Now we come to my favorite part of the Florida Panhandle. The bump. It’s the part that sticks out into the Gulf. Way back it was very busy, as it’s where the mouth of the Apalachicola River is located. Like a smaller scale Mississippi River, it is, since it goes all the way up into Georgia. Lots of commerce up and down the river in the past. But now that it’s dammed up near the state line, not so much. Compared to other areas of the state, it’s hardly visited by tourists. There are less than 500 hotel rooms in Gulf County, for example.
Which is a major reason I like it so much. Big surprise. If there wasn’t anything to see, though, it wouldn’t do that much for me. But there are all sorts of historical and scenical and kitschy gems strewn throughout the region. The home of the Florida constitution and the grandfather of air conditioning. The most gorgeous bridge drive next to the Seven Mile Bridge. The world’s smallest police station. You’ll have to divert a ways off US 98 a few times to see everything; the route is very tentacular. But it’s worth it. Allow me to acquaint you with why I love this area so much. (see Google map)
I’d be afraid that doing so would lead to the area becoming overrun with tourists, but I just don’t see that happening. It’s too far out of the way, and there are no huge attractions to attract people. But an increase of visitors to the area would be nice.
When last we were on US 98, we were in Panama City. From here, you’ve got two options to continue east.
Firstly, you could take SR 22. In about 30 miles you’ll be in Wewahitchka, honeypot of the area. There’s a former state park up SR 71, and a former courthouse in town. If you go south on SR 71 for 24 miles, you’ll be in Port St. Joe, the current Gulf County seat. (see Google map)
Or, you stay on US 98. You’ll be going through Tyndall Air Force Base for a while, so I wouldn’t be speeding if I were you. Once past Tyndall, you’ll very shortly be in Mexico Beach, and enter Eastern Standard Time. Stop and look southwest-ish from the beach. About 3 and a half miles offshore is the shipwreck of the Vamar. Stroll around the beach, too, it’s a nice one. Very popular, and typical of the Emerald Coast beaches. (see Google map)
Onward to Port St. Joe! You’ll cross a big bridge, which I think crosses a canal or stream or somesuch. To the left is the former site of the St. Joe Paper Mill. It was the town’s major employer, and when it closed in the late ’90s, Port St. Joe went into a slump from which it’s still recovering. Even the old AN Railway offices got torn down a few years back. They’re promoting the tourist angle, and the St. Joe Company has changed over to real estate, promoting fancy developments in the area. If you want a small coastal town to get away and de-stress, you can’t do much better than Port St. Joe.
There are only two hotels I know of in the county. There’s a fancier one down the road, but I rather like the Port Inn. They have one of the most comfortable beds I’ve slept in, and though the rooms are small, they are cozy and have everything you need. Plus a pleasant breakfast, better than your standard continental.
You’ll have passed the chamber of commerce, where you can get info on stuff to do in the neighborhood. One must is the Constitution Convention Museum State Park. The town was where the Florida Constitution was worked on. They have a diorama with talking statues. It’s no Hall of Presidents, but you’ll learn about the history of it all, nonetheless.
- St. Joe Paper Mill (demolished)
- Port Theatre (314 Reid Avenue) (NRHP)
- Site of AN Railway offices (100 Reid Avenue)
- Port Inn (501 Monument Avenue)
- Florida National Bank (504 Monument Ave.) (AGFHA)
- St. Joseph Catholic Mission Church (216 8th Street) (NRHP)
- Constitution Convention Museum State Park and Memorial (200 Allen Memorial Way)
- Centennial Building (300 Allen Memorial Way) (NRHP)
- Old St. Joseph Cemetery (2800 Garrison Ave)
- A.M. Jones House (5th St) (AGFHA) (couldn’t find)
Going east on US 98, you’ll see St. Joseph Bay and the Gulf for a while. Then it’s mostly until you reach the next county seat (Franklin County’s, that is), Apalachicola. But you might want to turn right at SR 30A to get to St. Joseph Peninsula, so you can visit one of the two beachy state parks in the area. And some other stuff too.
First you’ll pass the Old Beacon Hill Lighthouse, near the local airport. It was moved here and converted into a private residence, so enjoy from a distance. Continue and follow the signs to St. Joseph Peninsula State Park.
Before you get there, though, you can see another lighthouse, the Cape San Blas Light. Also there’s old Coast Guard Headquarters next to it.
Get back on 30A and keep going west. The road curves and you’ll pass a rock wall, then you’ll be heading north. Speed limit is reduced, but that gives you more time to appreciate the view of the Gulf. Eventually you’ll reach the state park.
There’s camping and cabins available here, which makes it a great place to spend the night. I can only imagine how gorgeous the sunrises and sunsets are. Plus this is another area that’s far away from big city lights, so the night sky is probably as lovely as it is at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park. But arrange ahead, space can be booked long in advance.
Returning the way you came, you can go back to US 98, or visit Indian Pass Trading Post and Post Office. It’s historic, and a fully operational convenience store and partial restaurant. I think you can catch a boat to St. Vincent Island somewhere around here too. Heading east from here on 30A will get you to Apalachicola, but it’s slow and residential, so you might want to retrace your way towards Port St. Joe to get back on US 98. (see Google map)
- Old Beacon Hill Lighthouse (old St. Joseph Point Light) (near Costin Airport)
- Cape San Blas Light and Cape San Blas Coast Guard Housing (14 miles east of Port St. Joe)
- St. Joseph Peninsula State Park (8899 Cape San Blas Road)
- Indian Pass Trading Post and Post Office (8391 Indian Pass Rd) (AGFHA)
- St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge (on St. Vincent Island)
Next post, on to Apalachicola. See you on the road!