Authentic Florida

10 Great Things To Do in Tallahassee, the "Other" Florida

Moss-covered canopy roads, old plantations, and delightful Southern charm--the trip North is worth the drive.

August 18, 2016

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Maclay Gardens, Tallahassee

For many, Florida represents a tropical oasis with sandy beaches, swaying palm trees, amusement parks and golf courses. But Tallahassee, Florida’s capital city, provides an experience into “the other” Florida.

More than the hub of Florida’s state government, Tallahassee is home to moss-covered canopy roads, gentle rolling hills, old plantations, floral gardens, deep history, scenic outdoors with springs, sinkholes, rivers and lakes, locally inspired cuisine, and a younger vibe--all with delightful Southern charm. Tallahassee is also home to one of the youngest and most educated populations per capita in the state thanks to its two major universities, Florida State and Florida A & M.

So, for your next visit, enjoy 10 things that inspire locals to love their town, a journey through “the other” Florida. 

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Stroll Through Serenity

Maclay Gardens is a collection of floral gardens that include brick walkways, walled gardens, fountains, ponds, pine needle pathways and peaceful sitting areas. Overhanging shady live oaks, holly, magnolias, dogwood and palms line a brick trail leading to the Maclay home.

More than 200 floral varieties of native and exotic plants thrive in the Maclay Gardens. Between January and April, the property bursts with color from camellias, azaleas and rhododendrons and wisteria.

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Peaceful Coexistence

Overlooking the capital city, the 63-acre Mission San Luis is both remarkable and memorable. During the mid-1500s and the late 1600s, Florida was home to more than 100 Spanish colonial missions. But well before the arrival of the Spanish colonialists, the Apalachee Indians lived in the region, existing as farmers and hunters growing corn, beans and squash while hunting game and fish.

Invited by the Apalachee tribe, Spanish friars, soldiers and civilians established the mission that became the western capital of Spanish Florida. The stunning Mission San Luis complex has been recreated to portray the fascinating life when more than 1,500 Apalachee Indians and Spanish colonists who resided at the mission.

Easily one of Tallahassee’s best things to do, this living history museum gives visitors a close-up experience of two cultures coexisting--the Spanish colonialists and Apalachee natives. 

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Country Flavor

Just 12 miles from Tallahassee, take a country drive along a canopy road to discover Bradley’s County Store. Since 1927, this family-owned business on the National Register of Historic Places is a rare Florida find.

Bradley’s is a folksy country store where locals stop and sit on the front porch to enjoy a cold beverage while enjoying the famous Bradley smoked sausage sandwich. The homemade sausage is made from Grandma Mary Bradley’s recipe, mixed with special seasoning, smoked and served in a simple bun.

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Meet a Mastodon

To learn about the people of Florida from the earliest native Floridians through present time, enjoy a walk through the Museum of Florida History.

Exhibits and artifacts of Florida’s past begin with the towering ice age prehistoric Mastodon skeleton found at the bottom of Wakulla Springs, just 30 miles south of Tallahassee.

This visually engaging, interactive museum display features a diorama of a native Indian village, including a collection of dugout canoes and ancient tools and artifacts. Visitors also learn how Europeans interacted with natives, creating cultural dynamics through arts, trade, weapons and religion exhibits 

Or experience a real citrus packinghouse while admiring old Florida farm machinery. Walk through the earliest Florida tourism campaigns detailing arrivals by steamboat, tin can campers and a Model T Ford.

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Glide Like a Boss 

Tallahassee Segway Tours provides a guided tour and simple way to get an overview of the town and its interesting highlights while enjoying the out-of-doors. Glide past historical buildings and monuments, around fountains, through alleyways, past plazas and parks that offer a special view unavailable by car.

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Jungle Cruising

Just 30 minutes south of Tallahassee, visit one of Florida’s most prized springs and rivers at the Wakulla Springs State Park.

Millions of gallons of water per day pour out of the Wakulla Spring, home to the one of the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world with an extensive underwater cave system. Swimmers jump from the tower above deep into the bubbly spring.

But don’t miss the Jungle Cruise, a three-mile loop through the wildlife sanctuary as huge alligators sun on the riverbank, unique birds fly overhead or perch in Cypress trees, as "river cooters" (turtles) and even manatees swim by.

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Paddling the Wakulla River

Wakulla Springs is the origin of the Wakulla River that flows nine miles south joining the St. Marks River, then on to the Gulf of Mexico.

Enjoy a relaxing kayak trip downstream with Tallahassee’s Harry Smith Outdoors. Harry will meet you at the bridge just south of the park, transport the kayaks, paddles and equipment then guide you downstream for a two-hour leisurely paddle. Enjoy the scenic lush green landscape along the slow moving Wakulla River as you listen to the morning bird calls. Watch for ospreys and bald eagles, but also be on the look out for manatees as they swim by in stealth mode. 

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Once a Plantation

Tallahassee’s Goodwood Museum & Gardens, once a cotton and corn plantation, is a treasured heirloom providing a glimpse into the privileged life of five families who occupied the restored main home and grounds. 

Now a 16-acre landmark surrounded by gardens of live oaks cloaked in Spanish moss and resurrection ferns, its 170-year old main home is furnished with a parlor, dining room, kitchen, bedrooms and living areas with authentic furniture, porcelain, textiles and glassware. More than 20 outlying historic buildings complement the property including cottages and a reflecting pond.

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Serving up Southern

Sometimes eating out can be more than a trip to a restaurant. Meet Jessica Bright McMullen, self-described "food enthusiast and kitchen enabler.”

Jessica runs KitchenAble, a cooking school situated in a stone cottage on Tallahassee’s popular Lake Ella. Jessica, a chef, author and cooking teacher invites the public to her kitchen school for a lesson and a meal. A gifted entertainer, she creates a meal from appetizers to desserts in front of guests as they sip wine and enjoy her priceless stories while having fun.

Dining Out

For dining out in Tallahassee, try Avenue Eat & Drink Restaurant, a Tallahassee eatery with a southern inspired menu using local ingredients and home made desserts. Or try the ever-popular Kool Beanz Café, a Tallahassee institution with mouth-watering starters (smoky corn crab cakes), eclectic salads and greens, and tantalizing main courses (lime mojo snapper, green mango salsa, sweet plantains, black bean-coconut sauce). Other favorites are the Paisley Café for any meal, but the brunch is especially tasty and features creamy smoked Gouda grits with collards and blueberry corn muffins. Even craft breweries are making a statement here including Proof, Grassland, Lake Tribe, and DEEP. 

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Rocking Good Fun

Florida’s only stop on the National Blues Trail is Tallahassee’s Bradfordville Blues Club (BBC). This rustic old juke joint on a rural dirt road has hosted performers such as Muddy Waters and Stevie Ray Vaughn.

Portraits of musical legends hang on the wall as guests move to the music and dance to the blues. Weekends draw foot-stomping crowds to this iconic blues hangout. But outside, enjoy the campfire where musicians break and soul food is served for a one-of-a-kind “Tally” experience.

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Discover It

After a visit to Tallahassee, you may experience a new view Florida as a place with more history than expected, more natural and cultural diversity than realized, and more to enjoy than you had imagined. So, Tallahassee may be a perfect place to find the “other Florida” with a balance of the tried and true with the hip and new.

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