Published February 2009

By Jahna Jacobson
If your idea of retirement is days of relaxing with nothing but fishing on the schedule, welcome to the Forgotten Coast.
“It’s beautiful and laid back, like old Florida,” said Sandra Chasin, executive director of the Gulf County Chamber of Commerce.
Chasin is more than a spokesperson for retiring on the Forgotten Coast; she is living the dream.
“I was born and raised here, then moved away for 34 years,” she said. “After I retired, I moved back.”
The Forgotten Coast is bordered by Mexico Beach to the East and includes Port St. Joe, Apalachicola, Carrabelle, Cape San Blas, St. Marks and Alligator Point. It also includes beautiful barrier islands such as St. George Island.
“We don’t have a lot of the commercial entertainment areas, but we’re family-oriented,” Chasin said. “There are a lot of fun things to do that don’t cost a lost of money that build great family relationships.”
Port St. Joe is the largest city of Gulf County and the county seat. This small port community is known as “The Constitution City” because in 1838 the delegates from all counties in Territorial Florida assembled here to draft Florida’s first State Constitution, the basis of Florida government until the Civil War.
Gulf County is home to St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, which has been ranked as America’s number one beach. And, unlike many spots along the Gulf Coast, the beaches of Gulf County are pet friendly.
“We’re about the beach and the coastline,” said Larry Broom, executive director of Gulf County Senior Citizens. “It’s a laid back town for the laid back life. A person that wants to retire without being in a larger retirement city or center will fit right in.
“You can find your niche here and set your own pace.”
The population of Gulf County is about 13,300 people, with about 2,200 of them aged 65 and older.
Real Estate Affordability
Real estate prices are very reasonable right now, Chasin said.
“A few year ago it was out of reach, and coastal properties are still more expensive,” Chasin said. “But you can live inland go to the coast in a matter of minutes and the land is very affordable.”
The area is close to the Florida state average on most basic living expenses, including food and transportation, but housing and other goods are somewhat lower than average.
Health Care Options
In the past, the availability of healthcare has been an issue for retirees looking at the area, but a new hospital that will be part of the Sacred Heart Health System is being constructed over the next year, which means Gulf County residents will soon have top quality care in their own community. Residents currently travel to nearby Panama City for health care beyond the basics.
Sales tax for Gulf County is 6 percent.
Much of Gulf County’s recreation revolves around the miles of coastline that afford countless opportunities for outdoor fun in the year round mild weather.
“We have the Gulf, the bay, the rivers,” Chasin said. “There is saltwater freshwater fishing, shelling, crabbing and floundering and the lighthouses.”
Charter fishing is a huge draw, and there are dozens of charter boats services available in the area. Golf and horseback riding are also available.
There are a variety of continuing education opportunities nearby, including Florida State University’s Panama City Campus and the Gulf Coast Community College Franklin Center.
While the job market is tight, there are employment opportunities available for seniors, Chasin said. And senior volunteers are critical to the success of many local groups, she added.
“A lot of organizations depend on retirees,” Chasin said. “The library, our schools, the chamber — all operate so smoothly because retirees do pitch in and make such a difference.”
The Gulf Alliance for Local Arts presents music, drama, literary arts, visual arts and festivals. The Dixie Theater in Apalachicola is a hub of cultural activity hosting plays, lecture series and concerts. The Ilse Newell Concert series is also a cultural highlight in the community.
The area also has a rich maritime history, the highlight of which is The Cape St. George Lighthouse built in 1852 and reconstructed after it collapsed in 1995. The lighthouse stands on “Little” St. George Island, eight miles offshore of Apalachicola. 
The Constitutional Convention State Museum in Port St. Joe tells the story of Florida’s first constitution and the “lost city” of St. Joseph. The 13.5 acre museum grounds include a monument to Florida’s first constitution.
The area also hosts festivals throughout the year, including the Scallop Festival and the Wewahitchka Catfish Classic & Festival.
The Forgotten Coast offers a wide variety of shopping, from small specialty stores to farmers’ markets to all-purpose stores, but not large discount chains.
Sense of Place
The spirit of old Florida is alive and well on the Forgotten Coast, where fishing, boating and the arts are the focus of fun and the natural beauty of Florida’s unique landscape shine through.