15 Best Things to Do in Palatka (FL)

Written by Bart Meeuwesen
Updated on
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About an hour inland from St. Augustine, Palatka is an historic city on a giant bend in the St. Johns River. At this point Florida’s longest and most famous watercourse suddenly widens as it turns north towards Jacksonville.

I can’t get enough of the magnificent riverfront views in Palatka, and it’s no wonder that most of the city’s public events take place with the river in the background. 

Something else completely out of the ordinary is Ravine Gardens State Park, with myriad azaleas blooming on steep fieldstone terraces in spring. There’s a festival to coincide with these blossoms, one of several events that bring people to Palatka in their thousands.

1. Ravine Gardens State Park

Ravine Gardens State ParkSource: axollot / Flickr
Ravine Gardens State Park

Within Palatka’s limits you can explore one of the nine Florida state parks built during the New Deal era. As you might guess, Ravine Gardens State Park is particularly known for its sharp ravines, some of which are more than 100 feet deep.

Over nearly 60 acres, this breathtaking space includes cultivated gardens, man-made fieldstone terraces and a series of suspension bridges. 

These were built by the Works Progress Administration, who also planted the tens of thousands of azaleas that come into bloom every spring. 

The park is a joy at any time of year, but I’d urge you to be here in early March for the Florida Azalea Festival, which I’ll cover later.

2. Riverfront Park

Riverfront Park, PalatkaSource: Sally Toole / Facebook
Riverfront Park, Palatka

The focus of a revitalization project in the 2010s, Riverfront Park is a great first stop for those new to the area. 

Next to the downtown area, this exquisite park sets the scene for a whole slew of events in Palatka, which I’ll talk about later. 

But on a typical day it’s a beautiful hangout, facing that wide bend, and unbelievably pretty at dawn or dusk. 

I saw a well-maintained playground, a fountain, and a historic World War II-era torpedo. Fishing folk often try their luck from the piers, and at the south end is the city dock and boat ramp.

3. Downtown Palatka

Something I think everyone should do is spend a little time investigating Palatka’s historic downtown. Bounded to the north by Reid Street, this is spread across quite a large area, with a lot of beautiful brick commercial buildings, especially further east towards the river.

Many of the shops and restaurants are along a stretch of St. Johns Ave known as Lemon St. East of the Putnam County Court there’s a sequence of shops, for leather goods, quilts, books, jewelry and more.

I’ll come to a couple of the bars/breweries around downtown later in this list. In the meantime, there’s a lot of great food options, from Southern-style seafood to pizza, Mexican, wings, new America, and a branch of DQ that dates to the 50s.

But maybe the most significant is the Angel’s Dining Car, which is Florida’s oldest diner, here since 1932.

4. Palatka Murals

Palatka MuralsSource: romana klee / Flickr
Palatka Murals

Something I love to do in downtown Palatka is to take in the growing display of large-scale murals. 

With close to 30 when I went to press, these works are mostly along the intersecting streets between Reid Street and St. Johns Avenue. 

The Palatka Murals deal with a variety of themes, from important local figures to historical scenes and key events in the city’s past. Most of all I appreciate the artistry and love that has gone into every piece. 

To see them all, you can pick up a map, complete with QR codes, at several businesses around the downtown area. There’s also a pdf version available on the Palatka Mural Tours website.

5. Blue Crab Festival

Blue Crab FestivalSource: Blue Crab Festival / Facebook
Blue Crab Festival

Taking place over Memorial Day weekend, the Blue Crab Festival has been an annual highlight for 30+ years. 

In addition to a variety of amazing seafood, it features arts and crafts, live entertainment on two stages, and tons of family-friendly activities.

More than 120,000 people attended the festival when I was here. On the agenda were Grammy-winning performers, a petting zoo, fireworks, a water-ski show, carnival rides, and artisans from all over Northeast Florida.

Of course, seafood is at the soul of the event, from southern-style boils with corn and potatoes, to fried scallops and blackened salmon.

6. Bronson-Mulholland House

Bronson-Mulholland HouseSource: Ebyabe / Wikimedia
Bronson-Mulholland House

Testifying to the city’s long history, the Bronson-Mulholland House dates to 1854, and is preserved as an historic house museum. 

In the Southern Colonial style, this mansion has an evocative setting, framed by palms, live oaks and magnolias. This was the residence for several interesting figures, starting with the judge and congressman, Isaac H. Bronson (1802-1855)

Since the 1970s, this city-owned building has undergone a long-term restoration, and is decorated with elegant period furniture.

You can visit on Saturday afternoons, and on the first Sunday of the month. There are non self-guided visits, but this wasn’t a problem for me as I found the docent entertaining and informative.

7. Rice Creek Conservation Area

If you want to get out into the steamy swamplands surrounding Palatka, I’d start at this property, ten minutes from downtown Palatka.  

Feeding the St. Johns River, Rice Creek gets its name from a rice plantation, established as long ago as the 18th century. Amateur historians may get a little thrill walking the levee trail, along an earthen structure built 200+ years ago.

Crossing the boardwalk deep in the swamp you’ll see some astonishing bald cypresses. The queen of these is officially the seventh-largest cypress in Florida.

8. St. Johns River Center

St. Johns River CenterSource: St Johns River Center / Facebook
St. Johns River Center

Clearly, the longest river system in Florida is integral to Palatka’s story. To fully understand the St. Johns River and the wetland ecosystems along its swirling course, you can head to this educational attraction, partly run by the city. 

Particularly rewarding for children, the St. Johns River Center is full of interactivity, and also features several live exhibits. As well as the river’s ecology, these informative exhibits deal with history, commerce, and culture.

When I was in town last, this museum was temporarily closed for a few weeks for repairs.

9. Florida Azalea Festival

AzaleaSource: Nancy Tripp Photography / shutterstock

Ravine Gardens State Park is one of the venues for the Florida Azalea Festival, taking place over the first weekend in March.

It’s a time of year when the weather is usually perfect, and it coincides with the bloom that happens in February and March. 

The festival was first held in 1938, and although it was originally set in the gardens, many of the festivities are now on the riverfront downtown. 

Events include a now iconic parade, a crafts fair, Azalea Days at the state park, a pageant, a car show, kids’ activities, and a variety of sports tournaments. One of many things I love about the festival is that dogs are welcome, and show up every year in fun costumes.

10. Azalea City Brewing

In 2020 Palatka got its own craft brewery, in a fine old factory building downtown. In fact, this place has a history in the beverage industry as a purpose-built Coca-Cola bottling plant, with the famous logotype still carved into the facade.

Open Tuesday through Sunday, Azalea City Brewing had 16 beers on tap when I was here. These run the gamut from lighter Lagers and ales to IPAs and darker beers. The Coconut Imperial Stout caught my eye, and is matured on toasted coconut. 

There’s a lot happening throughout the week at this spot, from trivia to yoga, markets, and a different food truck every evening.

11. Larimer Arts Center

One of the most distinctive buildings downtown has been turned into a multifaceted arts center. This is the old Larimer Memorial Library, built in 1929 and designed by Prairie School architect Henry John Kluthko (1873-1964).

A blend of Art Deco and Prairie School style, this building served as the municipal library until 1992. For the last 30+ years, the Larimer Arts Center has been a cultural beacon downtown.

First you’ve got the Scarlett-Hill Theater, seating 71, and home to the spirited River City Players theater group. You can also check out movie screenings here, while the Arts Council of Greater Palatka hosts a calendar of art shows at the gallery here.

12. Bostwick Blueberry Festival

There’s a heartwarming blueberry extravaganza every April in Bostwick, on Palatka’s northern outskirts. In a quaint rural setting, the Bostwick Blueberry Festival had been running for more than a quarter of a century when I went to press.

This is a one-day event, brimming with blueberry-themed activities, and freshly picked blueberries from the local farm, Miller’s Blueberries. 

First up there’s a blueberry pancake breakfast, followed by a baking contest, and all sorts of blueberry treats, from blueberry pies to blueberry ice cream. 

This is all accompanied by kids’ fun, 100+ arts & crafts vendors, a Mr. and Miss Blueberry pageant, and day-long live entertainment.

13. Uncork & Unwind Craft Beer and Wine Lounge

Uncork & Unwind Craft Beer And Wine LoungeSource: uncork-unwind.com
Uncork & Unwind Craft Beer And Wine Lounge

On a stroll around downtown Palatka you may notice this little bar, not far from the riverfront. Uncork & Unwind Craft Beer And Wine Lounge curates a wide selection of beers and wines from around the world. 

I know a little more about beer than wine, and this comes by the bottle. I got myself an Irish Cream Stout, by the Southern Tier Brewing Company, which was right up my street. 

It’s a popular afternoon and evening meeting place for locals, which is always a good sign in my book.You can also head here for live music most weekend evenings.

14. Skydive Palatka

Something I didn’t expect to find in Palatka is one of the region’s top skydiving centers. Based at the municipal airport, a couple of miles west of downtown, Skydive Palatka has been in business for more than two decades.

For experienced skydivers, this company has a Cessna 208 and a 182 reaching altitude in a matter of minutes. If you’re still learning there’s a school course, with a seven-jump program.

But if you’re a newbie and just want to experience freefalling for the first time, you can take a tandem skydive. 

Leaping from 13,500 feet attached to an instructor, you’ll freefall for 60 seconds, and will then be able to steer the parachute as you marvel at the twisting St. Johns River and Florida’s East Coast.

15. Palatka Golf Club

Palatka Golf ClubSource: Mathew105601 / Wikimedia
Palatka Golf Club

Wrapping around Ravine Gardens State Park, Palatka lays claim to the oldest public course in Florida. Highly rated a century after it opened, Palatka Golf Club was designed by noted course architect Donald Ross in the 1920s.

In keeping with this vintage style, the course blends with a natural setting of sand ridges and mature live oaks. I can see why many consider it to be a hidden gem of a course.

I know this is a public course, but the pricing was remarkably low. When I played my round on a weekday in October, the green fee was $30 for 18 holes.

15 Best Things to Do in Palatka (FL):

  • Ravine Gardens State Park
  • Riverfront Park
  • Downtown Palatka
  • Palatka Murals
  • Blue Crab Festival
  • Bronson-Mulholland House
  • Rice Creek Conservation Area
  • St. Johns River Center
  • Florida Azalea Festival
  • Azalea City Brewing
  • Larimer Arts Center
  • Bostwick Blueberry Festival
  • Uncork & Unwind Craft Beer and Wine Lounge
  • Skydive Palatka
  • Palatka Golf Club