Two weeks past our second Covid vaccinations and immediately following a week of gray days of below freezing weather and an ice storm, we headed for Florida. As we reached sunnier and warmer weather, we felt like crocuses lifting our little heads out of the snow and ice and turning our faces toward the sun. Our first stop was a long-anticipated visit to John’s brother, Stan, and wife, Lisa, in Tallahassee, who kindly devoted their entire weekend to showing us around and entertaining us.
The Real Florida
The Forgotten Coast area of Florida is so called because it’s considered the real Florida, as the last remaining stretch of unspoiled, pristine Gulf Coast beaches that haven’t been overrun by high rises and strip malls. It’s located a short distance to the southwest of Tallahassee.
Stan is a very talented amateur wildlife photographer who knows the area and what it has to offer well. First off, he and Lisa took us to visit the historic Lodge at Wakulla Springs. The lodge is the epitome of thirties-era elegance, and in the spring behind the lodge, we were able to see manatees swimming! The next stop was St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge, teeming with various birds and insects and home to a beautiful historic lighthouse. We also saw a bog of carnivorous pitcher plants in the Apalachicola National Forest, poised to burst into glorious bloom. Along the way, we picked up local Tupelo honey and boiled peanuts from roadside stands.
On our last afternoon together, we took a leisurely walk around the sleepy town of Apalachicola, known for its oysters and historic buildings and for being the home of the Oyster City Brewery. Apalachicola is on the coast and borders the Apalachicola River, so is inhabited by plenty of water birds. In the course of our walk around town, we spotted brown pelicans, egrets, and a bald eagle. We stopped for lunch at the historic Gibson Inn for lunch around 2:00 and were delighted to see that there were few people in the dining room, meaning fewer Covid concerns. Enjoying a restaurant meal together is something that none of us had done in quite some time and it felt decadently liberating to be in a restaurant, eating, drinking, and visiting! The Gibson Inn is the kind of place that invites guests to relax and stay awhile. So much so that a young couple across the dining room from us found rocking chairs on the hotel porch and settled in for a post-lunch nap in the sunshine.
After bidding Stan and Lisa adieu, stocking up on groceries at the local Piggly Wiggly, and filling our gas tank, we drove down the road to Cape San Blas.
Cape San Blas
We arrived at our Airbnb lodging just before sunset and had only enough time for a walk around our little condo complex and a short beach walk. Almost all of the license plates in the carports were from faraway locations such as Minnesota, Michigan, and Ohio – this is definitely a snowbird haven in February.
Cape San Blas packs a lot into its 15-mile length and less than a mile in width. It is home to the largest population of Loggerhead turtles in Northwest Florida and is a popular spot for fishing, crabbing, scalloping, and birding. The northern end of the cape is devoted to the T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Park, a Florida state park that, unfortunately, was badly damaged in Hurricane Michael in 2018. Two miles into the park, the island was breached and cut off from the rest of the cape, separating an area with roads, hiking trails, and cabins. This area is now being repaired and is not currently accessible, nevertheless, there is much to enjoy on the cape. There is a nine-mile biking/walking path that parallels the main road on the island and connects Salinas Park at one end and the state park at the other. This was John’s first time to ride his bike since his accident in August and this flat, straight, and wide trail was an excellent place for him to get his ‘bike legs’ back. One or both of us rode bikes on the trail every day of our visit and enjoyed views of St. Joseph bay or wetlands from the trail, in addition to beach houses. Halfway down the cape, there is a small cluster of shops that we took to calling ‘downtown Cape San Blas.’ It includes a small grocery/liquor store, a seafood market, an ice cream place, a real estate company, and a lunch only cafe. There’s really not much else on the cape.
Relaxing at the beach
In addition to bike riding and beach walks, our days on Cape San Blas were pretty low-key. One day we drove over to the small, coastal town of Port St. Joe where shops and restaurants line Reid Street. As we got out of our car, we were greeted by a woman who appeared to be the self-appointed welcoming committee. She did her best to sell us on shops up and down the street, most notably No Name Books, owned by a friend of hers, which, in addition to books, offers a little café and knick-knacks. Seeing that she wasn’t getting us interested, she pointed out the laundromat across the street as another possible interest. I thanked her and assured her we had that covered. Throughout our visit, we found the cape and the whole area to be really friendly.
One evening we ventured out to the locally popular Indian Pass Raw Bar, just down the road, which has served fresh oysters and beer to locals and visitors since 1929. After enjoying a couple dozen oysters and bowls of gumbo, washed down with local Oyster City beer, it is our opinion that they should continue on for at least ninety-two more years.