The city of Arcadia, Florida, was founded in 1886 and had a population of about 7,600 residents at the time of the last census.
It’s the county seat of De Soto County and is located just inland from the Gulf of Mexico, along the south-central portion of the state’s west coast.
Arcadia is located about an hour east of Sarasota and an hour north of Fort Myers. Though it’s close to a number of fantastic beaches, the area has typically been more associated with cattle ranches and Florida prairies than sand and surf.
Below are 15 things to do in and around Arcadia, Florida.
1. Morgan Park
Located just north of Florida Route 70 along the Peace River, Morgan Park is comprised of nearly 250 acres of preserved natural areas that are full of amenities and activity options, and it’s free to visit.
A paved trail runs the length of the park and is appropriate for strollers and those who use wheelchairs.
Dogs are allowed in the park as long as they’re kept on leashes and cleaned up after, and the trails wind their way through stands of Saw Palmettos and along the scenic river. It’s common to see a variety of animals and amazingly natural views considering the park’s proximity to large urban centers.
2. Slim’s BBQ & Grill
The southern portion of Florida’s Atlantic coast is often associated with ritzy retail centers, exclusive resorts, and high-dollar fusion cuisine, but there are still plenty of affordable, down-home dining establishments serving up hearty fare at reasonable prices.
Slim’s BBQ & Grill is located on South Brevard Avenue in Arcadia and has been a locally-owned and family-run business for nearly six decades.
Their menu includes a variety of BBQ options, including ribs, brisket, and chicken with several sauce options. They’ve got great steaks, salads, and desserts too, including perennial favorites key lime pie and cheesecake made with Florida citrus.
3. The DeSoto County Courthouse
The DeSoto County Courthouse was built in the early years of the 20th century and is one of the area’s most well-preserved examples of revival-style architecture.
Though the iconic red-brick courthouse is no longer in use, it’s located adjacent to the one currently being used in the heart of Arcadia’s historic district on East Oak Street. Since 1984, it has been included on the National Register of Historic Places.
It’s in a quaint and easily walkable area that’s close to businesses, restaurants, and shops, making it the perfect place for a self-guided afternoon walking tour before dinner or happy hour.
4. Arcadia Peace River Charters
The Peace River flows through downtown Arcadia and is one of the area’s premier attractions for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.
For those who’d rather experience the great outdoors but let someone else take care of all the little details, booking a tour with Arcadia Peace River Charters would be a wise choice.
They offer private and public airboat tours that include a knowledgeable local captain and guide, and charters typically include chances to see lots of wildlife while learning about the area’s history, culture, and ecology.
Sunset tours are offered too, and charters can be tailored to the ages and interests of guests.
5. Watermelon Festival
Watermelons have always been mainstays of Florida agriculture, and the DeSoto County Watermelon Festival is an annual event that draws crowds from far and wide.
The festival happens in May when the Florida weather is idyllic; it takes place in Veterans Park along the shores of the Peace River.
In addition to truckloads of tasty watermelons and other great food, the festival features a beauty pageant, boat races, live entertainment, and an ever-popular watermelon seed spitting contest.
Previous guests have likened the festival to a miniature state fair that had plenty of food, exhibits, and activities to keep everyone content and entertained for a few hours.
6. DeSoto County Fair
No matter where you find yourself across the country, county fairs are annual events that almost always include lots of great activities, tasty food, and an all-around family-friendly atmosphere, and they’re usually less expensive than many other attractions.
The DeSoto County Far takes place in January when the weather is generally pleasant and mild. It’s a week-long event, which means you can visit multiple times.
The fair includes lots of livestock events, beauty pageants, live music, and even bull riding. Since most of the vendors are locals, the majority of money spent on-site will stay in the community.
7. Platt Branch Wildlife and Environmental Area Trails
The Platt Branch Wildlife and Environmental Area Trails are popular natural escape destinations for those who prefer to distance themselves from the crowds and experience the great outdoors.
Consisting of grassy scrublands, pine flatwoods, and wetlands that fill and drain seasonally, the varied environments through which the trail meanders are home to a variety of Florida wildlife.
Turtles, snakes, and foxes are common species, as are a variety of birds – from raptors and woodpeckers to waterfowl and wading birds.
The most popular trail is a five-mile loop that generally takes an hour to complete. Many visitors bring drinks and snacks and have a picnic along the way.
8. Arcadia Peace River Campground
Though the summer weather around Arcadia can be downright hot, humid, and oppressive, for much of the year, it’s perfect for being outdoors. For those who prefer breezes and stars to pricey hotels and breakfast buffets, the Arcadia Peace River Campground would be a good fit.
The nearly 80-acre site is set amidst scenic stretches of the Peace River’ popular nearby activities include kayaking, fishing, biking, and bird-watching.
The park is open to campers and RVs, and its amenities include abundant showers and bathrooms, built-in BBQ grills. Bikes and golf carts are available to rent as well.
9. Arcadia Municipal Golf Course
The Arcadia Municipal Golf Course is open every day of the year, with the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is considered by many savvy local golfers to be one of the best values in the area.
It’s open from 7 AM until 9 PM most days and features 18-scenic holes that play about 6,100 yards from the blue tees.
Generally, rounds can be completed in three or four hours, and there are a variety of tee boxes to accommodate children, seniors, and women who prefer to play from the red tees.
It’s a par-71 course that features Bermuda grass and a variety of sand and water hazards to keep even the most seasoned golfers on their toes.
10. Myakka River State Park
Florida is home to a variety of state and national parks. For many travelers to the Sunshine State, they’re places that they choose to spend the majority of their time.
They’re generally inexpensive and offer guests many fun, educational, and calorie-burning activities. For those in the Arcadia area, Myakka River State Park is one of the most popular.
Myakka River State Park is one of the region’s largest parks and is comprised of nearly 60 square miles of undeveloped land, diverse environments, and varied wildlife.
Biking, fishing, and kayaking are popular park activities, and guided tour options are available as well.
11. Warm Mineral Springs
Long hours on their feet under the often-brutal Florida sun can really sap some travelers’ strength. For those in need of some natural therapy, there’s no better place to get it than Warm Mineral Springs in nearby North Port.
The natural hot springs that bubble to the surface contain more than 20 minerals that are said to soothe skin, muscle, and bone, and give bathers an overall feeling of tranquility.
The springs are surrounded by lush, treed areas, and unlike many of Florida’s natural recreation spots, the springs are a gator-free environment.
The springs attract lots of foreign visitors, so you may feel like you’ve been transported to the spas of Eastern Europe.
12. Catania’s Winery
Though Florida isn’t traditional wine country like California’s Napa Valley, it has experienced an amazing renaissance in the last few decades and is now home to a surprising array of vineyards and wineries that turn out award-winning products.
Catania’s Winery is located in Englewood, Florida, and has been producing wines for three decades, making it one of the state’s oldest producers.
The winery is a favorite stop for traveling wine aficionados and is particularly known for its hearty reds and light, fruity whites.
The winery’s gift shop is a great place to stock-up before heading home, and they’ve got an impressive selection of olive oils as well.
13. Port Charlotte Beach Park
Arcadia isn’t a beach town, but it’s close enough to a number of beaches that make day-trips to the coast a popular activity.
Port Charles Beach Park is located on Harbor Boulevard in nearby Port Charlotte and is both convenient and inexpensive to visit.
The park is open daily from 6 AM until 9 PM. In addition to swimming and sunbathing, fishing, snorkeling, kayaking, and beach volleyball are popular activities.
The park and beach are near several shopping and dining attractions as well. Many visitors choose to leave for a few afternoon hours when the sun is at its hottest and return in the mid to late-afternoon.
14. Cultural Center of Charlotte County
The Cultural Center of Charlotte County is housed in a historic building that’s been its home for five decades.
It’s undergone some significant upgrades to include state-of-the-art lighting and acoustics, but it still retains much of its original charm.
Over the years, the center has hosted big names in live entertainment, like The Amazing Kreskin and Brenda Lee.
Many of the performances are locally produced; their events range from contemporary and classical music to comedy, guest speakers, and musicians. Check out the calendar of events on their website to see what’s on the schedule for when you’ll be visiting.
15. Sebring International Raceway
Since the early ‘50s, Sebring International Raceway has been hosting an annual road race that’s the oldest of its kind in the country.
Before it became a raceway, the land was a bomber crew training facility for the old Army Air Corps called Hendricks Field. Now, it is home to a grueling 12-hour race that tests the endurance of both man and machine.
The town comes alive with fans, vendors, and entertainment during the race, which takes place the third week of March. Even for those who aren’t big racing fans, it’s a fantastic event that really should be experienced.