Traveling more frequently in the United States during the pandemic, we’ve often found ourselves surprised and delighted by the natural beauty, cultural complexity and excellent food to be found in some of America’s less obvious destinations. This was a recurring theme of a fascinating and relaxing visit to the Gulf Coast, from the Florida Panhandle to Mississippi. The trip offered a variety of friendly and comfortable hotels, each with a strong sense of place. And it was a pleasure to explore downtown pedestrian districts and local museums, in between spells of savoring the sea breeze in veranda rocking chairs.
After flying into Tallahassee, it was a 90-minute drive to Apalachicola, a seaside town that was once an important oyster-producing-and-processing port. The Apalachicola Bay provides an ideal habitat for the mollusks, with fresh water from the Apalachicola River mixing with salt water passing through St. George and St. Vincent sounds to create a perfect oyster nursery. Due to falling water levels in the river, though, increased salinity led to a precipitous decline in the wild oyster crop. To allow the bay to recover, the state of Florida closed the local oyster beds in 2020. But even without the oysters, Apalachicola still earns its living from the Gulf, with commercial shrimping and fishing, plus sportfishing excursions and river cruises.
The Gibson Inn
The Southern welcome was warm when we arrived at the 45-room Gibson Inn late in the afternoon. The graceful three-story grande dame of Apalachicola hotels was built in 1907 of locally milled heart pine and black cypress, and its elegant appearance, including a widow’s walk and full verandas on the first and second floors, brought New England architecture to mind, a reflection of the fact that Northeasterners helped to establish Florida’s commercial fisheries more than a century ago.