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A Nearby Secret Spot On The Forgotten Coast

August 26, 2010 by Jenny Etheredge

If you promise to keep it to yourself, I’ll share a longtime secret spot where many locals go to escape the Summer SoWal craziness for a few days. Just two hours east, past the hustle and bustle of Panama City, you’ll find a quiet and quaint area between Port St. Joe and Apalachicola. 

The water’s not as clear and the sand’s not as white but there’s something striking about the landscape, and endearing about the people of what’s commonly referred to as the Forgotten Coast of Florida. 

I’ve been visiting the area for five years now and often use it as a respite from the busy days of summer along Scenic 30A.  This year, our destination was Indian Pass — a quirky little beach community composed mostly of old Florida cottage-style homes and a campground by the boat ramp at the tip of the pass with a vintage camp-style store bedecked with what else but an Indian statue.

Not a Floridian originally, I can’t validate the claim that Indian Pass is a step back into Old Florida — how it was before high rise condominiums and theme parks and golf courses became the norm, but I can say that if you’re looking for those things, it isn’t the place for you.  The pace is slow here and modern day resort amenities absent. 

The Indian Pass Raw Bar

There’s one lone restaurant, the Indian Pass Raw Bar that could and should be a story unto itself.  The Raw Bar is the quintessential small town restaurant.  Flanked by a counter bar and plastic picnic tables, it truly is a come as you are kind of place.  You serve yourself from the wall-to-wall cooler in the back and keep your own tab.  How many places do you know of that use the honor system these days?  It’s a welcoming atmosphere. 

The menu is simple, focusing mainly on fresh raw and steamed seafood along with burgers and BBQ.  The night my husband and I arrived, our friends had spent a fun-filled evening at the Raw Bar mingling with the other patrons and were overflowing with stories from local flavors.  A really special treat is catching live music on the front porch on Friday evenings.  ‘Simple but good’ is their slogan and I’d say it captures the essence of what the Raw Bar, and even Indian Pass is all about. See more photos of the Indian Pass Raw Bar.

St. Vincent's Island National Wildlife Refuge

We spent our first day exploring St. Vincent Island, a barrier island accessible from Indian Pass only by personal boat, kayak or shuttle that makes up part of the St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge.  Being able to experience the beauty of the raw Florida landscape is one of the things I appreciate the most about living in South Walton with all of the state parks and forest preserves at our fingertips. 

St. Vincent Island offers the same experience at a heightened level.  At nine by four miles, the large island offers sanctuary for an array of creatures from bald eagles to rattlesnakes to endangered red wolves.  You can navigate the island through hiking and biking trails, and it really is too large to explore only by foot.  We didn’t have bikes with us but we tried to make the most of our time and see as much as we could. 

The gulf side offers a wide beautiful beach with shells and if you’re lucky you might find pottery shards, remnants from the days when the island was inhabited by members of the Apalachee tribes.  The island is a stop-off for migratory birds and you’ll see a variety of different species while you’re there. 

On the tip of the gulf side of the island, I saw the largest gathering of pelicans that I’ve ever seen — there were hundreds!  The bay side of the island is just as beautiful with an oyster shell beach and tree trunks jutting out exposing their intricate root systems.  We never saw any of the more exotic animal species (I wasn’t too disappointed about this!) but it was an exhilarating experience to spend the afternoon on the island without running into another human being.

Scalloping in St. Joe Bay

The rest of our days were spent dedicated to scalloping, a delightful excursion into the St. Joe Bay searching for the ultimate prize — bay scallops.  We embarked from Cape San Blas, just a ten minute drive from Indian Pass.  I remembered being skeptical of the fun of scalloping on my first trip and I had the joy of watching the same process with my friends who joined us from South Carolina. 

Scalloping feels like a treasure hunt, as exciting for adults as it is for children.  Once you find your first scallop, you’re hooked and you want more!  Scalloping is done by snorkeling around the clear waters of the bay and searching for the scallops in the grass beds.  You can often find them by their glowing eyes which appear bright blue in the water, or by the shape of their shells. 

Sometimes they’re plentiful in the shallow water but this year my group had a lot more luck in the deeper waters which requires diving down for the loot.  A little more difficult, but the deep-water scallops are often larger and make for better eating.  An unexpected benefit of scalloping is that St. Joe Bay is teeming with aquatic life and you’ll see starfish, sponges, sting rays and a multitude of fish.  Scallop season runs from July 1st to September 10th and is definitely worthy of a special trip if you’ve never experienced it before.

Sadly, my little getaway had to come to an end, although who can complain about having to return to South Walton? We made our way back west with one last stop in Port St. Joe to check out the downtown area.  Port St. Joe is a former mill town that has weathered a lot of change over the years but still maintained its original charm. 

Full of smiling faces and unique shops and restaurants, Port St. Joe is a picture perfect little town taking you back once again to days where things where a little simpler and there was less to accomplish on your to-do list.  I suppose that’s what I really treasure about my visits to the Forgotten Coast — we leave our laptops at home, our cell phones off and are rarely tempted to even turn on the television.  There are no fancy dinners out for us or planned activities, just ample time to connect with good friends old and new, delicious meals made at home, outdoor activities galore, peaceful sunsets on an empty beach and lots of memories to bring back home.

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