Tropical palms swaying in the breeze. A koi pond teaming with life. Colorful walkways and peaceful gazebos.
St. Pete’s Sunken Gardens are the best gardens near Tampa and have been serving the local Florida community since 1911.
At first glance, you might wonder if this historic attraction is a bit stuck in time with its vintage signs, and you’d be right!
It’s possibly one of the oldest roadside attractions in all of the USA (definitely Florida), and this heritage is preserved in some of the special touches around the gardens (though many parts have been lovingly modernized for a 21st century crowd!)
Wander through the Japanese garden to find your zen, see if you can chat to the birds, or take a moment to appreciate just how developed and full the foliage is after having over 100 years to grow.
In this review of St. Pete’s Sunken Gardens, we’re going to go over the practical and the personal, sharing exactly how much the Sunken Gardens cost, when you should go, and what parts are must-dos.
Who Should Visit Sunken Gardens?
Before we get into the nitty gritty of the review, let’s talk about what kinds of visitors would enjoy a trip to the Sunken Gardens.
Not every attraction is for every type of traveler, and it’s important to know what to expect before you visit.
The Sunken Gardens are great for:
- anyone who loves nature, plants, or gardening
- families with young kids who will feel like they’re in a real-life jungle roaming around the grounds
- visitors seeking peace and tranquility in the heart of St. Pete
- history lovers
If you are looking for adrenaline-pumping thrills, you won’t find it at the Sunken Gardens (and that’s how they prefer it, thank you very much!)
Sunken Gardens History
The history of Florida’s Sunken Gardens dates back to 1911 when a man named George Turner Sr purchased a plot of land (about six acres) that included a shallow lake.
This lake was drained, to create the sunken effect, and over the years he used the land for his own means and vegetable growing.
In 1935, after interest from local residents, he started charging admission fees (24 cents at the time!) for people to stroll through his garden, and that was the start of the boom of the first wave of popularity for this attraction.
If you went back to find old Florida guidebooks from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, you’d definitely see the St. Pete Sunken Gardens towards the top of the list and visitors fell in love with the unique plants, peaceful places to rest, and gorgeous views of the grounds.
The gardens were sold to the city of St. Pete in 1999, and today, with the help of volunteers, the Sunken Gardens remain open to the public.
Sunken Gardens Hours
The hours of the Sunken Gardens are from 10am to 4:30am every day of the week, except on Sundays when the opening time starts later at 12pm.
Sunken Gardens Price
You should expect to pay the following admission prices for Sunken Gardens in St. Pete:
- Adults: $15
- Seniors: $12
- Kids (2-11): $6
There are also often Groupon deals for the Sunken Gardens, which will often give you up to 50% off on admissions.
If you’re a local or plan lots of trips to St. Pete, it may be worth investing in a family membership for $100 a year or $50 for an individual membership.
Visitor Experience and Gift Shop
Parking at the Sunken Gardens is free in the parking lot out front.
You’ll see some vintage looking signs as you approach the path to the modern visitor center, where you’ll walk in and find some much-needed air-conditioning and modern visitor’s desk.
At this desk, you’ll show your membership or pay your entry fee and then continue on the right hand side door into the gardens themselves.
There are also bathrooms in this area for before, during, or after your visit.
As you wander around the gardens, there are some signs with information about the plants or ponds you’re looking at.
Some have been worn slightly throughout the years due to the weather and may be covered by leaves or other debris based on the Florida afternoon thunderstorms, but that is part of the charm.
Aside from the modern visitor center, the gardens themselves aren’t “flashy.”
They’re tranquil, and calm, and beautiful, and help visitors to develop a love for natural Florida, but you won’t find LED signs or audio guides here.
When you exit, you can exit right into the gift shop which has some really unique items for kids and adults, celebrating the gardens themselves as well as Florida wildlife.
Sunken Gardens Florida Plants
From cactus to water lilies to royal palms, the plants and trees are really the star of the show at the Sunken Gardens.
As you wander the paths, you’ll walk through designated areas that separate and group some of the plant species together, like the arid landscape of the cactus plants with all of the species that tend to grow more commonly in the desert!
The sheer size of the trees and the bushes is impressive, much more so than newer gardens that haven’t had time to really flourish.
Sunken Gardens Florida Animals
One of the biggest surprises to me were the animals that can be found at Sunken Gardens!
Not only do they have the natural Florida wildlife like lizards and squirrels, but the gardens are also home to some resident birds.
There is also a family of flamingos who live out their days splashing in the water and basking in the sun.
If you’re into turtles, make sure to take time to spot the very large (but camouflaged!) turtle in one of the ponds, as well as some tortoises!
Sunken Gardens Florida Events
Sunken Gardens is such a beautiful place that it attracts everything from weddings to receptions to business meetings.
If you visit with a group, you can prearrange an educational tour (geared towards the people in your group, so if you want to bring the kids, they can totally make it kid-friendly).
There is also a small outdoor theater that can be used for various talks.
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