There are few places in Florida where you can experience solitude on an abandoned beach while watching the sun set over the Gulf. However, a small town on the Forgotten Coast is just the place if you're looking to get away from the crowds, traffic and endless displays of Florida t-shirts. Carrabelle is located about an hour south of Tallahassee, along Highway 98. Recently we decided to visit and see for ourselves what this small fishing village had to offer. Boat in tow, we made the 4-hour trip from Jacksonville with no preconceived notions.
Carrabelle is not exactly forgotten, it just doesn’t get much press. (Its claim to fame is that it’s home to the world's smallest police station.) Why does this little town seem removed from Florida’s mainstream tourism industry? Is it the fact that it was a haven for pirates who ambushed ships in St. George Sound in the 1700s? Or maybe it's because captains avoided the area in the 1800s due to rumors of bears, wildcats and other dangerous animals? Whatever the case, Carrabelle is still one of Florida's best kept secrets.
Upon arriving, I couldn't help noticing the marinas and bait shops that line the Carrabelle River. There were a few hotels and even a condo or two, but you won't find a Walmart or a fast food chain for miles. No worries though, a local grocery store and the hardware store next door will meet most needs just fine. Small, quaint restaurants tucked away along the waterfront serve some of the best seafood I have ever tasted. The town itself is charming and full of charters. It seems as if everyone owns a boat and a truck — and everyone fishes.
For lodging, we chose a condo at Pirate's Landing. The three-story, one-bedroom unit with two balconies and a screened porch was more than I’d hoped for—and the price tag much less! Ranging from $99-150 a night, the accommodations couldn’t be beat. As an added bonus, next door to Pirate’s Landing is a full service marina, which makes the condo an outstanding choice for boating enthusiasts. Carrabelle River Marina and Fish Camp
provided the ideal atmosphere for a weekend getaway. It features a great boat ramp, gas, dockage, ice, bait and a restaurant that even offers box lunches for a day on the water. The staff was friendly and made us feel like part of the community. We never even took the car out of the garage. Everything we needed was accessible by water.
Of course, as a writer for Florida By Water
, my task is not just to explore the town, but also to experience the water. Boating in the area is some of the best I have found. The beautiful emerald green water and white sands along the beaches were alive with activity. Fishing is abundant, whether inshore, near shore or offshore. Every location was within minutes. Personally, I'm not much of a fisherman, yet I still managed to catch a fish or two in this bountiful habitat.
If you're more into cruising or spending an afternoon anchored in a secluded cove, Carrabelle is your place as well. The first island you should explore is Dog Island
. Reachable only by boat, Dog Island is located about 3.5 miles from the mouth of the Carrabelle River. The island is about 1/2 mile wide and 7 miles
long, and serves as one of the barrier islands between the Gulf of Mexico and St. George Sound. Places like Skipper’s Cove or Tyson's Harbor are just the spots to spend an afternoon relaxing, swimming or just walking along the shore. Also, more active boaters seemed to consider this a great place to pull a tube around and entertain the kids.
Across the channel to the west, you will find the sixth best beach in America (rated by Dr. Beach, 2011). St. George Island State Park
is the ideal beach for solitude. On our visit, we anchored on the Gulf side and waded a few feet to shore. On a beautiful Saturday afternoon in June, we were the only people on the beach. No footprints but our own dotted the seashore. Nature watching and shelling were also excellent.
Carrabelle, Florida is truly not what I expected. It was much less — and that’s exactly what I was hoping for. A small Florida town with open waters and tall
pines, this is truly the Forgotten Coast and if I had my way…. I would keep the secret. (Shhh!)
By Rusty Gardner