Downtown, CollegeTown, Midtown, North Town/Uptown, South City—each of Tallahassee’s five districts has a distinct flavor. Exploring and savoring each district’s unique food and attractions is one of my favorite pastimes. Let me tell you why.
Two hearts are better than one, right? We like to think so. In Tallahassee, we have two capitol buildings. One is a restored domed structure, built in 1902, that now serves as a state museum with more than 250 political artifacts. The other is a 22-story monolith that houses Florida’s legislative branch of government. Walk the grounds and enjoy the sculptures, memorials and moss-bearded live oaks that adorn the capitol complex.
Two blocks to the west you’ll find the Museum of Florida History, with exhibits ranging from an articulated mastodon skeleton to an interactive riverboat for kids. Paleo Indians, Spanish conquistadores, tin can tourists, and more—the museum covers Florida’s broad range of history. And you can’t beat the price of admission—it’s free.
Just downhill from the capitol buildings, Cascades Park is another free place to explore. With waterfalls, an amphitheater, a playground and bike trails, there’s no shortage of exciting things to do no matter what you’re in the mood for.
A block northwest of the capitol is Kleman Plaza. It houses the Challenger Learning Center where visitors—especially families with children—can dive into science, technology, engineering and mathematics through hands-on learning labs, a state-of-the-art Space Mission Simulator, an IMAX Theater and a planetarium. A perfect spot to refuel after exploring space is Harry’s Seafood Bar & Grille, located just steps away also at Kleman Plaza.
Just west of Kleman Plaza is a six-block area that boasts some of Tallahassee’s finest hotels, historic mansions and oldest churches situated along canopied city streets.
True to its name, CollegeTown draws in students attending Florida State University, Florida A&M University and Tallahassee Community College as well as visitors and residents. Once an industrial district situated along Gaines Street, the energetic CollegeTown now features bars, restaurants and hip shops.
Whether or not you’re a college student, this is the perfect place to eat like one. Check out Gaines Street Pies or Madison Social for dinner. Then indulge in dessert at Sugar Rush Bar on All Saints Street, where you can have one-of-a-kind ice-cream sundaes decorated with cookies, doughnuts, honey buns, cupcakes, sweet cereal bits and candy. It’s the ultimate in satisfying sweet tooth cravings.
If you’re looking for live entertainment and a great nightlife scene, CollegeTown is your spot. Township, for example, is a hopping beer garden with 32 draft beers on tap including local, national and international flavors. Football game days are when CollegeTown bustles with students and alumni, and you can easily access FSU college basketball games and concerts at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center.
When you’re in the mood for something more refined, head to Midtown. Especially popular with young professionals, it’s arguably Tallahassee’s trendiest district with fine dining, locally owned shops and late-night entertainment. Midtown also has a locally owned bookstore, Midtown Reader, featuring talks and book signings from nationally known authors. It shares a homey, pink building with other shops including Lucy and Leo’s Cupcakery, so you can devour more than books here.
If you need caffeine to kick-start your day, stop by RedEye Coffee Midtown for a fresh brew. For something decadently sweet, I recommend the doughnut creations at SoDough Baking Co. Take an afternoon or evening stroll through Midtown on either Thomasville Road or North Monroe, and you’ll likely come across live music, especially at Blue Tavern. CollegeTown doesn’t have a monopoly on Tallahassee pizza, as proven by the aromas wafting from Midtown Pies and Decent Pizza. And you’ll find one-of-a-kind menu items at establishments such as Kool Beanz Cafe, Table 23 and Midtown Caboose.
The new kid on the block in terms of shopping and dining, the North Town/Uptown District features mid-level to upscale dining and a mixture of both locally owned and large box stores. Here you’ll find a wide range of ethnic foods from Cuban cuisine at Gordos to French classics at A La Provence and elegant pastries at the Au Peche Mignon French pastry shop.
A visit to North Town wouldn’t be complete without a stop at Tallahassee’s emerald necklace, a series of large parks, the heart of which is Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park. Once the elaborate gardens and winter home of a wealthy industrialist, the park offers swimming, kayaking, hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding across its 1,176 acres. Plus, Maclay Gardens connects to the city-managed Elinor Klapp-Phipps Park. At 670 acres, the park has plenty to offer trail enthusiasts along with sports complexes for tennis and soccer.
South City is an established region of Tallahassee that is anchored by classic restaurants such as Olean’s Cafe on South Adams, across from the Florida A&M University campus. They have been serving up home-cooked soul food for 20 years. For vegan soul food, Soul Veg on South Adams features a variety of healthy fare, including vegan macaroni and cheese, collard greens, portabella mushroom burgers and slow-baked barbecue tofu.
Nick’s Restaurant is another Tallahassee landmark, a family affair serving classic breakfasts and lunches since 1955. Imagine all that time perfecting the art of delicious.
Railroad Square Art Park, situated between South City and CollegeTown, has numerous art studios, funky retail shops and a rock gym. Railroad Square’s First Friday gallery hop each month is not to be missed!
South City is undergoing significant redevelopment. Happy Motoring turned an abandoned auto shop on South Adams Street into a bar and neighborhood gathering place. And Tallahassee’s largest craft brewery, Proof Brewing Company, has recently restored the spacious former Coca-Cola® plant on South Monroe. Their expansive beer garden brings an exciting after-hours element to South City.
Whether you’re looking for classic foods and shopping or something completely new, Tallahassee’s emerging districts will tantalize the senses and satiate those adventurous yearnings.
Doug Alderson is the author of several award-winning books, including A New Guide to Old Florida Attractions.