Cape San Blas, Indian Pass, Port St. Joe and Wewahitchka.
How many of these spots are on your “been there, done that” list? Likely, not a one of ‘em. These Gulf County, Florida locales are part of the “Forgotten Coast.” Here development hasn’t suffocated Old Florida from the landscape and there’s no bumper-to-bumper tourist traffic, crowds, noise or hurry. Here is a secret paradise that will hopefully never be discovered by the masses.
Cape San Blas. This 17-mile long barrier peninsula holds some of the most beautiful beaches you’ve ever laid eyes on. No wonder the entire area has been rated among the finest beaches in the country. Ride the Loggerhead Run Bike Trail or bring a chair, a picnic lunch and your favorite book and settle in the sand. Either way, expect to enjoy some peaceful uninterrupted downtime.
Indian Pass. Indian Pass lies at the west end of Apalachicola Bay. Here the Bay meets the Gulf of Mexico and creates one fabulous fishing spot. Just across the way, 10-mile long St. Vincent Island serves as a National Wildlife Refuge. A short ferry ride will get you to this exotic isle where Sambar deer, bald eagles and other wildlife enjoy a protected existence.
Port St. Joe. Sleepy little Port St. Joe is as close as you’ll get to bustle along the Forgotten Coast. There’s a nice historic downtown and a waterfront district and the whole place is small enough to walk from one end to the other. The Bay Walk Trail adjacent to the Visitors Center and boat ramp is a great place to start your explorations. First, though, pop into the Visitors Center and pick up free visitors guides, maps and brochures. The Bay Walk Trail will connect to the Port City Trail and covering these two will give you a nice tour of the area’s parks and historic features.
Wewahitchka. Honey, let me tell you! Wewahitchka is the site of one of Florida’s largest beekeeping operations and where world-famous Tupelo honey is this region’s gold. Speaking of gold, the movie “Ulee’s Gold” starring Peter Fonda was filmed in Wewahitchka and brought a lot of notoriety to the natural beauty here.
Things to see and do.
The Forgotten Coast maintains four historical lighthouses: Cape San Blas, Cape St. George, Crooked River and St. Marks. Each has its own unique appeal and history and their close proximity affords a rare opportunity to see so many lighthouses in only a short drive.
Got a passion for shopping? Let ‘er rip in historic downtown Port St. Joe. Reid Avenue is a half-mile smorgasbord of charming shops filled with art, antiques, eateries and just about everything.
A moonlit horseback ride along the beach is only one of the riding options among the three stables along the Coast: Broke-A-Toe, (850) 899-RIDE; Two-Bit Stable, (850) 227-4744; and the Rockin M Ranch, (850) 227-6117.
St. Joseph Bay Golf Club is open to the public and features a par-72, 18-hole course, putting green and driving range. Fourteen of the 6,655-yard course’s holes include water features. There’s also a pro shop, clubhouse restaurant and a pro shop where rental clubs are available.
Charter fishing boats are plentiful, like Congo Charters, with inshore and offshore fishing as well as sightseeing tours; and Capt. Trey Landry offers all sorts of fishing options plus eco-tours and more. If sailing’s in your dreams, Windward Sailing Charters in Port St. Joe can fill your fantasy. Seahorse Water Safaris provides a wide range of water options from boat rentals to fishing and sailing excursions, history cruises and more.
For rental bicycles, kayaks or other water craft, Happy Ours Kayak & Bike Outpost in Port St. Joe is the place to go. They also rent snorkeling and fishing gear, plus offer guided eco-tours via kayak or canoe; guided snorkeling; and guided fishing and scalloping. Ride the bike path along the entire length of Cape San Blas Road on one of their $15 a day rental bikes.
Where to stay.
You won’t find much in the way of major chain hotels, which is one of the many reasons Old Florida still exists in this wonderful microcosm. The only exceptions are Mainstay Suites and Comfort Inn in Port St. Joe. Aside from these, your options range from places like the Dixie Belle Motel with rates as low as $45 a night to the gulf front Turtle Beach Inn with rooms, including breakfast, starting at $180 nightly.
Another popular B&B is the Tiki Palms Inn in Port St. Joe with nightly tariffs of $90-$135, including breakfast, of course. They also offer snowbird rates for longer term stays mid-November through February.
St. Joseph Peninsula State Park sprawls over 2,516 acres with miles of pristine white sand beaches. The park affords excellent fishing, nature trails, picnic area and playground plus modern and primitive campsites at $24 a night. Any Florida resident age 65-up or with a 100 percent disability award certificate gets half off campsite fees. Eight cabins, each accommodating up to six people, overlook St. Joseph Bay. The park is the perfect place for a full vacation or a day trip. Cabins go for $100 a night or $650 per week; due to their extreme popularity, you’ll want to reserve yours well in advance. Day visitor fee is $6 per carload – up to eight people – or $2 per person for pedestrians or bicyclists.
Popular park activities include fishing, swimming, snorkeling, boating, canoeing, kayaking, bicycling, hiking, wildlife viewing and birding.
William J. Rish Recreational Park between Port St. Joe and Cape San Blas is the best bargain around for anyone with disabilities. This 100-acre beachfront retreat is open for day use or overnight stays and is designed specifically for those with disabilities. With eight family cabins plus dormitories, the fee per person is an impressively low $15 a night per person. Wide boardwalks connect the cabins with the beach, Olympic-size swimming pool, and an event hall with a complete cooking facility. Only people with disabilities are allowed to rent the facilities; however, family members or guardians accompanying people with disabilities are welcome, as well as state or private caregivers who transport and assist the disabled.
Indian Pass Campground is ideal for campers, RVers or those looking for the comforts of an up-to-date cabin. Campground amenities include an outdoor pool, modern shower facilities, laundry room, camp store and more. Waterfront primitive tent sites are $25 a night; waterfront RV sites are $38; and interior RV sites are $32 nightly. Waterfront cabins go for $85-$140 a night.
At least two dozen rental agencies represent local properties. There are also several dozen individual vacation rentals, one of which is Aqua Essence in Cape San Blas. There are three units in this owner’s holdings and pets are welcome for a nominal additional charge.
Where to eat.
Sunset Coastal Grill on Highway 98 in Port St. Joe serves up sunsets as delicious as their food. Appetizers include hot crab and artichoke dip; garlicky scallops; and fried Apalachicola oysters. Main dishes run the gamut from lobster ravioli and shrimp and grits to landlubber specialties like Oscar beef tenderloin, barbecue baby back ribs and chicken penne. The lunch menu offers the same great appetizers, plus scrumptious salads, paninis, sandwiches, soups, gumbos, and more. Lunch offerings are also considerably lighter on your wallet.
Other spots to consider: St. Joe Shrimp Company; Steamers Hot Dogs; Paul Gants Barbecue; and nationally acclaimed Joe Mama’s Wood-Fired Pizza.
December 13-14 is your chance to attend the SJBGC Christmas Bazaar & Golf Tournament, a two-day Christmas bazaar offering unique gifts for sale, along with a golf tournament. All proceeds benefit local needy families and children. Find out more at (850) 227-1757 or visit: www.StJoeBayGolf.com. December 31 means a chance to ring in the New Year twice. Celebrate on Eastern time in Port St. Joe, then take the five-minute ride to Mexico Beach to celebrate again the Central time zone. Shuttles will be running continuously for the New Year's event. Learn more at www.CelebrateTwice.com.
Virtually all of Gulf County’s beaches welcome pets on leashes. The one exception is St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. Pet-friendly accommodations are plentiful, too.
Get your own Gulf County, Florida Visitors Guide from their website, www.VisitGulf.com. You can request a print copy or download the online version. Or call the Gulf County Tourism Development Council at (800) 482-GULF.