Every year, my parents, sister, her family and mine spend a week on St. George Island, off Florida’s Gulf Coast. And every year—usually right after the matchy-match family beach photo smile-fest—I find myself a quart or two low on sanity. So Dom and I shower off the sand, hop in the car, drive two causeways and 15 minutes away to the tiny town of Apalachicola.
And for a few hours, we get lost. Not in the town: Downtown Apalach, as the locals call it, is a four-block square at best. We get lost in the random sponge shops, boutiques with “Home Sweet Swamp” tank tops and the Tin Shed, with its wall of weathered buoys, stacks of lobster traps and well-endowed pirate maiden mannequin beckoning inappropriately from the front door. We get lost in conversation with artist Robert Lindsley, while his dog Paco chews a bone in a kayak in the middle of his exposed brick-walled gallery.
Hand in sweaty hand, we saunter by smelly oyster boats docked along Apalachicola River, rundown seafood markets with cool old signs and—my favorite—an 1800s saloon-turned-laundromat that burned in a fire decades ago, leaving nothing but three exposed brick walls and holes where the windows were. Over the years, nature turned it into a marsh and one time, on the heels of a quick afternoon rain, I walked by and caught a fantastic frog concert.
Now I’m not going to lie: It’s hot. Like soul-crushing, mind-melting hot. A heat so powerful we’ll linger over astrology-themed cookbooks in the used bookstore just because it’s air-conditioned. And inevitably Dom sweats through his collared shirt, snaps at me for spending too much time window shopping in the non-shaded sections of the sidewalk and demands we hydrate ourselves. With beer.
I’m not much on beer or bars, but I’ll listen to strangers talk all night. And that’s exactly what we do at Oyster City Brewing Company, where bartender and fourth-generation Apalachicola native Meghan discusses the price of PBR cases at Piggly Wiggly with a sunburnt man who described himself as “a Florida cracker, through and through.”
Then it’s next door to The Owl Café Tap Room (home of the slogan, “Owl Tap That!”) where real Apalachicola oysters are served, as opposed to imposters shipped in from New Orleans. And that’s where two people who never get to have a complete conversation sit in silence and devour a dozen raw. If there’s anything better on this earth, I have yet to discover it.
We wrap up a few minutes before 8 p.m. and sprint to the soda fountain, where the ice cream is terrible but the girls behind the counter are adorably cranky as they rush to close up shop. We eat it outside at a picnic table with a family from Georgia whose accents sound so country it’s like they speak a foreign language. Or maybe my ears have lived outside of Nashville too long.
There’s a magic to Apalachicola—a quiet culture, rugged history and fascinating ecology that 90 percent of Florida’s oysters call home. It’s not a destination for the golf-course crowd (there aren’t any) or Travel + Leisure-toting hipsters looking to Instagram their way through the week. (Editor’s Note: Beg to differ.) It’s just a cool old place on Florida’s “forgotten coast” where families come together. And escape one another. And hope nothing about the town changes between this visit and the next.