By Glenda Winders
The reason we wanted to visit Tallahassee was to learn about the city's past, and that turned out to be a lot of fun, thanks to its many historic homes and museums. But we were in Florida, after all, and after spending a lot of time inside, my husband and I wanted to get outdoors. It turns out that's where we had some of our most memorable experiences.
Our boat ride at Wakulla Springs State Park, just a half-hour drive from the city, was a highlight. The park is a 6,000-acre wildlife sanctuary, and the springs give rise to the Wakulla River, one of the last pristine rivers in the state. During our hour-long adventure we saw alligators sunning with their babies, turtles and birds of all kinds. Several manatees swam right up to the boat and cavorted in the clear water to our delight.
The park also offers trails for hiking, biking and horseback-riding, as well as swimming and playgrounds. The classic 1937 Wakulla Springs Lodge is a real star in this idyllic setting.
Right smack in the middle of Tallahassee — and just half a mile from the state capitol — is Cascades Park, which has a rich history of its own. Situated on a stream called the St. Augustine Branch, which was a factor in Tallahassee's becoming the state capital, it is also home to the Prime Meridian Marker, the spot from which all surveys in Florida are calculated.
Over the years the 24-acre park has been a gathering place for hunters and travelers; the site of Centennial Field, which served as a venue for local events and Florida State football; and a thriving African-American community called Smokey Hollow. Today its offerings include an amphitheater for musical and theater events, habitat gardens, a children's play area, "spirit houses" that recall the Smokey Hollow years and multi-use trails.
With our appetites for fresh air assuaged, we headed to the LeMoyne Center for the Visual Arts. What looks like a modest home from the street is actually gallery after gallery filled with local, regional and national art exhibitions and celebrations of emerging artists. Outside is a sculpture garden, and next door is a complete art school that offers classes in everything from jewelry-making and pottery to painting and stained glass. There are art camps for teenagers, afterschool programs and an "Art Sparks" program for pre-kindergarteners.
In November and December, however, the center changes completely into a winter wonderland. All of the usual exhibits are put away and replaced by colorful and imaginative holiday designs with a different theme in each room and pieces by local artists for sale. Artists who take part must agree to provide some objects for less than $30.
"We want to encourage new art buyers," said Ann Kozeliski, the gallery's art director, "and we want to offer small pieces for people who are downsizing."
One special place where we were able to mix both art and fresh air was the Railroad Square Art Park, which also has a colorful pedigree. It was established as the McDonnell Lumber Co. in 1941 and became the Downtown Industrial Park under William Boynton's ownership in the 1960s. In the '70s, Boynton's daughter, Nan, converted the complex to "a mecca for artists" that her grandchildren run today. Now it houses some 50 working studios and galleries, performance spaces, shops and a cafe inside a bright-red caboose.
"This is a safe haven for artists and businesses where the soul can thrive," said Lillian Finn, the property manager. "We love pushing the envelope."
Here we visited with local artist Mark Dickson, whose sculptures grace Tallahassee's bus stops, and popped into Wimpy Wild Originals, where I couldn't resist buying a turquoise handbag fashioned by leather artist Sharon Saunders. While Finn says artists work quietly on most days, they pull out all the stops for the First Friday Gallery Hops, when food and live entertainment enter the mix.
Railroad Square is also home to Proof, a local brewery with a full bar and picnic tables outside. Lucky for us, we finished our visit just in time for happy hour.
WHEN YOU GO
A good place to start planning a visit is at www.visittallahassee.com.
We stayed at the Hotel Duval because of its central downtown location: www.hotelduval.com.
One of our most memorable breakfasts was at Uptown Cafe and Catering: wwwuptowncafeandcatering.com. Not to be missed is the banana-bread French toast. Another good breakfast spot is the Canopy Road Cafe: www.canopyroadcafe.com.
If you're at Cascades Park a good lunch option is Edison, a renovated power station: www.edisontally.com. Another great spot because of its locally grown produce is Backwoods Crossing: www.backwoodscrossing.com.
Cascades Park: www.discovercascades.com.
Wakulla Springs State Park: www.floridastateparks.org
Railroad Square Art Park: www.railroadsquare.com
LeMoyne Center for the Visual Arts: www.lemoyne.org
Glenda Winders is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.