Expanding Options for Fun in Gulf County, Florida

Park amenities, recreation facilities and dining options add variety to low-rise destination

Gulf County, Florida | I-10 Exit Guide

Gulf County, Florida, is known as a low-rise, bide-your-time and do-what-you-want kind of destination. But in this idyllic location on the central Gulf Coast, many choose to take advantage of the diverse coastal landscape for an active outdoor getaway. Just two hours southwest of Tallahassee and an hour east of Panama City Beach, Gulf County is home to beautiful beaches and lots of ways to enjoy them. Those options are expanding this year, with new facilities and new opportunities for fun.

Many visitors’ first “ah ha” moment here is when they realize they can even pick which time zone they want to be in. This is the only county in the state with two time zones and there is a new selfie chair (corner of CR 386 and Highway 98) for immortalizing visitors’ time travel while they are here. In fact, there are quite a few selfie spots throughout the county for those looking for photo opportunities to share.

Of course, the beautiful beaches and waters of Gulf County have long been the main attraction. Each community here, along this 43-mile stretch of shoreline and inlands, as well, has a personality all its own and there is plenty of access for enjoying the variety of outdoor activities. From strolling the waterfront parks of Port St. Joe, the county’s central hub, to paddling and shelling on St. Joseph Bay, to taking an eco-tour through the Dead Lakes in the inland community of Wewahitchka, there is unmatched variety both to the landscape and the ways to experience it. Those ways have recently expanded.

Port South Marina (340 Marina Drive, Port St. Joe, Florida 32456; 850-797-3489), located on the eastern shore of St. Joseph Bay, has renovated its facilities and now offers even more extensive and personalized service to those heading out on the water. Those bringing their boat can take advantage of the expanded transient docking as well as a new dock store. This is also a hub for fishing charters and pontoon rentals. Dry storage and wet slips are available for those looking for long-term options.

Two popular parks have also increased their recreational opportunities. T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park (8899 Cape San Blas Road, Port St. Joe Florida 32456; 850-227-1327, Reservations: 800-326-3521) is known as an oasis for those who want to get away from it all. Its 20 miles of pristine beaches include dunes along the waters of the Gulf of Mexico to one side and marshes along St. Joseph Bay. The newly re-opened Shady Pines campground features 36 standard campsites and 10 tent-only sites. The spots have a full slate of amenities, including some with paved surfaces and accessible picnic tables and grills. Two new bathhouses provide showers and restrooms. There are also 14 primitive sites in the park’s Wilderness Preserve, which can be reached by hiking trail or kayak.

Known locally as Rish Park, William J. “Billy Joe” Rish Recreation Area (6773 Cape San Blas Road, Port St. Joe, Florida 32456; 850-227-1876) is popular for its white-sand beaches and blue Gulf waters. But the park has recently added amenities that make it more accessible for those with disabilities. Two family-style cabins can sleep up to five people and are surrounded by a boardwalk. An accessible recreation area includes a day use park, boardwalk and an Olympic-size pool with chair lift and wheelchair ramp. Beach wheelchairs, motorized beach wheelchairs, boardwalk scooters and water wheelchairs are also available for park guests.

There are exciting updates to venues for those who prefer to hit the links and the courts, too. St. Joseph Bay Golf Club (700 Country Club Road, Port St. Joe, Florida 32456; 850-227-1751), a par-72, 18-hole course, has undergone an upgrade and is very welcoming to golfers of all ages and skill levels. Wide open fairways favor players of all handicaps but water on 14 of the 18 provides a challenge to golfers of all skill levels. Pickleball courts have gained popularity at Frank Pate Park (502 Monument Ave, Port Saint Joe, Florida 32456) and even more so at Salinas Park Bayside (280 Cape San Blas Road, Port St. Joe, Florida 32456). In addition to new courts at this waterfront park, there is a bayfront boardwalk, volleyball area and more. 

New on the food scene

At The White Marlin & Oysterette (602 Monument Avenue, Port St. Joe, Florida 32456; 850-308-0938) diners can enjoy unmatched views of St. Joseph Bay while savoring specialties from a carefully curated menu. Hand-crafted cocktails, locally sourced ingredients and spectacular sunsets are a winning combination at the area’s newest eatery. Also new on the dining scene is Hunt’s Oyster Bar on St. Joe Bay (1937 SR 30A, Port St. Joe, Florida 32456; 850-227-2285), serving the freshest of seafood in a causal atmosphere overlooking the bay.

Beverages hold top billing at Tap Root PSJ (212 Monument Avenue, Port St. Joe, Florida 32456; 850-387-1290), but food is on the menu, as well. This self-proclaimed dive bar proudly features Florida beers and live entertainment. 

Where to stay

Gulf County has a wide array of lodging choices to fit any group’s needs. There are vacation rental homes of all sizes and inns and cottages, each with a character all its own. Camping, both primitive beach camping and full hook-up RV sites, is a popular way to enjoy this coastal area, as well.

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