Marianna is a city in the Florida panhandle’s Jackson County lying just north of Interstate 10 between Pensacola to the west and Tallahassee to the east.
Though it only has a population of slightly more than 9,000 residents, it has experienced 50% population growth over the last decade.
Officially known as ‘The City of Southern Charm,’ most visitors agree that it lives up to its name.
Visitors to Marianna have relatively easy access to the neighboring states of Georgia and Alabama to the north, as well as a number of attractions along the Gulf Coast to the south.
Below are 14 things to do in and around Marianna, Florida.
1. Jackson County Visitors Center
Located on Lafayette Street in downtown Marianna, the Jackson County Visitors Center is a great place to check-out first for new visitors who aren’t familiar with the area.
Free to visit, it’s staffed with helpful and enthusiastic local volunteers who are hands-down the most invaluable resources for those who aren’t sure how they’ll fill their schedules while in the area.
The center is fully-stocked with maps, brochures, and travel magazines that are free for the taking. In addition to offering lots of great activity suggestions, many of them are filled with special deal offers and coupons for discounted meals, services, and lodging.
2. Florida Caverns State Park
Located on Caverns Road in Marianna, Florida Caverns State Park is one of the state’s most unique attractions, and contains the only above-ground cave system in the Sunshine State that’s open to the public.
The park’s amenities include a visitor center and museum, covered picnic areas, and a playground. Although part of the park is still closed as a result of Hurricane Michael, the ranger station and caverns remain open.
Flashlight tours explore the cave’s labyrinth of passageways that have formed over eons, giving visitors a unique glimpse into the subterranean world that most find eerie and fascinating.
3. Florida Caverns Golf Course
Located adjacent to the Caverns State Park, the Florida Caverns Golf Course is a 9-hole facility that’s been open to the public for eight decades.
The course was designed by famous golf course designer Robert Trent Jones, Sr. and plays slightly more than 3,200 yards from the longest tees.
Don’t expect lots of fancy amenities like you’ll find at other ritzier courses in the area, but previous guests have noted that while the greens weren’t particularly well-manicured, they appreciated the course’s layout, golf carts, and elevated tee boxes. They also thought the price they paid made the experience a great value.
4. Blue Springs Recreational Park
Blue Springs Recreational Park is located just a few miles east of Marianna and features a reservoir known as Merritt’s Mill Pond that’s a popular destination for anglers and swimmers.
Many first-time guests to the park are shocked to find that the reservoir’s waters are shimmering and clear, like those often associated with high mountain lakes in the western states.
The natural springs that feed the reservoir keep the water surprisingly refreshing even during the dog days of summer. There are volleyball courts, boat docks, and a playground in addition to the designated swimming areas.
The park features a variety of natural environments, and many visitors choose to bring their own food and drinks and spend a full-day.
5. Chipola College
College and university campuses are often overlooked by travelers, but they’re especially relevant attractions for visitors traveling on budgets who want to avoid the masses and experience less commercialized entertainment.
Chipola College was founded in 1947. For most of its existence, it was a two-year-only community college, but it became a full-fledged college with the addition of bachelor degree programs in 2003.
It’s probably most well-known for its relatively new center for the arts that was completed in 2012 at the cost of nearly $20 million.
The center’s two theaters offer a host of performances throughout the year, including live music, dramatic plays, and even classical and chamber music.
6. Panhandle Watermelon Festival
Florida is one of the country’s largest fruit-producing states; along with citrus and strawberries, watermelons have always been one of the mainstays.
The quaint town of Chipley is just a short drive west of Marianna on Route 90. For more than six decades, it has been hosting an annual watermelon festival that draws visitors from all over the state – and many surrounding states like Alabama and Georgia as well.
The Panhandle Watermelon Festival features tons of fresh, sweet melon served every way imaginable. There’s also a variety of live entertainment, arts and crafts, a kid’s play zone, and even a parade.
It’s a free event that takes place at the end of June.
7. Southern Craft Creamery
Located on Jefferson Street in Marianna, Southern Craft Creamery is the town’s premier destination for those in need of homemade ice cream like they’ll find nowhere else.
The creamery’s formula for success is a simple one – use fresh, local ingredients whenever possible, forge lasting relationships with suppliers and customers, and offer high-quality products at reasonable prices.
It must be working, because they’ve attracted a loyal following, and previous visitors have noted that in addition to their great products, the restaurant has a charming feel that’s conducive to relaxing with good food and friends.
They also serve great coffee and a variety of other drinks and sweets as well.
8. Wharf Casual Seafood
Located on Highway 90 in Marianna, Wharf Casual Seafood is known for its comfortable atmosphere, ample portion sizes, and reasonable prices.
Their menu includes lots of traditional favorites, like fried fish, steamed shrimp, and fish tacos. For those with dietary restrictions, they offer a gluten-free menu as well.
In addition to its savory menu items, Wharf is also known for its fresh cakes and pies, and rumor has it that their Key lime pie is the best in the area.
The restaurant features both indoor and outdoor seating areas, and previous guests traveling with dogs were allowed to keep them with them on the patio.
9. Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park
For its sheer variety of natural, historical, and recreational attractions, there’s really no beating the Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park in Tallahassee.
The park’s immense and idyllic gardens are spread over more than 1,000 acres in a unique area that’s not only full of natural beauty, but historically and archaeologically significant attractions as well.
The gardens are comprised of distinct areas with unique themes that are connected by well-marked trails. They’re dotted with nearly 20 historic buildings, all of which include informative plaques so visitors will learn about the area’s interesting history.
Hiking, bird-watching, and photography are also popular park activities.
10. Challenger Learning Center
Challenger Learning Center is located on Duval Street in Tallahassee and is a program run by the Florida A&M University engineering program.
The center features more than 30,000 square feet of space dedicated to engaging young minds, and its interactive exhibits touch on science and technology, engineering, and mathematics.
The center also features an ever-popular space flight simulator, a planetarium, and an IMAX theater.
It’s definitely not just another look-but-don’t-touch attraction, and for families traveling with kids, it usually ends up being one of the most memorable experiences of their trip.
They also offer a variety of special programs, so check their website to see what’s on their calendar of events for when you’ll be visiting.
11. Florida Historic Capitol Museum
Tallahassee is the capital of the Sunshine State, and though it’s about an hour drive from Marianna, it’s one of those worthwhile destinations that offers visitors a variety of historical, cultural, and recreational activity options.
The Florida Historic Capitol Museum is located on South Monroe Street. Its exhibits focus on the state’s political past and include a variety of historic artifacts, photographs, first-hand accounts, and lots of original documents as well.
The buildings date back to the mid-1800s and include the former Governor’s office, State House of Representatives and Supreme Court buildings; most of them have insightful and popular audio-visual displays.
12. St. Marks Lighthouse
Located in the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge south of Tallahassee along the Gulf Coast, St. Marks Lighthouse was built in 1831 and is the state’s second-oldest lighthouse.
For more than a century and a half, the lighthouse performed its duty through both hurricanes and times of social upheaval. Though for much of its life it fell into disuse and disrepair, it’s now been restored to near-original condition.
The lighthouse sits at the mouth of the St. Marks River and towers nearly 90 feet over the surrounding landscape. It’s inexpensive to visit and is currently undergoing upgrades to make it more accessible to visitors with handicaps.
13. Bradfordville Blues Club
For those with a deep appreciation for the blues, which has its roots firmly planted in the American southeast, a trip to the Bradfordville Blues Club would be a rewarding way to spend an evening.
The blues club is definitely off the beaten path and is located in a one-room block building set amidst Spanish Moss draped oak trees and cornfields.
The term hole-in-the-wall is an often-used description, but on Friday and Saturday nights, the club comes alive with amazing blues performed by both local and nationally-known musicians. For many, it’s like taking a giant leap back in time.
14. Spanish Trail Playhouse
Chipley’s Spanish Trail Playhouse is a popular community theater that’s known for its local talent, energetic musicals, and traditional, Broadway-style plays.
The playhouse produces only a handful of shows annually, and they’re all held in the local high school auditorium.
It may not sound like a particularly impressive venue, but there’s something charming and homey about it that most guests find memorable.
In the past, their productions have included classics like Annie and Arsenic and Old Lace.
The playhouse’s roots date all the way back to the early-‘60s, and it’s run by a non-profit organization comprised solely of volunteers.