Florida : Safety by City
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Lake City is known as The Gateway to Florida with its critical placement on the major east/west and north/south interstates.
From I-10 you can get from Jacksonville to Pensacola.
On I-75, it will take you all the way down through Alligator Alley to Miami.
Many trips to Florida wouldn’t be complete without a gas or meal stop in Lake City.
It’s also a great place for a weary road tripper to rest for the night.
There’s much more to see in Lake City beyond the first gas station at your preferred exit.
It’s a natural wonderland of lakes, hence how it got its name.
However, there once was a chance I would tell you about the town of Alligator, Florida.
That was the original name of the city. In 1859, the name was changed to Lake City.
Urban legend says it’s because the mayor’s wife insisted she wouldn’t hang her curtains in a city named Alligator.
I’m guessing it was more than a keep marketing person who realized people were not going to want to visit Alligator, Florida.
Lake City is a small town with just more than 12,000 people, but with all the traffic that moves through there, up to 60,000 people could be in the city at any given time.
It’s a transient town, especially near the interstates, and it comes with a *high crime rate.
*With a population so small, any change in crime numbers could dramatically change the percentage.
Police believe some of the numbers could be skewed because of that, and because there are so many travelers who come through the area.
Warnings & Dangers in Lake City
OVERALL RISK : MEDIUM
There's a medium overall risk here. Crime rates are high, but, yes, the percentages are a bit skewed due to the low population and the risk goes down considering the people who travel through here. It's a very "in and out" town unless you are there for work or family. People want to get a quick meal to get on the road again or want to visit a park and then sleep overnight before hitting the highway for another road trip.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
Let's be real. If you are in Lake City, you probably already have a car. There's no airport close by, so you'd need to drive from there and it's not a hot spot tourist destination with a lot of shuttle options. It's a good thing you do have a car because there isn't any public transportation I can find aside from trains and busses to get you in and out of town as fast as possible. There are taxis and rideshares available, but in a town this small they might not be as available as other cities. If you can find a ride, there's a low risk.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : LOW
There were just two pickpocket reports in 2020. The chance is low given that and the fact that just 157 thefts total were reported.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
There's a medium risk here mostly in the form of a severe thunderstorm that could spawn a tornado. A neighborhood was damaged in February of 2021 by a tornado. Hurricanes are usually so weak by the time they get to this area of the state that they are tropical storms or depressions, which can still cause flash flooding.
MUGGING RISK : LOW
There's a low risk here. 26 robberies were reported in 2020 and 10 of those were highway robberies. Considering all the people who come in and out of the town, that's a low number. Just to show you how the percentages can skew the numbers — when you figure out the crime rate per 100,000 people it's 210, which is three times the national rate.
TERRORISM RISK : LOW
There's a low terrorism risk here as no hard targets are nearby.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
Most of the scams reported in Columbia County, where Lake City is located, were against locals and were garden-variety scams. There's a low risk of the same thing happening to you. As someone who has visited this area several times on road trips, beware of people who approach you at the gas pump with the "We ran out of gas and have no money on our way home and I've three kids in the car" type of scam.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : MEDIUM
I'm going to call this a medium risk as I've never felt 100% safe when stopping to get gas here. I think it's just part of the transient nature of truck stops and gas stations. Plus, there's a trend among some truckers to honk when they see a single woman driving, perhaps as a mating call of some sort? It just always creeped me out. Also, never answer the question "Where you headed?" when buying snacks inside. Revealing too much personal information could get into the wrong ears. Or you can answer as I do to fend off creeps, "My husband is a SWAT commander and he's meeting me on his way back from tactical training."
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
The tap water meets or exceeds all national standards, so it's low risk if you want to drink it instead of bottled water or use it for bathing.
Safest Places to Visit in Lake City
We’re going to start at Alligator Lake.
Maybe it doesn’t sound like the safest spot to start, but if it eases your anxiety, it was named after a Seminole Chief nicknamed Alligator, and not because of all the alligators that live in the water.
For Floridians, it’s just normal to know there are alligators in freshwater.
Alligator Lake is one of the top outdoor activities in Lake City.
There’s a sporting complex and picnic areas, but people love the trails that weave around the area.
You can also do some fishing or kayaking on the lake.
To get away from it all, head to Osceola Wildlife Management Area, where there are 266,000 acres to explore.
Bring plenty of water as resources are slim in the area.
While you’re there, Civil War buffs must see the Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park.
This is the sight of the largest Civil War battle on Florida soil and 2,800 people died during it.
Every February, the battle is reenacted on this land.
The Downtown Courtyard is a typical small town square with the courthouse as the focal point and businesses around it.
Webb’s Antique Mall has 60,000 square feet of antique treasures.
Places to Avoid in Lake City
Crime maps show the area east of I-95 has the highest crime rates, and in most cities, the major interstate corridor brings a lot of crime.
Once you are east of Main Street, the crime rates go down.
If you are just stopping by for a night, avoid any gas stations or hotels that aren’t well lit.
Pay at the pump if you can but look for card skimmers before you swipe your card.
Also, keep an eye out for sex trafficking in this area.
Since two major interstates meet in this area, it’s a prime thoroughfare for sex or human traffickers.
It’s not as hard as it might sound.
If you see someone, generally a young lady, dressed in cheap, revealing clothing and is with a much older man or woman, that’s a signal.
If the young lady isn’t able to speak for herself or looks scared, that’s another sign.
If she doesn’t pay for anything, but her older friend does, that’s another sign.
The National Sex Trafficking Hotline is 1 (888) 373-7888 or you can call local police.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Lake City
- To go back to the alligator topic, there are alligators in Lake City freshwater. You should always assume a gator is in the water. People still fish and kayak in these waters as they know the alligators aren’t aggressive toward humans, but it’s just something to be aware of on your visit.
- If you do want to fish while you’re here, even for a day, you need a fishing license. There’s a separate freshwater license, which is the only one you’ll need in Lake City, as there are no saltwater areas. Go to the Florida Fish and Wildlife website for that information.
- When you pump gas, especially if you are alone, don’t leave your purse in the car. Thieves know people leave their car doors unlocked while pumping gas, and they can sneak in and snatch the purse. I was so happy when my new car had the gas tank on the passenger side, so I never had to worry about this again. I still lock the doors when I pump though, just to be safe and out of habit.
- Bring bug spray. There are so many bugs in inland Florida. You’ll use it often, and who cares what it smells like? If it keeps away the mosquitos and Ceratopogonidae (otherwise known as “Noseeums” because their bite is awful but you never actually see the biting flies), that’s all that matters.
- There isn’t much to do in Lake City at night, so don’t be tempted to just wander around looking for something to do. With high crime statistics, it’s easy to drive into the wrong neighborhood. Stay in your hotel or get a recommendation from the front desk of a safe place to go at night.
- You might be surprised by the number of people panhandling in Lake City. 22% of the people in Lake City live in poverty. Not only do panhandlers line the major intersections, but they might also be in a restaurant parking lot. The business owners can only issue a trespassing warning. It’s a topic that has been brewing at the city council, but as of 2021, nothing has been done to address it. If someone is aggressively panhandling you, leave immediately.
- Download the Florida 511 app if you are going to be driving through the state. It’s a great resource for live traffic updates, a list of facilities, parks, historic sites, and even cameras along the interstate.
- There is a problem with people dumping animals, mostly cats and dogs, in Lake City. If you see this happen, have a heart and stay with the animals until Animal Control can get there. You can also call the Lake City Humane Society to let them know.
- As of early 2022, the city website isn’t fully developed and there’s not a lot of information to get from it. There isn’t a strong presence for any local agencies, aside from the fire department, on social media. It’s honestly very hard to learn about this town. It’s not surprising for such a small town that isn’t a big tourist destination, but with the number of people who visit daily, you’d think they’d have more information out there to keep people safe and informed.
- Severe weather can really rip through this area, which is bad news for all the people who travel on the highways. I drove through a monster storm outside of Lake City on my way to Georgia and it was blinding rain with thunder that shook my car. There isn’t a National Weather Service office in Lake City, so you’ll need to follow the Jacksonville location to get updates for this area. On Twitter, they are @NWSJacksonville.
So... How Safe Is Lake City Really?
By crime count alone? It’s not too bad.
- Violent Crime: 193 cases
- Robbery: 26 cases
- Aggravated Assault: 157 cases
- Rape: 8 cases
- Theft: 157 cases
When you figure that out to the national average of crimes per 100,000 people, it goes like this:
- Violent Crime: 1565 (almost 4 times the national average)
- Robbery: 210 (almost three times the national average)
- Aggravated Assault: 1273 (four times the national average)
- Rape: 64 (1.5 times the national average)
- Theft: 157 (lower than the national average)
It’s a lower-to-middle-class town with a 22% poverty rate.
Most of the people here love their small town and the outdoor amenities.
Reviews of the city span from “I love my city and the low crime rate” to “I can’t even walk out my front door without being a victim of a crime.”
So how safe is it?
It’s a hard question to answer, but I urge you to err on the side of caution, especially in that interstate corridor.
How Does Lake City Compare?
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- Visas - No Visa is needed here other than what you take care of at the airport or wherever you entered the country.
- Currency - The U.S. Dollar is the currency here. Try keeping all purchases on credit cards and never throw the receipt away unless you've shredded it to protect yourself from identity theft.
- Weather - This is north Florida, so you're going to get a little closer to having actual seasons, but not much closer. The winters have highs in the 60s and lows in the 40s, so bring a coat or warm jacket. The spring and fall are nice with highs in the 70s and lows near 60°(F). Summers are hot and incredibly humid. Highs get into the 90s and don't go below the 70s on average.
- Airports - The Gainesville Regional Airport is an hour south on I-75. Jacksonville International Airport is 70 miles west and just more than an hour's drive. The Orlando airport is about two-and-a-half hours south.
- Travel Insurance - There are too many factors in Lake City that could cause travel delays, so book travel insurance for your trip.
Lake City Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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