1. The Steinhatchee River
The Steinhatchee isn’t one of Florida’s bigger rivers; from its origins near the town of Mayo to where it meets the Gulf of Mexico at Deadman Bay, it’s not much more than 30 miles. But it packs into that small space a massive amount of unspoiled, minimally developed Florida waterway, as well as several great options for camping and nature.
The river itself is perfect for watersports such as kayaking, while anglers can have plenty of luck in the flats. The smallish river has never had a great deal of industry or development along it, so tucked away, quiet communes with nature are not hard to find out here. The Steinhatchee area has any number of charters and marinas for those looking for a little help getting out on the water. The town of Steinhatchee is also a fun place to walk – Victorian homes sit along the water, and this small, walkable place offers plenty of history and views for people who’d prefer to stay on land while others in the party are out catching dinner.
This is definitely proper, old-school Florida, where watersports and fishing are the order of the day. That’s not to say, however, that luxury and quality accommodations are hard to find.
The Steinhatchee River Club offers wood cabins with screened-in porches in addition to RV camping and a full, three-bedroom/two-and-a-half bath house. There are slips for boats as well as boat and kayak rentals at the club, which sits in the town of Jena, on the south bank of the river not far from the mouth and across from the town of Steinhatchee.
Across the river in Steinhatchee, the Steinhatchee Landing Resort offers luxury with Old Florida flair thanks to a small “town” of cottages in Victorian, Georgian and Florida Cracker styles. There are docks, a pool, spa, fitness studio and plenty more amenities at a place that’s also a popular wedding destination.
North Florida has a few towns where the great old buildings have been preserved and history remains; among the most charming is Monticello.
The town about 20 miles outside Tallahassee features some of the state’s most well-preserved Georgian and Victorian architecture. The Monticello Opera House dates to 1890s and is still a working theater offering a diverse range of stage and musical productions. A historic schoolhouse now houses the Jefferson Arts Gallery, while the town perhaps inevitably also offers a few shops that will suit antique hunters’ needs. Monticello is also a good jumping-off point for North Florida nature; just west of the town sits Lake Miccosukee and Letchworth-Love Mounds Archaeological State Park. Letchworth-Love Mounds is home to some of Florida’s most important history. At the park you can see the state’s tallest American Indian ceremonial mound. It’s not known exactly how old the mound is, but it’s definitely been there for more than a millennium. Experts place the age at somewhere between 1,110 and 1,800 years. A trail takes in the mound and several smaller mounds; guided tours are available. Meanwhile, swampy Lake Miccosukee is known as a decent fishing spot.
One other somewhat surprising place to visit is Monticello Vineyards and Winery. “Florida Wine Country” might not be a term that rolls off the tongue but this small winery, based at a 50-acre organic farm, offers several wines including the big bold Florida Red. Fall visitors can even help pick grapes. (If you don’t want to, you’re also allowed to just sample the stuff.)
You might need a stiff drink before you experience another Monticello favorite, ghost walks. The town bills itself as “the most haunted town in the South,” and you can take walking tours of both the town’s most “haunted buildings” and the cemetery. Maybe have a couple of glasses of Florida Red beforehand.
A place with this much history should surely offer historic lodgings, and Monticello doesn’t disappoint there. The Avera-Clarke House is a true piece of Florida history. Civil War veteran and Second Florida Constitution signer Judge Thomas Clarke built it in 1890, eventually leaving the house to his son, powerful Florida politician and onetime Florida Senate president SD Clarke.
Equally historic is the 1872 Denham Inn. The historic Victorian mansion – which, you guessed it, dates to 1872 – is decorated in period furniture and sits on an acre of land. Guests get a properly Southern breakfast (locally smoked ham and sausage as well as pecan and cinnamon pancakes, just to name a couple of options) and when the weather calls for it, they can enjoy one of the house’s eight fireplaces.