There should be a sign at the border of Arcadia, Florida, that says, “Welcome to Cowboy Country”—but we’d also add, “Welcome to Antiquing Country, Peace River Country, and Rodeo Country” for good measure. After all, the rural town of Arcadia manages to pack in a lot to see and do despite its small size. The town and its residents are also true survivors, having lived through flood waters that reached as high as 23 feet in some points during Hurricane Ian in 2022.
Arcadia, Florida, is about an hour away from Bradenton, Sarasota, and Fort Myers, making it a perfect day trip destination (find some other great day trip ideas here if you live in the Bradenton/Sarasota area). This article shares some of Arcadia’s history and things to do in Arcadia, Florida, including:
–A self-guided walking tour of downtown Arcadia
–Activities along the Peace River
Arcadia, Florida: A Few Historical Facts
Here are a few interesting historical facts about Arcadia, Florida, that you’ll want to know before your visit.
- The town of Arcadia was incorporated in 1886 and became the county seat for DeSoto County in 1888. It incorporated as a town nine months after the first train came there.
- Arcadia got its start growing citrus and other produce, including watermelon. The DeSoto County Walking Tour website says that during the 19th century cattle wars, “Arcadia was as wild as any frontier town.”
- By the teens and 20s of the 20th century, Arcadia had three railroads as well an amphitheatre. The town had its first rodeo in 1929, the Arcadia All-Florida Grand Championship Rodeo that continues today.
- Arcadia was called “Aviation City” after World War I because there were two Army air fields there for training pilots.
- The town established a Historic District and had nearly 400 homes and businesses placed on the National Register of Historic Places in the 1980s. This era also led to the establishment of a Main Street program to revitalize the downtown and have antique stores, according to the Walking Tour website.
- Arcadia has been hit by its share of hurricanes, including 2004 with Hurricane Charley, 2017 with Hurricane Irma, and 2022 with Hurricane Ian, during which waters reached more than 23 feet. Although Arcadia is miles and miles away from the coast, it’s located on the Peace River, which increases its vulnerability.
Although Florida’s citrus business has dwindled considerably due to citrus greening, Arcadia remains an area of farming (including cattle, citrus, watermelons, and more) and as an antiques haven.
7 Things to Do When You Visit Arcadia, Florida
1. Have a blast from the past when you go antiquing in downtown. Arcadia’s downtown is well-known among antique lovers as a go-to destination. If you’ve lived long enough, antique shopping in Arcadia is a blast from the past. If you’re younger, then antique shopping in Arcadia will help you discover what life entailed before the internet and iPhones. Make sure to visit on the fourth Saturday of each month when there’s a big antiques fair in town attracting 35 to as many as 100 vendors. Stores like Cory’s Antiques and Biggar and Biggar Antique Mall will even have curbside items to peruse. Other vendors set up an outdoors booth for the occasion. If you’re lucky (??), you’ll even get to hear the local street preacher who makes a scene during the monthly event. You can also discover more about Florida’s antiques scene, including in Arcadia, at the website Florida Antique Trail.
Bonus suggestions: They aren’t antiques store but we particularly enjoyed the Blossoms Beauty & Boutique on Oak Street in downtown for its boho/country style. We didn’t make it to Honey Belles Boutique but it looks very cute as well and is also on Oak Street.
2. Take a walking tour of the downtown. If you like to guide yourself to discover new places, you’re a good match for Downtown Arcadia’s Walking Tour. Using the site found here on the South Florida State College website, your tour will take you to about 20 different historical buildings found in and around downtown Arcadia. The self-guided tour includes the Railroad Depot, Rosin Arcade, and the Opera House. In fact, the Opera House is more than 117 years old and was damaged during Hurricane Ian but has been restored and re-opened, thanks to private donations. Discover how the buildings you’ll see have been used over time. Downtown Arcadia has preserved much of its historical look, so the self-guided walking tour is a real treat for history and architecture buffs. You can also grab a bite to eat at one of the downtown’s charming restaurants (see more information below). Find out more here about supporting downtown Arcadia’s Main Street.
3. Go to the rodeo. For real cowboy living, visit Arcadia in March when the rodeo is in town at Mosaic Arena. Nicknamed the Granddaddy of ‘Em All due to its longevity (nearly 100 years), the Arcadia rodeo athletes compete with the hope of making it to national finals in Las Vegas. Come watch the rodeo for barrel racing, bull riding, and bareback bronc riding.
4. Grab a bite to eat. Arcadia offers down-home country meals with Southern cooking, hidden Mexican gems, and American staples. You can get a great mix of Southern charm and history in the downtown at places like Mary Margaret’s Tea & Biscuit, Oak Street Deli, and Wheeler’s Café. Slim’s Bar-B-Q gets solid ratings for its barbecue. Some highly reviewed Mexican places include El Charro, Azul Tequila, and Taqueria La Favorita. You can find out more about many of these restaurants at the following TripAdvisor site.
5. Head on over to Joshua Citrus for an up-close view of life on a citrus grove. Have you ever tried fresh orange juice or an orange/vanilla soft-serve swirl at a Florida citrus grove? If not, don’t miss a visit to Joshua Citrus in Arcadia, which has had roots in Arcadia since the late 1880s. You can buy fresh citrus like Honeybell oranges and grapefruit, try the delicious fresh juice, order citrus products as a gift, and enjoy that yummy soft-serve swirl that we mentioned. Joshua Citrus also sells some Florida-themed gifts and other food items. Double check its schedule in advance, as places like Joshua Citrus often are open only seasonally to the public.
6. Spend some time on Peace River. We still have to make our way to Peace River to see all it has to offer, but we hear terrific things about paddling, fossil hunting, and airboat riding along the peaceful Peace River.
7. Take a stroll at one of Arcadia’s many parks. Whether you want to bring a picnic, take a stroll, use the boat ramp, or go fishing, there’s a park for that in Arcadia.