For years, I thought of Florida only in terms of the peninsula that dips into the Atlantic like a finger. But there’s so much more to the state — the so-called Panhandle, which extends hundreds of miles west to the Perdido River and the Alabama state line. Halfway along the Panhandle, a bulge dips into the Gulf of Mexico. The southernmost part comprises of Gulf County — whose shore is known as the ‘Forgotten Coast’.
What time is it?
Port St Joe is the main town, and a world, or 500 miles away, from the bright lights of Miami.
It’s a fair drive, but seven days’ hire of a compact car from Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport starts from £187 with Hertz.co.uk. It’s in the same time zone as Florida’s biggest city, but most of the county isn’t. Indeed, Gulf County is chronologically confusing: parts are in Central Time, an hour behind other parts in Eastern Time. At the Lookout Lounge, the time zone runs straight through the outdoor deck. If you’re feeling nostalgic, walk 10 feet over the line to enjoy the last hour again.
Traffic lights and baked oysters
At the other end of the county’s coastline, the Indian Pass Trading Post is better known as the Raw Bar. It’s an only-in-Florida experience. A dozen oysters, baked with Parmesan cheese, cost less than $15. And the well-stocked fridge is run as an honesty bar. Nearby,TurtleBeach Inn is one of several divine places to stay on the beach, with its own boardwalk leading you to the warm waters of the Gulf. Heading inland, the town of Wewahitchka (more concisely known as Wewa) has an unusual characteristic for this part of Florida: traffic signals - one of only three sets in the whole of Gulf County.
Water, water everywhere
Close by is Dead Lakes, an eerie waterscape populated by the half-submerged skeletons of trees. You can paddle for hours in idyllic isolation. Staying on the water, in St Joseph State Park, on St Joseph Peninsula, overlooking — yes, you’ve guessed it, St Joseph Bay — you can try paddleboarding. The claw-like peninsula protects the bay from the Gulf beyond, making it gratifyingly calm for travellers with a wobble. On the other side of the claw, the Gulf shore is often lively with surf. This is one of the few places in the US where you can ride a horse through the shallows. Gulf County is a place to let time stand still, whatever zone you are in, as you have the time of your life.
Source: The Independent
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