Explore Florida's Forgotten Coast
Published: Sunday, January 5, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 3, 2014 at 7:34 p.m.
You are traveling along a scenic section of U.S. 98, mostly a two-lane road through small communities like Carrabelle, Apalachicola, Panacea, Eastpoint, St. George Island, Indian Pass, St. Joseph Peninsula-Cape San Blas, Port St. Joe, Windmark Beach and Mexico Beach. This trip to Florida's Forgotten Coast takes you back to Old Florida — a place to relax and take a break from a hectic life.
Populations of these little towns range from a few hundred to a couple thousand, and chain motels, traffic signals, high rises, shopping malls, billboards and the like are pretty much nonexistent. The Gulf of Mexico is on one side of the road and lots of trees on the other.
Known for fishing, scalloping, oyster and shrimp production, marine wildlife and white sand beaches, the peninsulas and barrier islands are truly special. Wilderness preserves make up 85 percent of the area, so developments are limited.
Panacea means “a solution or remedy for all diseases or difficulties” and was once known for its healing, soothing waters. Now its best feature is the unique Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory.
Carrabelle is home to a number of fishing tournaments, a local history museum, and the Crooked River Lighthouse. Take a picture of its World's Smallest Police Station (a telephone booth). The beaches here were used for amphibious training for the Normandy invasion.
Apalachicola (or Apalach as the natives call it) was established in the 1830s and features a colorful waterfront, enchanting B&Bs/inns and a historic district with quirky shops and fantastic seafood restaurants. The Apalachicola River and Bay converge with the Gulf of Mexico to form the ideal oyster incubator to supply 90 percent of Florida's oysters.
The Orman House Historic State Park features an antebellum home, butterfly garden and other botanical features. The adjacent Three Soldiers Detail is a bronze replica of the Vietnam Memorial Statue in Washington, D.C.
From Eastpoint, take the bridge to St. George Island, a 22-mile barrier island and a premier beach destination lined with stilt homes, along with a lighthouse and small town center with shops and restaurants. Notice the dozens of small vessels in the bay: These are oystermen using 12-foot tongs to harvest their catch with no mechanical devices.
Further along U.S. 98 is Indian Pass, and its boat ramp offers a shuttle service to St. Vincent Island. The entire island is a national wildlife refuge where red wolves, deer, fox, feral hogs, alligators, armadillos and rattlesnakes are found. Camping is not permitted, but what a great day trip. Just make sure to pack bug spray; and if you're paddling, check weather conditions.
Continue along U.S. 98, and take County Road 30 for Cape San Blas. The St. Joseph Peninsula State Park at the end provides the ultimate place to take a deep breath, grab a book and chair, and enjoy the scenery.
Florida's Forgotten Coast, with its tranquil laid-back communities, impressive dunes and sugar-white sand beaches, offers the occasional mental downtime we all need to regenerate and remain healthy.
Claudine Dervaes' travel column is published the first Sunday of each month.
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