Not long ago, I received an email from a friend looking for help in planning a trip to my home state of Florida. His assumption was that as a travel blogger and a lifelong resident of the Sunshine State, surely I could help him find some off-the-path, non-Mouse related things to see and do. He was wrong, and I was embarrassed.
That email brought with it an important revelation - I could ramble on at great length about places all across the globe, but my homeland was still a giant mystery. Sure, I've visited just about everywhere in the state at one time or another, but I have never taken the time to truly connect with the only place I've called "home." At that moment, I made an important travel resolution: it was time to begin Finding Florida.
Tallahassee - Discovering the Capital
Everything that I knew about Tallahassee was learned on a field trip in the 6th grade. That's the one and only time in 31 years of living in Florida that the state capital has registered on my travel radar. Why would it? Tallahassee is a one industry town - government - conveniently located just outside of the middle of nowhere. What could I possibly be missing?
As it turns out, a bunch.
|The historic and new capitol buildings|
For a native on a mission to connect with home, there really was no better place to begin Finding Florida than the state's capital. At first glance, Tallahassee would seem to consist of nothing more than government and lobbyist offices, as well as the scar on the face of this great land, Florida State University. Amongst all of the Associations and Bureaus, however, lies the story of Florida's history, being told in the most appropriate of settings.
|Hopefully one of the more powerful lobbyist groups in town|
After being replaced in the 1970's by a stale and soulless skyscraper, Florida's original Capitol building was converted into a museum. While I consider myself a bit of a history buff, our visit to the "Old Capitol" exposed just how little I knew about Florida. For example, I learned that Andrew Jackson was our first Governor, although "Conqueror" was probably a more appropriate title. In addition, the Marquis de Lafayette once owned a large tract of land that included much of Tallahassee; a small token of thanks from the U.S. government for his help in the Revolutionary War. Truth be told, we probably owed him the entire state...
|Our first governor...Who knew?|
For a further glance into Florida's history, we took a ride out to the Tallahassee Museum, but I didn't learn a single thing here. Well, that's not entirely true. I learned that navigating tight ropes and zip lines among the tree tops might very well be the most fun activity ever invented. The experience was not at all what we expected to find at a museum, and was one of Tallahassee's many surprises.
|MJ soaring through the trees|
The New Tallahassee
Except for the adventure among the tree tops, to this point everything about our visit to Tallahassee was exactly as anticipated. Politics, history, and museums are a dominant feature in any state capital, but I was more interested in discovering what Tallahassee had to offer on three far more important fronts...Culture, Hotels, and Food.
|A mural near the Capitol|
We stumbled upon an example of Tallahassee's culture completely on accident. The city's annual Experience Asia festival was taking place just down from the Old Capitol, and it was impossible to walk past without a short visit. We took in the sights and sounds of the festival, before succumbing to the wafting temptation from a gathering of nearby food trucks. While a giant plate of Butter Chicken sounded amazing, on this hot day my money went to the ice cream truck shelling out root beer floats. It was my first root beer float in over two decades, and yes, it went perfectly well with a festival celebrating Asian heritage.
|A real life "Soda Jerk" from Lofty Pursuits Ice Cream|
While finding cheap flights to Tallahassee might be a challenge, there are plenty of great options on the hotel front. We visited the posh Hotel Duval, which has had a lasting impact on Tallahassee, both old and new. The hotel dates to the 1950's and was long the center of the city's social scene. After it reopened in 2009, the Hotel Duval was probably a little ahead of its time, but in some regards its arrival marked the beginning of the New Tallahassee.
|The Hotel Duval|
Along with the Hotel Duval came an influx of restaurants that were sure to raise the city's foodie appeal. The arrival of upscale steakhouse Shula's 347, Cypress restaurant, and the soon to open Front Porch, have all helped to move Tallahassee beyond a land dominated by Chili's and TGI Fridays, and safely onto the foodie map.
|Unfortunately, the history for which Florida is synonymous|
In the end, Tallahassee surprised us on many levels, and succeeded in bringing me a little closer to this place I call home. Beyond the history and the slow moving wheels of state government is a city that is clearly on the rise. Or as one local better put it... "I don't like to say Tallahassee is experiencing a rebirth, because that implies it was already born. What you're actually seeing here is a city that's finally coming to life."
If you go...
- Check out the Tree to Tree Adventure at Tallahassee Museum
- Stay at the Hotel Duval
- Find the root beer float bus
The above experiences were partially thanks to the Hotel Duval and the Tallahassee Museum. All opinions, including that of our ridiculously ugly new Capitol, are always my own.