Unless you live in the panhandle of Florida chances are you haven’t heard of the “Forgotten Coast”…that’s because it’s one of Florida’s best-kept secrets! Florida’s Forgotten Coast includes communities like Port St. Joe, Apalachicola, Cape San Blas, St. George Island and more. This part of the state is called the “Forgotten Coast” because it seems to be the last part of Florida that hasn’t been overrun by strip malls, high-rise hotels and tourist traps. Here you’ll find beautiful beaches, forests, plenty of marine and wildlife, unique festivals and events, great local seafood and a welcoming community of locals. Continue reading for a local’s list of things to do, see, and eat in Florida’s Forgotten Coast!
1. Enjoy the gorgeous beaches
The panhandle of Florida is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the country; be sure to stop by St. Joe Beach, Mexico Beach and Cape San Blas. The beaches in this area have powder white sand and crystal clear water. You won’t find many high-rise buildings along the beach as the local community prides itself on preserving everyone’s view of the water. You can also have bonfires on the beach at night – just be sure to clean up after yourself! Something else that is great about this area is the fact that it’s super pet-friendly; dogs are allowed on all the beaches in Gulf County (with the exception of St. Joseph Peninsula State Park). Make sure your furry friend is on a leash and bring some plastic bags (to clean up after them) and you’ll be good to go!
2. Rent a boat & kayak at the Cape
You should definitely rent a boat while you’re in Port St. Joe—stop by the St. Joe Marina and talk to the nice folks at Seahorse Water Safaris. They’ve got 5 different boat rentals and you can rent each one for 4 or 8 hours at a time (prices vary depending on which rental package you select). Take the boat from the marina and cruise up to Cape San Blas for some beautiful views of St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. I’d also recommend going snorkeling in St. Joseph Bay if you have a chance; the shallow clear water and sea grass make for great snorkeling and you can even go scalloping! If you’re feeling adventurous rent a kayak from Happy Ours Kayak & Canoe Outpost on the cape and enjoy the calm clear waters!
3. Spend an afternoon in Apalachicola
Apalachicola is the perfect spot for lunch and shopping. There are tons of adorable boutiques like Grady Market, the Oyster Catcher and more! You’ll find beautiful art galleries in this area as well. When you’re hungry I’d recommend stopping by the Owl Cafe for some upscale and delicious dining or check out the Seafood Grill for the best burgers and fish sandwiches around. Stop by The Gibson Inn for a beer and enjoy the 19th century architecture and historic charm this national treasure hast to offer!
4. Go on a sunset cruise
St. Joe is famous for its beautiful sunsets…and you can see why! Seahorse Water Safari (mentioned in #2) offers sunset cruises that I highly recommended. You’ll leave the marina right before sunset with a guide and head down the Intracoastal Waterway. The tour includes a bit of history about the city and some amazing photo opportunities (ask if you can bring beer on the boat too). 😉
5. Eat oysters at the Indian Pass Raw Bar
People travel far and wide to eat at this fantastic little restaurant. The Indian Pass Raw Bar provides a super casual setting, great local seafood, mouth-watering BBQ, live music and good times! They’ve even been featured in publications like The New York Times, Tampa Bay Times, etc. and if you want to experience an authentic southern raw bar this is the place to go.
6. Drink the best margaritas you’ve ever had
I don’t know if I’ve ever had a better margarita than the ones they serve at Pepper’s Mexican Grill…it could be due to the excessive quantity of tequila these drinks contain but either way it’s always on my “to-do” list when I stop by Port St. Joe! Pepper’s is a favorite spot amongst locals and tourists alike so if you’re planning to go there for dinner try to show up early on the weekends.
7. Listen to live music & go out on the town
One of my favorite characteristics about Port St. Joe is the fact that everywhere you turn there’s live music. If you’re in St. Joe for the weekend check out the Raw Bar (mentioned above), the Thirsty Goat, the Haughty Heron and the Lookout Lounge (Lookout has karaoke and live music on the weekends!). If you want to keep the party going after midnight go to Toucan’s Tiki Bar or the Lookout Lounge; they’re usually the only places that stay open until 2am.
8. Attend a local festival or event
It seems like every month there’s something fun going on in the Forgotten Coast! We’ve got the Scallop Festival, Chili Cook-off, Songwriter’s Festival, Plein Air, farmers markets, fishing tournaments and more. Stop by Gulf County and Mexico Beach’s tourism department websites for a list of upcoming events.
9. Shop on Reid Avenue and in Mexico Beach
St. Joe has some fantastic boutique shopping options. Make sure to stroll down Reid Avenue (the main avenue in the town’s center) and stop by shops like Persnickety, Joseph’s Cottage, and The Fuss Boutique. For a great cup of coffee check out the No Name Cafe (bookstore). If you get hungry from all that shopping I’d recommend eating at Provisions and Joe Mama’s Wood Fired Pizza which are also located on Reid Avenue. Mexico beach also has some great shopping options too; be sure to check out Prickly Pears Gourmet Gallery, Frost Pottery Garden and Gift Shop, The Grove, and the Shell Shack.
10. Go horseback riding on the beach
So this is still on my list of things to do…my family has been living in St. Joe since 2004 and only recently I found out you can ride horses on the beach! You can go on guided tours with Brokeatoe, Two-bit Stable, and Rockin M Ranch.
Where to stay in the Forgotten Coast
Surprisingly, you won’t find many hotels in Florida’s Forgotten Coast; the locals like to limit the number of new developments and high-rise buildings in order to preserve the views of the beautiful beaches and maintain the much-loved small town vibe. If you’re looking to stay in town check out the Port Inn and if you want to stay at the beach I’d recommend the adorable Driftwood Inn or El Governor Motel. Keep in mind most folks rent a beach house during their stay so there are tons of rental options! Pristine Properties has some great rentals as well as other real estate companies located in the area. If you want to get a beach house (and save some money) check out my family’s Airbnb rental in Mexico Beach (click here for $35 credit on your first Airbnb trip).