In most cases, the word “forgotten” isn’t considered a compliment. But on Florida’s Panhandle, an area often associated with tacky party towns, the quaint fishing village of Apalachicola is more than happy to fly under the radar. In fact, the residents here wear their anonymity as a badge of honor — so much so that they’ve dubbed their corner of the Gulf “The Forgotten Coast.” “We’re not like other places in Florida,” says local real-estate agent Helen Spohrer. “This area is known more for what we don’t have than what we do have.”
What it lacks in theme parks and cheesy souvenir stands, Apalachicola more than makes up for in rugged natural beauty and friendly locals. But just a few decades ago, the area had been forgotten in a different sort of way. “When we came here, the town was, quite frankly, derelict,” says Lynn Wilson, who moved here 35 years ago with her husband. They bought a run-down Victorian mansion and gave it a total facelift, turning it into the luxurious Coombs Inn. Their effort spurred other like-minded individuals, who rehabbed harbor-side factories and warehouses, slowly bringing the town back to life.
These days, Apalachicola’s revitalized downtown — six blocks along the waterfront, where oyster boats cruise in and out every morning and evening — boasts a refreshingly sophisticated collection of art galleries, boutiques and restaurants tucked into repurposed buildings. The downtown diversions have some pretty big competition from the area’s other main draw: the water. Inland, miles of freshwater marshes provide kayaking opportunities galore. “You could paddle a different creek every day of the year and still not hit them all,” says Justin McMillan, a Florida native who leads local kayaking trips.
And then there’s the ocean — nearby St. George Island boasts a classic stretch of Florida beachfront, albeit one unmarred by high-rises and hordes of sunburned tourists. A bike path that runs nearly the entire length of the narrow barrier island meanders past modest cottages. The northern third of the island has been set aside as a 2,000-acre state park, where salt marsh coves and pine forests mingle to create an ideal environment for spotting the countless migratory birds that pass through the area.
The town’s proximity to the Gulf also means that seafood is never in short supply — particularly the locally harvested oysters, which are on the menu of nearly every restaurant in town.
Last year’s BP oil spill marked a big setback for the town — but it was spared the devastation in towns closer to the spill’s origin, and today, cleanup is all but complete. Besides, if there’s one thing the town of Apalachicola knows, it’s how to make a comeback.