I thought I knew Florida.
I’ve lived here virtually my whole life, and I have traveled to many small Florida towns. I especially thought I knew Florida’s beaches. I grew up on Florida beaches splitting my time between the vastly different east and west coast beaches.
Apparently, I didn’t know all of Florida.
Admittedly, the one part of Florida I have never really explored is the panhandle. But how different can it really be? A world different.
This post is sponsored by Gulf County, Florida.
When my family and I were invited to visit Gulf County, Florida, the first thing we did was to Google it. We didn’t find much. We didn’t even find a single hotel in the area. But always up for a beach trip, we agreed to pack up the kids (ages 2 and 6) for a six-hour car ride. Six hours.
There is no direct highway into Gulf County. After leaving 98, it was a winding journey through small towns via county road 27. With no traffic to speak up, and plenty of cute little towns, it was actually an easy drive. (Also thanks to modern technology and three Disney movies for the kids.)
Somewhere about an hour outside of our destination Florida stopped looking like the Florida we knew and looking more like something out of a movie. It was beautiful. And I actually uttered the words, “I didn’t know Florida looked like this.”
On one side of the road, the vast wilderness of a wildlife preserve. On the other side, the gulf – sometimes only a few feet from the edge of the road. With very few developed areas, homes were built right on the water with their own private beaches. I gave up working on my computer to sit and watch the world pass by.
Landlocked on both sides by wildlife reserves, Gulf County was once the home to Port Saint Joe paper mill. Nowadays it is home to a shrimping community and beachside tourists – like us.
There are no hotels, but there are plenty of beachside homes available for rent. And we had the mac-daddy of all homes, from Pristine Properties, it sleeps 16 people! My biggest regret about our trip is that we didn’t bring more people to fill the house and that we couldn’t stay longer.
Our house was located on Cape San Blas, which, as you can see from the pictures, has an impressively wide beach and a stunning view.
Horseback Ride On The Beach
Gulf County is the perfect place to go for a relaxing outdoors vacation. Of course there is the beach; swimming, sandcastles, shelling, chilling. But there are also unique experiences you can’t get in other parts of Florida — like riding a horse, on the beach.
Without a doubt the best memory my family will take away from our visit to Gulf County was the horseback ride on the beach with Broke-A-Toe. I have only ever seen people ride a horse on a beach in movies, and let me tell you it is just as incredible in real life as it looks in the movies. Apparently during the summer, you can even take the horses in the water. (It was far too chilly to try on our visit.)
I still can’t believe out K got right up on that horse by herself and rode down the beach like a pro!
Seriously, amazing family memory.
From the moment I saw the water, I couldn’t wait to get on a boat. A two-hour fishing excursion with All About Fun was the perfect way to get out on the water and experience
Captain Charlene took us up the intercostal and filed us in on the history of the area while she expertly bait our hooks and helped the girls cast their lines. We’ve taken K fishing from the beach before, but this was Sissy’s first fishing trip and she was a smiles looking like a little pro. In fact, baby girl was the first to successfully land a Sheepshead on the boat.
Not to be out done, big sister caught a fish too. Poor dad just couldn’t get one to hang onto the line. (Mom was too busy taking pictures and breathing in the fresh air to try her luck.)
Whether you take a fishing trip or just a boat excursion, a boat ride is a great way to explore Gulf County.
We ate three meals during our visit — all fantastic. The first night we discovered Peppers, in downtown Port St. Joe, via Yelp, and it was fantastic Mexican food. Creamy guacamole, spicy salsa and yummy fajitas. Honestly, I would have been happy eating every meal there.
We took local recommendations for our other meals, which were all also highly rated on Yelp too. (BTW Peppers was also highly recommended by locals!)
We ate lunch at Dockside, which is located at the Port St. Joe Marina and offers a fantastic view. It was nice to sit outside on the dock, and the food was fresh and delicious. Seafood with a southern twist — served with a side of cheese grits. For dinner, we dinned at Sunset Coastal Grill, which also has a beautiful gulf view. Perfect for watching the sunset.
What You Should Know
Cellphone service is a crap shoot. According to locals, Verizon is your best bet, but even still — don’t count on it. Although this techy family didn’t know what to do with ourselves without real-time data (hello Instagram!), the locals don’t seem phased. And in some ways it was nice to be able to unplug a bit.
We did have good Wifi back at the house, so people following our trip on Instagram got bursts of photos from me. And really, what did we need our phones for? We were on vacation.
Downtown Port Saint Joe is just a couple of blocks, but it includes several cute little shops (and some good eats!). We arrived as shops were closing up for the day, but there was still time for me to find an adorable chevron dress. Be sure to leave time to explore the shops to see what you can find.
#GCFLnofillter Instagram Contest
Does a trip to Gulf County, Florida sound like your dream vacay? Then you have to enter the #GCFLnofilter contest, you could win your very own beach trip.
Through April 17 share your selfie using the #GCFLnofilter hashtag. Each week someone will win a trip to GCFL that includes three-night accommodations, $200 toward travel and $150 spending money.
One Instagram picture could be your ticket to enjoying a Florida beach vacation. Here’s how to enter:
- Get outside and snap a picture while doing what you love. Be real. Be messy. The sweatier the more beautiful.
- Post your picture to Instagram.
- Tag it #GCFLnofilter and tell @gulfcountyfl what you’re doing in your shot.
- That’s it. You will be automatically entered to win a getaway to Gulf County.
Plus for every entry, GCFL will donate $1 to Outdoor Nation – up to a final donation of $5,000. Outdoor Nation believes in reconnecting the Millennial Generation to the outdoors.
Learn more about Gulf County, Florida on the GCFL website.
What are you waiting for? Snap a selfie and enter the #GCFLnofilter contest today, it could be your ticket to paradise.
How will you and your family spend your Gulf County vacation?