which you can hand-feed. About the only things lacking are train rides, glass-bottom boat tours, and alligator wrestling.
If you think you can get through and experience everything in an hour, think again. Allow for two or more hours.
Boyett’s is a loving tribute to Florida’s roadside-attraction heritage. You might come away with the feeling that it lacks a central theme because Boyett’s pretty much covers the spectrum. But the central theme is simple: “Bring back great memories—or make new ones!”
The place could use some signage, loaner maps, and work on a sidewalk that is a bit like a broken roller coaster, but this ain’t Disney. Boyett’s is a true mom-and-pop operation that allows for free creative expression, and there will certainly be more features added in the future!
Admission: $8.95 for adults; $6.95 for 2-14 (plus tax.)
Directions: From I-75, take the U.S. 98 exit to Brooksville and travel east about five miles to the stoplight at Spring Lake Highway. Turn left and go up a steep hill, and the attraction is on the right. Open Monday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Address: 4355 Spring Lake Hwy., Brooksville, FL 34601; (352) 796-2289. Website for Boyett’s Citrus Attraction.
Reprinted with permission from A New Guide to Old Florida Attractions: From Mermaids to Singing Towers, published by Pineapple Press.