Tallahassee: Capital of Culture

By: Jill Martin

Take your family to Florida’s state capital for a well-rounded getaway filled with fantastic museums, living history, outdoor fun and kid-pleasing cuisine.

Ok, I confess. My kids need more culture. So where can I take them to broaden their young horizons? Tallahassee, of course! Most people know that Tallahassee is home to Florida’s state capital, but did you know it’s also bursting with fantastic museums, nature trails, plantations, monuments, lakes and loads of southern charm? Take a look at what we found in this culturally rich town.

Indoor Museums

First stop, the John G. Riley Center/ Museum of African American History and Culture is a historical museum and cultural center located inside the former home (circa 1890) of Mr. John Gilmore Riley.  Mr. Riley was an educator and civic leader, this little-known gem preserves the history of African-Americans in this once-thriving African-American neighborhood known as Smokey Hollow, now a hidden cultural enclave that is home to Tallahassee's downtown. We loved the historic images, the amazing artwork and the high-tech animatronics figure of John G. Riley himself.

At the Museum of Florida History, I had a hard time keeping up with my 5-year old as he dashed through the mazes of cultural displays. He loved “finding everything first,” including a 12,000-year-old skeleton of an enormous mastodon (named Herman). In “Grandma’s Attic,” kids can burn off energy while playing with historically themed toys and games. The Museum has also recreated a Florida riverboat that the little ones can hop on and explore. And while they’re busy steering, adults can discover artifacts from Florida’s past including shipwreck treasures, military history items and tourism and citrus-industry collectables.

While in Tallahassee, a Historic Capitol Tour is a must. If these walls could talk (and they do with the help of knowledgeable staff), they would have more than 150 years of stories to tell. In addition to intriguing displays, you can catch a short film on Florida and groups can even cast their votes on legislative issues in the restored 1902 House Chamber.

Family Fare

Over our weekend, we tried several of Tallahassee’s most beloved food institutions, including Dog Et Al. From simple steamed to southern-smoked styles, they have every kind of dog starting at a little more than $2. They say there are 10,230 ways (to be exact) to order a hotdog here, so chances are you can please everyone. We sure did!

Barnacle Bill’s Seafood Emporium
 is a friendly place that is perfect for families as it’s low-cost, a little loud and casual, clean fun. Try steamed oysters by the dozen or their spanked shrimp. There’s an outside deck area, too.

If New Orleans-style food is your passion like mine, then you’ll love Po’ Boys Creole Café. This downtown café. They were a great choice for Sunday brunch, and the locals flock here – so you know it’s good.

Here’s a blast from the past. Taste homemade brittle just like Grandma used to make, from the finest ingredients in more than 25 different flavors at Barb’s Gourmet Brittle. They have homemade brittle ice cream, too. You’ll find them in the charming Cottages at Lake Ella.

Outdoor Museums

With lots more to explore, we got busy. At Mission San Luis, we watched history come to life! In the 17th century, this is where more than 1,400 Apalachee Indians and Spaniards lived together. Paths lined with hickory trees led us to a Franciscan Church, a blacksmith shop, a Spanish fort, a typical Spanish house and gardens and one of the largest historic Native American structures in the southeastern U.S., the Apalachee Council House. History interpreters in period dress greeted us at each location to teach us about their lives and tell stories of San Luis. My boys loved the hands-on experiences like cracking nuts, grinding herbs and even making nails with the blacksmith. 

At The Tallahassee Museum, don’t let the name fool you. This place is 52 acres of outdoor boardwalks, nature trails, animal habitats, a complete farm from the 1880s and more! We strolled the elevated boardwalks through the cypress trees and saw animals indigenous to the state including Florida panthers, bald eagles, black bears and white-tailed deer. They also have a Guest Animal Habitat, which is a temporary home to exotic animals, such as white tigers, coyotes and more. The inhabitants rotate regularly and have represented nearly every continent. On the weekends, they have living-history interpreters that teach visitors how to churn butter, make candles as well as the art of blacksmithing. Enjoy the rotating art exhibits in the Phipps Gallery and the museum also offers free parking. The Tallahassee Museum has been thrilling visitors for more than 50 years – and it’s no wonder. Hint: Come hungry because their Trail Break Café is fantastic. 

The Great Outdoors

Although Tallahassee has numerous outdoor activities in and around town, we were only able to squish in a visit to Lake Ella at Fred Drake Park. It’s one of those great spots where folks young and old come to hang out and find a little serenity. We walked the .6-mile course around the entire lake – twice, nibbling our brittle along the way.

I’m certain your family will love visiting Tallahassee as much as mine did. And I feel really good about giving my boys a weekend that was educational as well as entertaining. So next time you’re looking for something extraordinary for your family to share, visit Tallahassee.

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