Most folks think of travel to Florida as hectic and crowded with long waits for dinner and high rise condos lining the beachfront highways. If you long for the old Florida style where beach houses and low rises scatter along the coast, highways are still two lanes, and red lights are far and few between, then this section of the panhandle is just for you! Welcome to “real” coastal vacationing: Mexico Beach, Port St. Joe, Cape San Blas and Black’s Island!
Geographically speaking, Mexico Beach is situated in the southernmost part of the Florida Panhandle about 30 minutes or so to the east of Panama City. After passing through the five-mile town, you will then enter the quaint seaside community of Port St. Joe where Black’s Island guests are greeted for boat transport over to the island. Cape San Blas is only a few miles further down from Port St. Joe. It reminds me of the way that the Smoky Mountains are situated as you enter Sevierville, drive through the town and enter Pigeon Forge, and then continue driving on the same highway until you get into Gatlinburg…all are connected by the same thoroughfare and are similar, yet each offers a personality of its own!
Mexico Beach is such a wonderful seaside sanctuary where the pace is slower and the hospitality is as warm as the climate. Seashells are plentiful, fishing off the pier or on the beach is common, and navigation on foot or bicycle is fairly easy.
Finding a place to stay is easy with Forgotten Coast Property Management. Call and tell them the size of your party and length of stay, and they will match you with the perfect accommodations. My favorite (and yours too if you have a really large party) is Starr Dust 2 located directly on the beach only steps from the water. This incredible unit has every available modern amenity, a fully-appointed kitchen and sleeps 16! If you party is a little smaller, I recommend The Club at Mexico Beach which is right across the street from Starr Dust 2. It is part of a small complex so you have a pool in addition to modern amenities and a full-size kitchen. Unit 2L is a particularly beautiful unit, professionally decorated and convenient to the pool area.
Area restaurants are good (Toucan’s, Fish House and Mango Marley’s are just a few), but my favorites were actually a small seafood diner called Killer Seafood – the name says it all and they have amazing fish tacos.
Mexico Beach is a place to stroll along the coast; duck in and out of unique, one-of-a-kind shops; enjoy water activities; or do nothing at all! Hints for a good time include getting an ice cream at Tommy T’s (it’s Blue Bell) and walking the pier; taking a boating excursion (shelling, fishing or tour of the area) with FloriDaze Adventures and Captain Mitch; and having after dinner drinks with live karaoke at Lookout Lounge.
Port St. Joe and Black’s Island…
Port St. Joe is only minutes from Mexico Beach and is where folks leave their vehicles and meet the boat that takes them to Black’s Island in St. Joe’s Bay (truly the best kept secret in all of Florida). Port St. Joe also has a great upscale dining venue, Sunset Coastal Grill, where the atmosphere and service is as good as the food.
Black’s Island is family owned and operated by Jeff Bowman and his longtime companion Wanda Bright. These two hands-on personalities are spectacular in offering just the right level of personal service without intruding on your vacation experience. Their small island (only seven and a half acres) has the most gorgeous views, sunsets and natural beauty of any place you can get to without a passport. The island offers 26 bungalows all connected with a boardwalk leading to the club house/dining room. Each bungalow features a fully-appointed kitchen, dining area, living area and two bedrooms (some have an extra small room with bunk beds as well). Bring groceries and dine in or eat in the dining room (all inclusives are available at a slightly higher rate, but well worth it).
This private island is your own piece of paradise with beach chairs, a beautiful pool and a hot tub. I will tell you that one of the best experiences in the world is sitting in a hot tub that overlooks azure blue waters with palm trees swaying gently in the breeze. The island dog, Riley, occasionally checks on guests to make sure they are having a good time in her private playground…talk about the life of Riley!
Included with your room is the use of the beach chairs, hammocks and all water toys! That’s a deal! Most places charge $25/day or more to rent chairs, and kayaks, canoes, fishing poles, paddle boards, etc. are usually rented by the hour. These charges can really add up for a family. The island is closed from early December to early March, but is open in time for spring breakers and offers an incredible opportunity to create lifetime memories with special folks in an ambiance that is unparalleled.
Cape San Blas…
The perfect off-the-beaten-path getaway for those who want peace and quiet in a secluded beachside location is Cape San Blas. Family-friendly, pet-friendly accommodations are available through Sunset Reflections. I highly recommend a new house on the beach called Tranquil Bliss…it is spacious, decorated nicely, has its own hot tub, amazing kitchen and living room, lots of deck space and a neighborhood pool. This is the ideal place to bring groceries, dine in and enjoy the beach atmosphere.
Happy Ours Kayak & Bike Outpost is the place to rent kayaks and canoes, take a guided eco-tour on St. Joe’s Bay or rent bikes. The owners, Dan and Debbie, are super friendly and do their own tours and guides. Safety is always first with Happy Ours and they are amazing with kids!
This is also a great destination for excursions on the water. Scalloping, fishing and customized water activities are all available through Captain Mark at Forgotten Coast Adventures. He knows all the best fishing holes and has great stories to entertain you!
Choosing this area of old Florida for vacation says something about you and your personality. It is a place where the sand beckons sun worshippers while the juxtaposing water calls to the fishermen and the outdoor enthusiasts. It is designed for the person who loves the quaintness of no stop lights and the eclectic character of multi-colored beach houses. It is for those who desire to please their palates with fabulous beach cuisine in quirky little restaurants. It is for those who enjoy an ice cream in one hand and a fishing pole in the other. But mostly, it is for those searching for the unique unforgettable piece of Florida gulf coast.
IF YOU GO…
Black’s Island Vacation Resort
Forgotten Coast Adventures
Forgotten Coast Property Management
Happy Ours Kayak & Bike Outpost
You may have seen this article by Becky (and others) in River Region Magazine.