North Central Florida is riddled with natural gifts, including the celebrated Suwannee River, clearwater springs and wilderness, and flora and fauna, which naturalist John Muir walked 1,000 miles to document. Miles of “blue” byways, bracketed by two high-spirited universities, stitch together hometown hamlets where time stands still. By Janet Groene
Lake City/Columbia County
Rise and shine as you greet the morning at Alligator Lake Park, known for its extensive hiking and biking trails teeming with birdwatching and nature encounters. Afterward, it’s time for a stroll through downtown Lake City, filled with eclectic shops, local art, and a historical museum. After lunch at the Marion Street Gastro Pub and Deli, dive into Florida’s cool and refreshing spring waters at the world-famous Ichetucknee Springs. Relax a bit before heading back to downtown Lake City for cocktails and dinner.
Kick-off your day with a refreshing dive into one of the area’s natural freshwater springs. After working up an appetite, grab lunch at the award-winning Great Outdoors Restaurant in High Springs. Discover the past at the Florida Museum of Natural History before heading out into nature at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park or down a 120-foot sinkhole at Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park. As the sun sets, head into lively downtown Gainesville for dining options like Dragonfly Sushi, The Top, Manuel’s Vintage Room or Emiliano’s Cafe.
Take a guided tour of the 1845 Historic Capitol (now a museum) and Museum of Florida History. Breeze through Florida State University and Florida A&M University campuses and Cascades Park. Enjoy lunch outdoors before exploring Mission San Luis, the only re-constructed 17th-century Spanish mission in the southeast. Head to the Tallahassee Museum to zip through treetops and over cypress swamps, tour pioneer buildings and observe native wildlife. Dine at an award-winning restaurant followed by a nightcap at the renowned Bradfordville Blues Club.
Begin your day wildlife watching at the beautiful St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. Then head over to Wakulla Springs State Park where you can board a Jungle Cruise from Wakulla Springs up the river. Lunchtime is the perfect time to slip into the Edward Ball Dining Room and stop at The Soda Fountain for a root beer float at the world’s longest marble soda fountain. Round out the day with an afternoon kayak trip to explore more of the endless natural resources in the area. End your day at Posey Up the Creek Steam Room & Oyster Bar in Panacea to savor some of the best seafood in Florida.