One of my most vivid memories is from my first night in Tallahassee; after my furniture was set up and my family drove away, I laid down in my new bed in my new room and stared up at the ceiling. Everyone I knew and everything I had grown accustomed to over the past 19 years was gone, and I felt so incredibly alone in that small apartment.
Over the past three years, Tallahassee has transformed from a lonely and intimidating city to a place that I can sincerely call home. I recently said goodbye to Florida’s capital in order to pursue new adventures in new places, but I know that the city will always have a special place in my heart.
For this next Florida Spotlight, I want to share with you the places that have come to mean so much to me during my time in Tallahassee.
What to Do
Tallahassee Rock Gym.
When I discovered the Tallahassee Rock Gym, my life changed forever. That gym truly made me the person I am today, because it introduced me to the sport and the people that I molded my identity around.
Over the years I have had the incredible privilege of interacting with TRG in a variety of different ways – from a timid newcomer to an active member of the Climbing Club at FSU and then a officer of the Climbing Club at FSU, from a volunteer route setter and youth team coach to a paid staff member, and eventually back to a member who spends 90% of her time scrambling on the walls of the gym and sharing knowledge with the new faces in the community.
I have felt such intense love and admiration towards the gym, and there have been times where I cried my heart out and was enraged by its actions. Ultimately, though, I can’t deny the fact that the old warehouse turned rock climbing facility had taken me in when I felt utterly alone in Tallahassee, and for that I will always be grateful. TRG also opened my eyes to the wonders of climbing and the outdoor industry, and that alone has set me on the path that I’m on today.
The Tallahassee Rock Gym has changed so much since the night I first set foot through it’s doors – both in ways that make me proud and in ways that I don’t agree with – and while I know more change is on the horizon, I look forward to coming back to TRG for a quick visit further down the road. Something tells me it’ll feel like coming home.
My own personal experience aside, the Tallahassee Rock Gym is a great way to be introduced to the sport of indoor rock climbing. The staff is extremely knowledgable and passionate about what they do, and the members of the community will undoubtably welcome you with open arms and share their wealth of knowledge about climbing. The gym has various cash-only specials that reduce the price of a day pass, so I highly recommend checking on their Facebook and Instagram pages to get all of the information.
If you’re a student who wants to learn more about climbing and try your hand at getting on real rocks, then join the Climbing Club at FSU. That club brought me together with my boyfriend and my closest friends, so I’m constantly encouraging students to give it a try.
Lastly, if you’re apprehensive about giving rock climbing a try because you don’t have anyone to go with, I want to reassure you right now that there is no shortage of people to climb with. Like I mentioned before, the community at TRG is extremely accepting of newcomers and the older members enjoy nothing more than fostering a love of climbing within new faces at the gym. During my time as a staff member at TRG, I created a Facebook group for people who want to rope climb (which is a two-person activity) but don’t have a partner. The Facebook group is a great way to connect with members of the gym and expose yourself to different styles of climbing, but it’s completely possible to do that if you aren’t part of the group.
Food truck Thursdays at Lake Ella.
Lake Ella is a popular spot to get outside in Tallahassee because it’s extremely accessible; you don’t have to drive an hour away or pay a state park fee, instead you can enjoy a serene lake with wildlife without even leaving Midtown. Koda and I have spent countless hours walking around Lake Ella (and in his case barking at the ducks) but we always have the most fun when we go for food truck Thursdays. As the name implies, every Thursday various food trucks park at Lake Ella to sell their specialities, and everyone sits in the grass to enjoy their food while listening to a live performance from a local band.
My favorite part of food truck Thursdays during the summer months is getting a snowball from Big Easy Snowballs. My mom introduced me to this phenomenon when we went up to Tallahassee together while I was still in high school, and I’ve been hooked on them ever since. A snowball is a shaved ice snow cone that is stuffed with ice cream and covered in delicious syrups and toppings. I haven’t had a real snowball since that first one with my mom since I try not to eat dairy, but John and I couldn’t resist splitting one during our last food truck Thursday.
Railroad Square Art Park.
The Tallahassee Rock Gym is located in Railroad Square Art Park, along with other colorful warehouses that are home to quirky businesses. John and I have spent many days exploring all that Railroad Square has to offer. Here are some of my favorite spots: Black Dog on the Square is a small coffee shop that has delicious specialty drinks and handmade popsicles with crazy flavors; The Crum Box is a restaurant that serves burgers and hot dogs, and you can often watch a live music performance on Friday nights; if you like classic arcade games and pinball, then Flippin’ Great Pinball in Railroad Square is for you; Julie Guyot Studio is my favorite artist in the square, and she sells the most delicate and beautiful handmade pottery pieces; lastly, the Other Side Vintage is a huge vintage and thrift store with everything from kaleidoscope sunglasses to lace dresses.
On the first Friday of every month you can find countless vendors, performers, and artists in Railroad Square Art Park from 6:00pm until 9:00pm. I love going to first Friday because I can enjoy a huge plate of vegan food from the Krishna group, but there are plenty of other food trucks that cater the event. Check out the First Friday Facebook page to learn more!
I’ve already written a blog post about Talloween, but I can’t write about what to do in Tallahassee without bringing it up. Every October a local bike shop hosts Talloween: a Halloween-themed bike race and scavenger hunt that takes place in Tallahassee. Participating in the friendly bike race has become a tradition amongst my friend group, and it is a fun way to raise awareness about cyclist safety.
If riding your bike around town late at night while wearing a silly costume isn’t your thing, then consider riding on some of the trails in town instead. Tallahassee is home to numerous bike trails ranging from easy to not-so-easy (what can I say, there aren’t any mountains in Florida so how hard can it really be?) and almost all of them are completely free to ride on. Some of my favorite bike trails are the Munson trail, the Lafayette Heritage Park trail, the J.R. Alford Greenway trail, and the trail in Elinor Klapp-Phipps Park.
When you google “things to do in Tallahassee,” the Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park is almost always the first thing that pops up. When I was first applying to Florida State University I took a trip up to Tallahassee with my high school best friends, and the very first thing we did was stop at Maclay Gardens. The park is a 1,176-acre botanical garden with a brick walkway, a long reflection pool, and countless flowers and plants.
I’ve only gone to Maclay Gardens a handful of times since that initial trip, so now whenever I think about the state park I am reminded of that fun day with my best friends. If you’re planning on visiting Maclay, keep in mind that the peak blooming season is between January and April, and that it costs $6 to park a vehicle in the lot and $6 per person to enter the gardens during blooming season.
St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and the St. Marks bike trail.
The St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge is another extremely popular outdoor spot near Tallahassee. Within less than an hour’s drive you can find yourself sitting in the sand on the beach or hiking through the forest and the dunes. St. Marks consists of “70,000 acres of wildlife habitat along 45 miles of Florida gulf coastline,” and the refuge aims to conserve and restore the natural habitat of countless species of native wildlife populations. You can bike, hike, paddle, fish, and hunt within the refuge, and the cost of admission is only $5 per car.
If you really want to immerse yourself in the wildlife refuge, I highly recommend biking from Tallahassee to St. Marks along the St. Marks bike trail. John and I recently went on a bikepacking trip to St. Marks where we rode out there from our home in Midtown and camped outside the refuge before biking back the next day. I’ll have a blog post up about our experience soon!
The Tallahassee Museum.
The Tallahassee Museum is part zoo part historical museum about Tallahassee. My boyfriend John used to work at the Tree to Tree zip-line portion of the museum, which meant I was able to explore the area and go on the high adventure course for free. The zip-lining was very enjoyable, but surprisingly we had more fun checking out the various exhibits and watching the animals roam around their enclosures.
Lichgate on High Road.
I interned with the Florida School of Holistic Living during the summer of my junior year, and the organization met at Lichgate on High Road. Lichgate is a three-acre patch of land off of High Road that is home to an ancient live oak tree, several flourishing gardens, a labyrinth, and an English Tudor-style cottage from the 20th century. I spent many hot summer days tending to the gardens at Lichgate and preparing the historic cottage for holistic classes, and over the course of my internship I fell in love with the quite patch of nature hidden within the city limits of Tallahassee. The place had such an impact on me that I took some of my graduation pictures there in December of 2018.
If you’re an FSU student and you’re looking for a cheap way to get outside, I highly suggest going to the FSU Reservation, or “the Rez” as it’s commonly called. The Rez has a wide variety of activities that are available for free for FSU students; you can do yoga on a paddle board out on the lake, climb the rock wall and brave the high ropes course, play sand volleyball, or kayak and canoe on the lake. Not a student? No problem! The Rez is available to non-students for a small fee.
Kayak at the Wacissa River.
The FSU Reservation isn’t the only place in Tallahassee where you can get out on the water. One of my favorite spots to kayak and canoe is the Wacissa River. The river winds through a cypress swamp and has plenty of spring fed pools where you can get out and swim in the crystal clear water. There are plenty of places that offer rentals for a low price if you don’t have your own water craft, and the river is a great way to get outside and enjoy the natural beauty of Florida.
Dog parks in Tallahassee.
I got Koda at the beginning of my second year living in Tallahassee (read about Koda here!), and having him exposed me to so many new places in town. Koda’s favorite thing in the whole world is a visit to the dog park, so we’ve gone to almost all of the parks in town. The best dog park in Tallahassee is located in Tom Brown Park, and what makes it superior is its enormous size and the sheer number of dogs that visit the park everyday. The Tom Brown dog park has an area for smaller dogs and puppies, as well as two fenced in areas that are connected by a gate for larger dogs.
Before I discovered the temple of serenity and cleanliness that is the Tom Brown dog park, I frequented the San Luis Mission dog park. Don’t get me wrong, Koda has had plenty of great times at the Mission dog park, but I always dreaded bringing him there because it was perpetually muddy and covered in pools of dirty water, which Koda loves lying down in. I think the park has made an effort to clean up the dog park, and there are plenty of fun trails to take your dog on if you don’t want to end up with a mud covered pup, but I stopped going to the San Luis Mission dog park once I moved closer to Tom Brown.
There is also a tiny dog park off of Gaines Street called the All Saints dog park that is great if you are on that side of town, but the odds of going while another dog is there are similar to winning the lottery or being struck by lightning. There is also a “dog park” in front of the old Governor’s house in the Midtown area, but I’m hesitant to call it a proper dog park because it’s technically just a fenced in green area. Pet owners are allowed to let their dogs off leash in the park provided they pick up after them, so make sure you abide by this rule so they continue to allow dogs in the yard.
Visit the beach.
The city of Tallahassee isn’t on the beach itself, but it is only a short drive to the coast. Alligator Point is the go-to beach spot for my friends and I, mainly because it is free and dog friendly. My very first Florida Spotlight blog post was about a beach trip to Bald Point State Park, you can read all about it here!
Have a picnic.
John and I are big fans of picnics; they’re cheap, they get us outside, and they’re often more enjoyable than a typical lunch date inside a restaurant. Picnics have been a staple of our relationship ever since we started dating over two years ago. The spots that we frequent in Tallahassee are in Cascades Park and along the Lafayette Heritage Trail Park around Piney Z Lake. That being said, all you need to have a nice picnic outside is some good food and a nice grassy spot outside, so the possibilities are endless in Tallahassee!
Enjoy the lights.
After my three years of living in Tallahassee, I have come to the conclusion that the city is obsessed with pretty lights. The towering oak trees on either side of Park Street in downtown Tallahassee are covered with strands of twinkling Christmas lights all year round. Dorothy B Oven park is also covered in elaborate lights and decorations, but those are only up during the holiday season.
You can also find lights hanging from the large oak trees in Cascades Park throughout the year. It might sound a bit boring to go to a park just to see some pretty lights, but John and I have had a surprising amount of fun sitting beneath the large trees and playing with the settings of our cameras to try and capture the bokeh. Sometimes the simpler things end up being the most memorable.
Take a cooking class at an Aprons Cooking School.
My parents gifted me two tickets to an Aprons Cooking School class for Christmas, so John and I took a sushi making class at the Publix off Thomasville Road. I highly recommend taking a course with the Aprons Cooking School because Tallahassee is one of the few cities in North Florida that offers classes through Publix, and you’ll walk away with so much food. It’s also a fun and unique way to spend date night.
Where to Eat
One of the things that I love the most about Tallahassee is the fact that the city has a diverse range of food and drinks to choose from. I have been vegan and vegetarian throughout the duration of my time in Tallahassee, so the majority of spots that I frequent are either entirely plant-based or have at least one vegan option.
Here are my favorite restaurants and bars in Tallahassee:
- Gaines Street Pies. Whenever I’m craving pizza, Gaines Street Pies is where I go. They have two locations in Tallahassee, one off of Gaines Street (duh) and one in Midtown, and their pizza is so crazy good. My go-to order is the temptation: a pizza with vegan cheese, tempeh, arugula, pineapple, and balsamic glaze.
- Sweet Pea Cafe. Sweet Pea Cafe is a 100% plant-based cafe that is open for brunch and lunch. Their sandwiches are out of this world, and whenever they have a special it is absolutely amazing. The cafe is super small and cozy, but everyone who works there has a heart of gold and the food is always top notch.
- The Bark. I’ve mentioned The Bark several times already on Forest Tourist, which just goes to show how amazing it is. The majority of the food they serve is vegan, but they also have dairy and meat on occasion. One of my favorite things about The Bark are the colorful murals the cover the inside and the outside of the building, as well as the beautiful artwork in the bathrooms. The Bark also hosts a lot of events throughout the week and during the weekends, so be sure to check out their Facebook page before going if you don’t want to be surprised with karaoke or live music.
- Soul Veg. Soul Veg is one of my all time favorite places in Tallahassee, because they serve huge portions of vegan comfort food. John and I used to go on Sundays when they had a buy one get one half off deal, but unfortunately they no longer run discounts during the week. Soul Veg is a little pricey, but the portions are big enough for two meals and the food is insanely good.
- Kiku. I absolutely love Kiku. Their sushi is always super good, and they have an offer where you get a free roll of sushi if you buy one of their specialty rolls.
- Masa. Masa is similar to Kiku in that they serve sushi and Asian-fusion dishes, but Masa is way more expensive than Kiku. You’re definitely getting what you pay for though, because the quality is exceptional.
- 1 Fresh. 1 Fresh is a customizable stir-fry experience; you choose your toppings and style (either as stir-fry, a wrap, or even a salad) and then you chow down. The portions are extremely big and are definitely large enough for two full meals.
- Empire Chinese. I discovered Empire Chinese when I moved into the Frenchtown area and fell in love with their orange tofu with veggie stir-fry noodles. It’s cheap, it’s fast, and it’s enough food for two people to have dinner, lunch, and maybe another dinner.
- Krishna lunch at FSU. When I was a student at FSU I ate Krishna lunch at least three times a week. For only $5 you can get a plate that is overflowing with vegan Indian food and even get a second plate to take home for free. Krishna has definitely saved me from starvation while on campus, and if you’re like me and plan on going multiple times a week you can save big by buying a punch card.
Enjoy this slideshow of pictures from my Instagram of all the amazing food I’ve had in Tallahassee. The caption will say where everything is from.
- Proof Brewing Co. Full disclosure: I liked Proof Brewing Co a lot more when they were located in Railroad Square and am not a huge fan of their new location. However, it’s a great spot to hang out with friends and drink some beer. It can definitely get very crowded at night, but if you are able to go when it isn’t absolutely packed with people it’s a pretty great time.
- Ology Brewing Co. Ology is my favorite place to drink beer in Tallahassee because they have a wide variety of sours and they serve half pours. They also have pretzels with mustard that you can snack on, and it’s a lot smaller than Proof which makes it more intimate and casual.
- Lucky Goat Coffee. My general knowledge about coffee before I started working at Lucky Goat was nonexistent, but after only a few months behind the bar there I have learned so much about the coffee community in Tallahassee. I love everyone who works there to death, and each of the three locations is committed to serving the highest quality beverage and providing exceptional customer service.
- Level 8. Level 8 is a rooftop bar on the 8th floor of the Hotel Duval. I’ve only gone to Level 8 twice, and both times were to watch some friends perform, but it’s a pretty nice spot to hang out.
- Black Dog Cafe. Black Dog Cafe has two locations in Tallahassee: one in Railroad Square and one by Lake Ella. I like visiting Black Dog because they have specialty drinks that are always changing, as well as handmade popsicles. The Railroad Square location is my favorite because the outdoor section is covered in plants.
- Grasslands Brewing Co. I’m not a huge fan of the drinks at Grasslands because I don’t like hoppy IPAs, but I am a huge fan of the space itself. John and I have watched several bands perform in the outdoor space next to Grasslands, and that’s where a bunch of our friends got together for John’s surprise birthday party.
Here’s a slideshow of some drinks I’ve had in Tallahassee! Once again, the caption will say where everything is from.
That’s all for my guide to Tallahassee! Like I’ve said before, this city is very close to my heart. I’m not sure if I’ll ever live in Tallahassee again, but I can definitely see myself returning for a visit in the future.
What are your favorite spots in Tallahassee? Let me know in the comments, or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. All photos in this post were taken by me unless otherwise specified in the caption. Header photo by Brooke Neal.