In her iconic collection of essays titled “The Other Florida,” author Gloria Jahoda famously described Tallahassee as “200 miles from anywhere else.”
True as far as big cities go. But that doesn’t mean Jahoda was putting down her adopted home or the folks who populate its surrounding counties. As the so-called “poet of the people of North Florida,” she was fascinated by their small-town Southern lifestyle.
Theme parks and party beaches still haven’t taken over the no-longer Forgotten Coast since Jahoda died some 30 years ago. There might be a few more paved roads and stilt houses now, even a neatly manicured golf course or two. But the Other Florida is still here. And it’s well worth a visit.
Take St. George Island, an hour-and-a-half to a two-hour drive along U.S. 98, where sun and surf and sugar-white sand add up to one of the state’s most pristine seascapes. Or Wakulla Springs, only a few miles south of Tallahassee and home to browsing manatees, really big gators and the longest and deepest freshwater cave system in the world.
Just over the Georgia state line, the Rose City of Thomasville boasts a killer historic district, really tasty Farmer’s Market and a nationally renowned rose festival dating to the 1920s. Its downtown Victorian Christmas decorations are pretty special, too.
Heading west along U.S. 84, small towns draw big crowds with such decidedly folksy affairs as Whigham’s annual Rattlesnake Roundup, Cairo’s Antique Car Rally, Calvary’s Mule Day, Swine Time in Climax and the two-week-long National Peanut Festival outside Dothan, Ala.
The timeless delights of King Neptune’s pantry are the draw in quaintly coastal Apalachicola — once the third largest Gulf port between Key West and Mexico — with turn-away attendance at its two-day Seafood Festival in November.
Panacea’s Blue Crab Festival each May is another chance to feast on the crunchy crustaceans, while Sopchoppy’s suprisingly spectacular Fourth of July fireworks display ranks right up with black bears, tupelo honey and its April Worm Gruntin’ Festival (a strangely effective way of coaxing fishing-bait worms out of the ground once featured in National Geographic) as local attractions.
Closer to home, Bradley’s Country Store in northern Leon County celebrates its pioneer heritage with an 18th-century encampment on Presidents Day and a Country Fun Day in November.
A local legend since 1910 for home-cooked grits and pork sausage — as well as such frontier Florida delicacies as cracklings, liver pudding and hogshead cheese — Bradley’s tin-roofed general store and 16 outbuildings are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Even though neighboring Gadsden County’s once world-class shade tobacco fields now raise mostly tomatoes and nursery stock, Havana’s cigar-wrapping plants live on as upscale antique shops and gourmet restaurants.
Quincy’s Leaf Theater, Gadsden Art Center (displaying the works of painter Dean Mitchell, wood sculptor Mark Lindquist and other nationally recognized artists), along with the Quincyfest Blues and Barbecue Festival offer more reasons for its designation as an All American city.
And while Jefferson County may no longer lead the nation in the production of watermelon seeds, for the past 62 years it has continued to celebrate the big green melon and its succulent red fruit with a May festival that fills Monticello’s downtown streets.
All things considered, there’s more to be said for the Other Florida than nasty bugs and lots of trees. It may be 200 miles from anywhere else, but it’s still worth a visit.