Exploring Northwest Florida
Exploring Northwest Florida
One of my favorite places to visit is Apalachicola. I love to stroll the old brick streets, explore the antique shops, and scarf down shrimp and oysters while I watch the boats go by.
Oh yes, this area is known for its oysters and fresh seafood, and in recent years, it's been making a comeback with its vibrant downtown art and historic district. It is also the site of Florida's oldest food-fest, when each November it hosts the Florida Seafood Festival. But there is so much more to this little waterfront town than food and shopping. For instance, did you know that this was once the third largest shipping port on the Florida gulf coast, or that air conditioning was invented here?
Balanced on a point of land between the mouth of the river and the bay, Apalachicola has always played a large part in Florida’s maritime history. Surrounded and protected by barrier islands, the Apalachicola Bay and River Estuarine Reserve is the largest in the U.S., and the area’s vast expanse of shallow bays produces some of the country's best seafood and fishing habitats, including that of their world-famous oysters.
The first time I ever ate a raw oyster was here. I sort of got "dared" into it and I had to close my eyes before I swallowed. Although I love Oysters Rockefeller or Oysters Bienville, raw shellfish just didn't do it for me. I swallowed, then opened my eyes. They were delicious!
Actually. oysters from the surrounding bay are considered by many chefs and seafood lovers to be the finest in the world. They have a mellow flavor and a plump, meaty texture because of their environment. A combination of the silt and fresh water washing into the bay, and salt water from the Gulf of Mexico makes these oysters creamy, not too sweet and with a strong after taste.
Besides oysters, the town is rich in history and overflowing with historic buildings, nearly 900 in all. Historic homes, cotton warehouses, churches, mercantile buildings, and many others date back to the 1800's and are well preserved, so much so that in 2008, the town was named by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of its Dozen Distinctive Destinations.
Today these buildings house antiques shops, gift shops, bed and breakfast inns, and many excellent fresh seafood restaurants and oyster bars. Each May, Trinity Episcopal Church sponsors a walking tour of historic houses,but visitors can take a self-guided tour of the town any time by picking up a tour map from the Chamber of Commerce that has brief descriptions of the city's historic structures.
There's so much to do in this quaint, gulf coast town, you'll want to give yourself plenty of time, so plan to stay a night or two.
There are several excellent bed and breakfast inns (with or without ghosts) and a great waterfront boutique hotel that I highly recommend. It's located on the river and has a beautiful sunrise view. It's called the Water Street Hotel and Marina (yep, you can park your boat).
You can shop and eat your way around town at great restaurants like the Owl Cafe, Boss Oyster, and Up the Creek Raw Bar, explore the old cemetery, and catch a performance at the historic Dixie Theatre, a not-to-be missed live performance experience. Try ghost hunting with the Big Bend Ghost Hunters, or just sit on the quay and watch the boats go by.
This tiny museum is a tribute to Dr. John Gorrie, the inventor of mechanical refrigeration and the state of Florida's greatest hero. Visitors can see a replica of Gorrie’s ice-making machine and thank the man who invented air conditioning. Open 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Thursday through Monday (closed Tuesday and Wednesday), located on 6th Street, 850-653-9347.
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, this elegant Greek-revival structure was once the home of David Raney, cotton broker and twice mayor of Apalachicola. The house is open Sunday through Friday from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. and on Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Admission is free but donations are happily accepted. For information call 850-653-1700.
This lovely garden is a tribute to Dr. Alvin Chapman, a prominent 19th Century Botanist who discovered many rare plant species in the area. The park features period lighting, seating areas, a gazebo and a boardwalk. Located at Market Street and Avenue J across from the Orman House and the Veterans Memorial Plaza.
This fenced community park honors veterans of the Vietnam War and features the Three Servicemen South statue. Across from Chapman Gardens at Market Street and Avenue J.
Built in 1838 by Thomas Orman, this antebellum home overlooks the river and is open for tours 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Thursday through Monday (closes for lunch). The house is part of the Florida State Parks system and is located at 177 5th Street, 850-653-1209.
With over 246,000 acres, it is the second largest estuarine research reserve system in the nation. The Visitor Center is located across the bay in Eastpoint at 108 Island Drive, at the foot of the bridge leading to St. George Island. In it you'll find exhibits on the flora and fauna of the area, the bay and other waterways with their variety of fish and turtles, and a children's exploration room, where kids can touch all they want. The center is free and open Monday through Friday 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., 850-670-7700.
Apalachicola and the surrounding beaches and islands are part of the Forgotten Coast, a region of the state that hasn’t changed much over the past fifty years. Here visitors can find “old Florida” in the many nearly-empty beaches, great fishing locations and state and national forests of the Northwest Florida Gulf Coast. For more information about things to do in the area, contact the Chamber of Commerce at 122 Commerce Street 850-653-9419.