Think you know Florida? Make sure you don't overlook the capital city–Tallahassee has its own Southern charm and family fun.Think you know Florida? Make sure you don't overlook the capital city–Tallahassee has its own Southern charm and family fun.
Why is the capital city of Tallahassee, located 25 miles north of the Gulf of Mexico, affectionately known as "Florida with a Southern accent"? Here’s some food for thought: you could drive to Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, North Carolina or South Carolina in less time than it would take to drive from Tallahassee all the way south to Key West. Florida is a big state, and while the capital city is a regular destination for state legislators and Florida State students and fans, it should not be overlooked by traveling families. The friendly variety of together-time activities contributes to the city’s distinctly Southern charm. For more information about visiting the Tallahassee area, be sure to contact the Convention and Visitors Bureau by calling (800/628-2866) or visiting www.seeTallahassee.com.
Great Fun for the Kids
(Toddler to Age 10)
3945 Museum Drive
Tallahassee, FL 32310
You could probably spend half a day or more at this 52-acre attraction, and though it’s called a "museum," the biggest hits might be the Florida panthers, red wolves, and other rehabilitated native wildlife who live on-property in naturalistic habitats. Visitors view these animals from elevated boardwalks that wind through forests and marshes, and when you see a gator on a rock or a gray fox in a tree (yes, gray foxes climb trees!), it will almost seem like they are in the wild. Also, don’t overlook the historical exhibits like the old caboose and 1880s farm.
Mission San Luis
2021 West Mission Road
Tallahassee, FL 32304
Visitors to the reconstructed Mission San Luis stand on the same ground as the over 1400 Apalachee Indians and Spaniards who lived there from 1656 to 1704. What’s great for kids here is the size of the grounds and the variety of ways offered to enjoy and learn from it. The main interpretive pathway between the major buildings is stroller-friendly, and little ones with short attention spans can run freely between different reenactors demonstrating iron working, woodworking, and other daily tasks at the mission. Those with more patience will want to talk with a Franciscan friar in the old church complex and browse through the bilingual exhibits in the indoor visitor center. Many fascinating archeological artifacts are on display, and more are being uncovered in the area all the time. Plans to rebuild the old fort, expanding the learning opportunities further, are already underway.
Museum of Florida History
500 S. Bronough Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399
This museum’s popular and endearing mascot is nine feet tall! Herman, a skeletal prehistoric mastodon originally weighing about five tons, was pulled from Wakulla Springs (see below) in the 1930s, and now makes the museum his home. In addition to Herman, the museum’s permanent collection relates to many facets of Florida’s history, including an extensive variety of nineteenth-century quilts and furniture. There’s a nice, navigable variety here.
Fun for Older Children
The Old Capitol Building
Monroe Street at Apalachee Parkway
Tallahassee, FL 32301
Beautifully restored Supreme Court, House of Representatives, and Senate chambers, as well as a Governor’s Suite, are part of what you’ll see in Florida’s Old Capitol Building. What makes this the perfect destination for the young U.S. history student, however, is the quality of the interpretive exhibits, many of which are interactive and very honest about both the glories of state governments past and setbacks, such as segregation and the 2000 presidential election. The core of this building has been standing since 1875, and it was resurrected from shambles after the new Capitol Building was completed, directly behind it, in 1977.
While you’re there, considering pursuing a visit to the new Capitol Building as well. There’s a striking contrast between the old classical and new skyscraper-esque buildings, but that doesn’t make the new legislative chambers any less stately and grand to walk into. A gallery on the building’s top floor offers a great view of the city. You might even pick up a copy of the "Senate Kids" activity book, woven through with enough facts about Florida’s history and government. Call ahead at 850/488-6167 to see about scheduling a tour.
Maclay Gardens State Park
3540 Thomasville Road
Tallahassee, Florida 32309
Maclay Gardens have been a state park since the 1950s, and are open year-round. Visitors can picnic in the designated area or take a stroll. Both native and exotic plants, often bursting with colorful blooms, line the pathways. A lovely central walled garden attracts brides for photographs in the spring and summer. This is the place to spend a peaceful, fragrant couple of hours at a slower pace, but more intense hikers and bikers can take advantage of the multi-use trails winding through the woods. Family-friendly ranger programs are available throughout the year; call ahead or check the online calendar for details.
Goodwood Museum and Gardens
1600 Miccosukee Rd
Tallahassee, FL 32308
If visiting an old plantation is on your checklist, Goodwood is open to the public right in Tallahassee. This estate began in the 1830s as a cotton and corn plantation, eventually developing into an elegant private residence. Its succession of owners included several widows and Florida Senator William C. Hodges. The old Main House is now a museum, with all furnishings original to the house. It’s also fun to walk around the grounds, which are scattered with oak trees that are centuries old.
Fun for the Family
Tallahassee, FL 32302
Located in the heart of things on Park Avenue, and operating every Saturday from March to November, Tallahassee’s Downtown Marketplace is a relaxing diversion for eating, shopping, and entertainment. The Downtown Marketplace offers the traditional farmers’ market, as well as live music, local arts and crafts for sale, and children’s activities. Like the markets in many other cities, this is a great opportunity to check out the local people and culture by milling around and having fun with the crowd.
Wakulla Springs State Park
550 Wakulla Park Drive
Wakulla Springs, Florida 32327
"Hey y’all, we’re now pulling into the shell station, y’all!" the river tour operator exclaims as he steers the boat near a cluster of turtles sunning themselves on a log. Herons, buzzards, ducks, and other birds appear among the vegetation, which is lush and thick with Spanish moss. But the main attraction for all ages on the 40-minute Wakulla Springs Boat Tour is the alligators, and there are plenty to be spotted resting along on the shore. They don’t call that route "Alligator Alley" for nothing, and it makes one wonder if these creatures were once a concern while filming portions of "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" and the old "Tarzan" movies in the Wakulla area.
While the River Tour is a definite highlight, it’s not the only thing to do at Wakulla Springs State Park, which is a 30-minute drive from downtown Tallahassee. When water visibility conditions cooperate, Glass Bottom Boat Tours float over the bowl of the park’s namesake, a natural spring full of immense underwater caverns. Nature trails, an alligator-free swimming area, and a lodge serving three meals a day round out the experience.
Challenger Learning Center
200 South Duval Street
Tallahassee, FL 32301
At a convenient downtown location within walking distance of the Capitol buildings, the Challenger Learning Center, run by Florida A&M University—Florida State University College of Engineering, offers entertainment and education about aerospace technology. Visitors can check out star or music shows in the planetarium, wander through aerospace-related exhibits, or pay a visit to the IMAX theater, which always offers a space-related film as one of its features. The highlight of the center is the Space Mission Simulator, which allows "team members" to work as scientists and engineers to complete the task of launching a probe into a passing comet, working together between Mission Control and the space station itself. This attraction opens only for groups (school, corporate, etc.), but it’s been known to host the occasional family reunion under that category, so add it to your list of unique ideas for your next large-scale, multi-generational gathering!
202 Coca Cola Ave
Havana, FL 32333
If you’re hungry for some Southern cookin’ after a day of sightseeing, drive out to the beautiful grounds of the 140-year-old Nicholson Farmhouse, now a homey family restaurant clearly run with lots of love. Nicholson’s has the best steak in town, and beef is "wet-aged" in chilled cellophane for 21 days before cooking (which, as committed carnivores know, brings out the tenderness and flavor in the meat). There’s even a "Child’s Steak"—steak is a rare sight on a children’s menu—as well as a selection of seafood and desserts (Chocolate Peanut Butter, Key Lime, Kentucky Derby Pies…) that are to die for. You’ll receive your menu souvenir newspaper-style, complete with a section on "how to talk Southern."
Red Hills Horse Trials
Elinor Klapp Phipps Park
Tallahassee, FL 32312
In 2008, this major horseback riding competition for all ages, considered a World Cup Qualifier and USEA Gold Cup Series event, celebrates its 11th anniversary over a long weekend in mid-March. Named for the rich red soil of northern Florida and Ocala's horse country, these colorful, outdoor trials draw world-renowned judges, more than 200 national and international competitors and as many as 40,000 fans. Plan in advance to see any of the three types of competition. "Dressage" is a test of horse and rider involving classical movements performed on the flat of an enclosed arena. "Cross-country" is considered the heart of the sport, where horse and rider gallop over natural terrain jumping a variety of fixed obstacles along the way. The final event is "stadium jumping," where horse and rider jump a series of painted fences in an enclosed arena. Family members who may not like horses can visit the unusual shops, food court, pony rides, or educational, environmental and wildlife exhibits.
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