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Day 212: Crack open a stone crab at St. Mark’s

6 Nov

Every year in October, the small town of St. Marks hosts the Stone Crab Festival. We have noted St. Mark’s popularity before as a place to eat fresh seafood and gaze at the St. Mark’s River. The Stone Crab Festival puts on display the rustic atmosphere and country charm that you can pretty much almost always find at this tiny hamlet. Most definitely, it features all the typical North Florida festival wares – tents filled with candles, soaps, knick-knacks and FSU memorabilia. But it’s really great for some very entertaining people watching. We saw long-haired Harley riders, young moms toting babies on their hips, and some folks wearing fashions that I thought had disappeared 20 years ago. Guess we were wrong. No matter what, if you love seafood, this is the festival for you. Besides stone crab, you can get blue crab, boiled shrimp, oysters and more. It seemed that most people chose to purchase buckets or plates of stone crab, and to my surprise, they spent a good bit of time whacking at the crabs with blocks of wood to crack open the tough shell. The activities produced quite a cacophony: hammer-like bangs that sounded like a house under construction. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much more to see or do beyond the stone crab. Our travel time there and back from Tallahassee was longer than our stay. I think if you had kids to entertain, you might stay longer given that there were stands with cotton candy, sno cones and other kid-friendly entertainment, such as moon bounces.

Address: Downtown St. Mark’s

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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 118: Go hiking at the St. Mark’s Wildlife Refuge

29 Apr

This blog post was intended to be published on April 28.

A short drive south of Tallahassee is St. Mark’s Wildlife Refuge. I’ve written about the lighthouse at the park before. But there is more to this national park than some old lighthouse. There are hiking trails near the main entrance that take you over murky swamplands and leave you utterly convinced you are moments away from being swallowed by alligators. Indeed, there are signs posted warning you of alligators nearby. St. Mark’s is classic Florida, a mix of tall pines, shallow swamps, rivers of grass and thick brush. I like to muse about how difficult life must have been for Native Americans who lived in on this terrain not so long ago. Besides hiking, there are also spots to go fishing and you can even take a peek at the ocean, though don’t expect crashing waves.

Address: St. Marks, Florida

Day 101: Go worm grunting in Sopchoppy

11 Apr

The annual Sopchoppy Worm Grunting festival sounds like it is fictional, straight out of a novel mimicking the goofy traditions of the redneck South. Except that it’s real. The annual festival in the tiny Wakulla County town of Sopchoppy celebrates the lost art of worm grunting. What is worm grunting, you say? Why it’s making the ground vibrate in such a way that worms emerge from the Earth. You can then use these worms as fish bait. The festival does offer worm grunting contests in the morning, but most of it is similar to what one might find at any outdoor fest — a live band, booths hawking soaps, kids clothing and baked goods, and loads of food vendors. It is held in Sopchoppy’s miniscule downtown. I got a kick out of walking around the town, where they have an old-fashioned downtown grocery store. Sopchoppy also has a pretty darn good restaurant called Backwoods Bistro. The best part of the festival was just the appreciation of simple pleasures: a hot summer day, good food, and music that makes you dance. (By the way, there were kids galore and strangely, no alcohol served).

Address: Sopchoppy, Florida. Just follow Highway 319 south.

Day 79: Relax by the water at St. Mark’s

20 Mar

In my first Tallahassee stint in 2005, a lot of people kept telling me to “go down to St. Mark’s,” and locals raved about the water views and seafood restaurants. For the sake of out-of-towners, I’ll spare you the hype and give you the real scoop. Yes, St. Mark’s does offer a view of the river near the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico, but there are no Gulf views and the river is classic Florida, with beds of grass and a little mundane. As for the dining, there are several local seafood shacks, and the key word is “shack.” My husband reports that in our recent visit to Riverside Cafe, the oysters were just OK by local standards and the grouper sandwich pretty tasty. There used to be a popular seafood restaurant at St. Mark’s called Posey’s that withered away after a recent hurricane. My husband glumly talks about its demise but I’ve been there and can tell you that Riverside Cafe is very similar. Go just for the experience, but don’t get your hopes up as I did when I first heard of it and imagined views like this.

Address: St. Mark’s, Florida

Day 76: Swim at Shell Point

17 Mar

My little brother recently came to visit and requested to go to the beach. I patiently explained that though I live in Florida, there isn’t a decent beach in immediate proximity. But after giving it some thought, I decided to venture out to Shell Point, which is arguably the closest true beach to Tallahassee. About a thirty minute drive away, Shell Point is a small, no-frills beach town with a few condo buildings and a surprisingly decent shoreline. The water was calm and not too cold. The beach had a sand volleyball pit and children’s playground. I actually found that I preferred Shell Point to the more populous beaches in Panama City, which are typically overrun with drunk college students. It’s perfect to take your family for a nice, quiet afternoon. Just pack a lunch because there isn’t much to eat within walking distance.

Address: Beaty Taff Drive. Shell Point, Florida.