On Island Time

The four-mile-long Bryant Patton bridge is not only the link to St. George Island, which the locals refer to as SGI, a Gulf of Mexico barrier island off the coast of Apalachicola in Florida’s panhandle. It’s also short trip back to the slower-paced, quaint charm of Old Florida. As you traverse Apalachicola Bay, you leave behind our modern-day frenetic, tech-focused life to reset your clock to “island time.”

Life’s A Beach

Take one look at the miles of unspoiled sugar sand between dunes flagged with sea oats and the gentle blue waves of the warm Gulf water and you’ll understand why the 22 miles of St. George Island beaches are rated among the best in the country. The island actually offers four different beach areas. Follow signage from the bridge to the public beach, with plenty of parking, covered picnic pavilions, bath houses and a playground. The Unit Four Beach on the bay side of the island is a nature lover’s paradise where you might spot kingfishers, herons, osprey or eagles. Two other beaches are located inside the Julian G. Bruce St. George Island State Park. For more beach details, visit floridasforgottencoast.com.

Eat, Drink & Be Merry

For a small island community with a conspicuous lack of franchises and chain restaurants, SGI has an admirably diverse array of family-owned eateries.

The only home-cooked breakfast on the island is The Beach Pit (thebeachpit.com), and they also serve lunch and dinner seven days a week. Owners John Cadriel and Michael Cannon pride themselves on serving authentic Texas barbecue, local seafood and lots of comfort food. Chef John says they especially enjoy serving a family-style dinner featuring a guest’s fresh catch, or what he calls “you hook it, we cook it.”

“You can deep sea fish and your captain will clean it for you, then we’ll cook it and pair with homemade sides,” he explains. The Beach Pit has a lovely indoor dining room and a more casual, pet-friendly, screened-in patio.

Pizza! That’s the answer Billy and Judy Blackburn got back in 1990 when they asked locals what kind of restaurant they should open. The couple opened BJ’s Pizza and Subs (sgipizza.com) when their son, Brad, was a teenager. They let him hang up some of his sports pennants on the walls, and over the years, they’ve added visitors’ favorite teams by request for a fun, sports-themed décor. In addition to pizza, subs and kid-friendly favorites like burgers, fries and wings, they’ve added another feature not often found at a pizzeria—a sushi bar.

“All our fish is fresh, delivered six days a week from Water Street Seafood,” Blackburn says.

If it’s always five o’clock somewhere, that somewhere might be Doc Myers Island Pub & Sports Bar (docmyersislandpub.com), which owners Nick and Dan call “a tiki bar in paradise.” Get your favorite “boat drinks” to sip while you enjoy live music, your favorite sports on TV or just kicking back by the outdoor fire pit. The kids can enjoy video games, corn hole and—yes, adults, too—water gun fights!

If you feel like enjoying an evening in, head over to Dail’s Seafood Trailer (facebook.com/dailsseafoodonsgi) to pick up shrimp and fresh seafood you can prepare on your own grill. An island staple for more than 25 years, Dail’s Seafood was started by a fifth-generation local fisherman and is now run by his lovely wife, Anna, and son, Peewee. Everything they offer is caught fresh daily from local shrimpers and fisherman. It doesn’t get fresher than that!

Get A Good Night’s Sleep

Although you won’t find any chain or high-rise hotels on the island, lodging choices range from the traditional hotel rooms of the beachfront Buccaneer Inn (buccinn.com), which offers an outdoor pool; to the old Southern style St. George Inn (stgeorgeinn.com) with unique rooms and suites, some including semi-private porches or kitchens; to a wide variety of vacation homes designed for families.

There are several companies that book vacation homes online. Resort Vacation Properties (resortvacationproperties.com) manages nearly 300 SGI homes, from one-bedroom villas to eight-bedroom homes, all with free beach gear included and amenities like private pools, hot tubs and elevators. Check out their website for video tours and a beach cam. Collins Vacation Rentals (collinsvacationrentals.com) offers more than 240 privately owned homes, also ranging from cottages to high-end, seven-bedroom luxury homes with private boat docks, and most are pet friendly.

SGI Beach Vacations (sgibeachvacations.com), owned by Jonathan and Krista Beigle, offers three rental homes that the couple purchased based on their own tradition of family vacations on SGI.

“We go as a family at least once a year,” Jonathan says. “It’s a great family, area and it’s unlike any other beach in Florida.”

Their rentals offer at least four bedrooms, large dining areas perfect for family dinners, well-appointed kitchens, outdoor living spaces and all the comforts of home with plenty of room for the whole family to stay together under one roof. He blogs about the SGI area on their website, where they take direct reservations.

His best tip: “Catching one of those amazing SGI sunsets is always one of the highlights of our trips.”

Go Out & Play

Nature lovers flock to Dr. Julian G. Bruce St. George Island State Park, which occupies the eastern end of the island, to swim, stroll and shell the miles of undeveloped beaches, hike and birdwatch on nature trails through scrubs and pine forests, and stargaze away from the city lights. The campground offers 60 campsites and a group campsite just a few minutes’ walk from the beach, as well as two primitive campsites accessible to hikers or paddlers.

Locals love the park as much as visitors do.

“One of our family’s favorite activities is to spend a relaxing day on the beautiful, unspoiled and uncrowded beach,” says Apalachicola resident Betty Fugate.

If you want to fish, kayak, paddleboard or surf, Island Outfitters (sgioutfitters.com) will “hook you up.” They rent fully equipped kayaks and pedal kayaks and have a full bait and tackle shop run by Florida natives Larry and Angela Troy, who met on the island when Larry was a boat captain.

“We are all about everyone enjoying their vacation and helping them have a good time,” Angela says. “We love to teach people how to fish.” Larry was a fishing captain for more than 60 years. They can connect you to charter captains or send you off with a map and direct you to the best pompano, redfish or tarpon spots.

Whatever you need for a perfect beach day is available at Island Adventures (sgiadventures.com). They rent beach umbrellas, chairs, wheelchairs and golf carts and sell swimsuits, island apparel and souvenirs. A popular activity is skimboarding, and they rent boards for adults, kids and even dogs!

The most recognizable landmark on the island is the Cape St. George Light (stgeorgelight.org), which is open for tours. Go when you’re up for climbing the 92 steps of the spiral staircase and the 8-foot ladder that takes you up to the lantern room and you’ll be rewarded with the best view of the island and surrounding waters. Learn the history of the lighthouse in the museum located in the replica of the original keepers’ house.

If your family is looking for a low-key getaway, it’s just a four-hour drive and a four-mile bridge to reach this island paradise. No matter what time of year you visit SGI, you have a good chance of claiming your own section of beach, as long as you don’t mind sharing with a few friendly ghost crabs and the occasional sandpiper.

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