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Tallahassee: A window on history

Even a tourist knows that Florida's official nickname is "The Sunshine State," but the identity of the state pie (Key lime) and state wildflower (Coreopsis) is perhaps not-so-common knowledge.

Such minutiae can be found on the walls of Florida's Capitol, a 22-story building that makes an appropriate centerpiece and starting point for a historically minded Tallahassee day trip. It's one of only four state capitols in the United States to use a tower design, a list that includes Louisiana, Nebraska and North Dakota.

Opened in 1978, the tower sits behind the "Old Capitol," restored to its 1902 appearance, on North Monroe Street. For first-time visitors, the historic building is an eye-catching landmark that's handy for navigation in congested downtown traffic caused by activities at state offices, Florida State University and Florida A&M University.

Expect any motorist hesitation to look for addresses to be greeted by impatient horn-tooting. Fortunately, a convenient garage for the Museum of Florida History (500 S. Bronough St.) offers free parking for museum visitors only two blocks from the Capitol.

Allow several hours to tour the museum ( It's a free attraction that traces the state's history from giant mastodons to Spanish explorers, Seminole tribes and Civil War battles to the birth of the tourism industry in the wake of industrialist Henry Flagler's arrival in the early 20th century.

It won't take as long to cover the Capitol, but it's worth a visit. In addition to the state trivia on the fifth-floor walls, a self-guided tour (also free) offers a look at the Senate and House chambers as well as a bird's-eye view of Tallahassee landmarks such as FSU's Doak Campbell Stadium from an observation deck on the 22nd floor.

Reluctant to surrender my parking spot, I opted to walk 10 blocks north on Monroe for a quick lunch at Dog Et Al (, a sandwich shop that boasts of its 10,230 ways to fix a hot dog. That math seems fuzzy to me, but the restaurant makes a tasty Italian sausage.

It's a short drive from the museum to Railroad Square Art Park, a circle of pedestrian-friendly galleries and vintage shops. The Other Side Vintage ( is a good spot to find stuff you didn't know you couldn't live without.



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