The drive down Highway 98 through Panacea and Carrabelle has the surreal feel of a movie set, where time has stood still and preserved these small towns in quaint, 1950s style. Downtown Carrabelle boasts the smallest police station in the world. It's actually the telephone booth on the right side of the road just past a small row of shops. Out of town, the road edges ever closer to water's edge, and much of the trip affords an incredibly scenic view of the Gulf. For a great tunes along the way, tune into Oyster Radio 100.5 FM.
Stop at one of the "hole-in-the-wall" fish houses for Apalachicola oysters on the half shell and boiled shrimp with the heads on - it's perhaps the freshest seafood on the Gulf. While in Apalachicola, be sure to visit the John Gorrie Museum State Park, 46 Sixth St. off U.S. Hwy. 98, featuring a replica of his 1880's ice-making machine. Gorrie's cooling machine laid the groundwork for modern refrigeration and air conditioning. Call (850) 653-9347.
From Tallahassee, head south on Crawfordville Highway (U.S. 319/State Road 61), then bear left onto State Road 61 for six miles. Turn left onto State Road 267 at the flashing stop light. Turn right into Park Entrance. Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park, 465 Wakulla Park Dr., is home of one of the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world, this park plays host to an abundance of wildlife, including alligators, turtles, deer and birds. Daily guided riverboat tours provide a closer view of wildlife, and glass-bottom boat tours are offered when the water is clear. Swimming is a popular activity during the hot summer months. A nature trail offers a leisurely walk along the upland wooded areas of the park. Call (850) 561-7276.
If pure white sand beaches are calling your name, take U.S. Hwy. 98 southwest to East Point. The S.R. 300 Bridge will take you over the bay to St. George Island. Head to the east end for a tour of St. George Island State Park, 1900 E. Gulf Beach Dr. Stretches of uncrowded beaches for sunning, and pristine marsh and wooded areas ideal for bird watching and nature walks make for a Robinson Crusoe-style experience. Call (850) 927-2111.
Follow the salty breeze southwest to Apalachicola. Pick up a map at the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce, 122 Commerce St., and take a self-guided tour of the Historic District, only a short walk away. Call (850) 653-9419. Places of architectural note include the 1838 Trinity Episcopal Church, 79 Sixth St., one of the first pre-fabricated buildings constructed in Florida; the 1838 antebellum Raney House, southwest corner of Market Street and Avenue F, a Greek Revival mansion that barely escaped destruction in the Civil War. The 1905 Coombs House Inn, corner of U.S. 98 and 6th St. Come full circle and back to the Old Time Soda Fountain, 93 Market St., and plop down on one of the bar stools at the counter to sip fresh-squeezed lemonade or an old-fashioned chocolate malt. Call (850) 653-2606.
Also notable in Apalachicola is the Dixie Theatre. Built in 1912, it was the entertainment center of the county. Eventually, it operated as a motion picture theater, but then closed in 1967. Recently renovated, the Dixie is now hosting live theatre and music again. Call (850) 653-3200.
Wewahitchka, northwest of Apalachicola at the junction of Highway 71 and Highway 22, claims fame with its pure Tupelo honey, made from May blossoms of the rare white tupelo tree. Buy a jar at L.L. Lanier and Son's on Lake Grove Road by the water tank. Lanier was the inspiration for Peter Fonda's character in the 1997 film "Ulee's Gold"; the movie was filmed in his backyard. Call (850) 639-2371.