• Walk up the lighthouse
It’s not your typical black-and-white lighthouse. And it’s not even right on the water. But the Cape San Blas Lighthouse is worth a visit. Moved from the Cape San Blas peninsula in 2014, it is now in George Core Park where you can pay a small fee and make your way to the top for spectacular views.
The Cape San Blas Lighthouse.
• Visit a state park
My father died several years ago, but he was foremost in my thoughts when we visited the new Veterans Memorial Park at Beacon Hill dedicated to all members of the armed forces as he was a proud Marine. And it was his birthday the day we visited the park.
The Honor Walk is especially moving with a memorial for each division of the armed forces and a huge American flag flying 70’ in the air.
The park also includes an amphitheater, pickleball court, dog park, playgrounds and pavilions. Cross the street and you can access the beach from here as well.
Sadly, the park was dissected by the force of Hurricane Michael in 2018, the first category 5 hurricane to make landfall in the contiguous United States since Andrew is 1992.
The good news is that the boat ramp and the St. Joseph Peninsula’s beach day use area are open. You can rent boats and kayaks here.
And other areas are being rebuilt better than ever, with eight new cabins, two camping loops and two new day-use areas under construction. There will also be 65 campsites and 14 primitive camping spaces.
The park has 20 miles of beach access, with 10 on the Gulf of Mexico side and 10 on the Saint Joseph Bay.
• Ride a horse on the beach
With its hard-packed, wide beaches, Gulf County is an awesome place to ride horses. Book a one-hour trip on horses with one of the three outfitters. The horses move at a comfortable pace suitable for anyone in the family.
• Stroll the streets of downtown Port St. Joe
Ah, those nasty pandemics. Port St. Joe was founded in 1835 and was for a while the largest city in Florida. But a yellow fever outbreak followed by a hurricane, fire and a railroad that shut down cut its growth and the population dwindled.
The construction of a paper mill that operated from 1938 to 1999 revived the town.
Hurricane Michael hit the town hard in 2018 but it’s mostly rebuilt and is now a thriving four-block area of restaurants, retail and The Joe Center for the Arts, a community arts center.
I spent an afternoon shopping in the cute furniture store Cabana 15, wandering through the aisles of Bay Breeze Antiques.
Despite my vow to quit purchasing jewelry, I bought two pairs of earrings at the cute boutique, Fuss. At just $8 a pair, how could I resist?
I also found a cute little painted seagull at the gift shop Bellou. Despite it being the absolute worst fabric for travel, I love linen. I once took several items of linen clothing on a trip to Provence, only to discover there were no irons in any of the hotel rooms where we stayed.
But I loved the selection of linen clothes at the lifestyle retail shop Joseph’s Cottage and bought a cotton shirt.
• Climb the tower at St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve Visitor Center
Hike on the trails and climb the Observation Tower of the Preserve, which has the mission of protecting the state buffer.
• Cater a meal or event, stock your fridge
Before we get into the restaurant scene, an alternative is to have your beach house or rental stocked with food or enjoy the catering of Catering Connections.
With the motto, “just one call feeds them all,” Catering Connections is the only full-service caterer in the area. It serves menu items from area restaurants and can even bring oyster shuckers to you.
Call ahead and your fridge can be stocked before your arrival with all your favorites.