Courthouse in downtown Tallahassee, Florida, USA

Most people planning a weekend trip to Florida have their eyes on the breezy beaches and cosmopolitan cities of South Florida, and you can hardly blame them. Miami has been a must-visit nightlife capital for most of living memory, and cities like St. Petersburg are among the first that come to mind when you think of young hipsters amassing to sip microbrews.

That’s partly why you should go to Tallahassee instead and enjoy the forgotten state capitol before everyone else figures out how awesome it has become almost overnight.

Tallahassee has historically belonged to that disdainfully ignored northern third of Florida that feels more like an extension of the rural South than the Caribbean seafood and palm tree-lined boulevards you see on Florida tourism ads. But in no more than a couple of years, this small town has transformed from a meh student town to a trendy urban center of entertainment, entrepreneurship, good eats, and locally-brewed drinks.

Tallahassee is first and foremost a student town. November's annual Homecoming Parade lights up the city with the international flavors of the university, like the Center for Intensive English Studies' float in last year's parade.

Tallahassee is first and foremost a student town. November’s annual Homecoming Parade lights up the city with the international flavors of the university, like the Center for Intensive English Studies’ float in last year’s parade. | Photo: Jakob Gibbons

Despite all the growth and change, Tallahassee is and probably always will be a student town at heart, which means there’s no lack of bars and clubs, from the tacky to the luxurious and everything in between. But now there’s so much more. If you’ve only got a weekend in Tally, try hitting most of these local highlights.

Tally Highlights: Obligatory Stops for a Weekend in the Florida Panhandle

Every burger joint in every American town boasts that it has the best burgers around, but Monk’s has the city awards and local cult following to prove it. Its official name is Wells Brothers Bar and Grill, but that’s too much of a mouthful for locals as they wax gastronomic about its perfectly fresh beef and argue over their favorite combination of the page-long list of options for building your own perfect burger for ten bucks. If your taste buds are up for a delicious adventure, try the Lip Smacker, their famous peanut butter burger, and consider ordering some homemade sweet potato fries with it. There’s a reason these guys have been voted Tally’s Best Burger pretty much every year in living memory.

The Warehouse is another popular hangout for Florida State English students and other literary enthusiasts, who go for the frequent readings and performances and stay for billiards and cheap beer.

The Warehouse is another popular hangout for Florida State English students and other literary enthusiasts, who go for the frequent readings and performances and stay for billiards and cheap beer. | Photo: Jakob Gibbons

 

That’s probably why Tallahassee’s favorite burger guys opened a second restaurant in the slightly upscale Midtown area, called The Midtown Caboose. It’s run by the same Wells Brothers of Monk’s, and despite being in a more moneyed neighborhood, the menu stops well short of being intimidatingly posh. You definitely shouldn’t shy away from the beef here, but also check out some of their inspired vegetarian and vegan dishes. A meal and a drink at Midtown Caboose will usually land you on the far side of $15, but you’ll have to throw in an appetizer or a second round of beers to cross the $20 mark.

After dinner at Monk’s, head one block down High Road to Proof Brewing Company, another locally-owned favorite. Unlike so many other bars in college towns, Proof maintains a solid mixed demographic, with lots of 21-and-up students and grad students as well as young professionals and generally just people who like good beer. Recent years have seen Proof evolve from a pub with a great selection of European beers to a craft brewery and centerpiece of the local beer scene.

The Tallahassee classic All Saints Cafe, in the artsy Railroad Square neighborhood

The Tallahassee classic All Saints Cafe, in the artsy Railroad Square neighborhood | Photo: Jakob Gibbons

During the development boom, they opened their Brewery, Taproom and Beer Garden just south of Florida State University. It’s a perfect place to sip a fresh brew with a view of the process that brought it to your appreciative lips, as the garden has a perfect view of the brewery itself. Check their schedule to catch some live music, or if you go on a quieter night you can enjoy your beer with a game of table tennis or bocce ball.

foodtruck outside an art store on Gaines Street close to the Railroad Square neighborhood

Food truck outside an art store on Gaines Street close to the Railroad Square neighborhood | Photo: Jakob Gibbons

The Beer Garden is in the Railroad Square neighborhood, long-time beating heart of Tally’s arts scene. Railroad Square Art Park is sandwiched between Florida State, Florida A&M, and the hip coffee shops of Railroad Avenue. The Art Park itself is full of galleries and studios, from painting to woodwork to clothing, and scattered between the art shops are plenty of places to sit down and have a meal or a drink. Make sure to catch First Friday, on the first Friday evening of every month, when all the local Tallahassee artists are there presenting and selling their crafts while the whole city comes to peruse their shops and stalls.

the International Bookmine

The International Bookmine | Photo: Jakob Gibbons

In walking distance from Railroad Square is Gaines Street, the hotspot of the current urban development. In the midst of all the new there, you’ll find a pleasant piece of old, a favorite of many Florida State English students and of local bookworms in general: the International Bookmine. This place has been here since the dirt in Tallahassee was new, and it’s a nice break from all the shiny new apartment buildings that surround it. As soon as you walk inside, the smell of old books and old buildings will converge on your nose in a more effective sales pitch than any of the 2-for-1 specials on the same street.

Street art in the parking area of Catalina Cafe, a coffee roaster and bakery on the newly developed Gaines Street.

Street art in the parking area of Catalina Cafe, a coffee roaster and bakery on the newly developed Gaines Street | Photo: Jakob Gibbons

Brand new upscale housing developments on Gaines Street

Brand new upscale housing developments on Gaines Street | Photo: Jakob Gibbons

If you’ve only got one weekend in Tallahassee, try to finish it up with a visit to the newly constructed Cascades Park, smack in the center of Downtown under the shadow of the capitol building. ‘Park’ is hardly a fair word for this place: it’s got your standard-issue swing sets and walking trails, but the Capital City Amphitheater is the epicenter, perfect for a great outdoor concert. On weekends when the amphitheater is empty, opt for a meal in The Edison, the new hip eatery in the repurposed county electric building, or enjoy a stroll under the perfect North Florida sun.

Brand new Cascades Park, a multi-purpose outdoor area with an amphitheater and live music venues, with the Florida state capitol building towering in the background.

Brand new Cascades Park, a multi-purpose outdoor area with an amphitheater and live music venues, with the Florida state capitol building towering in the background. | Photo: Jakob Gibbons

All the signs are pointing in the same direction in the Florida Panhandle: Tallahassee is the next up-and-coming big thing. Get ahead of the curve and schedule your next Florida vacation for the capitol, so you can assure its growing hipster population that you were there before it was cool.