Educational Adventures

Tallahassee: A Great Place to Visit And I’d Love to Live There

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In the past several years, I’ve traveled quite a bit within the United States. Name a major American city, and I’ve been there. Heck, chances are that I’ve worked there. But at the end of the day (or week), I always came home to my little stone ranch house in eastern Pennsylvania and was relatively content to do so. (Stop laughing, people who know me in real life. I said relatively. As a rule, I’m not a super content individual, ok?)

Because sure, I love New York. And Miami in January is better than a prescription anti-depressant (trust me, I’ve tried both.) And I’d never kick Chicago out of bed, what with its stunning skyline and all of the food. LA kind of sucks, but the ocean is, like, right there, so that’s pretty awesome. And then there’s Portland with the beer, New Orleans with the jazz, and San Francisco with the pretentious cocktail bars featuring giant ice cubes and beards. But the thing is, while I will always return to these cities as a tourist, I can’t see myself ever living in any of these places.

Which makes it all the more surprising that after only a short visit to Florida’s state capitol, I have become 100% convinced that it is somewhere I would be happy to call home.

Now, before my mom reads this and freaks out: Dear mom, I’m not moving to Tallahassee any time soon. But if I did, this would be why…

Why Tallahassee is a Great Place to Visit AND Why I’d Love to Live There

Gardens Galore: Maclay Gardens State Park and Goodwood Museum and Gardens

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Maclay Gardens is like no other state park I’ve ever visited. To start, there are flowers everywhere. And secret a garden surrounding a fountain. Oh, and did I mention the Spanish moss? Because the trees are absolutely dripping with Spanish moss. To be fair, this is true many places in Tallahassee; that’s just another reason why I’d love to live there. I loves me some Spanish moss.

There are also several miles of trails, a stunning lakefront, and a historic hunting lodge. If I lived in Tallahassee, I would walk here often, likely with my camera. Were I only visiting for a few days, I’d definitely make a stop here, ideally later in the day when the low sun shines through trees creating what I’m going to call a Spanish-mossy-wonderland. (Did I mention that I love Spanish moss?)

If the azaleas and camellias of Maclay aren’t enough to satisfy your garden appetite, worry not–you have another option nearby. When I arrived at Goodwood Museum and Gardens, I expected a plantation property much like I’ve experienced in the countryside of lower Louisiana. And in some ways, that’s what I got–a beautiful, be-columned home with giant live oaks arching overhead. But there were also sprawling grounds, an event facility, and a decorative pool area with trellis covered patio.

And scattered about this property were actual people doing actual people things, like walking with a friend or having a simple picnic lunch on the lawn. If I lived in Tallahassee, I would visit the grounds of Goodwood often to do the same. As I was only visiting for a few days, I took the tour of the family home and learned all about the rich history surrounding the property, and the families who had lived there in decades gone by.

But wait! There’s more! There are urban green spaces scattered throughout Tallahassee as well. Enamored with Spanish moss as I am, it would be wrong to not mention the downtown Chain of Parks, which are another option for moss-oogling (what? That’s totally a thing.) There are also several designated canopy roads located in and around the downtown area, which also drip with Spanish-mossy-glory. Basically–if you’re looking for trees, Tally has you covered. In moss. Spanish moss. (Did I mention Spanish moss? #Spanishmoss.)

Educational Adventures: The Mag Lab and The Tallahassee Museum

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You know how the whole point of The Suitcase Scholar is to highlight the educational aspects of travel? (Even if by ‘educational’ I mean ‘learning about bourbon’?) And remember how I used to be a teacher and am still a self-professed nerd? Yeah. Then it should come as no surprise to you that a visit to The National High Magnetic Field Lab at FSU was high up on my Tallahassee must-do list. And as it turns out, I must not be the only traveling nerd out there, because The Mag Lab gives weekly tours of the facility for locals and visitors alike.

While on the Mag Lab tour, you will not only get to see the largest and highest powered magnet in the world and learn about how and why it is used, you will also learn about things like materials research and graphene and condensed matter physics. If I lived in Tallahassee, I’d go back over and over again until I understood what those things are. As a visitor, I simply reveled in the awesomeness of being near such high-tech, groundbreaking work. It was pretty amazing.

Another excellent option for educational adventurers is the Tallahassee Museum. The Tallahassee Museum is the least museum-like museum I’ve ever experienced. First of all, most of it is outside. Second, there’s a high ropes course with zip lines. Yes, that’s right–you can go zip lining through an outdoor museum. Who wouldn’t want to do that??? See that photo up above this section? That’s the Tallahassee Museum. Yup.

My favorite area of the Tallahassee Museum was definitely the various trails which wind through many native animal habitats. Did I mention there are otters? Because THERE ARE OTTERS. If I lived in Tallahassee, you’d better believe I’d have a membership to the Tallahassee Museum. Heck, if I lived in Tallahassee, I’d apply for a job here (while there I learned that they actually partner with companies like Microsoft to provide professional development to teachers–which is what I do for a living. So, like, hire me, Tallahassee museum? Please?) As a visitor, I spent the better part of an afternoon there, and left having not explored as much as I’d have liked.

History Happened Here: Mission San Luis and the Museum of Florida History

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It’s terrible I know, but I’ve never really heard ‘Florida’ and thought ‘historical significance’. I blame growing up near Philadelphia, where at least according to all of my also-living-near-Philadelphia elementary school teachers, America was born. I mean, come on, Philly is the home of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. How much more historical can you get?

A lot more historical, it seems. Because while Pennsylvania was still mostly empty wilderness, Florida had forts and settlers and pirates and armadas and expeditions and stuff (and both places had native people.) And you can learn all about both local Tallahassee and state-wide Florida history at these two historical centers.

Mission San Luis is set up on the actual grounds of the original mission, though many of the buildings are recreations. It is designed as a living history museum, and as you explore the grounds you will interact with various people playing various historical roles to help you learn about mission life in the 1600s. There’s also a small but stellar museum, featuring many of the artifacts found in archeological digs on site.

Not far away, housed beneath the state capitol, you will find The Museum of Florida History, where you can literally walk through a timeline of the state of Florida, beginning in prehistoric times and ending in the modern day. I learned about oranges, and WWII, and the many native tribes–among many other things. The recreation of the fort at St. Augustine is so well done that you could skip a visit to St. Augustine itself (I’ve visited St. Augustine–I had no desire to relocate there.) If I lived in Tallahassee, I’d definitely spend some time making up for my Pennsylvania education by making it a point to learn more about local and Florida state history. And as a visitor, I’m quite glad I now know more about the state of Florida than I previously did, as most of that knowledge was decidedly…Disney-related. There’s more to Florida than the mouse. A lot more.

Go Outside: Trailahassee, Wakulla Springs, and St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge

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Ok, I have to admit it–this is the point where I really started looking at Tallahassee real estate (seriously, I may have a tab opened to Zillow as I write this. Sorry, mom!) And more, this is also where most of the other ‘great American cities’ lost me–most feature an almost total lack of natural beauty and a complete lack of actual wildness (with the notable exception of Seattle and Portland, but I can’t afford to live in either of those cities and I don’t understand who can. But I digress.)

Within a 20 minute drive of Tallahassee’s city center, there are numerous beautiful ways to enjoy the great outdoors. During my brief visit, I was able to experience three of them–a visit to Wakulla Springs, where I saw several manatees (MANATEES!), a sunset stroll at St. Mark’s Wildlife Refuge, and a paddle down the Wakulla River Paddling Trail, which is part of the network of trails organized on the awesome Trailahassee website. Trailahassee features hundreds of hiking, biking, and paddling trails and is searchable by activity, surface, skill level, and location. (Seriously, it’s a really neat site; I wish something like it existed for the entire world.)  And I did all three of these things in December. Because as an added bonus, the climate is warm enough to enjoy said great outdoors year round. YEAR ROUND! That’s twelve out of twelve months! And it never snows! IT NEVER SNOWS!

I’m moving.

No, Seriously, Go Outside: Kayaking Tallahassee

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With so many incredible things to do in and around Tallahassee, it’s impossible for me to pick a favorite. Except it’s not. My favorite thing was a short kayak trip down the Wakulla River with Harry Smith Outdoors and Tally Yakkers Outfitters.

The Mag Lab was unique and interesting, and there’s all of my love for the Spanish moss in the gardens, but paddling down a river in the sunshine (again, in December) was all of those things too–unique (to me), interesting, and with occasional Spanish moss. But it was also peaceful and relaxing. There were birds doing bird things. And trees swaying in the breeze. And only the three of us on the water, gliding along.

I am not a kayak person. I don’t own a kayak, and I never will. But if I lived in Tallahassee? I’d own a kayak. Because there would be places where I could actually use it. All year long. Maybe I’d even get good at it. My guide for the day looked as at-home on the water as I looked not-at-home. Meaning ‘I am super uncomfortable on small watercraft and that fact is immediately apparent to anyone who witnesses me attempting to maneuver a small watercraft’.

And speaking of my guide–as I was only a visitor, I was super grateful to be set up with Harry Smith, who was a most excellent guide and all around fun guy and who was very patient with me and my total lack of kayaking ability. If you visit Tallahassee–and I think it is clear that I think you really should–and don’t book a paddle with Harry, you’re missing out. Or, you know, you could just move there, buy your own kayak, and maybe take Harry out for a beer. I’m assuming he drinks beer–don’t all kayak people drink beer? I feel like that’s a requirement.

Distinctive Dining: A Restaurant for Every Taste

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Are you sold on Tallahassee yet? No? Seriously, I just wrote like ten thousand words on why it is awesome. Sigh. Ok. Here’s another word: food.

During my short visit, I enjoyed meals in:

-A pizza and beer joint that sold pizzas the size of large cafe tables (they claim that the slices are as big as your head, and they are lying–they are bigger than your head).

-The rooftop bar of a swanky downtown hotel.

-An upscale restaurant located in a renovated power station in Cascades Park, a lovely riverfront multi-use space right downtown.

-A cafe with an inventive menu, a cozy patio, and walls lined with paintings from a local artist.

-My personal favorite kind of dining establishment–a seafood dive. With oysters.

If I lived in Tallahassee, I would need a good job (seriously, anyone in Tallahassee hiring?) because I’d want to dine out often. Very often. Daily, even. And as a visitor, I could definitely plan an entire trip around food alone. In fact, I may just do that sometime very soon. Because oysters.

Last But Definitely Not Least: Proof Brewery and The Railroad Square Art Park

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If you made it this far in this post, I think you deserve a drink. Here you go!

You didn’t think I’d want to move (or even visit) somewhere that didn’t have an awesome brewery, did you? I mean, have you met me?

Proof Brewing Company is basically everything anyone could ever want in a local (or destination) brewery. There is ample seating in a large-yet-welcoming space. There’s a gorgeous outside patio–which is child and dog friendly–complete with astro turf, lawn games, and little white lights. Oh, and the most important part–Proof offers an extensive selection of freaking amazing beer. Their flagship IPA was, according to my note on Untappd, everything I love about IPAs. I also had some kind of double that was bold without being overly boozy. I even found a sour beer here that I liked–nay, that I loved. I believe it involved raspberries, but it wasn’t fruity in the way that some fruity beers can be (I mean, if I wanted a wine cooler, I’d have a wine cooler. And I never want a wine cooler.) If I lived in Tallahassee, I’d be at Proof every damn day. As a visitor to Tallahassee, I was disappointed that I discovered it too late in my visit to return the next day. Don’t make the same mistake; visit Proof early and often.

And to make it even better, Proof is located in Railroad Square, a formerly industrial area which has been transformed into a community of art studios. Sadly, I wasn’t in town for any of the weekly events, but there are weekly events that, if I lived in Tallahassee, I’d definitely check out. You know, because I’d be there anyway, drinking beer at Proof. And playing corn hole. With my dog.

Yes, Dorothy was wrong; there are a great many places like home. In fact, some places are even better than home. Tallahassee is definitely one of them. Unless of course you live in Tallahassee. Then home is cool.

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