McKay Gardens tallahassee
I admit that in the not too distant past I wasn’t all that knowledgeable about Tallahassee. Of course I knew it was the capital of Florida and the home of the Florida State University Seminoles. I had even visited briefly a few times–mainly quick stops on my way out of the state. I also cop to not having a very positive impression of the area and it certainly wasn’t on my list as a vacation destination. The folks at VisitTallahassee.com were intent on changing all of that!
During a recent four-day visit I was introduced to Tallahassee by a group of people who really know the area and show it off to its best advantage. I came away impressed. It’s a lovely combination of Southern charm and hip sophistication, and it has a plenty to offer both adults and families.
That it’s easy to get to Tallahassee from Naples by car is a huge bonus. It’s a seven-hour drive from Naples and there are enough fun stops along the way that the drive can become part of the vacation (see note at left). You can also fly out of Ft. Lauderdale if needed. Several airlines have daily flights to Tallahassee Regional Airport, the planes are tiny commuter jets making it a 2 ½ hour flight.
During the flight from Ft. Lauderdale, I did a little research on my destination and found out that the name “Tallahassee” translates to “old fields,” in reference to the large fields of crops the Apalachee Indians cultivated in the region’s red clay hills. The founding of the city was simple convenience–participants in the territorial government had gotten tired of traveling to St. Augustine or Pensacola and wanted a more central location. The city of Tallahassee was formerly established in March of 1824. Today, Tallahassee is the capital of Florida and the seat of Leon County.
Once in Tallahassee, hotel options are plentiful. My stay was at the Aloft Tallahassee Downtown, a W Hotel. It’s very hip, centrally located and the rooms are stylish and comfortable. I would highly recommend it for a couple’s, singles’ or girls’ weekend.
For families, check out the Governor’s Inn, a boutique hotel offering a free breakfast, or Hotel Duval, another boutique hotel with awesome restaurant choices and a recent revamping. For families on a budget or those needing extra space there are several “suites” hotels including Hampton Inn & Suites (850-574-4900), Residence Inn Universities at the Capital (850-329-9080) and Comfort Suites (850-224-3200).
Enjoy the outdoors
The biggest surprise in Tallahassee was the abundance of outdoor activities. Parks, botanical gardens, kayaking and boating, hiking and cycling–it’s all in or close to Tallahassee. Be sure to include a visit to St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in your plans. This beautiful wilderness area offers birding, hiking, bicycling and horseback riding. Go all the way into the refuge to see the St. Marks Lighthouse which was built in 1831 and restored after the Civil War. The Lighthouse was automated in 1960 and remains in use for vessels on the Apalachee Bay. You easily could spend a full day at St. Marks–pack a lunch, drinks and snacks and set out to explore!
Another must see is Maclay Gardens State Park. At first glance you might not think that a garden would keep the kids happy but this one will! The 1,184 acres are home to a variety of gardens, forest and plants. You’ll also find biking, hiking, horseback riding and swimming, fishing, canoeing and other non-motorized boating on Lake Hall. Stop by one of the pavilions along the lakeshore for the perfect picnic backdrop.
If your family is into kayaking, a trip down the Wakulla River is an awesome way to spend an afternoon. There is a good chance you’ll be followed by a manatee at some point and alligators, birds and other wildlife will greet you at every turn. There are a variety of outfitters offering rentals and guided trips.
When you’re downtown
In the city of Tallahassee, government and history are the keywords. You can find a self-guided tour of the downtown area at visittallahassee.com. Most of the government buildings offer free admission and are in close proximity to each other making it easy to jump from one attraction to another (and to keep your children’s attention!). Plan on getting started in the morning and enjoying the historical part of your day before lunch. In the afternoon, a jump in the pool or some quiet downtime can make the morning history lessons a little easier for the kids to remember.
In a few short days I learned that Tallahassee offers a unique combination of indoor and outdoor, historical and contemporary, active and quiet. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for sophisticated cuisine or down home Southern food, you’ll find it. Do you want high-end boutique hotels or budget friendly options? Both are available. Tallahassee is a city big enough to have lots to offer and small enough to be charming and easily to navigate. If you’ve never been or it’s been awhile, it’s time for a trip to Tallahassee! I promise, you will come back with a great impression of our beautiful capital.
For more information on planning your Tallahassee vacation: visittallahassee.com • (800) 628-2866