Finding Florida’s Forgotten Coast

I’m always excited to discover new destinations, especially in my home state. Florida’s Forgotten Coast remains a relatively quiet, under-developed region on the southern tip of the Panhandle, below Panama City and Mexico Beaches. “Forgotten” because travelers bypassed the area due to theF smelly paper mill. In 1999, the St. Joe mill curtailed operations, the smell disappeared, and the town reinvented itself.

Today, you’ll find 244 miles of coastal shores, nearly empty powdery-soft beaches, and many water activities in Gulf County. While the drive from Jacksonville takes about five hours, it’s worth the effort. Gulf County makes an ideal place to relax and unwind.

Cape San Blas, located on St. Joseph Peninsula, rests on a 750-acre narrow stretch of land. It extends out from Port St. Joe and curves around St. Joseph Bay. The nine-mile-long state park offers some of the most dramatic sand dunes I’ve seen — towering about 15-feet high. Follow the path through the dunes on soft, sugar sand to reach the rolling waves of the Gulf of Mexico. The shimmering bay lies on the opposite side of this skinny land strip. Cabins and an RV park are currently being remodeled after the hard-hitting Hurricane Michael in 2018. Surf fishing is another popular option, as are the park’s hiking and nature trails. 

I stayed in a rental property named The Grove on Indian Pass, eight miles beyond Port St. Joe. The location allowed both sunrise and sunset views and an easy walk to the beach. The “Old Florida” feel of the place provided a refreshing stay with all the comforts imaginable. The complex made me wish my extended family could join me.

Any beginner kayaker or child will feel safe on the shallow waters of St. Joseph Bay. The bottom is clearly visible, and I spied scallops, whelks, starfish, and a ray among the seagrass. Also, off-road biking trails stretch along the bayfront.

Those interested in horseback riding can trot along the beach during a sunset ride. The horses don’t go into the water, but the experience is undoubtedly memorable.

Roasting marshmallows over an open fire ranks as tradition on many family vacations. As the sun sets, enjoy a beach bonfire without doing any work. Light Up Your Night crew will set up, light the fire, and return for clean-up. S’mores ingredients included!

The 1884 Cape San Blas Lighthouse was moved to Port St. Joe in 2014 due to its precarious position on the peninsula. Climb the 85-foot high metal structure to get some birds-eye views of the coast. While in Port St. Joe, try some fantastic restaurants famous for their local oysters and fresh-caught fish.

I made a short drive to Wewahitchka, a small town with a Seminole name, and took a pontoon boat ride on the Dead Lakes. Thousands of stumps were left in the water when the cypress trees were cut for the paper mill. Naturally, new trees grew around them, resulting in a haunting, mystical scene. Many trees reminded me of overgrown bonsai with artistically arranged branches supporting delicate foliage.

Also in Wewa, as the locals call it, you’ll find local tupelo honey. The white tupelo tree’s blooms produce the most pleasing taste, and many of those trees grow in the Dead Lakes. Visit an apiary, talk to a beekeeper or watch the liquid gold bottled.

Water is the theme of Gulf County, and it’s always close. If you’re looking for a beach, fishing, or boating vacation, your desires will be fulfilled.