Apalachicola Bay, Florida
2013 Best Fall Trip #15
Pristine wildlife refuges and state parks, Florida’s largest national forest, and a thriving commercial fishing industry have helped northwest Florida’s "Apalach" remain relatively undeveloped. But Apalachicola Bay’s lifeblood—wild, succulent oysters hand-harvested with wood-handled tongs—is threatened, with harvests down 60 percent in 2013. Efforts to address contributing factors, such as significantly reduced freshwater inflows from the Apalachicola River, are key to sustaining marine life in the glass-smooth bay, and with it, life as usual in the sleepy Panhandle communities of Apalachicola, Eastpoint, and St. George Island. Discover firsthand what makes this remote slice of Old Florida worth preserving by walking the white-sand beaches and gliding through the swamps along the Apalachicola River Paddling Trail System.
When to Go: December weather is typically mild, with both water and air temperatures reaching highs in the mid to high 60s. Apalachicola Bay hosts a number of small town holiday and seafood-related events, including the Holiday Fresh Market, December 7, in downtown Apalachicola and the Eastpoint Christmas Parade and Celebration, December 13.
How to Get Around: Apalachicola Bay is located about 80 miles southwest of Tallahassee and about 75 miles southwest of Tallahassee Regional Airport via U.S. 319 South/U.S. 98 West. The 25.6-mile western section of the Big Bend Scenic Byway’s Coastal Trail connects Eastpoint, St. George Island State Park, and Apalachicola.
What to Eat or Drink: Apalachicola Bay typically accounts for about 90 percent of Florida’s annual oyster harvest. Even with Bay oysters off the menu for now, there are plenty of seafood options available at restaurants like the upscale Owl Café. The downtown historic district fine-dining eatery specializes in pasta and fresh seafood, including black grouper, lump crab cake, and salmon. Up the Creek Raw Bar’s eclectic menu ranges from grilled Gulf shrimp and Chef Brett’s signature conch cakes to vegetarian creole and lobster lasagna. The casual restaurant (order at the counter and find a seat inside or on the deck) is on the second floor overlooking Scipio Creek and the Apalachicola River, so every order comes with unobstructed views of the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve.
Where to Stay: Camp on St. George Island State Park for easy access to the barrier island’s nine miles of unspoiled, white-sand Gulf Coast beaches. There’s a full-service campground with 60 sites and two bathhouses, and a primitive campsite accessible by kayak, canoe, or a 2.5-mile hike. If an upscale bed-and-breakfast is more your style, the luxurious Coombs House Inn has 23 guest rooms (some with Jacuzzis) spread across three restored Victorian mansions in downtown Apalachicola. Rates include daily breakfast and afternoon tea; free use of bicycles, beach chairs, towels, and umbrellas; and, on chilly fall nights, a roaring fire in the main house lobby fireplace.
What to Read Before You Go: Former Apalachicola mayor Jimmie J. Nichols’s folksy Apalachicola Diary: Life, Oysters, and History in an Old Florida Town (Gray Oaks Books, 2012)
Fun Fact: St. George Island State Park ranked as the nation’s third best beach on Dr. Beach's (Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman) list of Top 10 Beaches for 2013. The nine-mile-long state park beach is located on the eastern end of St. George Island, the largest of four barrier islands separating Apalachicola Bay from the Gulf of Mexico.
Staff Tip: Apalachicola is oyster central—it's said to produce a tenth of all the pearly tongue-pleasers sold in the United States. For my money, there's no better place to sample the local treasure than Boss Oyster on Water Street. Casual and kid-friendly—I took my first-born there for his first oyster when he was five—Boss Oyster cuts out the middle man and harvests some of the tastiest oysters I've ever had from its own boat. —Keith Bellows, editor in chief, Traveler magazine