My family has been visiting St. George Island nearly every year for a decade now—basically since we got our dog. We started out going there for the limited leash enforcement, then kept coming back because we loved it. Today, against my better judgment, I’m going to let you all in on why this beautiful island on the Forgotten Coast of Florida shouldn’t be forgotten.
St. George Island is about an hour and a half southeast from Panama City, on the panhandle of Florida. But it could easily be hundreds of miles away, it’s so completely different. The island is off the Forgotten Coast, a stretch of the panhandle neglected by all but the more investigative tourists. But because it’s been neglected by the masses, it remains a bit more rustic than other areas, and, as a result, more beautiful, I believe.
St. George Island
St. George Island is beach home territory. I can say conclusively that nearly all the island is covered by second homes, most of which are up for rent most of the year. But they are all beautiful, and fit into the same schema towns like Seaside do. The homes are pastel with white trim, stilted, with names like ‘Serenity Now’ and ‘Pelican Watch’. And because the island is so narrow (only 2 miles wide at its widest point), every veranda on the island has a view of either the Gulf of Mexico or Apalachicola Bay.
The beaches are long and white, and play host primarily to families. They offer limited shelling, but if you look long enough, you’ll find sand dollars, starfish, and more. At the eastern tip of the island lies the St. George Island State Park, which offers campgrounds, hiking trails, open water, and beautiful views. It’s one place I’d like to spend more time next time I visit. On a practical note though: they don’t allow dogs on their beach.
St. George Island is also home to many sea turtles. When we first reached the beach we found several roped off square along the beach: protected sea turtle nests. Later in the week we saw tracks from a sea turtle who had come ashore, rested, then returned to the water. One man whose daughters played near us told us he had returned to the beach a little before midnight to pick up left-behind beach toys, only to find a turtle lying just feet away. “At first I thought it was a sofa!” he said.
The fishing is pretty good too in St. George; common catches include whiting, catfish, and more. But fishing can be especially fulfilling on St. George Island if shark fishing is your thing. While visiting we ran into several groups who would wade out into the ocean after dusk to reel in up to five-foot-long (or longer) sharks. Luckily though, the sharks only head close to shore at night; it’s rare that you’ll see one during the day.
The downtown in St. George is limited, but very nice, and full of friendly people. Near the causeway that leads from St. George to Eastpoint lie most of the shops. A nice variety of souvenir shops, outfitters, and equipment rentals make the downtown worth a visit. There are also a few restaurants (I recommend BJ’s Pizza) and bars, a movie rental box, and a grocery store. St. George Island has become more well-known in recent years, and now the newer stores make staying on the island for a week easy. In years previous you might have had to head to Apalachicola on the mainland for groceries.
But just because you don’t have to head to the nearby mainland cities to get by, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t, by any means. To reach St. George Island you’ll likely drive through Apalachicola, then Eastpoint. And if you don’t have to, I recommend you take the time to do so—especially to see Apalachicola. Apalachicola is old southern Florida at its best. If you take a walk around you’ll see a few grand old hotels, white mansions near the water, and streets shaded completely by palms. Downtown you’ll see huge boats that haul oysters and fish in to sell at local restaurants.
The downtown is comprised entirely of old seaside buildings, many of them still as grand as they were when built. The shops are whimsical and tasteful. Some of my favorite shops to frequent are the clothing and décor boutiques. They offer a mix of modern and rustic beach décor and beachwear; I’d love to decorate my apartment primarily with these pieces—and only wear their clothes. The restaurants are more than worth a visit too. Some of the best in the area include Boss Oyster, Apalachicola Seafood Grill (a scene in Ulee’s Gold was filmed there), and That Place on 98.
Apalachicola is oyster country, through and through. Although I’m not as big a fan of oysters, it’s my duty to recommend them if you visit Apalachicola. They are supposed to be incredible. Still, any of the fresh seafood on the menu, you’ll find is delicious. I’d specifically like to recommend the lemon pepper grilled grouper and crab cakes served at Boss Oyster. Oh, and the hushpuppies. Get them too. Lots of them. There’s also a new chocolate shop downtown, the Apalachicola Chocolate Company, that’s definitely worth a visit. All in all, it’s time to consider a visit to this beautiful, secluded stretch of Florida coastline.