Reportedly searching for the Fountain of Youth, Juan Ponce de León landed on North America’s most prominent peninsula in 1513. He named it La Florida, or the flowery land, as he arrived around Easter. Roughly 500 years later, we’re not here to look for any magical waters; we’re here for the real Florida, and this ain’t no trip to Disney World.
The Forgotten Coast
It’s surprisingly chilly as we motor south from our home base in Tallahassee. We’re skirting the edge of the Apalachicola National Forest along 319 headed for the coast. The day’s mission is to meander through the tiny towns that line this part of Florida’s Gulf Coast, get our feet a little sandy, and eat some very, very fresh seafood. My friend Stephen and I are astride two heavy-weight cruisers, he on a 2014 Triumph Thunderbird and I on a 2014 Indian Chieftain. Big, powerful, and comfortable, they’re the perfect bikes for the job.
We first spot water as we cross the bridge over Ochlockonee Bay. A few miles later we’re rumbling around Bald Point State Park past houses that remind me of Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. The sun is bright and the temperature is rising. The Gulf of Mexico splashes lazily on the sandy shore. This is why we’ve come.
We continue to follow the coastline westward as the sun climbs higher. Traffic is almost non-existent, and when we stop to take in the views all is quiet except for the crying gulls and the gentle wash of the waves. This region is known as Florida’s Forgotten Coast, and now we know why. In the small town of Carrabelle, we stop by some decaying docks and watch shrimp boats as fishermen prepare to sail.
A little further along in Eastpoint, we pause for lunch. After asking locals for the best seafood in town, we end up at the Bayside Seafood Restaurant. The establishment is in an old house with a big screened porch that backs right up to the water. We watch fishing boats come and go as we feast on some of the best seafood I’ve ever had. A pile of oyster shells the size of a truck sits in the adjacent parking lot. This area is responsible for about 90 percent of the state’s oyster production, and it’s easy to believe.
After lunch we cross the Apalachicola Bay to St. George Island. The island’s lighthouse (a relatively small white tower that overlooks the beach) greets us. Originally constructed in 1852, the lighthouse collapsed in 2005 as a result of the beach erosion that plagues this area. Rebuilding efforts were completed in 2008 as volunteers salvaged many of the original materials. Today, the lighthouse is open to the public ( for adults). We decide to bypass the 92 stairs and head straight for the beach. It feels good to take off the boots and enjoy the cool water and warm sand underfoot.
After a relaxing break on the beach, it’s time to turn inland again. Route 65 takes us north through the Apalachicola National Forest and Tate’s Hell State Forest (how it got its name is an interesting, but very long, tale). Our original plan was to take national roads through the forests’ interior. Somewhat predictably, these passageways turn out to be dirt, and our big cruisers aren’t up for the challenge. A local informs us that, eight miles in, the river has washed away the bridge. Decision made, we decide to forego our excursion into the forbidden swamp and avoid experiencing Tate’s Hell by taking 65 and 20 back to Tallahassee.