Gulf Coast Communities

Tallahassee's Coastal Communities: Growth is in the Air

By Fincher Smith

One of the most treasured amenities of Tallahassee is its proximity to the Gulf Coast. Most of its coastal communities are just a short drive from the capital city-- some 45 minutes or less -­ and all represent some of the best-kept hideaways in Florida.

I've lived in Tallahassee my whole life. I've worked in the banking industry, owned restaurants throughout the region, and developed and sold residential and commercial real estate for years. Having access to the coastline has been one of the things I love most about living in this part of the state. Whether it's fishing off the cut at St. George Island, attending the Saltwater Classic in Carrabelle, sitting on my front porch at St. Teresa, or having a drink at the Historic Gibson Inn in Apalachicola, visits to these small coastal towns have allowed me to get away and reenergize, something often needed in my all-too-hectic life.

My experience is not unique. Many of my friends and acquaintances who live in the Tallahassee/ Leon County region have enjoyed summers and holidays on the nearby coast for years, whether spending a long weekend at one of the many rental units available or spending weeks at a time in a second home -- some of which have been in their families for generations. Northern Floridians are drawn, as I am, to a place that remains an authentic, ungentrified link to the past and offers a slower way of living.

So whether you're a long time resident of Tallahassee or a newcomer to the capital city region, there are a variety of great options to consider when looking at coastal communities. We've seen steady growth in Tallahassee and are anticipating continued growth in these communities detailed below.


Carrabelle, FL

First called "Rio Carrabelle," the town was founded in 1877 by Oliver Hudson Kelly. By 1881, the population totaled between 500 and 600 people. The city was chartered by the Florida legislature in 1893. Five years later, the second hurricane of the season struck the area, almost destroying the town and leaving only nine homes. The people persevered and the town survived.

Located east of Apalachicola on the mouth of the Carrabelle River, Carrabelle labels itself a "quiet little fishing village," and for the most part that is an accurate description. There are no crowds on its beaches, no high rise buildings, and no vendors. For vacationers or residents wanting to avoid all things "touristy," Carrabelle has a lot to offer.

Interestingly, there's a lot to do in this small town. Its deep water harbor and access to three rivers are big attractions to those wishing to fish, kayak, or go boating, and wildlife is abundant for hikers to enjoy. Carrabelle is also near the St James Bay Resort, which has the area's only Audubon Signature Sanctuary golf course. Vacationers can also visit the Crooked River Lighthouse and the World's Smallest Police Station (a phone booth), or attend the Saltwater Classic or the Carrabelle Riverfront Festival. So if you want uncrowded beaches, good fishing and boating, or just a slower, less hectic way of life, check out this small, friendly community.


Apalachicola, FL

Incorporated in 1827 under the name of "West Point" -- changed to "Apalachicola" four years later -- the town was once the third-busiest port in the Gulf of Mexico. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the sponge trade was the town's major industry. Today the town is still a working waterfront for a variety of seafood workers, including oyster harvesters and shrimpers. At its peak, more than 90 percent of Florida's oyster production was harvested from Apalachicola Bay, and every year the town hosts the Florida Seafood Festival.

If you are interested in maritime history, this is the place for you. Apalachicola, which has a population of only 2,328, has an award-winning historic district, with more than 900 amazing homes that belonged to sea captains, river pilots, and sponge divers. Charming Victorian homes tell of years gone by, and restored B&Bs and hotels provide waterfront accommodations. For shoppers, there are one-of-a-kind boutiques and galleries, where they can find unique gifts to take home.

If you are an outdoor enthusiast, the Apalachicola River and the bay provide great opportunities. Fresh and saltwater fishing, kayaking, canoeing, and sailing are readily available.

So if you are a history buff, someone who loves fishing or river sports, or if you just want the best seafood around, you should see what Apalachicola has to offer.


St George Island

St. George, a small barrier island 28 miles long and a mile wide at its widest point, was originally inhabited by Creek Indians between the 10th and 15th centuries, before they were decimated by disease. When the Europeans arrived, a struggle ensued, and in 1803 the land was ceded to trader John Forbes. Later colonists relied on the island's oysters and crabs when they found themselves short of food. In 1833, as trading grew, a central lighthouse was constructed to help guide ships coming in to port. It was destroyed in 2005 by a storm, but it has since been reconstructed.

St. George Island is divided into three regions: a state park; a public strip of restaurants, bars and businesses, homes, and public beaches; and a private, gated, highly exclusive housing development with multi-million dollar beach homes that come complete with their own airstrip. Much of the island's appeal is that it is small and known for being quiet and tranquil. Many of the residents rent out their homes in the spring and summer months. But a word of caution -- for those looking to buy or rent, it is said to be one of the more expensive places on the Gulf.

Those who can afford it often purchase land on the island as an investment.

St. George Island State Park consists of nine miles on the eastern part of the island. People can camp and swim there if they have reservations. For those interested in hiking, there are good trails, boardwalks, and observation platforms. Bird watching is also very popular. For vacationers who like to eat (as most of us do), there is an excellent selection of oysters, scallops, grouper, flounder, trout, snapper, and other kinds of seafood.

This small island could be a special place to spend a day, a weekend, or even longer.


St Marks

Originally known as San Marcos de Apaache, St. Marks was founded by the Spanish in the 17th century in what was then Spanish Florida. It was acquired by the U.S. in 1821, before the settlement moved slightly up the St. Marks River to its present position. Although its importance may have faded historically, those interested in digging deeper will find stories of Apalachee Indians, Spanish explorers, pirates, and battles fought up through the American Civil War.

Although St. Marks may appear to be a sleepy waterfront village, it is well known for its commercial and sport fishing. It also offers visitors a historical bed and breakfast inn, a fish camp, restaurants, boat rentals, gift shops, and two city parks ideal for family picnicking.

Paddling enthusiasts can find river guides and outfitters to meet any need, and for crab lovers there is the popular Stone Crab Festival.

St. Marks may not be as flashy or as well advertised as other vacation spots near Tallahassee, but a trip there may well bring some experiences you hadn't expected. I'd recommend you try it.


St Teresa/Alligator Point

As I said earlier, I've lived my whole life in Tallahassee. I love the city and wouldn't live anywhere else. My family also has owned a beach house at St. Teresa for many years, and I go there on the weekends as often as I can. I don't think of it as a luxury; I think of it more as a necessity. Sitting on the porch enjoying the beach and listening to the soothing waves, I find it's a place where the stresses of life can melt away, if only for a while.

Right across the bay is Alligator Point, which offers an excellent vantage point for the migration of birds and butterflies for those lucky enough to be there in the spring or fall. Its state park features all manner of wildlife, including black bear, white-tailed deer, coyotes, and bobcats.

And for people who enjoy outdoor sports there is fishing, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, and swimming. Both St. Teresa and Alligator Point offer a quiet getaway for those who simply wish to walk on the beach, collect shells, watch a sunset, or just relax.

A final thought. If you do decide to take the plunge, I hope you will do several things: First, don't just research the town, visit it, especially if you're thinking about buying a year-round home or purchasing a second one to use as a vacation spot or rental property. Ask yourself if the house feels like "home," and, more importantly, if the community feels welcoming. Does the town offer the cultural and natural amenities you want in a place? It's one of the biggest decisions you will make in your life, and you need to be sure. Second, make sure your realtor is someone who knows the area well -- both its strengths and its weaknesses. And finally, choose someone to work with who will put your welfare and satisfaction above making a sale.

If you follow these simple guidelines, I think you will be happy with the outcome. See you at the beach!

About Fincher Smith:A third generation Tallahasseean, Fincher Smith is a seasoned real estate developer, agent with Coldwell Banker Hartung and Noblin, Inc., restaurateur, and man about town with more than 25 years of professional business knowledge.