Locals call this part of the Florida Panhandle "the Forgotten Coast," but spend a weekend in Apalachicola, and you'll never forget it. This unspoiled town of roughly 3,000 residents boasts adorable boutiques, cozy dining nooks, and quirky oyster joints. It's the perfect place to hide away for a few days and blend in with the locals.
Home to no convenient interstate or airport (Tallahassee is 80 miles northeast), this gem of a town warrants an overnight, if not a weekend, stay. There are plenty of bed-and-breakfasts here as well as several nice hotels. The 42-room Best Western Apalach Inn ( 653-9131) is the only franchise property in the area. Another option, if you want more privacy than a bed-and-breakfast offers, is the Apalachicola River Inn ( 653-8139). This waterfront property recently remodeled many of the 26 rooms, so ask for an updated place.
When I visit Apalach (as it's known locally), I splurge and stay at The Consulate ( 653-1515), named for its early-1900s stint as office of the French consul. (Because of the area's historical importance as one of the busiest Gulf seaports, the French government maintained a consulate here from the Civil War until well into the 20th century.) Overlooking the river, this small inn offers a mere four suites, each with a fully equipped kitchen and a balcony. The decor is comfortable and refreshing with plush couches, tin-plated ceilings, and hardwood floors. Rates range $155-$315.
Oysters help keep this town alive--about 2 million pounds of Apalach oysters get shucked in seafood joints around the country every year. No trip here is complete without sampling some of the famous salty sea creatures.
Start at Boss Oyster ( 653-9364) where the promise of "Oysters All Ways 'N' Oysters Always" attracts a constant hum of diners. The menu offers oysters 29 ways, from Sashimi (chilled with seaweed, wasabi, and fish roe) to Jalapeño (broiled with chopped peppers and Monterey Jack cheese with peppers). They also serve salads, sandwiches, and even steaks.
Owl Cafe ( 653-9888) perches on a corner in the heart of downtown. This local eatery offers tasty food in a cozy and charming atmosphere. Try the black grouper sautéed with artichoke hearts, roasted garlic, and capers in a white wine-lemon sauce ($21).
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Have breakfast at Caroline's ( 653-8139) for another unforgettable experience. Order the Oyster Cakes and Eggs ($12) or the Outrageous Maple French Toast with Maple Butter ($8). This little restaurant on the water also serves lunch and dinner, but I still have dreams about that morning meal.
Fashionable boutiques boasting everything from doggy duds to nautical knickknacks line Apalachicola's tiny downtown. Don't miss Petunia ( 653-9144), where you'll find treats, toys, and even a bathrobe for your four-legged family member.
You could decorate every room in your home at Avenue E ( 653-1411). Browse the expansive store where you'll find pottery, furniture, and place settings.
Before you end your shopping tour, stop by The Grady Market ( 653-4099), which takes up the space below The Consulate. Aside from the fun gift shopping, the architecture is another great reason to visit. Tin ceilings, original counters, and antique showcases fill the place, dressing it out to its early-1900s appearance.
After you're stuffed with oysters and finished shopping, head to the waterfront to watch the fishermen in action. This may not be one of the most bustling towns in the South, but I think it's one of the sweetest I've seen. Forgotten? Ha. Apalachicola is the kind of town that tugs on your memory.
Frazier For more information: Contact the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce, 122 Commerce Street, Apalachicola, FL 32320; (850) 653-9419 or www.apalachicolabay.org.
"Laid-back Florida Getaway" is from the May 2006 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.