Gulf County sits alongside the Gulf of Mexico in Florida’s Panhandle, less than a six-hour drive from Atlanta. As the county likes to proclaim, it is off the beaten path, but that’s what makes this no-worry, no-hurry piece of paradise worth the drive. The spectacular beaches, friendly population of under 20,000 residents, emerald-green waters, and more make Gulf County feel a world away from the hectic commotion of the big city. Here is why you should add the area to your travel bucket list.
1. An authentic experience
No chain hotels on the beach. Three stoplights in the whole county. Mom-and-pop restaurants and shops lining the streets. If you want to experience a way of life that values people over pretense, Gulf County has what you’re looking for. Start with local oysters at Indian Pass Raw Bar, a Gulf County mainstay. After your meal, browse Joseph’s Cottage for tea towels, soaps, and candles sold by Melissa Farrell, co-author of “Saints of Old Florida,” an ode to Florida Panhandle culture. Toast your purchases at St. Joe Bar, a local watering hole since 1938. Play shuffleboard, throw darts, and sing along with locals to tunes from the old-fashioned jukebox. Want live music? Lookout Lounge offers entertainment from area artists every weekend, plus breathtaking sunset views.
2. Complimentary concierge service
Hosting a family reunion? Hoping to set up a fishing trip? Wondering where to find the best shelling opportunities? Let a Gulf County concierge help—your 20-minute consult is free! Contact the concierge program, and you’ll be paired with a knowledgeable concierge who can introduce you to local guides, offer insider tips, and make sure you have all the information you need right at your fingertips. It’s like having a hotel or resort concierge before you even book a room.
3. Pooch-friendly paradise
If you love vacationing with your dog, Gulf County thinks that’s paw-some. Leashed pooches are allowed on nearly every beach, and you’ll find more than 20 waste-disposal stations conveniently situated at beach access points. Away from the sand, enjoy miles of walking trails with your pup—don’t miss picturesque BayWalk Trail, which offers gorgeous views of St. Joseph Bay. Many local restaurants, shops, and attractions welcome dogs, including the Gulf County Welcome Center, which greets Fido with a water bowl and a belly scratch. While you’re in town, be sure to swing by Bow Wow Meow Beach Shop, which sells doggie life jackets, organic treats, and pet-themed souvenirs.
4. Outdoor Adventure
Whether you love paddling, kayaking, swimming, fishing, or all of the above, you’ll find no shortage of watery diversions in Gulf County. One of the most popular is kayaking the Dead Lakes, a 6,700-acre body of freshwater pierced by dead—but still standing—Tupelo and Cypress trees (hence the name). You can also cool off in the Gulf of Mexico, St. Joseph Bay, Indian Pass Lagoon, the Intracoastal Waterway, the Apalachicola Bay and river basin, and Chipola River—all accessible from Gulf County. St. Joseph Peninsula State Park has been named the best beach in the United States, according to Dr. Stephen Leatherman—AKA Dr. Beach—in his annual rankings.
Prefer dry land? Hike one of the many trails in the St. Joseph Buffer Preserve, or go birding at St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, considered the most-productive shorebird nesting beach in the Florida Panhandle. You may also enjoy a guided horseback ride along the shoreline at Cape San Blas, one of the few remaining beaches in the country to allow horses.
5. Incredible Events
No matter when you visit, there’s always something happening in Gulf County. May’s Tupelo Honey Festival welcomes you to the shores of Lake Alice where you’ll sample honey harvested from local White Tupelo Gum trees and tap your toes to live music. Blast On the Bay songwriters festival in October showcases the talents of men and women responsible for some of today’s biggest country hits. Holidays are also a special time in Gulf County. On the Fourth of July, expect fireworks shows over the water at both St. Joseph Bay and Lake Alice. Come New Year’s Eve, there are back-to-back fireworks displays during the aptly-named Celebrate Twice event.
Whether your idea of a good time involves exploring the outdoors, listening to live music, indulging in fresh seafood, or getting to know the locals, Gulf County has something for everyone to enjoy on a vacation—unless your idea of a good time includes chain hotels and restaurants, crowded beaches, and lots of pretension. And if a short visit to Gulf County isn’t enough for you, the area is a hot spot for affordable hidden second-home gems. Learn more about all the fun and relaxation to be had, and start planning your getaway at VisitGulf.com. See more photos from around Gulf County: