Forgetting yourself on Florida’s gulf coast

They’re celebrating the scallop festival this month in Gulf County, Florida. It’s another excuse to visit this largely unvisited part of the sunshine State. Not that you need one.

Here, along Florida’s Forgotten Coast, you might come for the scallops or the oysters. But you stay for the beautiful desolation. This is a part of Florida few people know about and even fewer have visited.

It’s a day’s drive from the amusement parks in Orlando. From here, Miami is a haul. So is Atlanta. In other words, nothing is really close — and that’s one more reason to love it.

Tourism takes a backseat to logging and the nearby Air Force base. Sure, you’ll find a few vacation rentals along the narrow strip of sand. But beyond a couple of restaurants and gift shops that line the shore, you better hope that you have a good book to read or a camera to photograph the wildlife, which is still in abundance here.

On my first visit to Apalachicola, we came for an entire week in January. No one was here. One or two restaurants were open, but it was unseasonably cold, at least by Florida standards. I soon discovered that the main attraction on the Forgotten Coast was a culinary one: the world famous Apalachicola oysters.

Just across the causeway, the oysters are lovingly prepared in a variety of ways, from straight up to bacon wrapped. One more delicious than the next. These oysters are tender and light, not at all like the chewy oysters they serve you dockside in Key West.

I could write a whole novel about the oysters, but I’ll restrain myself.

The beaches, true to Florida Panhandle standards, offer a mind-blowing display of greens and blues — even during the middle of the winter. You can’t really go in the water because it’s too cold, but you can walk along the beach, which is filled with sand that’s roughly the same consistency as powdered sugar.

When the seafood is in season, which is to say when the scallops, shrimp, and oysters are being harvested from the bay, you can buy these delicacies directly from vendors that have set up their shacks along the road.

If you have your own kitchen in your hotel room or, more likely, in your vacation rental, then you’ll want to bring the seafood home and prepare it any way you like it. I recommend a tart Marlboro Sauvignon with it, though any white wine will do as long as it’s sufficiently chilled.

You’re probably wondering what we did with our three children. Glad you asked. Kids loved the beach, of course. But the bay offered even more: hiking along massive sand dunes, exploring lonely wooded areas and marshes teeming with birds and alligators. The boating and fishing opportunities along the Forgotten Coast are unforgettable. Also, if you’re a shutterbug you’ll want to pack all your lenses for this trip, because you’ll need them.

And about the scallops? When we were staying in Apalachicola, everyone we met said, “you have to come back for the scallops. They’re amazing.”

One day, maybe very soon, will make it up to the Forgotten Coast for the scallops. If there anything like the oysters, I will be writing about them for years to come.

In my years of writing about travel, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are really two types of tourists: the ones that like everything to be busy and frenetic, and the ones that just want to be left alone.

If you like to be in the center of everything, go to Manhattan or San Francisco or Orlando.

But if you like quiet and appreciate a good seafood meal and like nature then you might want to head out to this part of Florida. Get good directions because even though this place is easy to find on a map you can easily take a wrong turn on a country road and miss it entirely.

Yes, that’s how forgotten it is.

Something tells me that’s the way they like it here.