Since it’s spring break time I thought I’d add some of our Florida photos and recommendations. We’ve skipped and jumped around the coast, but for the last several years keep getting drawn back to the “Forgotten Coast” from Mexico Beach to Apalachicola. The draw for us – VERY few people on the beaches, no traffic jams, great local restaurants right on the water where you can watch the seafood coming in off the boats and friendly folks.
We are not the jam-packed beach-lolling kind of folks and steer clear of high-density developed beaches and over-priced restaurants with no character. SO, if you’re looking for an escape from Panama City or if Watercolors and Rosemary Beach have gotten too crowded for you, head EAST down the coast just a short drive and different vibe.
From Nashville, there are two routes you can get to the Forgotten Coast and they will take nine and a half to 10 hours. You can go like you’re going to Panama City on I-75/231 and then a jog east, or you can take the scenic route when you are in south Alabama by going east on I-10 for a little ways and then south down Hwy 71 when you’re south of Dothan, Alabama. You’ll see lots of little towns and some interesting scenery, but you do have to drive slower, so it will take a bit longer. If you stop off at the IGA grocery in Wewahitchka you can get some snacks and some of their renowned local Tupelo honey from Wewa’s own Smiley Apiaries. You can visit their website to learn more at: http://www.floridatupelohoney.com/index.cfm. We usually go one way to get there and come home the other route as we like a change of scenery. “Wewa” is also renowned for fishing around in their freshwater lakes and swamps.
I’ll feature Mexico Beach this time as it is the closest to Panama City in Bay County, Florida. This is a laid back little beach community with a community pier you can fish from if you want to take your gear. Check in at the local bait shops to see what’s biting and what bait to get. You can also charter an outing from their local marina to either freshwater, saltwater or way off in the deep blue.
There are several little restaurants and dive bars and seafood suppliers that will be most happy to feed you. Our favorite dive bar so far is Reagan’s Pub & Oyster Bar. It reminds me of The Pub in Murfreesboro for those from our youthful days that used to hang out there. They describe themselves on the Mexico Beach Restaurant Guide site, http://www.mexicobeach.com/cdc/restaurants.cfm as: “Great oyster bar as well as other fine gulf seafood. Very casual with restaurant on one side and lounge on the other side for pool, darts and jukebox – 8066 W Hwy 98, St. Joe Beach.” Emphasis on the “very casual” but we had a great time. Sorry, no pictures ventured that evening, but lots of raw oyster and cold beer intake. This visit was right after the Gulf Oil Spill and everyone was VERY worried about how their livelihoods were going to be effected.
The biggest and probably most popular restaurant along the half?-mile Mexico Beach commercial stretch is Toucan’s. This is a great place to eat, hang out and swing, slide, sunbath or catch a game of beach volleyball. When we were there for lunch we sat out on the patio and watched dolphins frolic up and down in front of us in the gulf. We indulged in the fried baskets and iced tea and a cold beer (I wasn’t driving ; ) and went away quite happy. The time before we had dinner and sat at the oyster shucking bar and slurped about five dozen of these local yummies. Now, be aware because this threw us for a loop – for about an hour – that the time changes at the Bay and Gulf County line – just east of Toucan’s. So, depending on if you are hungry for breakfast or lunch, you better check the clock and which restaurant you want to dine. East of Toucan’s or so – Eastern Time and breakfast, west of Toucan’s its Central Standard Time and lunch! http://www.toucansmexicobeachfl.com/
We’ve stayed twice at the Driftwood Inn on Mexico Beach and have enjoyed both stays. The first time we stayed in one of the main level rooms with a kitchenette and grill right outside. The second stay we had the dogs with us and opted for their octagon cottage pet-friendly choice. It was great – we could sit in our adirondack-style chairs and watch the dolphins cruise by and had the dogs with us. The downside is that Bay County is not dog friendly on the beach (even if you clean up after them) and you have to drive a few miles east into Gulf County to walk the dogs on the beach. That being said, if dogs weren’t an issue, I would definitely recommend a stay at Driftwood Inn. I LOVE that they have purple martin houses all along their property with these wonderous bug catchers constantly at work. The owners have a HUGE Great Dane that is the lobby greeter and they’ve had lovely birds as well. In the gift shop area in the lobby are creations from local artisans, souvenirs and antiques for sale. My other favorite thing is their windchasers facing the beach – I love these! Check the out at http://www.driftwoodinn.com/
Next feature: Moving east to Port St. Joe, Florida!