This historical river port with a working waterfront and no high-rise condos offers visitors a unique look back in time, with more than 250 listings on the National Register of Historic Places.
Located in the middle of the state’s panhandle region called “The Forgotten Coast,” Apalachicola dates from the 1830s and was once the third largest U.S. port in the Gulf of Mexico, eclipsed only by Mobile and New Orleans.
Sidewheel steamboats navigating the Apalachicola River carried cotton shipped south from Georgia and Alabama for export to worldwide destinations. And, after the Civil war, shipping lumber that was harvested locally became a major business.
Seafood and sponges were also an important part of the local economy. Often called “Oyster Town,” Apalachicola is known as the oyster capital of the world because 90 percent of Florida’s oyster production once came from the nearby Apalachicola Bay estuary.
However, a 2012 drought and a “water war” with Georgia changed the bay’s ratio of fresh and salt water that is critical to producing the area’s famous plump oysters. Last year a five-year moratorium was imposed on oyster harvesting.
Local restaurants still feature fresh oysters, but now they’re imported from Louisiana and Texas. Fish, shrimp, and blue crab round out many menus.
A 1900 fire destroyed much of downtown Apalachicola and many of the buildings in use today date from a period of rebuilding around 120 years ago.
After railroads impacted its export trade, the city became isolated and fell on hard times. Fortunately, the homes of wealthy lumber barons and the downtown’s wide streets and squares, which were originally modeled on Philadelphia, were left largely undisturbed and ripe for restoration over the past few years.
Unique places to stay
Apalachicola’s downtown is walkable and numerous overnight accommodations, shops, and restaurants are housed in restored buildings. Refreshingly, the only chain motel is a Best Western and a wide variety of unique properties are available through Airbnb and VRBO.
The Gibson Inn, located downtown and dating from 1907, is the best-known boutique hotel in the area. Under new ownership since just before Hurricane Michael hit in 2018, a restoration of the 45-room property is almost complete. The new owner grew up vacationing there with his family.
Although Apalachicola experienced significant hurricane storm surge flooding, the damage was nothing like the devastation of Mexico Beach to the west, where many buildings were flattened.
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