Starke is a city of about 6,000 residents in north-central Florida’s Bradford County that’s equidistant between Jacksonville to the northeast and Gainesville to the southwest.
The area is most well-known for its largely undeveloped tracts of land, numerous lakes, and historical sites, and there are a number of state and national parks within a short drive from the downtown areas as well.
For those interested in spending a day or two at the beach, the Atlantic Coast is easily reachable, and day-trips to St. Augustine are good options for those with access to a car.
Below are 15 things to do in and around Starke, Florida.
1. Ellianos Coffee
Hopeless caffeine junkies need not worry when visiting Starke, because a hot cup of java is never far away.
Ellianos Coffee is a small chain of popular coffee shops that were founded by a local couple who caught the bug while visiting the Pacific Northwest, the home of Starbucks and other famous coffee brands.
Their first shop was opened in nearby Lake City in 2002 and featured contemporary décor, a wide variety of food and drink options, and an all-around cool and trendy vibe that keeps guests coming back on a regular basis.
They serve smoothies and breakfast sandwiches and have a ‘guilt-free’ menu as well.
2. Cedar River Seafood
Though much of inland Florida is more often associated with barbecue, soul food, and traditional country classics like pork chops and grits, it’s still possible to get a great seafood meal if that’s what you’re looking for.
Cedar River Seafood features an impressive variety of fresh seafood options prepared a number of ways. Though they’re all tasty in their own right, fried seems to be the most popular option.
Previous guests have commented on the comfortable atmosphere, attentive staff, and ample portions, and their prices are reasonable as well.
The restaurant is located on South Walnut Street, and their sweet tea is to die for.
3. Starke Golf & Country Club
Golf is one of the Sunshine State’s biggest attractions, and with well over 1,000 courses to choose from, visitors are often overwhelmed with the choices.
The Starke Golf & Country Club features a 9-hole course that plays just shy of 3,300 yards, making it the perfect option for those looking to squeeze in a round without dedicating the better part of a day to it.
The par-36 course is famous for its scenic, tree-lined fairways, manicured greens, and water hazards that come into play on most holes.
Greens fees are very reasonable, and it’s conveniently located just outside of town on East Highway 230.
4. Andrews Center at Santa Fe College
For first-time visitors to rural areas, it can often be a daunting task deciding how to fill your time; that’s especially true if you’re traveling with little ones who demand constant attention.
Colleges and universities are often-overlooked community resources that offer a variety of activity options, including sporting, cultural, and artistic events. They’re often free, especially at smaller schools.
Santa Fe College’s Andrews Center is located in Starke and features a historical museum and a live performance venue. Throughout the year, the center hosts many events that include dramatic plays, guest speakers, and art shows.
5. Kingsley Lake
Rumor has it that north-central Florida’s Kingsley Lake is so perfectly round that pilots call it ‘Silver Dollar Lake.’
Purportedly one of the oldest lakes in the state, it’s actually a giant, sand-bottomed sinkhole with exceptionally clear water that formed centuries ago.
The lake is a big attraction for outdoor lovers and is surrounded by a small community and a local airstrip.
Swimming, sunbathing, and fishing are all popular ways to spend an afternoon near the water. There are many dining options in town as well, and it’s all just a short drive away from Starke.
6. Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park
Comprised of more than 2,000 acres that include diverse environments like ravines, swampy marshes, sandhills, and scrub, Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park is located just outside Starke. It’s a popular stop for those traveling between Jacksonville and Gainesville.
The park is one of the oldest in the state and was largely built by Civilian Conservation Corps labor in the 1930s.
Camping, hiking, wildlife viewing, and photography are popular park activities, and there is a network of multi-use trails that are generally well-marked.
Snakes, turtles, and foxes are frequent sightings, and there are dozens of species of birds as well.
7. Strawberry Festival
Florida’s farmers provide year-round produce for much of the country, even during the winter months, when most state’s farms are covered in snow and ice.
The Strawberry Festival is an annual event that takes place over a few days in early April and will be held at the Bradford County Fairgrounds.
According to the festival organizer’s unbiased opinion, Florida has the world’s sweetest strawberries, and most visitors affirm that it’s probably a true statement.
Guests can expect mounds of fresh berries, delectable pies, and strawberry ice cream, as well as live entertainment, arts and crafts, and tons of family-friendly activities.
8. River Rise Preserve State Park
As it winds its way through the Florida countryside, the Santa Fe River disappears underground, only to reemerge in River Rise Preserve State Park, where it forms a circular pool of cool, clear water that draws those seeking respite from the hot sun for much of the year.
The park around the pool includes stretches of river, more than 30 miles of nature trails, and a variety of natural habitats.
The trails are popular with horseback riders, hikers, and mountain bikers. Fishing, wildlife viewing, and camping are popular activities as well.
Park admission is inexpensive, and the campsites are generally available on a first-come, first-served basis.
9. Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation Foundation
Located about an hour southwest of Starke, the Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation Foundation is located on East County Road 225 in Gainesville and features a unique and exotic collection of animals that have been injured or abandoned.
Though rescue and rehabilitation are the foundation’s main focuses, the staff is also dedicated to educating the public on the wonders of the natural world and the importance of habitat preservation worldwide.
Private and semi-private tours are the only way to get a behind-the-scenes look at the facility. For many visitors, their time spent around the animals is one of the most memorable experiences of their vacation.
10. Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention
Dedicated to providing inspiration to young adults in the areas of creativity, entrepreneurship, and business skills, the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention is a unique Gainesville attraction that’s truly one-of-a-kind.
Though it’s only been open for slightly more than a year, the museum has attracted a loyal following, mainly because it focuses on things that are often overlooked in public schools.
The museum’s staff offers a variety of programs that teach kids real-world skills like critical thinking, problem-solving, and working efficiently with others. Their regular field trips introduce students to local business leaders, scientists, and inventors.
11. Bowman’s River Landing
Situated along the idyllic shores of the Santa Fe River in nearby Fort White, Florida, Bowman’s River Landing is one of the region’s most popular outdoor attractions and offers visitors a wide variety of recreation options to choose from.
At nearly 13 acres, Bowman’s River campground features tons of individual campsites that include just the right amount of amenities, like bathrooms, showers, and electricity, making them perfect options for those who feel like roughing it, without actually roughing it.
Pets are allowed, and there are plenty of RV sites with full water and electrical hook-ups, as well as primitive, river view cabins.
12. Kanapaha Cotton Plantation & Haile Homestead
For much of the 19th century, rural Florida was home to many cotton plantations, and nearly all of them were worked by slave labor.
The Haile Homestead is located on the grounds of the Kanapaha Cotton Plantation, and for history-loving visitors, spending a few hours on-site is like taking a giant leap back in time.
The plantation house was constructed from local pine and cypress by resident slaves. One of the home’s most unique features is the writing on the walls that describes the lives of the plantation family and slaves alike.
Guided tours are offered to the public on the weekends, and they’re led by knowledgeable and enthusiastic locals.
13. Morningside Nature Center
Gainesville is a bustling university town offering visitors an array of attractions that can easily occupy a few days.
The Morningside Nature Center consists of more than 250 acres of pine forests and savannahs and is crisscrossed by an extensive network of walking trails. These are popular escape destinations for those who’ve had enough urban chaos and need a little time to commune with Mother Nature.
Most guests begin their exploration at the Environmental Education Center before setting off on their own. The center’s main attraction is the interactive living history farm that’s a big hit with little ones and is open from September until April.
14. Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park
Central Florida is characterized by sandy soil that’s prone to shifting, and the region is known for its numerous sinkholes that tend to turn into large, circular lakes over time.
Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park is one of the area’s most unique parks; its central feature is the massive sinkhole that dips more than 120 feet below the earth’s surface.
The sinkhole’s interior sports its own microclimate, and over the years, scientists have discovered a variety of skeletons at the bottom, including those from long-extinct land animals and tiny sea creatures.
The visitor’s center is the perfect place to start; from there, it’s possible to descend the boardwalk for an up-close look at what’s inside.
15. Kanapaha Botanical Gardens
Comprised of two dozen distinctly themed collections, the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens are another of Gainesville’s most popular natural attractions that are big hits with flower enthusiasts and all-around nature lovers.
The gardens feature an impressive variety of beautiful plants, flowers, and trees, including bamboo, herbs, and orchids. Well-marked paths connect each area with informative signs and lots of shaded seating areas.
The gardens are located on SW 58th Drive in Gainesville. Throughout the year, they host several special events, including the ever-popular Spring Garden Festival, an annual orchid show, and guided moonlight tours.