What: The Forgotten Coast
Where: East of Panama City and south of Tallahassee
Getting there: Take Hwy. 98 east to Florida 30A. If traveling I-10, take U.S. 231 exit 130 south to Hwy. 98.
Details: www.visitgulf.com or 800-482-GULF
By Karen Harrell
Years ago if you mentioned the northern Gulf Coast, many people would recognize cities such as Pensacola, Mobile or Panama City, but few knew of areas such as the “Forgotten Coast.” Although they likely tasted Apalachicola’s juicy and plump oysters in restaurants throughout the country, a long stretch of beach communities east of Panama City remained nearly anonymous.
Today the moniker, Forgotten Coast, has piqued the interest of many who fondly remember small quiet beach communities that today have been developed and sometimes overdeveloped.
Getting to the Forgotten Coast using the coastal route is a slow but scenic drive.
We took Hwy. 98 on a day trip from Panama City through Tyndall Air Force Base. We wished we had time for an overnight stay to allow time to explore the many communities that seemed to almost blend into each other.
Even the names of some of the communities are intriguing … Mexico Beach … Alligator Point … Port St. Joe … St. Vincent Island … Cape San Blas. On your visit you’ll also note small billboards advertising “Oyster Radio 100.5” which put a smile on our faces.
The area has been home to loyal Snowbirds for years, many of whom bring their RVs to small and simple campgrounds dotted along the coast. Here also are many small motels, simple beach homes and smaller and older condominium developments also rented by winter visitors by the month.
Seafood restaurants are housed in old-style seaside buildings and souvenir stores are small with a yesteryear feel. You are more likely to see small antique stores, flea markets and country gas stations (even though many have brand affiliations) than fancy high-end retailers.
One of the best-known attractions is the fanciful and welcoming Gibson Inn, located in downtown Apalachicola. The inn is a community hub hosting large events such as weddings and ever-popular murder mystery weekends. Overnight and day guests can enjoy a tasty home-cooked meal or a relaxing cocktail at the inn’s restaurant and bar and then “set a spell” in one of the many rockers on the deep wrap-around front porch.
The area’s largest employer for many years was the St. Joe Paper Mill and before that the ports with ships hauling cotton up the Apalachicola River brought prosperity to the area.
But once those two entities left, the area was largely left alone.
The Forgotten Coast today attracts tourists who love the small and homey feel. Many will admonish you not to tell too many people about the region.
They don’t really want it to be “found.”