Where to Go, What to Do: Exploring Florida's Springs

Florida Springs
Sunday, July 5, 2009

GETTING THERE: Tallahassee is the best base for exploring Florida's springs. Round-trip flights from Reagan National start at about $250. In Tallahassee, you'll need to rent a car (no public transportation -- you think this is France or something?). There are five national car-hire firms at the airport. Rates start at $40 per day, though there are many weekend and other specials.

WHERE TO STAY: The Lodge at Wakulla Springs State Park (850-926-0700) is a certified green lodging. Its 27 rooms are old-fashioned (no televisions!) and have marble bathrooms. Rates start at $85 per night for a double. The cabins at Fanning Springs State Park (800-326-3521) have fireplaces, screened porches and are also certified green. They sleep up to six and cost $90 per night. If you fall in love with the mermaids and want to see all their shows, the Comfort Inn in Weeki Wachee (9373 Cortez Blvd., 352-596-9000) offers plain, clean rooms from $69 a night for two. Recession be damned? Try Tallahassee's Governors Inn (209 S. Adams, 850-681-6855). It's elegant, discreet and small. Rates for a double start at $144 a night. For an extra $20 you can get an in-room massage.

WHERE TO EAT: Wakulla Springs Lodge's Ball Room serves the kind of breakfasts, lunches and dinners your grandmama would have fed you if she'd hailed from these parts: fried ham, fried chicken, fried oysters, pecan pie. It's a festival of beautiful calories. Dinner for two without wine is about $40. The snack bar rustles up lunchtime sandwiches, hot dogs and ice cream floats: about $12 for two.

Eating options in Weeki Wachee are limited. The park has a snack bar, but otherwise you're looking at the usual highway parade of fast food. How about a picnic? New Leaf Market and Deli (1235 Apalachee Pkwy. in Tallahassee, 850-942-2557) believes in local organic ingredients. The black-eyed-pea salad and tuna sandwiches are outstanding. So's the hummingbird cake. Lunch for two will run you about $15.

WHAT TO DO: Rent a bike from $30 per day at the Great Bicycle Shop (1909 Thomasville Rd., Tallahassee, 850-224-7451). Canoe and kayak rentals near Fanning Springs are available from Suwannee Guides and Outfitters (27 SE 225th St., Old Town, 352-542-9751). On the Wakulla River: T-n-T Hide-a-Way Rentals (6527 Coastal Hwy., Crawfordville, 850-925-6412). Two-person canoes are $30 for four hours; tandem kayaks, $35.

Most of the parks charge a per-vehicle price (usually $4 to $8 a car). Note: floods, rainstorms and other features of Florida weather can affect the springs' water levels and clarity. Always check before you go to make sure the parks are open.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: The best source on Florida's many state-maintained springs is http://www.floridastateparks.org. Here's where to find some of them:

-- Fanning Springs State Park, 18929 NW Hwy. 19, Fanning Springs, 352-463-3420.

-- Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, 6131 Commercial Way (Highway 19 and State Road 50), Spring Hill, 352-592-5656.

-- Wakulla Springs State Park, 550 Wakulla Park Dr., Wakulla Springs, 850-926-0700.

-- D.R.

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