De Leon Springs State Park Florida

This trip actually took place much earlier this year and I kind of forgot all about it until recently.  We continued our exploration of different Florida State Parks and this one I was really looking forward too because of a unique restaurant located there.  Plus there is a certain fountain that I wanted to see, but we will get into that a little later.

De Leon Springs State Park is about an hour and a half from our house north of Orlando.

The name may sound familiar.  Juan Ponce de Leon was a Spanish explorer known for leading the first official European exploration of Florida.

Inside the park is a Pancake House called the Old Spanish Sugarmill.  But not your average restaurant.  This is a popular place and wait times can stretch past 2 hours so be sure to put your name on the list as soon as you arrive.

After we paid our small carload admission to the park, we found a parking spot and started exploring.  The day was beautiful and being outside in the sun is always a plus.

There is a portion of Spring Garden Lake that do see Manatees during the colder months of the year.  Unfortunately, during our visit, there were not around but we will be back to see them again in the future.  The park also does offer guided boat tours that I am interested in trying sometime.

Before heading behind the Old Spanish Mill I went up to put our names on the list for breakfast.  Remember how I said wait times can be pretty crazy, well I was told it could take about 1 and a half hours for our table to be available.  We were in no rush so it was time to head out back and check out some historic items that were on display.

Here lies The Fountain of Youth…well sort of.

As you can see there wasn’t much left of it, and there was certainly no youthful water available.  Back in the 1950s, this was a popular Florida roadside attraction where visitors could drink the water.  I guess it just wasn’t meant to be on this trip.

On the other side of the Mill was the Springs and there was a nice path that wound all the way around.

There was plenty of space around for visitors to set up their blankets and chairs before plunging into the Springs.

On one side of the Springs was a fairly large building with restrooms, changing areas, and a small Visitor Center.

Inside was a little museum with information on the Springs and surrounding areas.

I’m not really one to just sit down for too long and found myself walking around and just taking it all in.

Eventually, our name was called out over the loudspeakers in the park, notifying us that our table was ready.

It was perfect timing because by now we were all starving.  We headed up to the Old Spanish Mill and walked inside.

Once inside we were greeted by our server who walked us over to our table and explained how things worked.  Do you notice anything different about the tables?

They are known for their All you can eat pancakes but do have some other items if you prefer.  But I can attest that the pancakes are really good and are what we opted for.  You can also order toppings for your pancakes like chocolate chips, banana slices, blueberries, and a bunch of other things.

Not too long after we ordered our server brought over to pitchers of pancake batter.  One was their Early American style batter with unbleached white flour.  The second (is that a hidden mickey on the pitcher?) was their own house mixture with 5 fresh stoneground flours.

Now here is where things get a bit interesting.  Located right in the middle of your table is an electric griddle.  This is to ensure they are piping hot and made just as you like them.  You can make little ones, or one huge one, whatever your heart desires.  We even tried to make a Mickey-shaped one that kind of settled into more of a blob shape.

We tried both batters and they were really good, but I did prefer the Early American style the best.  With plenty of butter and maple syrup I was in heaven.  We tried to take our time and just enjoy our breakfast, and once done we had eaten probably a few too many pancakes but it was worth it.

After I paid our bill my family headed into the little gift shop they had near the check out area.  But I had something else in mind.  Back near the main entrance of the restaurant was a pressed penny machine.

I had seen it the first time we walked in but there was quite the crowd around the door so as much as it pained me I decided to wait until it cleared out.

One thing I want to point out about this machine is that the cost is a little higher than usual.  It was $0.75 per design to press plus your penny.  Thankfully I always bring extra quarters just in case.

The pennies rolled a little short but I find that is pretty common for this style of machine.  The set was nice and I enjoyed the images of the De Leon Springs State Park seal and the Old Spanish Suger Mill building.  Of course, being located in Florida there has to be designs of an Alligator and Manatee.

After our visit, we had told friends and family about this place and many of them questioned why we would want to go to a restaurant that makes us cook our own food. But that didn’t even really cross my mind, it was a unique experience and my entire family just had a really fun and memorable time.  The price of the pancakes was less than $6 a person which I think was a steal, and to this day my two daughters keep asking when we can go back.  They are definitely anxious to get a little older so they can try to work the griddle and make their own creations.

Homosassa Springs State Park Florida

It was about time for my family to get out of the house for some fresh air.  Being cooped up inside was starting to make everyone a little squirrely.  But instead of heading back to one of the theme parks, we had decided to visit another Florida State Park.  This trip we headed back over towards the Gulf to check out Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.

This place kind of took me by surprise as I was thinking it would just be another State Park with nature trails we could explore, but it was so much more than that.

When we first arrived we were greeted by a huge Manatee out front of the visitor center.  Parking was free which was nice.

Inside the visitor center was a little museum with some old photographs and plenty of history about the State Park.

I feel like I’ve seen this Manatee before but wearing a different shirt?  I’ll have to look into this more at some time, or maybe I just need more sleep.

Just outside the restrooms was the first penny press machine I found and had information that there was another one somewhere.

The pennies from this first machine had images of a couple Manatees, an Alligator, a Wolf, and a Florida panther.

After we had enjoyed the visitor center we headed out back to where the Boats and Trams were located to take us further into the Park.

We lucked out and one of the tour boats was about to leave so we jumped on board and had a wonderful little adventure.  The ride took maybe 15 minutes down the river and the tour guide gave us plenty of details about the river and made sure to point out some local wildlife like turtles, cranes, and even a couple gators along the riverbank.

After the board tour docked at the far end of the river we exited near another parking lot along Fishbowl Drive.  We saw people crossing the street towards another building that lead the way towards the Wildlife Walk.

Inside was a little gift shop to one side, and a food counter on the right side called the Wildside Cafe.  We stopped for a light snack and some drinks to cool off.

Just past the Wildside Cafe was the second pressed penny machine, thankfully this time not near the restrooms.

The pennies at this machine rolled a bit short, but most of the designs came through.  The set included images of a Pather, a Manatee, an Eagle, and a Bear.  Hopefully, we wouldn’t be running into any bears or Panthers on this nature walk.

After I used the penny machine there was a desk towards the opposite side of the building where you paid a small admission price to explore the Wildlife Walk.

I was amazed that even at this time of year we were able to see a couple Manatees in the wild.  These really are amazing creatures and I never get tired of seeing them in the wild.

They definitely were proud of their Manatee residents at the park.  It was interesting to read all the information boards they had in this area with details about them.

Now it was time to explore the Wildlife Walk.  It was a nice raised wooden Boardwalk type path that wound through the park.

It was nice a wide so everyone had plenty of space and you could take your time without feeling like you were holding anyone up.

Of course, we are in Florida so there has to be the standard Alligator exhibit with some of the biggest gators I’ve ever seen up close.  Thankfully they looked well fed and were just enjoying the sunny afternoon.

This was not a zoo, so there weren’t any exotic animals on this walk but instead, it was promoting Florida local wildlife.  I found this kind of refreshing as it seemed to fit better in the state park.

Eventually, we made the entire tour around the Wildlife Walk and found ourselves back at the Tram / Boat station.  This time we opted to try the Tram which was just a trailer with seats attached to the back of a pickup truck.  It was a quick drive along the river but no tour guide this time around.  The tram was more all business just getting you back to the visitor center as quickly as possible.  But cutting its way through the tall trees and green surroundings was still a nice way to end our day.

We had a fantastic day and really enjoyed just being outside.  Florida State Parks are really becoming our favorite way to spend some quality family time together, get some exercise and of course, find a few pressed pennies every now and then.

Hontoon Island State Park – DeLand, FL

Recently I was doing some research for places to find pressed pennies.  Don’t worry we have plenty of places to visit.  But I wanted to take a bit of a break from the theme parks and thought some unique locations around Florida might be a nice change.  Something jumped out at me as I noticed a large number of State Parks have pressed pennies.  So I created a new to-do list and figured we would start checking them out.  Just this past weekend my youngest daughter tagged along as we visited our first park.

We drove north to Hontoon Island State Park which took us on quite a drive on some back roads and through a residential neighborhood before we finally found it.

The parking lot is a bit strange as it’s just located between a couple houses, and the property wasn’t very big.

Then it dawned on me that this was actually just the parking lot, you actually needed to find a way over to the Island.  For some reason when I saw Hontoon ISLAND State Park, I didn’t realize it was actually on an island.

They do offer a free ferry that will take you over to the island, but please note the ferry is not very large and can only hold about 6 people at a time.  Also, the ferry stops running at a specific time each afternoon.  Make sure you don’t miss that last ferry or you may need to try and convince a nearby fisherman to take you back across in their boat.  The last ferry time is posted near the Ranger Station on the island, so take note.

Once we were on the island it has plenty of picnic tables, a large playground for the kids, and quite a few barbeques available should you want to make some lunch.

My daughter just loved the large open areas so she could run around and the playground had plenty of kids to play with.  There was a birthday party going on under a covered patio area which I guess you would book at the ranger station if interested.

There were a few benches located along the waterfront which made for a nice place to just sit and enjoy the view.  I’m not sure if Manatees frequent this area during the winter months but this does seem like the perfect place for them.

Back near where the ferry drops you off on the island is the Ranger Station and a few other inside areas.

At the far end, opposite from the Ranger Station is the Visitor Center.

Inside is a small museum with lots of information about the Island and the State Park which is really interesting.  My daughter was not so intrigued and started asking for some ice cream.

To try and find her some ice cream we headed next door to the Island Store.

This was a cute little general store with a decent selection of items you may need while visiting the island.  They had charcoal for the barbeques, or snacks like chips and candy, plus plenty of cold drinks.  Thankfully they also had a cooler in the corner with plenty of ice cream bars.

Near the ice cream cooler and drink fridge was the penny press machine tucked away in the opposite corner.

The machine was on wheels which were interesting but I’m sure it’s just so they can more easily move it around the store as they change things around.  The wheels were locked firmly so when I used the machine it didn’t move around and was easily to use.

The penny designs included a Snake, a Bear, an Alligator, and the Owl Totem which is located in the park.

Quick side note, here is a picture of the Owl Totem from out in the park.

After we pressed our pennies we headed up to the cash register to pay for our ice cream and I noticed in the glass case they had some pressed penny books and extra pressed pennies from the machine.

We went back over near the playground to enjoy our ice cream.  My daughter then continued to play on the playground for while until the birthday party (we were not invited to) started to dispurse.  I figured that was a good time to try and ensure we get back to the main land before the ferry stops running.  This was definitely a unique state park to visit and we had a lot of fun.  The pressed pennies are a great memento I have of this great afternoon we had and can’t wait to check out our next state park.