Yes we all love our Students, and yes we love helping them and talking to them, and engaging with them. But as of yesterday, Summer is officially here, and sometimes even us advisors need a bit of a break, whether it be from the never forgiving Florida heat, from the stress of all the orientation sessions, and yes, sometimes even from our Students!
We all have lives outside of the office, and we aren’t always able to go on grand vacations to far off locations. However Summer is the time to relax, have fun, and get away, even if for just a day or two. By living in Tallahassee for the past two decades, I’ve become somewhat of an expert on day trips designed to beat the heat, and boy are there countless options out there for you. The problem however is that most of these spots are either flush with tourists, children, or yep you guessed it, College Students!
So now I’m going to do something, which may be kind of crazy. I’m going to reveal a few of my favorite secret spots, the ones that don’t get put in the tourist brochures, or have a legacy of large crowds and unruly visitors. These are the places that I go to enjoy the tranquility, so I’m hoping that none of you spread these secrets too far (although this is going on the internet so we’ll see how that plays out). So here they are folks, my top three road trips that are guaranteed to have you sit back, cool off, and most of all not run in to any of your Students!
- Wacissa Springs:
Ok so truth be told this is the place on the list I have been to the most. Imagine Wakulla Springs without the structure. That’s right, no hotel or park, no rangers or gates, no glass bottom boats, this is the true definition of a Swimming Hole!
The Wacissa “river” is formed by a series of springs that have formed to create a tributary of the Saint Mark’s River, with the head spring located roughly 20-30 minutes outside of Tallahassee. In the little unincorporated community of Wacissa, you’ll find the one stop light, which is located at the one intersection, next to the one gas station, en route to the only road to the river. The road ends at a single parking area, with a modest boat ramp, and certainly a number of locals making use of the crystal clear 70 degree water (yes it’s that temperature year round). Now these aren’t your city slickers, these aren’t even small town folks, no these are your good ole fashioned Panhandle Floridians! There is no glitz or glam here guys, this is old Florida, with all of its’ unabashed southern charm. At least two people will be out there grilling, guaranteed. Countless more will be swimming, wading, jumping, climbing, anything to do with the water.
My personal favorite activity is to rent a kayak for the day from one of the many local renters, and paddle out on the river to the second (and largest) spring, BIG BLUE. About thirty minutes of paddling is all it takes to arrive at this natural wonder. Roughly one hundred feet around, and sixty feet deep, the water is so clear you can see all the way to the bottom, and anything that may be in between. Words cannot do this spring justice, and I’ve added a picture, but that can’t even give you a fraction of its natural beauty. I could go on about this place for pages, but it’s something you’ve got to see for yourself. Because the only way to reach this spring is on the water (no place to drive or walk up from) you are guaranteed to have the place almost entirely to yourself, and trust me you won’t regret the effort it took to get there.
Wacissa is a local place, and it wants to remain that way. They could advertise this majesty, and probably make plenty of tourist money from it, but that’s not their style. Outsiders ain’t heard of it, students included, so if you’re looking for a close spot, with few people, and much more than meets the eye, then trust me, this is the spot for you.
2. Cumberland Island, GA
If there is any location in this article that I can absolutely guarantee that you won’t run into college students, it’s this one. Give or take three hours east of Tallahassee, just north of Amelia Island (which got bumped from this spot on the list), lies the southernmost of Georgia’s Barrier Islands: Cumberland Island.
Now I know what you’re thinking, we all live in Florida, why would you travel to another state for Island Beaches? I can answer that with two words: Wild Horses! Now I’ll answer that better with a lot more words: Wild Horses that you can watch run on the Beach! That’s right, this Island is actually a National Wildlife Reserve, with countless nature trails, ruins of an old fort, and all kinds of wildlife, including about 200 wild horses.
This is the type of place that you could spend an entire day walking, and still only scratch the surface of what the park has to offer. And even better, the little village of St. Mary’s, adequately called “The Gateway to Cumberland Island” is like a quaint New England Fishing Town, transplanted to southern Georgia, and given the required dose of Southern Charm. You can stay in town, or camp on the island. Enjoy some of the freshest seafood you’ll ever eat in the village, and oh yeah, did I mention WILD HORSES?!?
The only way to get to Cumberland Island is by boat, so if you have one you may want to bring it, but if you don’t, just make sure you plan your day according to the ferry that runs between St. Mary’s and the island.
1. St. Joseph Peninsula State Park (Cape San Blas)
Every time I make the two hour drive from Tallahassee I have a mini panic attack. I just think to myself, “this is going to be the time where the park is packed, the secret has to be out by now.” But then I arrive, and find serenity just as I always do: Pure white sand beach, emerald green water, and miles upon miles of coastline to myself!
The park is situated on the end of a ¼ mile wide peninsula that juts out, separating the Gulf of Mexico from St. Joe Bay. This means when you go there you have the water on both sides of you. On the ocean side you have one of the most beautiful beaches you will ever see, and on the bay side, you have miles of shallow reef, where you can walk out for miles, without the water ever going above your knees.
I really don’t understand how more people haven’t heard about this place before. It is roughly 30 minutes farther from Tallahassee than St. George Island, but with a beach of such high quality that you will never want to go anywhere else. There are no crowds, noisy tourists, or blaring music, all you here is the gentle sound of the waves breaking, so if relaxing in the quiet splash of the surf sounds like a dream to you, then this is going to be your new favorite destination. The park has over 9 miles of coastline (roughly 5 on the beach side) which means there are times where the closest other people to you will be over ½ a mile away. This isn’t just a place where you won’t run into your Students, this is the place where you don’t run into anyone!
The water is so clear that you can see dolphins swimming in the waves and horseshoe crabs nesting in the Bay’s seagrass. Kayak’s, surfboards, and cabins are all available for rent. There are multiple bathroom and picnic facilities, nature trails where you can see the likes of white tail deer, black bears, and even a bobcat or two, and even an ice cream stand for cooling off.
Oh, and I almost forgot the kicker. You have to drive through Apalachicola on your way back to Tallahassee, which means that after an entire day of playing on the beach, you can sit down to the best oysters you have ever eaten. I could honestly write pages upon pages about this beach, but I shouldn’t have to, because you should already be requesting some vacation time and planning your own trip here!