15 Best Things to Do in DeFuniak Springs (FL)

Written by Bart Meeuwesen
Updated on
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This beautiful and historic city, often named among America’s best small towns, was built around a unique almost perfectly circular spring-fed lake. 

DeFuniak Springs was developed in the 1880s as a resort for the Chautauqua movement, which burgeoned in rural America at the turn of the 20th century. 

The original resort is in a wonderful state of preservation as an historic district, with signs explaining the various buildings on the lakeshore.  

Inland in the Florida Panhandle, DeFuniak Springs has the illusion of being remote. This isn’t my experience. The Emerald Coast, with otherworldly white sandy beaches, is only half an hour to the south.

Other natural springs and spring-fed creeks are minutes away. You can swim in crystal-clear natural pools or paddle along pristine creeks with sandy shores.

1. Circle Drive Historic District

My favorite thing to do in DeFuniak Springs is get out of the car and appreciate the architecture encircling Lake DeFuniak. 

Wandering here, you’re on the grounds of a planned resort that opened in 1885 for the annual Chautauqua Assembly, which would last several weeks at a time. So, a good starting point is the Chautauqua Hall of Brotherhood. 

What you see here is only the entrance to a once massive auditorium, claimed by Hurricane Eloise in 1975. There are 17 stops around the historic district, all labeled with in-depth informative panels. 

A highlight has to be the DeFuniak Library (1887), officially the oldest continuously operating library within its original structure.

2. Chipley Park

Surrounding DeFuniak Springs’ near-concentric lake is the 260-acre Chipley Park. Whatever you do on DeFuniak Springs, you’re going to spend some time among the pines and live oaks in this park.

All the prettier for the historic residences on the margins, Chipley Park is a joyous place for a walk or picnic. No shock that many community events take place at the amphitheater here. A couple of annual landmarks are LakeFest in May, and the heartwarming Christmas Reflections light show. 

There’s a boat ramp on Lake DeFuniak by the Chautauqua Hall of Brotherhood, open to non gasoline-powered vessels.

3. Lake Stanley Park

Lake Stanley ParkSource: Julia Mitchem Bish / Facebook
Lake Stanley Park

Not quite as historic as Lake DeFuniak, this picture-perfect lake on the city’s northwest side is primed for recreation. 

Lake Stanley is a local go-to for swimming, boating, picnicking, and fishing. Families flock here on sunny days to make the most of the warm and shallow waters. 

The fishing pier is also worth mentioning, with a stretch of boardwalk leading from the shore and culminating with a covered observation deck. 

To my mind Lake Stanley Park is ideal if you want to take it easy or enjoy a picnic in nature. You can bring your dog along to a cookout with friends and family, and there are eight covered picnic tables to choose from.

4. Walton County Heritage Museum

Walton County Heritage MuseumSource: Felix Mizioznikov / shutterstock
Walton County Heritage Museum

One of the most arresting sights in DeFuniak Springs’ historic district is a preserved Louisville and Nashville Railroad depot from 1885. 

Within is a top-notch museum documenting the history of Walton County. Mingling with the depot’s beautiful decor are fascinating displays. You might see home and business interiors from different periods in DeFuniak Springs, farming tools, militaria, historical clothing.

If you share my curiosity for Chautauqua, there’s a wealth of materials and exhibits to peruse. Finally, on the museum grounds is a preserved caboose painted with L&N livery.

5. Chautauqua Vineyards & Winery

Chautauqua Vineyards & WinerySource: Infrogmation / Flickr
Chautauqua Vineyards & Winery

This 40-acre wine estate was planted in the late 1970s. Chautauqua Vineyards & Winery produces a wide array of varietal wines, from Merlot to Chardonnay. 

For a true Floridian wine experience, I recommend the wines produced with their estate grown Carlos and Noble Muscadine grapes. These are derived from the only grape native to the Sunshine state. 

The winery is open daily from 9 AM until 5 PM for tours and tastings. There’s ample outdoor space, whether you’re here to relax with a glass, or are attending one of the many annual events.

I also adore the gift shop here filled with one-of-a-kind gifts and locally made gourmet foods.

6. Christmas Reflections

Christmas Reflections, DeFuniak SpringsSource: DeFuniak Springs Community Information / Facebook
Christmas Reflections

DeFuniak Springs’ premier annual event lasts from Thanksgiving until New Year’s Eve. Fittingly, Christmas Reflections is focussed on the city’s defining feature—that perfectly round lake.

Throughout the holiday season Chipley Park is aglow with some 10 million lights. Among the countless adorable decorations are animals, a nativity scene, toy soldier cutouts, Santa’s workshop, and a ticking grandfather clock. 

Complementing these displays are markets and special performances. Season passes are available for those who’d like to visit more than once, as are day passes for those with only a few free hours to spare.

7. Ponce De Leon Springs State Park

Ponce De Leon Springs State ParkSource: Written In Silver Visuals / shutterstock
Ponce De Leon Springs State Park

In the early 16th century, Ponce De Leon landed in Florida in search of the ever-elusive Fountain of Youth.

Most historians agree that the brave explorer never found it. Still, he might have come close in this part of Florida. 

The area percolates with natural springs that send millions of gallons of pure, cool water from the earth’s depths to the surface every day. 

On the east side of the Ponce De Leon Springs State Park is a natural treasure. Some 14 million gallons of water issue from the ground here at a constant 68 °F each day. 

I’m still amazed by the crystalline clarity of this water, and it’s just bliss on the hottest afternoons.

8. Emerald Coast Zoo

Emerald Coast ZooSource: Emerald Coast Zoo / Facebook
Emerald Coast Zoo

In nearby Crestview, the Emerald Coast Zoo is owned and operated by a well-known television star. Rick the Reptile Guy made many appearances on popular wildlife-oriented shows such as A&E’s Wild Transport.

The zoo’s animal inhabitants run the gamut from toothy and dangerous to soft and cuddly.  Meanwhile, for visitors, the whole facility has been designed to offer a non-traditional zoo experience. That includes interactive opportunities and guided tours.

Along those lines, you can pet a sloth, feed a giraffe, feed exotic birds in the aviary, and pet a giant tortoise. Since this is Florida, one thing I think everyone should try is holding an American alligator.

9. Henderson Beach State Park

Henderson Beach State ParkSource: lunamarina / shutterstock
Henderson Beach State Park

I have to remind myself that despite being deep inland on the panhandle, DeFuniak Springs is still just half an hour from the Gulf Coast. There are plenty of beautiful locations on the coast, all an easy drive away.

But the star is Henderson Beach State Park in Destin, where the 30-foot dunes look like enormous snow drifts. Boardwalks through the dunes give you a rare glimpse of endangered coastal scrub habitats. 

And then you’ve got more than a mile of sandy beach, which is stunning, honestly beyond words. Naturally you’ll want to stay longer, and you can spend a night or two under the stars courtesy of the park’s 30 campsites.

10. DeFuniak Springs Art Gallery

Exploring the historic downtown at DeFuniak Springs I came across this showcase for local art at 702 Baldwin Ave. Set within Anita’s Half & Half, the DeFuniak Springs Art Gallery is run by a co-op.

If you want to support local artists and makers, this is the place to come. You might find oil paintings, watercolors and crafts from pottery to basketry. Of course, the gorgeous nature on the panhandle is a constant theme. 

The skill and creativity on show took me by surprise. So I’d point to this place for anyone in search of a souvenir or gift to take home.

11. Eagle Springs Golf Course

Eagle Springs Golf CourseSource: Eagle Springs Golf Course / Facebook
Eagle Springs Golf Course

Off US 90 on the west side of DeFuniak Springs is a multifaceted recreation facility on almost 200 beautiful acres of pine hills

The centerpiece is the 18-hole, par-72 course, designed by a famous husband and wife team of course designers in the mid-1930s. 

As with the nearby Blackstone Golf Course, elevation is a big factor at Eagle Springs, with large stands of pine framing the holes.

Open to the public, the club has a growing array of amenities in addition to the course. When I played here there was a driving range and a swimming pool. In development when I compiled this list were tennis courts, basketball courts, a fishing dock and more.

12. Blackstone Golf Course

Another acclaimed golf facility in DeFuniak Springs is Blackstone Golf Course, a few minutes west of downtown. I’ve played a few courses around Florida,and what struck me about this track was the terrain.

The fairways are laid out on rolling sandy hills, and these slopes pose a unique and exciting challenge. Intensifying the challenge are yawning sand traps and a multitude of water hazards.

Call in at the Blackstone Grill for post-round refreshment, while there’s a pro shop if you’re missing any equipment.

13. Britton Hill at Lakewood Park

DeFuniak Springs is the largest city of any scale to the highest natural point in the state of Florida. At 345 feet, and 103 feet lower than the next lowest high point, Britton Hill may seem kind of humble.

Still, it’s mountainous by Florida standards, where vast swaths of the state are less than 40 feet above sea level. 

Found on the east side of Paxton, Britton Hill rises within Lakewood. There’s a suitably low-key marker at the highest point, and I enjoyed the three short trails through hardwood forest.

14. Holmes Creek Paddling Trail

Holmes Creek Paddling TrailSource: Bill Martin‎ / Facebook
Holmes Creek Paddling Trail

Something special about the panhandle’s countryside is how it’s streaked with crystal clear rivers. With sandy bottoms, beaches on the bends, and peculiar tannic waters, these watercourses offer some of America’s best paddling.

One route I think you should try is the Holmes Creek Paddling Trail. Holmes Creeks wriggles through the country about 20 minutes east of DeFuniak Springs, and is fed by the natural springs for which the area is known.

The trail has multiple access points and includes portions that wind their way past longleaf pines and old-growth stands of cypress trees. One outfitter serving the creek is Holmes Creek Canoe Livery off SR 79 in Vernon.

15. DeFuniak Springs Visitors Bureau

DeFuniak Springs Visitors BureauSource: DeFuniak Springs Visitors Bureau / Facebook
DeFuniak Springs Visitors Bureau

By the tracks and next to the old depot, the DeFuniak Springs Visitors Bureau is just a few steps from the lakefront amphitheater at Chipley Park.

Like a concierge service for travelers, this cute building was the first step on my tour of the historic district. 

As well as being stocked with maps, brochures, and travel magazines, it’s staffed by knowledgeable and enthusiastic locals eager to help you make the most of your trip. You can also learn about the best eats and lodging, and how to keep the little ones engaged.

15 Best Things to Do in DeFuniak Springs (FL):

  • Circle Drive Historic District
  • Chipley Park
  • Lake Stanley Park
  • Walton County Heritage Museum
  • Chautauqua Vineyards & Winery
  • Christmas Reflections
  • Ponce De Leon Springs State Park
  • Emerald Coast Zoo
  • Henderson Beach State Park
  • DeFuniak Springs Art Gallery
  • Eagle Springs Golf Course
  • Blackstone Golf Course
  • Britton Hill at Lakewood Park
  • Holmes Creek Paddling Trail
  • DeFuniak Springs Visitors Bureau