Our plan began taking shape just a few hours before we had to take my husband to the airport for his week long business trip. My children and I were feeling quite sad that he would be gone for a week. So, I thought, we could take an extended field trip and spend several days in Alabama! Why Alabama? Because we are starting our state studies and my dd selected to look at the states alphabetically and it is within a reasonable driving distance of north central Florida.
So, I planned and planned our trip and had everything laid out to the day. Then, I checked the weather forecast. There had been a huge amount of rain that had fallen over the weekend and the Florida panhandle and southern Alabama were experiencing incredible flooding. And just like that, we were not going to Alabama.
Instead we decided to shorten our trip and head to Tallahassee. I had been to Tallahassee briefly many years ago and did not remember a thing about the place. Here was our itinerary:
Day 1 (Wed): left Gainesville around 10 am and drove out SR 27 and SR 98 to the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. It was a gorgeous drive through the NWR and the visitor center had a few fun things for children as well. We went to see the lighthouse and saw many wading birds on our drive out there. It was mostly deserted that day, but we thought that it would be wonderful to go back there one day with kayaks.
After leaving the St. Marks NWR, we headed over to Panacea, FL (~30 minute drive) to the Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratories. This place is a bit pricey, but it is half aquarium, half touch tanks. My children were delighted with the sea stars and impressed with the speed of the fiddler crabs (we never did catch one). We were able to see a sea turtle that was being rehabilitated, lobsters, spider crabs, rays, sea horses, and many different types of fish. It was definitely worth the stop and my dd said it was the best part of the day.
Finally, we left Panacea, FL and went over to Bald Point State Park. I had high hopes for this beach, but sadly it wasn’t really worth visiting. There were two access points to choose from: Sunrise Beach and North Beach. Since we were there late in the evening (no sunburn to worry about) I decided to go to the Sunrise Beach which was located before the pay station. There was no sense in paying an entrance fee when we weren’t going to be staying for very long. We were there by ourselves (nice), but there was some gunk floating in the water (not so nice). The facilities at the Sunrise Beach access point included some showers and a port-a-potty. There was also a tremendous storm brewing inland that was headed out to the Gulf of Mexico, and so we stayed for only 20 minutes.
From Bald Point State Park we drove to Tallahassee to our hotel. We were even able to get in a quick dip at the pool after dinner time. Some times the late sunsets and lingering heat of summer time are really a blessing.
Day 2 (Thursday): We began the day by taking a short drive to the Maclay Gardens State Park. This was listed by AAA as a gem location and it certainly was beautiful. However, there were not a lot of flowers blooming while we were there. I am sure that in the spring it is just stunning when all of the azaleas are in bloom. In fact, they even charge an extra fee during that time period and the house is opened for visitors as well. We did enjoy a cool morning hour wandering around the different paths. I loved the lakeside pavilion, my dd was enchanted by the secret garden, and my ds was just dying to wade in the reflecting pool.
Following the gardens we made a stop at the Visitor Information Center that is located next to the Capitol Museum. This little stop was wonderful because we received such good tips on what to do and where to park while in Tallahassee. After spending about 10 minutes at the Information Center we went to park at a nearby parking garage. We then walked up the hill to the historic Capitol Museum and building. Inside at the front desk, ask for the scavenger hunt paper. This is just a piece of paper that has items for your children to look for on both levels of the building. I think that this is the only way that I was allowed to see the museum since the interest level for little ones is low here. 🙂 My children showed their completed papers at the end and were given a coloring book with the state symbols of Florida. We then left through the back doors and went to the 22nd floor of the new Capitol building for a panoramic view of Tallahassee.
We were then ready to go to a museum. The Mary Brogan Museum was open for limited hours, but it was a rather expensive admission fee and when I asked about the exhibits it seemed geared more towards older children. So, we passed on that museum and went over to the free Museum of Florida History. We had a great time at this museum and stayed until it was time to get back to the hotel for a nap time. I must have been tired too because I don’t have any pictures from this stop! One tip though, do not eat at the cafe in this museum. Of course it was expensive food, but it also was not so great.
After nap time we had planned on going to the Wakulla Springs State Park, but the weather had other plans. It rained for several hours and we were confined to our hotel room.
Day 3 (Friday): After checking out from our hotel in the morning, we headed over to the Florida Caverns State Park. It took a little more than an hour of driving northwest to reach this park from Tallahassee. Many years ago I had visited this park and I knew that my dd would enjoy it. We arrived a little after 9:30 am (central time) and missed the first cave tour, but this gave us time to buy our tour tickets, use the restroom, and take a quick look at the visitor center area before our 10 am tour time. My children both enjoyed the tour and my only complaint is that our tour leader kept telling us to hurry up or else we would not be able to see everything. I thought it was obvious that we would not be moving as quickly as the others since my son is only 2.5 years old, but apparently it wasn’t. He certainly wasn’t dawdling…it’s just that a 2 year old’s legs are significantly shorter than an adult’s legs. Our tour guide also thought that it would be amusing to make scary noises at one point during the tour which midly freaked out my children (who generally don’t scare easily). Keep in mind that no strollers or backpack type carriers are allowed on this tour and you are underground for a good 40 minutes. In some areas adults do need to bend down to avoid hitting their heads on the formations and you cannot touch anything while down there.
We left the caverns around lunch time and headed back to Tallahassee to see Mission San Luis, a recreation of a 17th century spanish mission. This attraction was beautiful and huge…this was the one time that I wished that I had a stroller for my son. We did not have enough time to see everything since we had to be back in Gainesville in time to pick up my dh from the airport. You could easily spend several hours here just walking around and talking to everyone. Unfortunately, there was a school (?) group there at the same time we were and the interpreters were clearly more concerned about moving those groups through the different buildings.
Overall it was a very successful and fun trip. My children are already asking when we can take another trip like it!