This Florida treasure lies where the Apalachicola (Apple-Atch-i-CO-la) River meets Apalachicola Bay. While the original interpretation of the Indian word had to do with preparations for a council or peace fire, the term has since been interpreted as “land of the friendly people.” And that is just what you will find in Apalachicola, a city of residents just waiting to share their history and way of life.
The location on the Gulf and the history of the area that goes back thousands of years make this a top destination for Florida-goers. If you haven’t been yet, put this picturesque city on your list. It’s a perfect stop to take a fishing charter out and see what you can catch, or just sit back and watch the dolphins play (and maybe spot a whale or two).
Here, (in no particular order, of course) we’ll help you get started on your list of what to do in this historic city by the sea.
- Orman House Historic State ParkThe Orman House was built in 1838 by Thomas Orman, an Apalachicola businessman who helped launch the city as one of the Gulf Coast’s most important cotton exporting ports of the 1800’sThe Orman House was built in 1838 by Thomas Orman, an Apalachicola businessman who helped launch the city as one of the Gulf Coast’s most important cotton exporting ports of the 1800’s. The antebellum house overlooking the Apalachicola River was built in the federal and Greek Revival styles that highlight many nineteenth-century Southern homes. The house has many features of superior homes of the antebellum period from the elaborate wooden mantelpieces to the molded plaster cornices. The granite steps off the front porch were once part of the entry to one of Orman’s cotton warehouses.
On the grounds of the Orman House Historic State Park is the Chapman Botanical Gardens, named for Alvin Chapman, a noted botanist of the nineteenth century. There are several walkways throughout the gardens brimming with native Florida flora, including a butterfly garden that fills with migrating monarchs each fall.
And don’t miss the Three Soldiers statue and memorial that adjoins the park. The statue is a replica of the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial’s Three Servicemen statue in Washington D.C.
- Apalachicola Maritime Museum The Apalachicola Maritime Museum was originally founded in 1995 to preserve the city’s maritime history and educate future generationsApalachicola citizens are more than a little proud of their sea-faring heritage. The Apalachicola Maritime Museum makes sure the city’s history is preserved and passed down to later generations. More than just another museum, hands-on education is at the forefront of their mission. With a goal to “expand knowledge through experience,” the museum literally takes to the water to engage visitors through one of their many learning excursions from educational eco-tours to kayak and canoe trips. The museum now offers sailing on the fifty-eight foot wooden Heritage, from full days to custom overnight charters.Unlike any other maritime museum you may have been to, the Apalachicola Maritime Museum takes learning to new levels. The Wooden Boat School brings the days before fiberglass to life while participants build canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, and an Annapolis Wherry rowing shell. The program gives just a taste of the traditional maritime skills still valued in historical Franklin County.
- Visit the IslandsSt. George Island is twenty-eight miles long and offers some of Florida’s best beach propertyOff Apalachicola Bay you can find four islands—St. Vincent to the west, Cape St. George and St. George to the South, and Dog Island to the East. St. George is the largest, offering twenty-eight miles of some of Florida’s most pristine beaches. And thanks to zoning and regulations, you won’t find large chains or high-rises on this piece of paradise. Not far away is Cape St. George, or Little St. George Island, home of the original St. George Lighthouse. The lighthouse built in 1852 weathered war and hurricanes before finally succumbing to the harsh sea life in 2005 when it fell into the Gulf of Mexico. Pieces were salvaged from the depths and the lighthouse was rebuilt and completed in 2008—this time in the center of St. George Island.
St. Vincent, on the other hand, is a National Wildlife Refuge. They love for you to come play, but they won’t let you stay. The island is home to endangered species including bald eagles, sea turtles, indigo snakes, and gopher tortoises. It’s also a breeding area for endangered red wolves. You can visit the island for a day trip, but it is only accessible by boat.Dog Island is said to have gotten its name when the French discovered the island and the wild dogs inhabiting it in 1536. But that’s just one story. You can get to the island by boat or plane, but make sure to bring all you need. A national renowned bird sanctuary and sea turtle nesting habitat, not much has been built on the island as far as commercial property goes—“not much,” as in, there isn’t a single store. Ah, salt life.
- Shop, shop, and shop some moreWhile a lot of big chains are pushing smaller bookstores out of business, the locals of Apalachicola understand the value of locally-owned Downtown Books and PurlIf you ever want to get a feel of the local character, take a stroll through the local shops. Not the touristy, “someone who loves me” t-shirt selling, souvenir havens. Spend your time and money elsewhere. For starters, browse through Downtown Books and Purl. The building has been owned by the same family for three generations and has housed Downtown Books since 2002. While a lot of big chains are pushing smaller bookstores out of business, the locals of Apalachicola understand the value of the personalized service a local bookstore can offer. Two years after opening, they added Purl, a shop dedicated to yarn and the revitalized crocheting trend that proved to be more than a fad.
Really, Apalachicola has something for every shopper. The Oystercatcher is an upscale boutique on Market Street, carrying everything for the fashionable Floridian. Fashion not your thing? Apalachicola has plenty of antique shops, filled with nautical decor highlighting the city’s maritime history. The Tin Shed Nautical and Antiques is one not to be missed. But one thing outsiders might not know about Apalachicola is they have no shortage of artists. Galleries abound in this city by the sea, and anyone seeking original artwork won’t leave empty handed. Definitely put The Grady Market and Amy’s Green Door on your list.
- Shuck an oyster Pictured, oyster shuckers in Apalachicola around 1912. Oysters were just the start of Apalachicola’s thriving seafood business.Thankfully, the chefs will take care of that. But eating an oyster in Apalachicola is a must for anyone traveling through. Why? Apalachicola and oysters go way back. Seafood became a promising industry in the city more than 175 years ago with oysters kicking it all off. Not much has changed as far as the oyster goes, in either the harvesting or the appeal of this succulent mollusk.
Whether you like them on the half-shell, fried, or any of the dozens of oyster specialties you’ll find around town, you can’t get ’em fresher than in Apalachicola, the oyster capital. Boss Oyster is a local and visitor favorite. The Boss Oyster, their very own oyster harvesting boat, chills oysters on board to ensure your oysters are as fresh as possible. Straight from the sea, to the boat, to the chef, and onto your plate and into your belly.
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