Overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, Apalachicola is a laid-back little fishing town that boasts the best seafood in Florida, and some of the best oysters in the country. (Sadly, those oysters are off the menu for the next five years as of the week we went to press, as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission attempts to revive the over-harvested wild mollusks.) In town, you'll find restaurants and breweries, historic Victorian houses and tin-roofed warehouses, and even a museum dedicated to the patron saint of Florida: John Gorrie, who invented the ice machine that was the basis of blessed, blessed air conditioning. But this year, we're focusing on the outdoorsy stuff, not the bars and restaurants and museums, charming though they may be.
- Photo via Florida Memory
- The 'ornithopter'
And St. George Island is one of the most beautiful places to camp – or simply spend a beach day – you might ever find. On the Gulf side of this barrier island, sugar-white sand and azure water; on the bay side, marsh scrub and pine forest. Best of all, there's so little light pollution that it's the best place to see stars in Florida. Dr. Julian G. Bruce St. George Island State Park (whew) closes at sundown, unless you've reserved a campsite, so you'll need to do that.
- Photo via Patch Attack
- Apalachicola buoys
The Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve Nature Center (double whew) is closed as of press time, but may have reopened since, if you need a little air conditioning and some aquarium browsing at toddler's-eye height. But the trails are still open, and offer glorious selected views of the reserve's 246,000 acres. The Florida National Scenic Trail winds through the palmetto flatwoods and cypress swamps of the adjoining Apalachicola River Wildlife and Environmental Area. You have the potential here to check red-cockaded woodpeckers, osprey, bald eagles, turkeys, alligators and bears off your wildlife bingo card.