Everybody is looking for safe places to visit. Columbia County, Florida offers several safe options. The newly opened Blanche Hotel is a masterpiece of historic restoration but what you don’t see is equally important. There is no registration desk. This fourteen-room boutique hotel offers registration via Airbnb. One less human contact.
When I stepped into the lobby at the newly reopened Blanche Hotel in Lake City I was amazed. They have kept the best of the old and added fantastic new features. The lobby is filled with light from glass doors and windows. The floor is covered in the original pattern of white with forest green and maroon trim octagonal mosaic floor tiles. The crystal chandelier suspended from the 14-foot ceiling is reminiscent of an earlier time. It cast even more light on the white pillars and carved crown. There are four cozy seating areas of sofa and chairs. The majestic antebellum-style staircase that leads to the second floor is original to the hotel but it looks brand new.
Each room is a different art Deco type color scheme of mostly muted blues and grays. My suite had everything I needed from a small fridge and lots of counter space with a coffee maker and sink to the sofa that could be rearranged in different ways, a full bath, and an extremely comfortable bed. The Blanche blends historic charm with modern convenience.
For families traveling with kids, there are rooms with bunk beds guaranteed to please even the pickiest child. The parents’ bedroom is placed at the opposite end of the suite for privacy.
For longer-term guests, several units offer a full-sized kitchen and larger rooms. The hotel complex is more than a boutique hotel; it offers retail space, apartments, and offices.
The ground floor of the hotel offers nine retail shops. Last time I looked, there was a neat bar called Prohibition opened that has a 1920s vibe and great cocktails and food choices.
The Blanche was built in 1902. It was named Blanche for the original owner, Will Brown’s four-year-old daughter. It was a favored stopover for Al Capon on his “business” trips between Chicago and Miami. Some other celebrities who stayed there are Jackie Gleason and Johnny Cash. It was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places on January 18, 1990.
It became run down and closed in 1967. The renovation took over two years, $19 million, and a lot of love, but The Blanche reopened in February 2020.
Downtown Lake City
Just down the street from the Blanche, you’ll find lots of independent shops and restaurants like Marion Street Bistro, Blue Goose Art Studio, Nearly New Consignment, and other boutiques. Halpatter Brewing and Beer Garden serves tasty brews in the courtyard. The town plaza has a plaque telling the town’s history and several markers and a gazebo. At Darby Pavilion at Wilson Park, you can stroll along the waterfront at Lake DeSoto. This is where the town hosts events like Wuffstock Festival of Dogs and Snow Day.
O’Leno State Park
If you want to commune with nature and really avoid people, try camping at O’Leno State Park located along the banks of the scenic Santa Fe River. You have a choice of Dogwood or Magnolia Campground. In either one, you’ll be surrounded by lots of trees and few humans. All of the campgrounds have a table, fire-pit, and water and electric hookups. Dogwood is my first choice due to the size of the sites and location near the river.
O’Leno has 16 cabins. They function as a group camp but can be rented individually when not in group use.
The park is filled with outdoor adventures. You can walk across a suspension bridge over the Santa Fe River and also canoe or kayak the Santa Fe River from the launch. How about hiking the Dogwood Trail, The River Trail, the Limestone Trail, or Parener’s Branch?
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) did much of the work here and many of the buildings they built, as well as the earlier town that once was here, then called Keno, is still preserved. The present-day park was originally a Florida Forest Service camp in the 1930s. It opened as one of the original nine state parks in the Florida Park Service in 1940.
There are two museums there. The CCC Museum is a small log building that showcases the activities of the Civilian Conservation Corps. You will also find a statue of a husky young CCC worker.
The park’s Nature Interpretive Center is filled with information about the wildlife you will find in the park. My favorite is the stuffed Sherman fox squirrel. Those little critters are hard to find and so cute. Just outside the center, there is a pen with several gopher turtles.
Other Natural Spots
There is another state park just a short drive away. Ichetucknee Springs State Park is famous for its tubing but there is more to see and do there as well. You can kayak or canoe and you will most likely spot some wildlife along the banks. Turtles abound but there are also beaver, otter, wild turkey, wood duck, and limpkin. Divers can snorkel or scuba the crystal-clear springs that flow into the six-mile Ichetucknee River.
Alligator lake is another hiker’s paradise. You can also kayak or canoe there. The park has a nice picnic area and pavilion.
So visit Columbia County and enjoy a safe experience your way.
Kathleen’s trip was fully hosted by the local tourism office, but all opinions are unbiased and original.
Article written by Kathleen Walls of American Roads and Global Highways.
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