Florida's Halls of Fame

Did you know that former US President Ronald Reagan not only captained his college swim team but also moonlighted as a lifeguard and is credited with saving 77 lives in his hometown of Dixon, IL? Or that the father of golfing great Nancy Lopez, who started swinging her clubs at age 8, rewarded his daughter with a Barbie doll for playing well after rounds? Those are the kinds of interesting, if rather random, facts you’ll learn with a tour of Florida’s diverse Halls of Fame and the museums that accompany them. 

Take a tour through some of the Sunshine State’s most interesting and unique Halls of Fame.

US Astronaut Hall of Fame

us astronaut hall of fame, titusville, florida
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NASA may be shuttering the Space Shuttle program later this year, but the lore of Cape Canaveral will long live on. The US Astronaut Hall of Fame houses the largest collection of personal memorabilia from US astronauts, including Gus Grissom’s silver-hued space suit from 1961 and Wally Schirra’s wildly antiquated Sigma Mercury 7 Capsule from 1962. The Hall of Heroes is a moving display of etched-glass images of inductees, including John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth; Sally Ride, the first American woman in space; and Francis Scobee, the commander of the ill-fated Space Shuttle Challenger.

American Police Hall of Fame

american police hall of fame, titusville, florida
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The more than 10,000 items on display at the American Police Hall of Fame include part of a plane and debris from the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, an electric chair and a historical document that’s an invitation to a hanging. The hall of fame memorial dedicated to officers killed in the line of duty is an etched marble tribute that includes more than 7,000 names. All law-enforcement officers and family members of those killed in action receive free admission to the hall of fame and museum. Oddly enough, there’s a gun range on site where you can rent weapons and fire off a few rounds.

International Swimming Hall of Fame

international swimming hall of fame, fort lauderdale, ft lauderdale, florida
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From a life-size replica of Johnny Weissmuller -- the Olympic champion swimmer who also starred in 12 of the Tarzan movies -- draped in all his gold-medal glory to a gold cup won in an event by Greg Louganis and swimsuits worn in the Olympics and by former president Ronald Reagan, the collection of swimming and diving memorabilia in this wave-shaped building in Fort Lauderdale is astounding. The complex, adjacent to an aquatic center, is home to the world’s largest collection of aquatic Olympic medals, pins, badges, diplomas and certificates. Others sports honored here are synchronized swimming and water polo. Factoids you’ll learn during your visit include this Trivial Pursuit-worthy tidbit -- John F. Kennedy was on the first Harvard swim team to beat Yale. Who knew?

World Golf Hall of Fame

world golf hall of fame, st augstine, florida
Caryn Levy/US PGA TOUR/Getty Images

So all-encompassing is this hall of fame’s coverage, it shines the sport’s glory onto such professional golf legends as Gary Player and Annika Sorenstam as well as such famous fans as Bob Hope and Dinah Shore and course architects and golf journalists, too. Permanent exhibits take fans from golf’s beginnings in Scotland to its global success. A 10-minute video full of goosebump-giving moments shows such players as Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus in golf’s finest moments. And there’s a simulator where you can tee off at The Plantation Course at Kapalua and squeeze in a round at the Old Course at St. Andrews.

AWSEF Water Ski Hall of Fame

water ski hall of fame, polk city, florida
USA Water Ski Foundation

Lake-riddled Central Florida established itself long ago as the water ski (and, more recently, wakeboard) capital of the world. So it’s no surprise that many of the hall of famers for both sports who are honored here hail from the Sunshine State. The museum displays trophies from top competitors and interesting artifacts from the sport’s evolution, like the first pair of water skis, a 1954 Correct Craft boat and a collection of ropes and handles that date to 1922. Time your visit for one of the tournaments or exhibition events on Lake Grew, right behind the museum, and you’ll see athletes showing off their slalom and barefoot prowess.

Florida-based writer Terry Ward has written for The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. Her favorite Florida haunts are the Ten Thousand Islands for kayaking and camping trips, the springs near Gainesville and the colorful reefs off West Palm Beach.

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