If you make it past Walt Disney World on a Florida vacation, chances are you’re heading to the beach. To see a completely different side of the Sunshine State, however, one with rolling red hills and oak trees blanketed in Spanish moss, you'll need to head a little farther afield -- about two hours from Panama City Beach, to be exact. We recommend a day trip to Tallahassee -- Florida’s budget-friendly capital city -- where Southern hospitality reigns and there’s more to love than just college football.
What to Do:
Zip-line over a cypress swamp: Get a birds-eye view of Florida’s wetland ecosystem at Tallahassee Museum’s Tree to Tree Adventures, which costs from $17 to $45 ,depending on the course. After, check out the living outdoor museum, home to otters, foxes, and Florida panthers, plus a plantation home that dates back to the 1880s.
Explore Florida history: Admission is free to Tallahassee’s Historic Capitol building, once the heart of the state’s government (there’s now a newer -- albeit less attractive -- functioning Capitol directly behind it). Or, for $5 per person, check out the Mission San Luis de Apalachee, a museum that lets you explore a Spanish settlement from the 1600s. It's just a 5 minute drive from Florida State University and 10 minutes from Florida A&M University.
Kick back at an outdoor concert: The city’s newly constructed 3,500-seat amphitheater in Cascades Park, called the Capital City Amphitheater, has hosted the likes of the Alabama Shakes and Corinne Bailey Rae, and will feature the Avett Brothers in May.
Swim in freshwater springs: Dive into the clear water of Wakulla Springs, one of the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world, or take a glass bottom boat tour, keeping your eyes peeled for manatees and alligators. Entrance is $6 per vehicle, and glass-bottom boat tours are $8 for ages 13 and up, $5 for ages 3 to 12, and free under 3.
Take a scenic stroll: Located on the quieter north end of town on Lake Hall, Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park is the perfect spot for a picnic when the gardens bloom from January to April (entry is $6 per vehicle). Or, hike the trails at the Leon Sinks in the Apalachicola National Forest, where you’ll see sinkholes in Florida’s porous limestone foundation, at $3 per vehicle.
Head to the Forgotten Coast: Ok, so Tallahassee’s not on the beach. But a short 45-minute drive to nearby Alligator Point (or even the lighthouse at St. Mark’s) will cure your appetite for sun and sand.
Where to Eat:
Bradley’s Country Store: We’d recommend a trip to this family-owned store for the drive alone. Picture a tunnel of low-hanging oaks on canopied roads -- but also for the best sausage and grits around. After you pick out a homemade jam to take home, order a sausage dog ($5.50), sit in a rocking chair on the wraparound porch, and enjoy the view.
Hopkins: Locals have been coming to this no-frills sandwich and salad spot since the 80s for a healthier lunch. Try the sweet spearmint iced tea and a turkey guac sandwich ($9 total).
Vertigo Burgers and Fries: There’s an official burger trail in Tallahassee, and this joint is (arguably) king, where you can top your patty with everything from fried green tomatoes and pimento cheese to locally farmed arugula.
Proof Brewing Co.: Play bocce ball in the beer garden as you sip on local craft brews at this 20-barrel brewhouse, where local favorites include the award-winning EightFive-O American Pale Ale and refreshing Mango Wit Belgian Witbier.
Where to Shop:
Hearth and Soul: If you want a one-of-a-kind souvenir from this town, head to this home store that specializes in carefully collected furniture, rugs, and clothing. Their signature soy candles ($42) are classic Florida: a citrusy blend of tangerine, kumquats, and mandarin, plus oak moss.
Narcissus: The sophisticated styles at this upscale Tallahassee staple don't exactly come cheap, but they’re still nothing compared to sticker shock of high-end boutiques in South Florida.
Olde Fields Clothing: Start your tour of newly built-up Gaines Street at this arty local shop (which takes its name from the meaning of Tallahassee in the Apalachee language) and you’ll realize why people love Tally.