When the cold gets you down, planning a southbound escape is sure to bring a little warmth to your winter chill. Booking an early spring weekend away to a sunny city will provide just enough anticipatory cheer to push you through those dreary January days. And Tallahassee, Florida, is an unexpected locale worthy of a visit.
Whatever preconceived notions you have about Tallahassee, set them aside. It’s not just a college town, though it’s home to both Florida State and Florida A&M University, and it’s not a sleepy Southern city cemented in the past, as the old oak and Spanish moss romance would like you to think. The Florida state capital has all the vibes of a chic young metropolis, but there’s a depth here, welling from a spring rich with history and culture. It’s alluring, like a mystery that unravels bit by bit.
Tallahassee goes way back to the Pleistocene geologic period (a treasure trove of fossils, including those of mammoths, saber-tooth tigers, and giant sloths, has been discovered in nearby Wakulla Springs). In fact, you can view an entire mastodon skeleton discovered there at Tallahassee’s Museum of Florida History. Inhabited in the early 500s by the Apalachee Indians who named the city, meaning “old fields,” Tallahassee was under Spanish rule from 1500–1800s, until Florida became a U.S. territory in 1822. Located halfway between Jacksonville and Pensacola, Tallahassee has served as the state capital since 1824, and The Florida Capitol is worth a visit for a glimpse of the rotunda alone.
The AC Hotel
It seems trivial to recommend a city for its accommodations alone, but the AC Hotel by Marriott Tallahassee Universities at the Capitol is a worthy candidate. Opened in early 2021, the hotel imbues all the stylish energy of the AC brand with its modern design and luxe amenities. It also abuts Cascades Park, and if you snag a room on the south side, lovely views of the fountain and rolling green space greet you.
Expect scrumptious pastries at the European-style breakfast bar and plenty of natural light beckoning from nooks ideal for a quiet read. But there’s Charlie Park, too. The rooftop bar offers stunning sunsets, American fusion cuisine, and an array of craft cocktails. Backdropped by the entryway’s vibrant moss-covered wall, the orchid-adorned house cocktail The Charlie makes for a great snap (and drink, too).
Food & Bev
For a small city, Tallahassee surprised with its quality of cuisine. While it doesn’t offer the wealth of culinary flairs like Southern sisters Charleston or Savannah, there are standout spots. Start the day with Lucky Goat Coffee and a brioche doughnut from Midtown’s SōDOUGH Baking Co.
Hang around the area—featuring gems like Midtown Reader bookstore and chic boutique Hearth & Soul—until lunch, where you must dine at Jeri’s Midtown Café on Smoky and the Grits. For mid-afternoon libations, head to Proof Brewing. Housed in an old Coca-Cola bottling facility, Proof punches out bold, flavorful beers from its 20-barrel brewhouse. Let the day’s denouement be an evening at Il Lusso, where Chef Terry White and crew create elegant Italian dishes like veal Osso Bucco or the Seminole squash triangoli.
The Arts Scene
Another surprise Tallahassee offers is its diverse array of artisans and creatives. For the best bang for your buck, head to Railroad Square, an old warehouse district that has transformed into a burgeoning arts scene. The old buildings, adorned with bright, creative murals, house a wealth of studios, galleries, theaters, and eclectic shops.
But there’s also the Bradford Blues Club. This small cinder-block building, which has hosted the likes of B.B. King, is a short drive north of the city and was the first of its kind in the state to be listed on the Mississippi Blues Trail.
For an all-day adventure, grab a bike and hop on the Tallahassee-St. Marks Historic Railroad State Trail, a 16-mile greenway connecting the capital to the town of St. Marks and the Gulf of Mexico. For something more leisurely, Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park is a nature lover’s dream. Trails meander around drooping oaks and vibrant azaleas, and around each hedge is another hidden fountain or reflection pool. And then there’s Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park, whose sapphire waters include manatees.
With the wealth of sun and sand Florida has to offer, it can be tempting to set Tallahassee aside. But driving straight through this lovely city in your rush to get to the beach is certainly a loss. Gulf Coast gems like St. George Island and Panama City are nearby, so on your way take a day or two in Tallahassee and sink into the mystery of this Southern delight.
Where to eat, sleep and play in Tallahassee
At this downtown highlight, find hand-crafted pasta, prime steaks and chops, and more sourced from locally grown ingredients. 201 E Park Ave #100. (850) 765-8620, illussotlh.com
Housed in the historic Walker Library, this creative cocktail experience is well worth the wait list. 209 E Park Ave. (850) 354-9739, bar1903tlh.com
Jeri’s Midtown Cafe
This charming Midtown joint features home-cooked Southern fare crafted from the fewest ingredients possible. 1123 Thomasville Rd. (850) 385-7268, jerismidtowncafe.com
AC Hotel Tallahassee
Centered in downtown with views of Cascade Park, this chic hotel offers a host of modern amenities. 801 S Gadsden St. (850) 392-7700, marriott.com/ac_hotels/tallahassee
Railroad Square Art District
Find creative inspiration in this historic warehouse district transformed into an artistic haven filled with art studios and eclectic shops. 602 McDonnell Dr, (850) 224-1308, artdistrict.com
Explore 52 acres of natural wonders, including diverse wildlife, historic buildings, and a zipline course. 945 Museum Drive, tallahasseemuseum.org
Bradford Blues Club
Florida’s first club listed on the Mississippi Blues Trail, this historic juke joint is sure to get you grooving. 7152 Moses Lane, bradfordvilleblues.com