One way to enjoy the best of Florida's Northeast is a leisurely drive along the William Bartram Trail, the scenic stretch of country byways found south of Jacksonville on S.R. 13/17. In 1765, the British naturalist walked this way, surveying the plants and animals of the river region. Roadside plaques note his stops along the way. For visitors accustomed to interstate travel, canopies of live oaks draped with Spanish moss and frequent sightings of the mile-wide St. Johns River are a welcome change. Be sure to dillydally along the way - the St. Johns is lined with fishing piers and there are a handful of picturesque small towns where you can view Victorian architecture and sit down to a real, home-cooked Southern meal.
Farther south on S.R. 17, Palatka is another town that lives fully and memorably in the moment. The bridge in Palatka is Veterans Memorial Bridge. Four bronze statues stand at the bridge's end, commemorating the WWI Doughboys. City Hall, on North Second Street, is a 1917 Romanesque Revival building with hand-painted murals depicting the city's history. The artwork is part of "Palatka Throughout the Ages," a walking/driving tour depicting the town's cultural and historical resources through locally produced murals. New graphics are added annually.
While in Palatka, wind your way along River Street overlooking the St. Johns, until you reach Ravine Gardens State Park, tucked away at 1600 Twigg Street. These surprising and unique geological features were created over centuries by water flowing beneath the sand ridges along the west shore of the St. Johns River.
Palatka also hosts the Putnam County Historical Museum, 110 Madison St., next door to the splendid antebellum Bronson-Mulholland House. This structure was a part of Fort Shannon, which was located at 224 1st Street and was used as a military outpost during the Seminole Wars. Early Putnam County memorabilia is housed in the museum.
Head back up Highway 17 to Green Cove Springs, a quick side trip across the Highway 16 bridge. Once known as the "Saratoga of the South," this Jacksonville-area town is chock full of pretty pastel boarding houses and hotels, remnants of the city's heyday as a lively riverboat stop.