Back in February, my girlfriend and I ended a long weekend near Gulf Shores, Alabama — where the pickup trucks have rifle racks, but they’re likely to hold golf clubs rather than firearms — with what seemed like an even longer return trip down U.S. 98 and U.S. 19, along the coastal “scenic route.”
Seriously, that shit seemed to take days.
It ended up being worth it, however, because we got to get a look at two Gulf Coast gems I’d previously only experienced by tearing through them at about twice the speed limit under the cover of night, anxious to get back to Tampa Bay for work or a show or a solid eight hours of sleep: Mexico Beach and Apalachicola.
There’s not much to see of Mexico Beach while cruising along 98, but the old-school beach houses and small condos, occasionally in Art Deco pastels, lend the area a timeless, peaceful vibe; part of Florida’s “Forgotten Coast,” it’s as if the last 40 or so years of waterfront development completely passed the area by, and indeed, much of the city’s shoreline has remained protected. There’s a classic sleepiness to this little part of Florida, a sense of truly getting away from it all. If you’re more into Spring Break parties and touristy crab shacks than a little fishing, a little grilling and long hours on the deck sipping wine and waiting to see the sunset, this isn’t the beach town for you. It certainly seemed like a place for me, and we made a note to get back for some low-key fun and quietude when we could.
Thirty-five-odd miles down the road, on the other side of popular road-trip destination Port St. Joe, we pulled into Apalachicola, and a very different yet equally welcoming scene. Where Mexico Beach was small and sleepy, Apalachicola was small and bustling, equally classic but with more of a small-downtown look and feel. Everywhere pedestrians wandered from shop to restaurant, but there weren’t enough people around to make us feel bombarded by gaggles of tourists.
We parked the car just down the block from a hip pet boutique, let the dogs stretch their legs and crossed the street to The Station Raw Bar, a very St. Pete-esque place housed in an old service station. I’m not a big fan of oysters, but we were in Apalachicola, so I was persuaded to try one, and found it easily the best-tasting I’d ever had. The low country boil on the menu was more my speed, along with a couple of regional beers; when asked about more local brews, our friendly server informed us that Oyster City Brewing was just a couple of blocks away. We wandered around leisurely pods of locals and their dogs to the crowded brewery but, being short on time and actual money (“CASH ONLY”) and long on miles to go, decided to leave an in-depth tasting for another time.
And there will definitely be another time. This stretch of Florida coast called to me like no other since... well, since I first came to St. Pete in the early ‘90s, when it was still shaking its rep as a place for kids to be bored while they visited their grandparents. Sometimes it’s nice to tuck into those places where time seems to have slowed down — espcecially since we’re never sure how much of it we have left.