Old Florida: Apalachicola

ApalachicolaBuddyBoys

photo by John Solomon

Fly, rent a convertible, take a spin around Old Florida! No highways, no big cities, no depressing strip shopping centers in Old Florida…just character and authenticity.

Apalachicola 

Apalachicola sits on water that looks like the shrimping scenes in “Forrest Gump.” It is a small, off-the-radar town at the confluence of the Apalachicola River and Bay. We’re talking big, wide expanses of undeveloped water with marshes. On the Florida panhandle, believe it or not.

ApalachicolaBigWaterView

photo by John Solomon

The buildings along Apalachicola’s waterfront look rundown at first glance.

ApalachicolaForestGump

photo by John Solomon

But closer inspection reveals an interesting mix of commercial seafood shacks, two-story brick buildings at various stages of renovation, a small park, some docked boats and a couple of restaurants—all facing lovely views of peaceful water and marshes with graceful birds swooping in and out. An occasional shrimp boat ghosts by. Most of the town’s buildings are historic. It is a quiet place with a hint of its heyday as one of the largest ports on the Gulf of Mexico in the 1800s. Today, the town closes up at 8 p.m.

ApalachicolaDowntown

Downtown Apalachicola

STAY

  • Houseboats at River Watch: Karen Hoff rents three nice houseboats on a nightly basis via VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner). We stayed on Southern Comfort (property # 586285), docked on the Apalachicola River in town. Spotless, plenty of room for two people, full kitchen, heat, TV, two “land-worthy” bathrooms (i.e., no funky boat plumbing) and knock-your-socks-off views. Every now and then, a shrimping boat passed 30 feet from our deck! Great experience … like having your own boat but more comfortable and with better views, as you sit almost flush with the water versus several feet above it. FYI: The boat doesn’t go anywhere. It is just docked.
ApalachicolaHouseBoats

Houseboats at River Watch

  • The Consulate (76 Water Street): Across from the small, riverfront park sits The Consulate. This place is a deal! It consists of four suites on the second floor (no elevator, 22 steps) but worth lugging up your suitcases because the two river-facing suites (Ambassador & Consul) are huge, attractively decorated (despite the unflattering photos on its website), full kitchen, washer/dryer, clean and reasonably priced. PLUS! Each has a very large balcony overlooking the lovely Apalachicola River. And, The Consulate has a fascinating history.
ApalachicolaConsulate

The Consulate, photo by John Solomon

SHOP IT!

  • Richard Bickel Gallery  (81 Market St.): Stunning, stunning, black-and-white photographs of life in/around Apalachicola, mostly on the water, plus a smattering of photos taken by Mr. Bickel around the world. Lovely!
ApalachicolaRichardBickel2

photo by Richard Bickel

  • Forgotten Coast Used & Out of Print Books (236 Water Street): Good location, good selection of books, knowledgeable and friendly owner. A pleasure!
ApalachicolaBookstore

photo by John Solomon

EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY

No gourmet restaurants here, just lots of fabulously fresh oysters, shrimp, grouper, etc. Wander and taste …

ApalachicolaRestaurant

photo by John Solomon

  • Bowery Station Bar: This looks like a biker bar from the outside—but go on in. They often feature good, live music, host clientele of all ages and close at 8:00. Hardly threatening and lots of fun.
ApalachicolaBoweryStation

photo by John Solomon

ApalachicolaSign

SEE THE SIGHTS

  • Apalachicola Historic Walking Tour: Take the self-guided walking tour, if you’re curious about all the old buildings; the town was laid out in the first half of the 19th century. Pick up the brochure at the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce (122 Commerce St.).
ApalachicolaHouse

photo by John Solomon

  • Charming, beautiful houses: Stroll through the neighborhood between Bay Street and Avenue D and between Market Street and 14th Street, where most but not all of the fine, old houses are located—polar opposite of “downtown” Apalachicola’s rough (but not scary) edges.ApalachicolaHouse2
  • Apalachicola Maritime Museum: Pay a short visit because this little museum provides a decent summary of Apalachicola’s maritime history, boat rentals and tours.
  • Camp Gordon Johnston Museum: (The local bookstore owner in Apalachicola says this museum is a good one! We did not have time to go here but plan to do so next time.) Located nearby in Carrabelle, Florida, the museum’s role is to preserve the heritage of the men who trained at the this camp during World War II. Opened in 1942 , Camp Gordon Johnston trained a quarter of a million men before closing in June of 1946.
  • Kick Back: The very best thing to do in Apalachicola is to watch the river traffic from your deck on your houseboat or at the Consulate! You’ll see a few shrimpers and pleasure boats, plus pelicans, cormorants, ducks, etc.: the birds outnumber boats by far.

OF NOTE: We have visited Apalachicola twice, both times in the winter. It may be busier or more crowded in the summer but I can’t imagine it would ever be unpleasantly so. I recommend 3 nights.

-posted April 2016

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