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Panhandle pleasures, post-Spring Break

<p>Northwest Florida, a.k.a. the Emerald Coast, the Panhandle, the Forgotten Coast and the Redneck Riviera — has earned a lot of grief in the past for hosting countless MTV Spring Break specials and being the preferred vacationland of men in Big Johnson tees and women in Budweiser bikinis.</p>

Enjoy oysters, sport fishing and fantastic beaches



Walton County Tourist Development Council


A map showing the location of the Beaches of South Walton.





Beaches of South Walton


Vacationers run toward a clear-as-glass Gulf of Mexico. The Beaches of South Walton in northwest Florida have pure white sand which “squeaks when you walk on it.”





Northwest Florida, a.k.a. the Emerald Coast, the Panhandle, the Forgotten Coast and the Redneck Riviera — has earned a lot of grief in the past for hosting countless MTV Spring Break specials and being the preferred vacationland of men in Big Johnson tees and women in Budweiser bikinis.


So it was with some skepticism that I headed down the coast for a weekend of sportfishing and seafood dining.





apalachiola bay chamber of commerce


Oysters are a mainstay of the town of Apalachiola, Florida





My first stop was Apa­la­chicola, Fla., a fishing, shrimping and oystering town whose current population is the same as it was in 1859 — 3,000 people.


It is home to countless charming Victorian-era and Florida plantation-style homes dating back to the 1830s, as well as several boutiques, galleries, restaurants and an impressive 246,000-acre estuarine research reserve.


But I was here for the oysters. Franklin County harvests more than 90 per cent of Florida’s oysters and 10 per cent of the U.S. national supply. (An oysterman at the legendary 13 Mile Oyster plant told me he hauls in 700 pounds of oysters a day.)


There are a few restaurants that serve gourmet fare like Tamara’s and the Owl Café, but I opted to have dinner at Boss Oyster (123 Water St., 850-653-9364), a real-deal establishment on the banks of the Apalachicola River.


Though I prefer them raw on the half-shell, the Oysters Max — a baked version served up with capers, sautéed garlic, herbs and Parmesan cheese — were surprisingly tasty.





apalachiola bay chamber of commerce


Sportfishing near Apalachiola





The next morning I thought I’d try to earn my supper aboard the Lady J (850-227-1200), a 42-foot twin diesel charter boat. Reeling in six redfish, all more than 36 inches long, earned me more questionable bruising in the groin area than any action I could have pulled at the MTV Beach House.


Having soaked in all the authenticity of Apalachicola, I was ready for some creature comforts and headed west to the area’s newest and most luxurious planned resort community, WaterColor.





Beaches of South Walton


A sandy trail on the Beaches of South Walton. The beaches here “truly are some of the most beautiful in the U.S.”





The beaches in this region truly are some of the most beautiful in the U.S. — the pure white sand squeaks when you walk on it — and the colors of the sunsets and the sea truly do resemble those in a watercolor painting.


I stayed at the WaterColor Inn (www.watercolor-inn.com, 866-426-2656), where every room (and shower) faces out onto the Gulf of Mexico. It also has a fantastic spa. (Right now is North Florida’s off-season and rates start at $325/night.)





apalachiola bay chamber of commerce


The Porter House, one of the town’s many historic buildings





In addition to the inn, 140 of the 1140 privately owned houses in town are part of a rental program that are perfect for groups who want to take advantage of the resort’s amenities.


WaterColor has the requisite cute shops and galleries, not to mention a canoeing and kayaking lake, three pools, two bars, and an Orvis shop that also provides guides to take you deep sea, spinning rod and fly fishing on the nearby St. Andrews Bay system.


I’d be a liar though if I said this trip was all about architecture, scenery, spa treatments and tapping into my inner-sportsman — I did have a few Spring Break ‘96 moments.


The spirit in these towns is not unlike Gloucester — they’re drinking villages with a fishing problem — and they’re home to some of the best waterfront bars on the East Coast.


My favourite spot was Bud & Alley’s, the standard-bearer in the area that houses a top-notch restaurant on the first floor and a roof deck bar with fantastic views and fine company. Fortunately, no MTV cameras were rolling.


















northwest florida

For more information on the locales mentioned in this story, visit the following websites: