Palatka is a city of about 10,500 residents in northern Florida’s Putnam County.
Located between Jacksonville to the northeast and Orlando to the south, and sitting on the western shore of the St. Johns River, it is particularly well-known for the abundant fairs and festivals it hosts annually.
Palatka’s convenient location gives visitors easy access to some amazing Atlantic beaches that are just a short drive away. Despite its rural setting, it’s close to a number of large metropolitan areas that offer collegiate sporting events, art, and historical attractions.
Below are 15 things to do in and around Palatka that rank high on many visitors’ itineraries.
1. Ravine Gardens State Park
Ravine Gardens State Park is one of nine Florida parks that were built during the New Deal-era. It’s particularly known for its ravines, some of which are more than 100 feet deep.
The park is spread over nearly 60 acres, and unlike other state parks, it includes cultivated gardens and manmade terraces.
For much of their existence, the park and gardens were city property, but more than a half-century ago, ownership was transferred to the state; now, they’re listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The park’s flowers explode in vibrant colors in early spring, so time your trip accordingly if possible.
2. Florida Azalea Festival
Palatka is home to the annual Florida Azalea Festival that always takes place over the first weekend in March.
It’s a time of year when the weather is usually perfect, and it coincides with the spring bloom that happens in February and March.
The Florida Azalea Festival has been held in the historic downtown area for nearly 75 years. In addition to an astonishing variety of native and exotic plant species, there are lots of kid-friendly activities, tasty and refreshing food and drink options, and even live entertainment.
Previous guests have described the event as like a state fair, and it’s even pet-friendly.
3. St. Johns River Center
In many ways, the St. Johns River is the heart of Palatka and surrounding areas.
The St. Johns River Center is staffed by local volunteers and is full of fun and engaging interactive exhibits that touch on the area’s ecology, wildlife, history, and culture.
Taking it all in shouldn’t take more than about 40 minutes, but most guests walk away pleasantly surprised at the things they learned while inside.
A path leads from the center to the river, and there is a playground and picnic tables on the way; the river scenes from the shore are nothing short of stunning.
4. Palatka Murals
There’s an art trend showing up in small cities and towns all over the country – the main thrust of which is turning bland and unused walls and open spaces into vibrant murals.
The Palatka Murals are spread all over the historic downtown area and portray a variety of themes, including local people going about their daily lives.
Art loving visitors have commented on the fantastic skills of the local artists who made them, adding that they really add a vibrant and trendy element to the area that’d definitely be lacking otherwise.
Local businesses have mural site maps, so stop by and pick one up.
5. Blue Crab Festival
The Blue Crab Festival takes place over Memorial Day weekend annually. In addition to a variety of amazing seafood and events, it features arts and crafts, live entertainment, and tons of family-friendly activities.
The festival is held in downtown Palatka along the riverfront. Though it’s a fun-filled event, it’s mostly dedicated to the servicemen and women who’ve served the country over the years.
Local bands, food trucks, and several vendors selling everything from homemade jewelry to prepared food items round-out the event, so consider hanging around for more than just an hour or two.
6. Bronson-Mulholland House
The Bronson-Mulholland House was built in the 1850s and is one of Palatka’s historical and cultural centerpieces.
The home has been restored to near-original condition and is full of period furniture and household items that were typical of the day.
Free guided tours are available, but they’re not open every day, so be sure to check online or give them a call before making a special trip.
The house is located on Madison Street, and most guests end-up staying about an hour.
Though there’s no cost to visit, many visitors leave a donation of a few dollars to help with the house’s general upkeep.
7. Uncork & Unwind Craft Beer and Wine Lounge
Nothing quite ends a long day in the Florida sun like a comfy chair, chilly air-conditioning, and a tasty glass of beer or wine.
Uncork & Unwind Craft Beer and Wine Lounge features both indoor and outdoor seating and is close enough to the St. Johns River to offer some great views.
It’s a popular afternoon and evening meeting place for those who’ve spent their days in front of computer screens. They’re known for their impressive selection of locally-brewed beers and wines from all over the world.
They don’t serve food, but guests are encouraged to bring their own.
8. Riverfront Park
Riverfront Park is located in the downtown area. In addition to its scenic views and walking paths, it’s a memorial to several local sailors who died during the Second World War.
The park includes a well-maintained playground, a fountain, and a historic World War II-era torpedo.
Fisherman often try their luck from the shore, and there are public piers and a boat launch as well for those who want to take to the water.
The park is a great first stop for those new to the area, and the welcome center is staffed with local volunteers who are glad to talk about things worth seeing and doing on your trip.
9. The Lightner Museum
Located in nearby St. Augustine, the Lightner Museum is housed in a historic hotel that was originally built in the late-1880s.
The hotel was built in the Spanish revival style and is one of the city’s most significant historic attractions.
In addition to its history-related exhibits, the museum also includes portions that delve into science, industry, art, and culture.
The outdoor grounds include an idyllic palm-lined courtyard, fish pond, and a quaint stone bridge. The museum is located on King Street and is conveniently close to other St. Augustine attractions, making it a worthwhile stop even for those with already-full itineraries.
10. Castillo de San Marcos
Florida’s Palm Coast is just east of Palatka and was explored by the Spanish centuries before the official founding of the country. The Castillo de San Marcos is one of the most well-preserved remnants of their time in the area.
The castle is located on more than 20 acres of land along the western side of Matanzas Bay. In addition to its historical and cultural significance, it’s an amazingly natural and beautiful area as well.
The castle includes original and reconstructed portions and was built in a unique military design that offered an easily defensible position against enemies approaching from the water.
11. Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention
For those with access to wheels who don’t mind filling the tank and hitting the open road, the college town of Gainesville offers a number of unique recreation opportunities.
The Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention may be one of the area’s newest attractions, but it’s unique in that it’s dedicated to inspiring creative, business, and technology-minded individuals to dream big and explore topics that are often overlooked.
In addition to its interactive exhibits, the museum’s staff offer a variety of educational programs that have been designed to engage and stimulate young minds to action. The museum is located on South Main Street not far from the University of Florida campus.
12. Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation Foundation
Also located in Gainesville, the Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation Foundation is a facility that’s dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of both exotic and local wildlife that have been orphaned, injured or abandoned.
The foundation exists solely from donations, and though there’s no cost to visit, nearly everybody leaves something to assist the staff in continuing their good work.
Guided private and semi-private tours are available; for those who’d like to get a truly behind the scenes look at what goes on, they’re the perfect way to do it.
To raise additional funds, they often host fun events that feature animal feeds, speed demonstrations, and kid-friendly activities.
13. Florida Museum of Natural History
The Florida Museum of Natural History is located on the scenic and sprawling campus of the University of Florida in Gainesville; it’s one of those gems that shouldn’t be passed-up when in the area.
The museum’s permanent exhibits touch on animals and the environment, as well as the Native American people who called Florida home for generations before it was officially settled.
Most of the museum is free to visit, though there are often charges to see temporary exhibits, as well as the ever-popular butterfly garden and prehistoric fossil collection.
The museum is the perfect place to learn, have fun, and spend a few hours out of the sun.
14. Old City St. Augustine
St. Augustine is one of the most historic cities on the Atlantic coast, and the Old City portion is a fascinating place that’s characterized by old buildings, cobblestone streets, and tons of old-world Spanish influence.
Old City is the perfect area for a stroll. Do-it-yourselfers will have relatively easy access to historic attractions, museums, galleries, and trendy dining and drinking establishments to fit most budgets.
Walking tours are available, as are horse-and-buggy excursions, the latter of which offer guests a truly unique way of seeing the area while letting a beast of burden do all the legwork.
15. Palatka Golf Club
Like most of Palatka’s popular attractions, Palatka Golf Club sits near the shores of the St. Johns River, and the course was designed by famous designer Donald Ross in the 1920s.
The course is in a particularly undeveloped area that’s known for its natural sand ridges and forested areas, and it’s considered by many to be one of the region’s best-kept golf secrets.
The par-72 course is nestled among the grounds of the Ravine Gardens State Park, and depending on when you play, it generally takes about four hours to complete a round.
Tee times may be reserved on the course’s website in advance of your trip.