When you think of Florida, perhaps what comes to mind is sandy beaches, Everglades or theme parks. But Florida also hosts a plethora of hidden gems and tiny little towns worth exploring. Located southwest of Wauchula is Ona, home to Solomon’s Castle, a one-of-a-kind home, art studio, classic-car collection, Spanish galleon and cafe. Driving from Greater Tampa Bay, a helpful mantra is “Keep going, you’re almost there.”
Known as the ‘Rembrandt of Refuse,’ Howard Solomon was a brilliant artist, sculptor, architect and businessman. Neighbors donated their scrap metal, bits of wood, used paint cans, oil drums and used lawn mower parts only to find them repurposed by Solomon to create masterpieces of art and design.
When first entering the property, located out of the way on 90 acres of Florida swampland, you’ll discover a fairy-tale castle, covered with recycled newspaper print foils, the home Solomon built for himself and his family. Inside the castle, you’ll discover rooms of sculptures and art displays designed by Solomon. Not an art lover? No matter. The originality and brilliance of the pieces on display will amaze and delight you, all made from reclaimed materials and boasting witty versions of serious art.
Also on the property is a three-fourths-scale Christopher Columbus Santa Maria housing a comfortable cafe where you can try the delicious, warm apple crisp with cinnamon ice cream, among other things. Just through the cafe is a shady patio and gift shop, and during our visit it had live music. Witty and fun tour guides escort visitors through the castle’s art gallery and downstairs living quarters.
Tours are $33 and only cash is accepted, but there is an ATM on-site. For a small extra fee, your guide takes you in a golf cart past a nearly full-size replica facade of the Alamo fort, built to frame one of Solomon’s storage garages. In his later years, Solomon enjoyed collecting classic cars — older than 1935, the year he was born. These are now on display alongside other interesting transportation-themed art pieces in his air-conditioned garage. Solomon’s Castle is a distinctive and charming must-see experience if you’re looking for something uniquely Florida and off the beaten path.
Solomon’s Castle is located at 4533 Solomon Rd. in Ona. For more information, call 863-494-6077 or visit http://solomonscastle.com/.