15 Best Things to Do in Perry (FL)

Written by Bart Meeuwesen
Updated on
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In Taylor County, where the panhandle meets the peninsula, Perry is a small town in a remote part of Florida. Since the 19th century this area has relied on its immense crop of longleaf pines for income, both as lumber and a source of turpentine.

Since the 1960s the city has been the home of the Forest Capital Museum. Sitting within its own small state park, this attraction tells you all you need to know about Florida’s pines.

The grounds are also a stage for a whole calendar of events, outstripping many much larger cities. Something I need to bring up is that the Category-4 Hurricane Idalia made landfall just after I left Perry, and may have had an impact on some places on my list.

1. Forest Capital Museum State Park

If you have time for just one thing around Perry I’d head to this small state park celebrating the history of forestry in Florida. A couple of miles out of town by the Perry-Foley Airport, the park is the home of the Forest Capital State Museum

The museum building sits among the longleaf pines that have been the lifeblood of the timber business since the 19th century. This attraction opened in the 1960s and shows you just how many products come from this one tree, 

Turpentine is a key one, and you’ll get to see a working turpentine still, and an array of antique turpentine working tools. Also on the grounds is a genuine 19th-century Cracker homestead, three pavilions, and a walking trail under those skyscraping pines.

2. Florida Forest Festival

In the 1950s forest fires were so frequent around Perry that they were causing real harm to the local timber industry. As a response Taylor County’s residents launched a festival to raise forest fire awareness.

Some 70 years later, the Florida Forest Festival continues to shine a light on one of Florida’s key natural resources. This is officially a one-day event, held on the last Saturday in October (Festival Day).

But there’s a lot going in the weeks leading up to it. I was in town in October, and there were pageants earlier in the month, as well as a fireworks show at Perry-Foley Airport on the Thursday before the festival.

The day before, you’ve got all kinds of fun for kids downtown, with a dog contest, parade, and kooky bed race. Then when Festival Day finally arrives there’s a carnival, an enormous free fish fry, arts & crafts, chainsaw competitions, a display of heavy equipment, lumberjack shows, and more.

3. Keaton Beach

The Taylor County shoreline is as remote and undeveloped as it gets in Florida. Much of the coast is protected, and there isn’t a settlement of any kind of scale for miles.

The main recreation spot on the shore for the county is Keaton Beach. Here you’ve got completely natural sandy beaches, a pier, campgrounds, the county’s main boat ramp, and a children’s playground at Hodges Park. 

Fishing is a big pastime at Keaton Beach, and in the summer people head for scalloping. I have to point out that I wrote this post just after Hurricane Idalia made landfall here, so the recreation amenities may be out of action when you come.

4. Downtown Perry

If you haven’t been to the heart of Perry for a while you might be surprised how much life there is. All within a few blocks of the Taylor County Courthouse there’s a lot of small businesses to check out.

For me, downtown Perry stands out as a place to grab a bite to eat. There’s a great local pizza joint, a bakery, a couple of cafes/coffee shops, and a place where you can get smoothies. 

In between are a number of shops, for fashion accessories, home decor, clothing, flowers and more. Head south and you’ll come to a pair of parks either side of US 221. 

On the west side is a much-loved splash pad, while to the east a boardwalk leads you over the swampy ground by Spring Creek.

5. Hampton Springs Hotel Historic Site

I have a soft spot for slightly spooky places like these hotel ruins, just west of Perry. A place of luxury, the Hampton Springs Hotel Historical Site was built in 1908 at the site of famous sulfur springs, visited for their purported therapeutic properties.  

This was a considerable complex, with a covered pool, casino, ballroom, stables, tennis courts, a 9-hole golf course, and even its own railroad depot. 

Things changed with the onset of WWII when the hotel became barracks for military personnel posted at Perry-Foley Airport. Then catastrophe struck 1954 when the building was destroyed by fire. 

Wrapped in beautiful lush vegetation, the ruins have since been excavated, and the lawns are still maintained. 

6. Taylor County Sports Complex

Public sports complexes have no right to be as beautiful as this facility on US 19, a couple of miles from downtown Perry. The Taylor County Sports Complex sits among stately live oaks, on the banks of Woods Creek, which weaves through the site.

It’s a good place just to come for a walk, and I love the paved trail, just over a mile long, and partly shaded by those spectacular mature trees.

In terms of features, there are three ballfields, six soccer fields, two basketball courts, two tennis courts, two playgrounds, and five picnic pavilions.

7. Taylor County Historical Society

One of the buildings that caught my attention downtown was the historic Bank of Perry building. This dates back to 1903, and served as a branch of the First National Bank between 1909 and 1930.

Today the building is occupied by the Taylor County Historical Society, which was founded in 1971. If you’re in town on a Thursday afternoon you can drop by to get in touch with the history of Perry and the surrounding county. 

Displays go into many different topics. Naturally sawmills and timber are prominent, but there’s also Civil War memorabilia, and information about the prehistoric cultures along the Aucilla River. Something extremely rare here is a century-old Victrola hand-crank record player.

8. Smokin’ in the Pines BBQ Festival

Smokin’ In The Pines BBQ FestivalSource: Smokin' In The Pines BBQ Festival / Facebook
Smokin’ In The Pines BBQ Festival

Every September at Forest Capital Museum State Park there’s a major competitive BBQ event. Smokin’ in the Pines BBQ Festival isn’t just about fantastic food, but also live music, with Southern-style country, rock, and blues. 

There’s also arts and crafts, an antique car show, and lots of family and kid-friendly activities. It’s an entire day out for the family, but also a big-time competition. 

When I was here the open event alone had a payout of $10,000. There are also significant prizes for sauces and the People’s Choice, while kids aged 6-13 can compete too.

9. Florida State Bluegrass Festival

Florida State Bluegrass FestivalSource: Florida State Bluegrass Festival / Facebook
Florida State Bluegrass Festival

For a small, rural town, Perry has more than its fair share of fairs and festivals. The last one I’ll talk about is the Florida State Bluegrass Festival, also at the Forest Capital Museum State Park.

Taking place at the end of March, this is an ode to a music genre emblematic of Appalachia. The Florida State Bluegrass Festival features the country’s best Bluegrass performers across an unforgettable weekend.  

There’s more going on besides, including a hotly contested chili cook-off with thousands of dollars in prize money. You’ve also got great food, and a village’s worth of arts & crafts vendors.

10. The Parkside Café and Coffee

The Parkside Café And CoffeeSource: The ParkSide Cafe & Coffee / Facebook
The Parkside Café And Coffee

I’ll take some time now to point out some of the standout spots downtown. A great one is this cafe by the tracks at the old Live Oak, Perry & South Georgia Railway station from 1918. 

As well as having a unique building, this is a great stop on a walk, as it sits beside the large swath of oak-strewn parkland south of the tracks. 

Parkside Café And Coffee is comfortable, inviting, and reasonably priced, and I have to say I was smitten with the lineup of specialty lattes. 

My pick is the Train Wreck, flavored with coconut, caramel and chocolate. It sounds wrong, but it’s so right. Pair that with a bacon, egg, and cheese croissant and you’re on the right track.

11. Graves Drive-In

On US 221, five minutes out of Perry, there’s a restaurant with a lot of history. The Graves Drive-In goes all the way back to 1950. As the name suggests, this was once part of a long-gone drive-in movie theater.

The Graves family still owns the property and runs this old-school fast food joint. I always think it’s a good sign when there’s a pared-down menu at a place like this, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The specialty is without doubt the cheeseburger. It’s also worth getting chili, either as a burger, a hot dog, or your fries, as this is homemade. If you come by on Fridays, keep an eye out for the mullet dinner, with Florida-style swamp cabbage.

12. Perry Golf & Country Club

If you’re up for a round of golf there’s a semi-private course on Perry’s southwestern outskirts. Perry Golf & Country Club dates back to 1952, and was in the process of improving its greens when I played here.

This is a well-maintained 9-hole facility, with Bermuda grass greens, and a slope rating a little higher than normal for a course in Florida. A couple of holes that stick in my mind are #2, a par-3 over water, and #4, a testing par-4, with a dogleg left.

13. Johnson’s Bakery

Johnson’s BakerySource: Johnson's Bakery / Facebook
Johnson’s Bakery

On a particularly cute stretch of US 221 downtown, there’s a tempting bakery that is hard to pass by. 

Johnson’s Bakery has made a name for its delectable sweet treats, including donuts, cookies, pound cake, and apple fritters. The donuts put the big brands to shame, and the star for me is the cream-filled Long John. 

This spot also has a menu of more sensible lunch options. In this vein you’ve got sandwiches, from burgers to BLTs, as well as paninis and some excellent salads. I got the Everything Salad, which comes sprinkled with pecans, craisins, and seasonal fruit.

14. Iron Horse Mud Ranch

At one of the best off-road mud parks in the state you’ve got more than 500 acres of remote swampland to explore via high-powered mud trucks, ATVs or UTVs (side-by-side vehicle). 

There are five distinct mud recreation areas at Iron Horse Mud Ranch, as well as a pro freestyle area, and a mega truck obstacle course.

What impressed me most of all were the additional amenities. These include RV and tent campsites, two sets of outdoor showers, food vendors, a beach and tiki area, and a performance stage and tug pad.

15. Steinhatchee Falls Park

Along the Steinhatchee River, about half an hour from Perry is a pair of scenic protected lands. The watercourse in question flows for just over 30 miles from Mallory Swamp in Lafayette County to the Gulf of Mexico.

Just north of the town of Tennille the river goes underground, remaining there for about half a mile before returning to the surface. The place where the river reemerges is known as Steinhatchee Rise.

In the Rise section you can hike along the river for more than three miles through oak hammocks and pine flatwoods. The trail ends at Steinhatchee Falls Park, on a broad stretch of the river where it slips over low but wide limestone ledges.

15 Best Things to Do in Perry (FL):

  • Forest Capital Museum State Park
  • Florida Forest Festival
  • Keaton Beach
  • Downtown Perry
  • Hampton Springs Hotel Historic Site
  • Taylor County Sports Complex
  • Taylor County Historical Society
  • Smokin’ in the Pines BBQ Festival
  • Florida State Bluegrass Festival
  • The Parkside Café and Coffee
  • Graves Drive-In
  • Perry Golf & Country Club
  • Johnson’s Bakery
  • Iron Horse Mud Ranch
  • Steinhatchee Falls Park