The day after Thanksgiving we took off driving north along Florida’s gulf coast to spend some time in the panhandle. We planned to stay in Carabelle the first night but the old hotel there was booked so we made our reservation to stay in Apalachicola. I will definitely plan a future road trip to Carabelle to experience what we missed – the Carabelle Hotel and a curious place called Dog Island.
The River Inn in downtown Apalachicola was our Friday night accommodation. It was, as described and reviewed, both rustic and dusty. It was however convenient for walking around Apalachicola. If I ever return, I’d choose the Best Western on the edge of town.
I loved the drive up U.S. 19 and into the panhandle on 19 / 98 / 30A. The traffic was light and the scenery kind of worn as is typical of a once prominent highway playing second fiddle to an interstate. We took a side trip from Apalachicola to St. George Island, a very built-out barrier island. We walked a short stretch of the beach but since we were headed to a beach destination I left my desire and the shell-littered sand untouched!
St. George Island
Our destination was Grayton Beach. It had been more than ten years since our last visit to the area. I know there has been a recession and the BP oil spill but I have to say the area showed no signs of it. In fact the growth was amazing. The new urbanist developments have filled in any vacant space that existed between the old stretches of beachfront homes and strip centers between Panama City and Destin.
Grayton appears to be the only community in this area with any authentic and charming character. It’s changing too. A few original cottages have been relocated to make room for some recent new development of rather over-scaled beach homes, and businesses have moved in along the highway. Thankfully though, there are a few long-established families with a understanding of the value the old fabric and history offers this unique beachside town who are actively working to preserve Grayton Beach.
The loss I missed the most was the infamous, eclectic, incredibly rustic artist colony, Patrone’s at Rt. 30 & Defuniak Street. We called it the home of Hamus-Alabamus after the gigantic hog that resided there for years. It was also the place to stop for an exceptionally interesting flavored snow cone laced with your favorite alcohol.
We were passed on Grayton Beach by this vehicle and its rooftop passenger!
We rented the most charming bungalow, The Smith House, with an inviting porch, comfy living space and a bunk room kids would die for.
Our days were spent wandering through the towns of Seaside, Watercolor, Rosemary Beach, and Aly’s Beach. None are alike. All attempted to create a sense of community. I personally think Rosemary Beach and Seaside accomplished that.
Rosemary Beach – The Pearl Hotel (on the right)
No trip of ours would be complete without finding some interesting restaurants and consuming some great wines!
A bottle of Shug, a Sonoma Pinot Noir was enjoyed with the best item we tried on the menu at the Owl Cafe, Apalachicola, Florida – Blue Crab Dip!
We cooked one night making use of the charcoal grill. We wished the weather had been slightly warmer to enjoy dinner al fresco at the farm table on the porch. Dinner was steak to complement a rhone blend, Saxum’s 2008 Broken Stones. It was luscious!
Our stay in Grayton was made more enjoyable by having a long list of suggested restaurants and shops compiled by our landlord to guide us. The Hibiscus Coffee & Guesthouse on Defuniak had yummy cinnamon rolls and a tempting full breakfasts. The Red Bar in the village is a hoot and the food isn’t too bad either!
Seaside – Thanksgiving weekend – Saturday farmer’s market
We lunched at The Summer Kitchen Cafe in Rosemary Beach. I had the best chicken salad salad (not a miss-print) there I’ve ever had, along with an ice cold beer. What an amazing, innovative menu at the cafe! We also tried a number of places in Seaside. The Meltdown on 30A is a food truck serving unique grilled cheese sandwiches. Pickles is an open-air hamburger joint right across the street, but my favorite there was The Great Southern Cafe.
Grayton Bar & Grill
We had the pleasure of trying Johnny Earle’s Grayton Bar & Grill. He creates what he calls “modern deep south cooking.” The restaurant is big and casual with an interesting menu and a wine list that included a number of our favorites at reasonable prices. John picked a Seghesio Zinfandel and it was, as it always seems to be, excellent. I really enjoyed it with the Grouper sandwiches. It was a terrific dinner to end our stay with.
A walk from Seaside to the beach.
We walked back from Seaside to Grayton on our final day. The beach was marvelously deserted and the surf was loud. I found 26 cents, two tiny plastic kid sand toys but nary a shell larger than a coquina. It was still heaven!
Sunset over Western Lake
Wishing all our friends and family a very Merry Christmas and Joyous New Year!