Shortly after exiting Lake Monroe in Sanford, the St. Johns bends to the right and returns to it's northerly path. In this region, the west side of the river is mostly preserved as either State or National Forest. If you're looking for a taste of Old Florida, in a laid-back atmosphere with tall oaks and Spanish moss, then the north-central region of the St. Johns has some locations you are sure to enjoy.
Swamphouse Grill... www.swamphousegrill.com/ 4380 Carraway Pl. Sanford FL 32771 (next to Highbanks Marina)
This is a long way from the small fish camps in the South region. Located next to a public boat ramp, the Highbanks Marina and Camp Resort is a 25 acre complex with over 2300 feet of river frontage. Popular with boaters, the restaurant and Tiki bar do a booming business on weekends. Parking can be scarce at peak hours, so plan accordingly. Boating eco-tours operate by appointment. Huge menu. Plenty of seating inside or out. The crowd tend to lessen an hour or two before sunset. That's when we recommend visiting.
St. Johns River Grill... www.stjohnsmarinaresort.com/river-grille/ 2999 State Road 44 W DeLand, FL 32720 (next to St. John's Marina)
Located just off SR44 west of Deland, the SJR Grill is located at the end of the drive, past campground, boat ramp, marina and marine store. Spacious riverside restaurant & bar, large screened-in patio, live music on weekends. For a great view, check out the cozy "we survived Irma" upper deck. The river and Seminole State Forest provide your backdrop. Best near sunset. Listen for forest critters rustling. This is a major wildlife corridor; Hontoon Island and Blue Springs State Parks are to the south. The Ocala National Forest joins from the north and west (kayak on clear spring runs; www.paddleflorida.net).
Blackwater Inn & Williams Landing... www.blackwaterinn.com/ 55716 Front St. Astor FL 32102 (next to bridge)
An area icon and one of our favorites, the Blackwater Inn in tiny Astor FL provides some of the best (air conditioned) riverfront views, a fine dining menu (try the Canadian sea scallops, plain or lemon-pepper), a real wine list (enough of roughing it!) and experienced servers. One complaint; in old Southern fashion, the onion soup was too salty for us, Ask when ordering. Many great choices for salt watchers. We waited a few minutes for a window-side table. Here we could better enjoy the river and watch for wildlife, which on this day included birds, turtles, and two small alligators. Upstairs is Williams Landing, a casual sports bar with both inside and outside seating. The Ocala National Forest and State preserve surround this tiny town. A worthwhile daytrip destination.
Renegade's on the River... www.renegadesontheriver.com/ 1171 County Rd. 309, Crescent City FL 32112
Welaka Resort-Dockside Bar & Grill... www.welakalodge.com/boathouse-bar/ Welaka Lodge & Resort,1001 Front Street, Welaka, FL 32193 (Channel Marker 50)