Tucked away in Northwest Florida, Apalachicola makes for a low-key family getaway. My husband, Braulio, and I recently took our first trip to “Apalach,” as the locals call it.
With our 1-year-old daughter, Norah, in tow, we wanted to keep our itinerary interesting for us but still kid-friendly. Here’s how we spent the weekend.
4 p.m. - Departing from our home near Tampa, we drove north up US-98 so we could enjoy the coastal scenery.
10 p.m. - We arrived at Water Street Hotel and Marina, a 30-suite hotel toward the end of Water Street. Our two-bedroom, two-bathroom suite was lovely, with light hardwood floors, charming black and white tile in the bathrooms and a full kitchen. But our favorite part was the screened-in porch overlooking the Apalachicola River, from which we could watch the oyster boats drift by.
8 a.m. - After catching the sunrise over the river from our porch, we walked a half-mile to Caroline’s River Dining. We took it as a good sign that both locals and guests from the adjacent Apalachicola River Inn flocked to the riverfront restaurant. While some dined al fresco, our family saddled up to a table in the charming Southern-style dining room, with its sparkling chandeliers and lavender tablecloths. Our day got off to a sweet start with pancakes and French toast.
9 a.m. - Yes, we just ate breakfast, but as we walked back to our hotel, we couldn’t resist stopping in Cafe Con Leche. While Braulio ordered a latte and guava pastry, Norah and I browsed the art, jewelry and used books that were for sale.
10 a.m. - Lighthouses were meant to be climbed. So to work off our breakfast, we drove across the Apalachicola Bay to the Cape St. George Lighthouse and Museum. The 92 steps to the top were worth it for the 360-degree view at the top.
12 p.m. - We had to stop by the John Gorrie Museum and genuflect to the man who invented the ice machine -- the precursor to air conditioning.
1:30 pm. - Time for lunch at the Apalachicola Seafood Grill, a no-fuss joint that knows oysters, crab cakes and shrimp.
2:30 p.m. - On our way inside Orman House, we stopped to feel the cotton plants growing along the path to the front porch -- a nod to the 1830s, when Apalachicola was the third-largest cotton shipping port in the United States, after New Orleans and Mobile, Ala. During those years, cotton merchant Thomas Orman made out like a bandit, as proved by his beautiful home. There’s no air conditioning, so dress accordingly.
3:00 p.m. - We took a quick stroll through the free Chapman Botanical Garden, which sits on the adjacent property of Orman House.
4 p.m. - Taking a break from the heat, we headed for Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve. It’s the second-largest estuarine research reserve system in the country, spanning more than 246,000 acres in Apalachicola Bay. The educational center was perfect for our family: It was air conditioned, the aquariums were at toddler eye level... and did I mention it was air conditioned? The tour was also friendly on our family’s wallet -- admission is free, with donations accepted.
5 p.m. - We headed back to Water Street Hotel to relax on the porch. We watched a couple fishing off the marina dock and cheered them on when they caught a sheepshead.
8 p.m. - Right about now, most families would probably go out to dinner. But it was bedtime for Norah, so while Braulio gave her a bath and read her favorite bedtime story for the thousandth time, I picked up take-out from the Owl Cafe. Of course in Florida seafood is king, but Owl Cafe serves a nice variety of salads, pastas and other items to please every palate. The white-tablecloth restaurant is fancy enough for a special dinner, but dress is casual and I met a couple with a four-day old baby there, so it’s not that snooty. Leave time to browse the gift shop downstairs.
8:30 a.m. - After packing up and checking out of our hotel, we crossed the bridge one last time to St. George’s Island. We picked up breakfast sandwiches from the Beach Pit, a casual eatery that was one of the few restaurants open so early.
9:00 a.m. - Beach time! Norah loved frolicking in the warm waters of Dr. Julian G. Bruce St. George Island State Park, in the shadow of the lighthouse we’d visited the day before.
10:30 a.m. - With Norah exhausted from all that fun in the sun, we buckled her into her car seat and departed for home.
Headed for Apalach? If you’re traveling sans-toddler, you probably can pack in even more grown-up fun. For ideas, check out apalachicolabay.org.