15 Best Things to Do in Lake City (FL)

Written by Bart Meeuwesen
Updated on
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This city in North Central Florida can trace its history back more than 200 years. For a long time, Lake City was known as Alligator, and its most famous resident was the Seminole chief, Alligator Warrior.

Nature abounds in the immediate countryside, with state parks, and city owned nature park, and the massive Osceola National Forest all nearby. 

You can go tubing on crystal-clear springs, or hike among misty hardwood hammocks and pine flatwoods bedded with palmettos. 

During the Civil War, Florida’s largest battle took place in Lake City. The Battle of Olustee resulted in a Confederate victory, and you can tour the battle grounds a short drive east.

And, of course, I can’t leave out downtown Lake City, which has a string of welcoming local businesses along Marion Avenue.

1. Olustee Festival

A landmark in the calendar for some 50 years, this two-day event had been changed when I wrote this article. 

For decades, a multi-day reenactment of the Battle of Olustee had been the focus of the celebrations. Now, the Olustee Festival is more of a community-oriented, arts, crafts and entertainment event.

There are more than 200 vendor booths for artists from all over Florida. This goes hand-in-hand with delicious food, and activities for kids. Added to that is a feast of live entertainment, from local choirs to established bands.

No longer a part of the festival, the Civil War reenactment continues to take place at Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park on the same weekend.

2. The Gateway Art Gallery

Gateway Art GallerySource: Art League of North Florida/Gateway Gallery / Facebook
Gateway Art Gallery

Downtown, the Art League of North Florida maintains a gallery space showing off the work of local artists and craftspeople. 

Gateway features everything from paintings and drawings to stained glass, carvings, and photography. This is a dynamic place, with fresh exhibitions every few weeks, and tours included for extra insight. 

In addition to their displays, the gallery hosts a number of special events, classes, and programs throughout the year. 

There’s something for all-comers, with concerts, plays, one-off workshops, a First Friday art walk, and classes for a whole spectrum of skills, from acrylics to pastels.

3. Ichetucknee Springs State Park

Lake City is a jumping off point for some marvelous natural spaces a little way to the south. One that really stands out in the warmer months is Ichetucknee Springs State Park.

When the temperature rises, this is a wonderful place to be for tubing. Here, eight natural springs join up at the head of the Ichetucknee River. The portion of the river may well be the purest spring run in Florida, which is remarkable considering the competition.

For me, this is the ultimate lazy river. You’ll float on glimmering turquoise waters, past magnificent live oak, bald cypress and longleaf pines. 

Come a little earlier in the year and you stand an excellent chance of seeing manatees, which visit the comparatively warm waters in winter.

4. Olustee Battlefield State Park

Olustee Battlefield State ParkSource: Kevin Winkler Photography / shutterstock
Olustee Battlefield State Park

In February of 1864, more than 10,000 Union and Confederate troops met on the field of battle in Olustee and fought the state’s largest Civil War battle.

Resulting in thousands of casualties, the battle ended in a Confederate victory, with the Union army dropping back to Jacksonville.

For those interested in learning about this event, there’s no better place to visit than Olustee Battlefield State Park. The park includes a small museum, full of historical artifacts. 

The grounds are easy to explore along a mile-long interpretive trail. On my visit, I spent plenty of time studying the plaques explaining how the battle played out.

5. Downtown Lake City

Looking around the commercial district on Marion Avenue, I got the sense of a downtown springing to life. 

Nowhere is this more obvious than around Olustee Park, with its grand county buildings and clutch of local stores down the west side.

There’s a farmers’ market here on the second and fourth Saturday of the month, as well as the Olustee Festival every February. 

On the northwest side of the square is the old Hotel Blanche building (1902). At what was then a nexus point in transport networks, this establishment hosted a lot of famous people, from Johnny Cash to Al Capone. 

On the east side stands the Columbia County Courthouse (1905), in the Classical Revival Style.

6. Falling Creek Falls

Falling Creek FallsSource: RK Ragan / shutterstock
Falling Creek Falls

You don’t need me to tell you that Florida is one of the country’s flattest states, and not known for its waterfalls. But there’s a lovely example to be found on Falling Creek just north of Lake City.

The falls are just a short drive from Interstate 10. Though they’re only about 10 feet tall, the deep amber waters cascading over the limestone terrace are particularly scenic. No surprise that it’s a favorite photo-op for people just passing through.

There’s a parking area just off the road, and a boardwalk runs from the lot to a little overlook by the falls.

7. Lake Isabella Historic Residential District

Lake Isabella Historic Residential DistrictSource: Ebyabe / Wikimedia
Lake Isabella Historic Residential District

Southeast of downtown, the Lake Isabella Historic Residential District in Lake City is made up of nearly 150 homes from the 19th and early 20th centuries. 

If you love wandering in picture-perfect neighborhoods with mature trees and old houses, I can’t recommend this area enough. 

Set across 30 blocks, this one of the largest historic districts in the state. Most of the homes have been restored to near-original condition, and are in a range of styles, including Bungalow, Craftsman, Victorian and Classical Revival. 

All the while, downtown’s galleries, shops, and restaurants are nearby, so this district never feels out of the way.

8. Alligator Lake Recreation Park

Alligator Lake Recreation AreaSource: Tide2Trees / Facebook
Alligator Lake Recreation Park

In the south of the city, 1,000 acres of former farmland have been returned to nature and opened to the public. Alligator Lake refers to Lake City’s old name, rather than any reptile inhabitants.

Within shouting distance of downtown, it’s a gorgeous place with more than 10 miles of trails to navigate. The scenery varies, from hardwood hammock to wetlands with heron rookeries. I loved the views of the lakefront, with some majestic bald cypresses on the shore.

As well as having large expanses of restored nature, Alligator Lake Recreation Area also has some developed areas. Amenities here include a disc golf course, playground, and several pavilions with picnic tables.

9. Osceola National Forest

Osceola National ForestSource: Robert J Richter / shutterstock
Osceola National Forest

Lake City is on the edge of more than 200,000 acres of pine flatwoods, named for an important 19th-century Seminole warrior. 

This is one of the region’s top attractions for outdoor enthusiasts and sportsmen. In that vein there’s everything you could need for fishing, hiking, mountain biking, and camping.

The forest includes rivers, lakes, swamps, and pine forests, and most of them are connected by an extensive network of multi-use trails. 

A few minutes away, one spot I love is Ocean Pond, fronted by campgrounds and with a sandy beach on its southern shore.

10. Lake City Columbia County Historical Museum

Lake City Columbia County Historical MuseumSource: Ebyabe / Wikimedia
Lake City Columbia County Historical Museum

Housed in a Vernacular residence from the 1870s, this local history museum is full of interesting tidbits related to the area’s economy, culture, and development.

In addition to its exhibits, it includes period furniture, art, and housewares that give guests a unique look at the lives of those who lived in the area nearly 150 years ago.

The building is co-owned by the Blue-Grey Army, known for its annual re-enactment of the Battle of Olustee. This organization maintains a room at the museum, packed with Civil War artifacts. 

Something that really impresses about the museum is how community oriented it is. When I was here there were rehearsals for an historically themed Halloween drama.

11. Florida Gateway Fair

The Florida Gateway Fairgrounds are on the southwest side of the city, hosting the annual fair across ten fun-packed days from late October.

For a close-up look at agriculture in North Central Florida, I’d check out the livestock exhibits, ranging from rabbits to cows.

Naturally, you’ve got all the fun of a fair, like tempting comfort food, live entertainment, and midway rides and games.

The fairgrounds have a busy calendar all year, and another thing to look out for is March’s Florida Gateway Pro Rodeo, a PRCA sanctioned event. This includes all seven rodeo categories, from Team Roping to Bull Riding.

12. O’Leno State Park

One of Florida’s first state parks was founded a little way south of Lake City in 1940. Among the many things I like about O’Leno State Park is its preserved parkitecture, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the late 1930s.

On the banks of the Santa Fe River, the park is a mix of river swamps, sinkholes, piney sandhills, and hardwood hammocks. 

The river itself does a curious thing, disappearing into a sinkhole here and then rising again 3.5 miles away at the adjoining River Rise State Park. If you’re up for a longer journey you can hike between these points along the point-to-point Sink to Rise Trail.

13. Halpatter Brewing Company

Halpatter Brewing CompanySource: Halpatter Brewing Company / Facebook
Halpatter Brewing Company

Looking around downtown I was intrigued to see an old municipal building had been taken over by a craft brewery.

The building dates to 1940, while Halpatter Brewing Company was founded in 2013. The interior has been adapted in creative ways, with the former lobby desk becoming a bar.

Meanwhile a lot of original fittings remain, and there’s a whole sequence of different rooms for hanging out and playing games if you want a different scene from the bar.

A few beer options when I dropped by were 16 Springfields (Imperial IPA), Old School (Session IPA), Seymour Finnegan (Irish Red Ale), and Nein Nein Nein (Hefeweizen). There’s also a short but sweet menu of sharable sides, sandwiches, and boards.

14. The Country Club at Lake City

The Country Club At Lake CitySource: Country Club at Lake City / Facebook
The Country Club At Lake City

Lake City’s top golf course is an 18-hole facility, attracting players from across North Central Florida.The par-72 track is appropriate for players of most ages and skill levels. 

What really appealed to me were the idyllic natural setting and well-maintained greens and fairways. 

The deep stands of mature oaks, and abundant sand and water hazards that make it pleasantly challenging. 

Given how most courses in Florida are low-lying, I was thrilled by the many elevation changes, which gave me something else to think about. 

Though The Country Club at Lake City is not the least expensive option in the area, it’s the perfect choice for those looking for a unique experience.

15. Webb’s Antique Mall

Webb’s Antique MallSource: Webb's Antique Mall / Facebook
Webb’s Antique Mall

Within Lake City, but about 15 minutes south of town there’s a multi-dealer antique mall. This is a wonderland for people like me who could spend half a day browsing the long aisles.

The dimensions at Webb’s Antique Mall are mind-boggling, in a 60,000-square-foot building, with 400+ dealer booths. Even more amazing is the turnover, with booths restocked almost every day.

I saw a bit of everything, from furniture to vases, lamps, vintage board games, collectibles, toys, jewelry, clothing, tools, militaria, paintings, flags, clocks, and much more.

15 Best Things to Do in Lake City (FL):

  • Olustee Festival
  • The Gateway Art Gallery
  • Ichetucknee Springs State Park
  • Olustee Battlefield State Park
  • Downtown Lake City
  • Falling Creek Falls
  • Lake Isabella Historic Residential District
  • Alligator Lake Recreation Park
  • Osceola National Forest
  • Lake City Columbia County Historical Museum
  • Florida Gateway Fair
  • O'Leno State Park
  • Halpatter Brewing Company
  • The Country Club at Lake City
  • Webb’s Antique Mall