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Day 199: Dip into Wakulla Springs

28 Jul

Wakulla Springs is one of those spots worth showing off to Tallahassee visitors, especially on a swampy summer day. Located a quick 30-minute drive south of Tallahassee, Wakulla Springs State Park offers cool (like freezing cold) waters and a sandy “beach.” Crowded on summer weekends, it is also a great spot to people watch. You get everyone from European tourists, to FSU students to locals. The state park costs $6 per car, a bargain by any measure. The area has a lot of history to it. It was originally owned by DuPont heir Edward Ball who wanted to turn it into a playground for the rich. There is a lodge near the springs that Ball built and it still houses guests, but it never quite reached the same prominence as the Flagler Hotel, for instance, in St. Augustine. But back to the springs. Bring a towel or chairs and definitely some sunscreen and a hat. Part of the beach and grass area is shaded, but some isn’t and the shaded parts go fast. The water is extremely cold (about 70 degrees), the kind where it’s best to dive in and get the pain over with right away. Because the water is so clear, it is great for snorkeling. The springs also have two docks and a platform diving area. I also had fund watching a manatee glide by us nearby. You can also get a river tour nearby on glass-bottomed boats. Wakulla Springs is the type of place you can bring your friends or the entire family.

Address: 465 Wakulla Park Drive, Wakulla Springs, Florida 32327

Day 185: Watch fireworks on the Fourth of July

6 Jul

If you have the pleasure of being in the Tallahassee area during Independence Day, you really should make plans to celebrate at Tom Brown Park.  The City of Tallahassee has been conducting fireworks celebrations at Tom Brown park for years. It isn’t just fireworks – food vendors and live music accompanied the celebration. Admission to the park was free.  Tallahasseeans, famous for their inclination to throw together a tailgate party at the drop of a hat poured into Tom Brown park to tailgate/picnic in the hours before the fireworks display. Those who didn’t bring picnics were able to enjoy typical carnival fare or street food (like sausages) as well as Italian ice, seafood, funnel cakes, pizza and more. Many of those celebrating brought their four-legged friends with them as there was plenty of room for dogs to run. There was also balloons and face-painting for the kids.  Additionally, the festivities were a brief walk away from the playground, which is nice if you have older kids who might be more interested in playing there than celebrating with live music. Fireworks typically start shortly after dark and there are plenty of good viewing locations from inside the park. For those who don’t like the large crowds associated with such an event, there were plenty of places to view fireworks along Capital Circle. Anyone driving south on Capital Circle near the FWCI Prison would have been surprised at the impromptu tailgating that took place in the parking lots on the west side of the road. Large crowds gathered in the parking lot at the southwest corner of Capital Circle NE and Park Ave (in front of Hobbit’s Sports Grill) and south, to Sam’s Club, where there was a great view of the show. In fact, some preferred these locations because they provided a great view of the fireworks without the crowd and commotion of being at Tom Brown Park. – Jessi Bishop-Royse

Address: 1125 Easterwood Drive (Shuttles also leave from Koger Center at Old St. Augustine and Capital Circle)

Day 184: Fly a kite at Tom Brown Park

4 Jul

I’ve written about some of the other things to do at Tom Brown Park, like disc golf and tennis, but have never focused on what most kids love about Tom Brown Park. Its expansive fields make it the perfect spot to fly a kite. On a crisp spring or fall day, bring along a kite, unfurl it, and watch it flutter in the wind. It’s such an inexpensive treat, but most kids (and some adults) find it really enthralling. I’ve also seen people bring remote-controlled planes and set off rockets on Tom Brown’s generously large green fields. Nearby are picnic tables where you can bring a lunch or snack. They also have barbecue grills, and it’s a popular spot for large groups to gather, such as a “Mommy” play group or alumni club.

Address: 1125 Easterwood Drive

Day 183: Tour the historic grounds of Pebble Hill Plantation

3 Jul

The grounds of Pebble Hill Plantation, with expansive green lawns, rainbow-colored gardens, grazing horses, neatly manicured shrubs and low-slung Spanish moss, are so beautiful you can easily forget it was once a plantation that owned slaves. The curators of Pebble Hill, which is now a large museum, like to gloss over that part of Pebble Hill’s history. It was built sometime in the mid-1800s and, given what we know about Southern farms, surely had slaves. After the Civil War, and a series of different owners, Pebble Hill employed many of the descendants of the former slaves. (I know this not so much from the Pebble Hill museum, but from the Jack Hadley African American History Museum in Thomasville.) One reason the slave bit is not mentioned very often at Pebble Hill is because it is restored closer to the early 20th century version of Pebble Hill, which includes a lovely white-column mansion that you can tour for $15. The owner at that time was Kate Ireland, and then her daughter Pansy, who died in 1978. Both are described as horse and dog lovers, hence the abundant references to those animals throughout the house and lawns. The house is lovely to tour, with loads of interesting details about life of the well-to-do in the early 20th century. A tour of the grounds, which costs $5, is equally enchanting, and includes a peek at some of the vintage vehicles Pansy (or more likely, her driver) drove around town. It is said that a good many successful, famous people were guests at Pebble Hill, including former President Jimmy Carter. Pebble Hill has become a popular spot for weddings, which is completely understandable given the breathtaking views of magnolias and dripping Spanish moss. There is something about Pebble Hill that appeals to all of our fantasies about Southern charm and hospitality. It is definitely worth a visit and you will learn a great deal about not just that plantation, but a good snapshot of the area’s history. I only wish they had a bit more information about what the plantation was like during the slave years.

Address: 1251 U.S. Highway 319

Day 178: Pick bluberries at Green Meadows Farm

27 Jun

There is no better way to mark the start of summer than spending a late afternoon leisurely picking blueberries. Florida is home to quite a few blueberry farms and some allow you to come on their property and pick your own. Near Monticello, about thirty minutes northeast of Tallahassee, is Green Meadows Farm, which offers rows of organic blueberry bushes ripe for picking. Mark and I arrived on a late Sunday afternoon to pick blueberries and were quickly handed a pail and let loose on their property. The blueberries cost $3.25 a pound, a good deal for organic blueberries. It wasn’t exactly back-breaking labor. The blueberries were dangling within easy reach and with the two of us it only took us about 30 minutes to fill up the pail to our satisfaction. (I’ll admit, I learned I am not exactly a farm girl and grew a little bored of the chore.) We were told we could eat as many blueberries as we wanted out on the field, a perk Mark took advantage of. It pays to call ahead and ask about their hours. They are open mornings and evenings Thursday through Sunday, but the owner will tell you the optimal time to come depending on the heat and weather that day if you call ahead. It would be a great activity for kids, but if yours are the rambunctious type, you may want to sit this one out. Unfortunately, this activity is seasonal. The best time to go blueberry picking is in the months of May and June.

Address: 177 Bluebird East, Moticello, Florida (850-997-4886)

Day 165: Tour the Tallahassee Museum

14 Jun

Longtime locals still call it the “Junior” museum even though it has been known for years as the Tallahassee Museum. For months, readers of this blog have implored me to try the museum, and I was a little skeptical it wouldn’t live up to the high expectations. Thankfully, it did. The museum isn’t very traditional. Most museums offer indoor exhibits but Tallahassee Museum is entirely outdoors. They have a living history museum in the form of an old home, plantation, church, barn and commissary from the 1800s. Each tells a story of what it was like to live during that time, with faded quilts, tiny rooms, and even an old working stove tended by a knowledge guide who gave us homemade biscuits and butter. The other half of the museum functions more like a zoo. A leafy trail takes you through the outdoor homes of owls, eagles, a black bear, panthers, bobcats, wolves and an alligator. (I probably missed a few animals, too). The gift shop is a pretty good place to stock up on treats for kids and they have the best supply of stuffed animals I have ever seen. (Cougars, squirrels, alligators, you name it). I highly recommend Tallahassee Museum as a great stop for all ages. It costs $9 for adults and $6 for kids older than four.

Address:3945 Museum Drive

Day 164: Watch the dust fly at R/C Racing

13 Jun

The road buggy kicks up a patch of cinders and dust as it jets down the main straightaway. At the first sharp turn, a 180, the four-wheeler jolts sharply left and nearly topples on its side. The driver recovers. He presses the throttle down. The engine again whines to a high pitch and the vehicle races toward a series of short jumps. At the last of the tiny mounds, there’s sudden acceleration as the buggy flies in the air with all four wheels lifting way off the red-clay track. After another seven or eight loops around the curvy path, at times at speeds of over 50 mph, the driver, a hefty middle-aged guy, brings the vehicle to a stop. It’s time to change the battery pack. This is remote-control car racing at Tallahassee’s Tom Brown Park. Here, behind Tom Brown’s BMX racing track, R/C cars and trucks flip, roll and perform stunts. But most days there’s hardly anyone to watch despite it being nearly as exciting to see as full-size vehicle races. These cars and trucks are about 1/10th the size of real ones and are powered by high-tech rechargeable batteries or fueled on “nitro” — that’s nitromethane gas. A driver, out here on a late Sunday afternoon practice run, tells me that there are races with big gatherings of fans and racers about once a month. The next is set for July 9. He says the event will likely bring followings from several nearby counties and out-of-state. — Mark Hollis

LOCATION:  Tom Brown Park, 1125 Easterwood Drive