What are the best things to do near Apalachicola and an area known as “Florida’s Forgotten Coast?” Let's explore.
It’s quiet there.
I remember standing on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, on St. George Island, There was not a high-rise building in sight.
In fact, no matter which way I looked along the sugar sand beach, I couldn’t see a single beach chair, sun umbrella, or even another human.
It was foggy. The sun was just a dull yellow circle up in the clouds. But the temperature was in the low 70’s. Except for the sound of the angry surf crashing, the beach was as wild and empty as it’s been for eons.
This is the Florida I love.
A local newspaperman and promoter named Chuck Spicer came up with the name “Forgotten Coastline” a quarter-century ago. It describes the area from Mexico Beach (south and east of Panama City) in Bay County to St. Marks in Wakulla County.
It's an area that up until recently, escaped the rampant development and tourism boom that characterizes Destin and the Emerald Coast.
Two Florida State Parks
The real gems of this area are another two great Florida state parks. One is on a peninsula and the other a barrier island both tucked away on remote beaches devoid of development – St. Joseph’s Peninsula State Park and St. George Island State Park.
The park bills itself as the “Best Kept Secret along the Forgotten Coast” and rightly so. When we came, we spent the night backed up against some 20-foot sand dunes.
It offers nine miles of pristine beaches. Four of them are along the main drive and five more miles in a special area accessible by foot or a vehicle with a special use permit.
There’s a great 2.5-mile nature trail that meanders from the campground through the pine forests and coastal scrub to the bay. Hikers are advised to stay on the trail as rattlesnakes live here. There are also alligators in a couple of ponds near the campground.
While you’re hiking, look around to see the “cat-face” scars on the older pine trees. Numerous stands of slash pine on the island were heavily turpentined during the early 1900s. Slashes in some of the larger trees are still visible, where the gum was collected to make turpentine.
From the campground to the east, a couple of hundred yards over the dunes is the Gulf of Mexico.
To the west, a similar distance is Apalachicola Bay, a great swimming and kayaking spot. There are 60 sites in the campground.
During our visit in early January a few years ago, we had no trouble finding a spot. They are flat and have full hookups.
While you’re here, spend some time stargazing. Jen and I marveled at the lack of light pollution. With the nearest house more than four miles away, the night sky was breathtaking.
After the busyness of Destin, the Forgotten Coastline will make you feel refreshed and restored.
On your way to St. George (or after you’ve settled into your site), make sure to stop in the sleepy fishing town of Apalachicola and grab some of the oysters and shrimp it’s renowned for.
If you’re in Apalachicola, you’re among friends. That’s because the town is named after an Indian word meaning “land of friendly people.”
Here, seafood is served everywhere and in every way. Oysters were Apalachicola’s first seafood industry, sold locally as early as 1836.
By 1850, oysters had begun to be packed in barrels and shipped aboard steamers headed north or to other neighboring states.
The shrimp boats are tied up along the Apalachicola River along with several raw oyster bars and local microbreweries.
There are museums dotted around the town including:
- Raney House Museum
- Apalachicola Maritime Museum
- John Gorrie Museum State Park (you can thank him for pioneering modern refrigeration and air-conditioning)
- Chapman Botanical Gardens
- Orman House Historic State Park
If you’re short on time, definitely do not miss the botanical gardens. They are a solitary, quiet escape in the downtown area with a half-mile loop walking trail and butterfly garden.
Carrabelle is another sleepy little fishing town of 1,300 about 30 minutes east of Apalachicola with a great sense of humor.
On US-98, the main drag, Carrabelle boasts the world’s smallest police station – a phone booth marked “Police.”
It has a great history, as recounted on the city’s website.
“The World’s Smallest Police Station” came into being on March 10, 1963. The city had been having problems with tourists making unauthorized long-distance phone calls on its police phone.
The phone was located in a call box that was bolted to a building at the corner of U.S. 98 and Tallahassee Street. Johnnie Mirabella, St. Joe Telephone’s lone Carrabelle employee at the time, first tried moving the call box to another building, but the illegal calls continued.
Mirabella noticed that the policeman would get drenched while answering phone calls when it was raining. So when the telephone company decided to replace its worn-out phone booth in front of Burda’s Pharmacy with a new one, he decided to solve both problems at once by putting the police phone in the old booth.
With the help of Curly Messer, who was a deputy sheriff at the time, Mirabella moved the phone booth to its current site on US-98 under the chinaberry tree.
The booth did protect the officers from the elements, but some people still snuck into it to make long-distance calls. Eventually, the dial was removed from the phone, making it impossible for tourists to make calls.
The beach in Carrabelle also has an interesting history. In 1942, Camp Gordon Johnson was opened for the purpose of training amphibious operations.
The camp trained a quarter of a million men and was used to prepare for D-Day and Normandy. Many of those D-Day landings were practiced on these sandy shores.
The camp closed in 1946, but there is a great museum in town to honor and preserve the heritage of the men who trained here.
Bald Point State Park
Half an hour further east on US-98, you can explore Bald Point State Park.
As a result of its unique location on Alligator Point, at the convergence of Ochlockonee Bay and Apalachee Bay, this state park has diverse habitats from coastal marshes to pine fatwoods which foster a wide variety of biological communities.
Throughout the year the park supports more than 360 species of plants and 230 animal species including fish, crabs, white-tailed deer, black bears, raccoons, bobcats, coyotes, opossums, and bird species from raptors to wrens.
If you can make it there during the fall, bald eagles, osprey, and migrating falcons, along with monarch butterflies, are commonly seen heading south for the winter.
There are also 18 miles of multi-use hiking and biking nature trails to take advantage of.
We've written so much on the state of Florida – enjoy these other posts.
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