Destination: Visiting Cape San Blas Bliss in Florida’s Gulf County

Written By: Kathy Nolan

Where is your Cape? If you want to be a real superhero, grab a beach towel, wrap it around your shoulders and fearlessly fly your fun-loving family to Cape San Blas, located in gorgeous Gulf County, Florida, about an hour drive east of Panama City. The adorable local dolphins may squeal with delight, but the cool quartz sand actually squeaks with a distinctive sound when you wander along the sugary white beaches. World-famous wild dunes tower dramatically above the shoreline. Signature seagrasses greet guests, waving gently while supporting and sustaining a delicate ecosystem. 

High Points

In geography, a cape is a high point of land that extends into a river, lake or ocean. The Cape San Blas point is a magical promontory that separates the Gulf of Mexico and St. Joseph Bay. 

Adults can find refuge in the charming Cape San Blas Inn, soaking up the sunrise from a scenic east-facing hot tub on the bayside dock or while sipping coffee (or a mimosa) on the generous back deck. You can even catch a glorious glimpse of the morning sun from a private screened balcony attached to your well-appointed guest suite. The multi-jumping mullets put on quite a show as well. Insider tip: Get in line early for a fresh sour cream donut from Weber’s Little Donut Shop, located just across the street. Thank me later.

Keep things casual and enjoy the best views of everything on the Cape. Just a few hundred feet away from St. Joseph Bay, chic coastal dwellers patiently wait for spectacular sunsets that dazzle almost every evening on the west-facing beachfront properties. From moderate bungalows to massive beach houses, all visitors can find a perfect vacation retreat. Have a shrimp boil catered on your back deck or host a private chef table experience in your elegant vacation home. Smores, anyone? In Gulf County, you can even build a bonfire on the beach, without a permit. Be sure to check for safety tips. 

Natural Wonders

Visitors love the laid-back, low-rise lifestyle throughout Gulf County. There are only three traffic lights and zero high rise developments. There’s a neighborly feel in the community that gives this place a small-town feel. During my visit, the locals were placing bets on whether the chimney would fall off of a historic home that was being gently coaxed along the highway, like one of the region’s famous Loggerhead sea turtles. As it turns out, the chimney remained intact, and the relocated building will soon become home to a charming new restaurant. But the real inside scoop in Gulf County is that the Sugar Shack in Port St. Joe is now offering boozy ice cream flavors, along with classic cones. 

Often described as a little slice of paradise, this beautiful portion of Northwest Florida’s gulf coast appeals to those looking for a different kind of nightlife and a more natural way to explore beaches, access pristine waterways and savor fresh local seafood. For example, when my girlfriends and I headed out for a paddle on St Joe Bay with Kevin Holden of Fighting Conch Rentals, we had an amazing adventure. The briny inlet was home to at least two eagle nests and countless sea creatures. Even before we could step into our kayaks, one of our national birds swooped down right in front of us, trying to catch a jumping mullet! It was like being buzzed by an F-15 Eagle from Tyndall Air Force Base. After the air show, we continued to wade in the seagrass, finding hermit crabs, lightning whelks, Florida horse conchs, whelk eggs and clams. The scallops were elusive. 

Into the Water

There must be something magnetic in the water because everyone is attracted to it. Fortunately, in Gulf County, there are 244 miles of shoreline and a body of water is never more than five minutes away. The Gulf of Mexico draws many, but the pristine rivers, lakes, lagoons and creeks offer distinctly different experiences. You can take an ecotour on the Dead Lakes and float beneath the knotty knees of cypress trees to see the famous honey blossoms before snapping a photo of an ambush-ready alligator or a sweet sunbathing turtle in Wewahitchka. Gulf County is one of the few unique Florida Panhandle areas where beekeepers gather the only pure tupelo honey on earth, harvested from the White Tupelo Gum trees reaching 50 to 75 feet in height and often standing in several feet of water in the Apalachicola River basin. Be sure to sample the local gold nectar at Smiley Honey and snag an authentic souvenir bottle and a free “Give Bees a Chance” sticker. 

Everything is better on a boat! Spot playful dolphins and fascinating stingrays on a chartered posh pontoon boat with Salty Fish Excursions on St. Joseph Bay. Order a beach picnic or dock on Eagle Harbor for lunch at LongBill’s, a local gathering spot. Try the smoked fish dip and load up on grouper tacos. 

Take time to explore one of the world’s best beaches, officially named by Dr. Beach in 2002. T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park may have the longest name but it also has 20 miles of the most amazing white sandy beaches on the Gulf of Mexico. The impressive park has cabins, RV sites and tent camping with a few primitive beach camping sites located around the dunes and marshes, which are accessible by boat. 

Get serious Old Florida vibes at Indian Pass Lagoon, located just across from a 12,000-acre national wildlife refuge. For an actual taste of Old Florida, grab a table and a drink from the cooler at Indian Pass Raw Bar, a casual authentic landmark serving raw, baked and steamed oysters since 1929. Forget scanning a QR code. Grab a pencil and select your fresh seafood order and keep track of your own drinks on an “honor system” bar tab. If you’re lucky, you might catch a local beach band on the breezy outdoor stage. 

Scalloping 101

Scallop season is a sacred seasonal ritual. One seasoned boat captain compared scalloping to an aquatic Easter egg hunt. Each year from Aug. 16 – Sept. 24, locals and visitors can pick up a Florida saltwater fishing license and legally harvest fresh scallops in St. Joseph Bay. This region includes all state waters from the Mexico Beach Canal in Bay County to the westernmost point of St. Vincent Island in Franklin County. Each person may harvest two gallons of whole bay scallops in the shell per day. If you are fishing with friends on a boat, the vessel limit is 10 gallons. 

Before you venture out, be sure to have the essentials. Pick up a mask, snorkel and fins to find the scallops, a dive flag for safety, a mesh bag to store your catch, some sunscreen to protect your skin, a bag of ice to chill fresh catch, and a knife or spoon to clean the meat. Be sure to pack a picnic with food and beverages for your crew. Consider chartering a pontoon boat, which makes it much easier to get to the 4 – 8 feet of water where scallops are typically found. Of course, you can purchase or rent all of the essentials from Gulf County marinas and outfitters.

Look for clear water with sea-grass beds. You will find scallops in the seagrass or at the edges of the sandy spots. They are usually easiest to see in the areas where the sand bottom meets the edge of the seagrasses. Scallops may try to swim away when they see you, but they are not very fast so they can’t go very far. Your mesh bag will help you avoid a pinch from a captive creature. After scalloping, immediately place your catch in a live well or place them in a cooler on ice until you are ready to enjoy a delightful seafood feast. 

Your superhero fantasy can continue with more outdoor adventures, or you might just want to relax and let local experts mix your margaritas and grill the catch of the day. Find a comprehensive list of accommodations, restaurants, attractions and outfitters at Schedule a complimentary 20-minute call with a concierge from the Gulf County Tourism Development Council for free travel advice and trip ideas at 850-229-7800. Remember, leave only footprints on the beaches, because shoes are absolutely optional. 


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