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In October, Hurricane Michael made landfall on the sugar white sands of Gulf County, the heart of northwest Florida’s storied coast. But, while the 155 mile-per-hour winds and a double-digit storm surge left many structures in ruin, even Michael’s fury could not dampen the spirits of the dedicated folks who call this slice of heaven home. Upon returning from the evacuation, the community rallied together, along with help from people from across the Southeast, to clean up and begin the long process of rebuilding—and the even longer process of healing.
While Michael changed both lives and landscapes, locals are hopeful about the future and are especially excited to welcome back loyal visitors. Many of Gulf County’s business have already reopened, and the beaches are once again pristine, making this spring the perfect time to head down for some fun in the sun.
The main focus of any coastal escape should be the stunning natural landscape, but that’s just the tip of the sand dune in terms of what Gulf County has to offer. So, in between beach days, why not shop, savor, and sail your way around Florida’s best-kept secret?
If the idea of shopping during a beach vacation conjures memories of overpriced shell necklaces and tees emblazoned with snarky slogans, think again: beach shopping is completely reimagined in Gulf County, where you can find some of the Coast’s best boutiques.
Joseph’s Cottage, a self-described “lifestyle retail shop” in the heart of downtown Port St. Joe, takes #StyleGoals to new levels. The drool-worthy selection of home décor, furniture, jewelry, and clothing are all inspired by modern beach living, while locally made goods make perfect souvenirs. For more insight on the Forgotten Coast way of life, pick up a copy of the book Saints of Old Florida, co-authored by the owner and available for purchase in the shop.
For a sense of Gulf County’s incredible spirit of community, look no further than Anchored South Boutique and Merle Norman Cosmetics. Among the few to sustain minimal damage, the owners shared their good fortune by allowing Caroline’s, another local gift store that saw much more extensive damage, to move into their space during the rebuilding process. Of course, that spirit of community is far from the only reason to stop by, as between the two stores, the selection is huge, including locally sourced gifts like St. Joe Soaps & Essentials as well as Wewahitchka’s famous Tupelo Honey from Smiley Honey!
For truly one-of-a-kind souvenirs, head to The Artery Studio and make your own! This working pottery studio offers experienced guests a chance to get their hands dirty during their open studio hours, as well as classes in everything from stained glass to watercolor painting. And, if you don’t like the results of your DIY project, The Artery has works from local artists available for purchase in their gallery.
Savor (and Sip!):
Leave your diet at home when packing for Gulf County—the views are rivaled only by the delicious cuisine! Foodies will flip for a varied culinary scene, which has something for everyone and every meal.
The Gulf Coast is famous for its sugar white sand, but if that’s not enough to sate your sweet tooth, Weber’s Little Donut Shop is happy to help. Weber’s is famous for its cake donuts, and locals and vacationers alike line up (literally!) for tasty treats like deep fried croissants, so get there early to nab a few. And bring cash—this laid-back beach establishment doesn’t take credit cards.
When lunchtime rolls around, look no further that Sand Dollar Cafe, home to the best comfort food around. The menu changes daily (you can see the daily selections on their Facebook page), although several favorites, like the meatloaf, are served up pretty regularly. Seafood lovers can’t miss their shrimp and grits!
What’s a beach trip without a seafood feast? The laidback vibe at Indian Pass Raw Bar fits right in with a vacation mindset—drinks are self-served from a cooler, and you’re more likely to see folks in cut-offs and a tank top than standard dinner attire. The menu is full of delectable seafood treats like stuffed shrimp and steamed crab legs, and the oysters are famously “slept in the bay last night,” meaning you’re hard pressed to find any fresher bivalves without going for a swim.
Top off a day of R&R with a drink at one of the local watering holes. Craft beer enthusiasts will love Scallop RePUBlic’s 12 taps of local Florida beers (and the $1 off during Thursday and Friday’s happy hour), and the view of St. Joseph Bay from the deck is unmatched. If you’re craving a cocktail, head over to Haughty Heron.
And if you want to bring the party home, no worries—Haughty Heron is home to a both cigar shop and package store!
Gulf County sunsets are among the most beautiful in the country, and there’s no better view than the one from a Bali Hai Charters sunset cruise. This 1.5-hour trip gives you plenty of time to enjoy the scenery, and each private cruise can accommodate up to 6 people. Around here, sunsets are always toast-worthy, so don’t forget to bring along a bottle of your favorite bubbly!
Want to get up close and personal with your next seafood dinner? The experienced fishing guides at Perfect Cast Charters would love to introduce you to your entrée. Choose from excursions centering on Redfish, Flounder, Spanish Mackerel, and even sharks, all while enjoying the unmatched views from the water. Fishing gear (including your license) is provided, so all you need to bring is your sense of adventure—and sunscreen!
Living out your mermaid fanta-seas is a breeze in Gulf County, thanks to Daly’s Dock and Dive Center. Their Discover SCUBA Diving course gets even complete novices out in the water on their first day, while more experienced divers can head out on a diving charter to explore the world beneath the waves at dozens of dive sites. Snorkel gear along with surfboards and stand-up paddleboard are also available for rent.
Gulf County will never be the same after Hurricane Michael—it will be even better. In the meantime, the businesses are steadily reopening, giving you a chance to rediscover the beauty of Gulf County, Florida. Get in on the ground floor of this Gulf Coast adventure. For more information or to book your stay, check out visitgulf.com today.