POSTCARDS FROM FLORIDA

Find old Florida in Apalachicola

Oyster fishing in Apalachicola

Shrimp boats still populate the docks along Water Street in Apalachicola. (Orlando Sentinel / July 19, 2001)

As readers of this column know, food is a prime factor in setting the Postcards From Florida itinerary.

In Apalachicola that connection is oysters, but the historic Gulf Coast destination on Florida's Panhandle has much more to offer.

Be advised, though, that the commute from Central or South Florida is more than a typical day trip. The drive required a good six hours from my home about 25 miles north of Orlando. On the plus side, many of the two-lane roads — including State Road 40 through the Ocala National Forest and U.S. Highway 27 through Fort White and High Springs — feature lovely scenery.

Likewise, the final stretch along U.S. Highway 98 next to the Gulf of Mexico is an appealing mix of picturesque waterfront views and the quaint, old-Florida business districts of Carrabelle and Eastpoint.

Apalachicola, with its one main intersection on U.S. 98 (or Avenue E), also exudes a charming, lost-in-time atmosphere. The city's business district occupies roughly a 10-block area that's pedestrian-friendly. There's a mixture of galleries and historic homes, as well as an assortment of restaurants that specialize in the shrimp, oysters and fish caught by the commercial fishing boats that line the docks on Water Street.

And, yes, the oysters were delicious. I sampled a dozen baked on half shells and smothered with cheddar cheese, bacon, jalapenos and hot sauce at Papa Joe's Oyster Bar and Grill (papajoesoysterbar.com). It's one of several fish houses nestled along a channel that leads to the Apalachicola River, which means that it's likely you'll see several fishing boats chugging back to port with future dinners on board.

Just around the corner from Papa Joe's is the Funky Fiddler, a family owned store that offers handcrafted drink coolers along with beachy-looking chairs, tables, handmade jewelry and seashell art.

A map for a walking history tour is available at the Chamber of Commerce (apalachicolabay.org). The trek includes the Chestnut Street Cemetery, established in 1831 and home to grave markers for seven Confederate soldiers who served in the Florida Brigade at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Historic homes, such as the Raney House Museum, provide a glimpse of 19th-century family life in Apalachicola. The quiet streets make it easy to imagine that you've traveled back in time.

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