Florida's capital city seems to be a world away from the vacation and commercial centers of Miami, Orlando and Tampa-St. Petersburg, though it's only a short drive from Gulf Coast beaches. Spreading over gently rolling hills, it has a quiet antebellum ambience. Neighborhoods of old homes have roads lined with live oaks that are dripping with Spanish moss, and the city is a lush green most of the year. In the spring, azaleas bloom in bright colors, followed by dramatic magnolias. Spring also ushers in the legislative season, when Tallahassee's Capitol is flooded with lawmakers, lobbyists, aides, and all types of activists and delegations. Whether in town for business or relaxation, visitors will discover that Tallahasseeans are ready to go the extra mile to make them feel at home.
Although Gov. DuVal thought he was choosing a central location for the capital, today Florida's main population centers are far away. As a matter of fact, Tallahassee is closer to Atlanta, Georgia, than it is to Miami (a five-hour drive as opposed to eight hours). Orlando and Tampa-St. Petersburg are about four hours away. Jacksonville is the closest major city; it is about two and a half hours from Tallahassee.
Locals often refer to Tallahassee as the City of the Seven Hills. Since the city, like most of Florida, is rather flat, this phrase should be taken with a grain of salt. However, there are a few gently sloping roads in and around the city.
Visitors to Tallahassee will need a map or a guide to help them get around. Tallahassee is filled with dead ends, one-way streets and winding roads that don't seem to lead anywhere. Getting specific directions, landmarks to look for along the way and taking an updated city map with you will prevent you from getting lost. Keep in mind that US Route 319 wraps around the city as Capital Circle, and you'll hear locals referring to its geographic quadrants as a way to pinpoint locations. If you get confused, just follow Cap Circle. Walking is a viable option for getting around central Tallahassee, if your activities will keep you in the small downtown area.
Many restaurants and shopping destinations are located along Tallahassee's three main drags: Monroe Street, which runs north-south, and Tennessee Street and Apalachee Parkway, which both run east-west. Perhaps the greatest concentration of good restaurants, art galleries and boutiques catering to the young professional crowd is in the area called Midtown. Intrepid travelers with an eye for local color may enjoy getting lost along Tallahassee's Spanish-moss-draped streets: Neighborhood residents are more than willing to help you on your way.
Paleo Indians lived in this area as long ago as 1,000 BC. The Apalachee tribe inhabited northern Florida from the fifth through the 17th centuries. In 1539, Hernando de Soto celebrated the first Christmas in what would become the U.S., in the woods near the present state Capitol. As more Spanish colonists settled in the Panhandle, disease and fighting reduced the Native American population. The Apalachee abandoned the area, and it was given the name Tallahassee, meaning "old town" or "abandoned fields."
After Florida became a U.S. territory in 1822, the former capitals of East and West Florida—Pensacola and St. Augustine—vied to be named the territorial capital. Preferring a more central location, Gov. William Pope DuVal sent one explorer on horseback from St. Augustine, on the Atlantic Coast, and another by boat from Pensacola, in the far western part of the state. The explorers met near Tallahassee, which was declared Florida's new capital city. In 1824, the area around the city was named Leon County, after Juan Ponce de Leon, the Spanish explorer who supposedly sought the Fountain of Youth in the New World.
Florida became a state in 1845.
In the downtown area you'll find a variety of interesting historic sites, such as the Old Capitol, which sits in the shadow of the 22-story, modern Capitol, as well as museums and churches. Armed with a map, you can follow a walking tour and see a number of buildings, many of which can be visited for free. No stay in Tallahassee is complete without a trip to the Florida State University and Florida A&M University campuses. Both are great for exploring on foot and are home to outstanding theater, dance and musical groups.
As you might expect from a university town, Tallahassee is full of nightlife options for the college crowd. However, there are several places to go if you want to mingle with the over-30 set.
Over the past decade, a number of creative young chefs have opened restaurants in Tallahassee and brought some much-needed vitality to the city's culinary scene. You can still find southern home-style cooking, but it's done with a lighter, sometimes whimsical touch. North Floridians will never give up their fried grouper with cheese grits. Why should they? Crisp-fried, golden-brown crust gives way to the sweet, white fish inside—it's heavenly. And cheese grits are a savory, textured counterpoint to the fish.
Because of its proximity to the coast, Tallahassee is a great place for sushi, and there are several Japanese restaurants to choose from. Steaks and chops aren't in short supply in Tallahassee, either. It's easy to eat well in this town. From Cuban to Indian, coffee shops to upscale establishments, Tallahassee has many dining options. Restaurants in Florida are smoke-free. There are a number of eateries in and around Tallahassee's small downtown, and dozens of others can be found a few minutes' drive along, or just off of, the city's main drags: Tennessee Street, Apalachee Parkway and Monroe Street.
Expect to pay within these guidelines for dinner for one, not including drinks, tax or tip: $ = less than US$10; $$ = US$10-$20; $$$ = US$21-$50; $$$$ = more than US$50.
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