The Weekend: Go for a bike ride in Tallahassee. The 20.5-mile Tallahassee-St. Marks Historic Railroad State Trail isn’t just for serious cyclists. Average bikers can make the journey along the canopied paved bicycling trail from state capitol to the the fishing town of St. Marks within a couple of hours, including stops for photo-ops and rest areas with water fountains.
Start Here: To make a weekend out of it, start in Talllahassee and plan for an overnight in St. Marks. The Shell Island Fish Camp has simple motel-style rooms as well as quaint stand-alone two-bedroom cabins with porches. The marina and supply store are popular with fisherman, so you'll likely hear a few fish tales while you relax.
1. Along the Tallahassee-St. Marks Historic Railroad State Trail, you can take on side trails provide for an extra off-road challenge. The 7.5 mile Munson Hills trail — considered the best off-road experience in Florida — passes by ponds and hammock ecosystems and scales sand hills through the Apalachicola National Forest.
2. Stop for a rest at the San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park’s fort, occupied by Andrew Jackson in the 1800s, and the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, home of whooping cranes and monarch butterflies.
3. The fried grouper basket and smoked mullet served with drawn butter are always a sure bet at the Riverside Café, a classic Old Florida-style eatery overlooking the St. Marks River.
- The Weekend: Go on an oyster binge in Apalachicola. If you like oysters, no doubt you've savored Florida's best: the large, briny ones that hail from this quaint fishing town in the Big Bend region of Northwest Florida. The secret? Apalachicola is a peninsula within a peninsula, surrounded by the Apalachicola River, Gulf of Mexico and Apalachicola Bay. The protected waters serve as the perfect incubator of oyster beds and support of the most diverse marine ecosystems in North America.
Start Here: Guests and locals mingling on the Victorian wraparound porch, swaying in rocking chairs while sipping cocktails from the bar inside, make the Gibson Inn a comfy spot for a weekend getaway. And you can't beat the location, just over the bridge at the entrance to the historic district, within walking distance of just about everything.
1. Oysters from the brackish bay are a main attraction in Apalach (as locals call it), and Boss Oyster is the place to go for tastes you won’t find anywhere else. The dress the sweet, plump bivalves more than 20 different ways, with feta, mushrooms, bacon, jalapenos and more. Even if you just have them plain (everything is shucked to order) they taste sweeter on a deck overlooking the Apalachicola River.
2. Hit the water with Journeys on neighboring St. George Island, your ticket to Gulf, Bay and River excursions. During boat tours of the Bay, guides jump into the water to grab a few oysters from the water, then serve them right on board with crackers and Tabasco.
3. Stop by photographer Richard Bickel’s studio in the historic Downtown District to see his gorgeous images of Apalachicola and surrounding areas. His gritty yet beautiful portraits of watermen give insight into the people who have cultivated the area's bounty for generations.
- The Weekend: Kick back with a Jimmy Buffet-style beach stay in Pensacola Beach. Pensacola Beach’s strip of white sand and emerald green water is home to indie restaurants and barefoot bars filled with friendly locals doing exactly what you want to do: letting the day take you where it will.
Start Here: Inspired by a Jimmy Buffet song, Margaritaville Beach Hotel has all the resort amenities a Parrothead could want, including a poolside tiki bar, beach views and a calendar of events ranging from SUP races to margarita tastings that will have you singing “Pour me something tall and strong …”
Weekend To Dos:
1. Life here centers around the crystal-clear water and sandy bottom of this Gulf Coast stretch, so plan to spend a good part of the day planted on the beach, sunning, strolling and bodysurfing.
2. After a day on the beach, hop aboard the brightly painted local trolley; it runs from 4 pm to midnight, late May to Labor Day, between Portofino Resort and the Fort Pickens Gate, making plenty of stops along the way.
3. What beach weekend is complete with out a cheeseburger in Paradise? They serve them topped with blue cheese at Paradise Bar & Grill, or opt for fried oysters or peel-n-eat shrimp instead — all made even tastier thanks to an oceanfront setting and live music by local bands.
- The Weekend: Get your music fix in South Walton. An unexpected artsy community, South Walton proudly displays it musical heritage at every opportunity. The best time to go is January for the annual 30A Songwriters Festival, but you'll find plenty of music all year long.
Start Here: Dune Allen Realty manages more than 100 vacation rentals throughout the communities along Scenic Highway 30A, from pet-friendly two-bedroom townhomes to five-bedroom vacation homes just steps from the Gulf. Playful property names like Always Summer and White Sand Dream could almost double as song titles.
1. Central Square Records is the place for all things music in Seaside. Stop into this retro-hip shop to find collections of classic and modern albums on vinyl (and turntables to play them), ukuleles, guitar strings and amps, along with artwork, T-shirts and puzzles.
2. The beach — with soft white sand and emerald-green water that parallels 30A for more than 16 miles — is the star of the show here year-round. Sunsets are the best time for a stroll, especially along the shores of Grayton Beach if you want to catch locals strumming in impromptu jam sessions — and expect some friendly dogs to be part of the crowd.
3. Catch live blues, soul, country and good, old-fashioned rock & roll in shows several nights each week at The Red Bar in Grayton Beach, or sip to the sounds of an acoustic set while watching the sunset at Bud & Alley’s in Seaside.
- The Weekend: Cruise the Suwannee River on a houseboat. Get your sea legs and take the entire weekend to travel the 16-hour round trip along the pristine Suwannee River between Suwannee and Fanning Springs.
Start Here: Rent a houseboat from Miller’s Marina in Suwannee. After a quick training session, you get your captain’s papers and are ready to go. The 44-foot houseboat comes complete with flush toilet, shower and full kitchen, and sleeps six to eight people. Have a serious party weekend or just relax with family as the boat chugs along at a leisurely seven knots down this scenic blackwater river. Keep packing to a minimum because chances are, you’ll be living in your swimsuit and that 72-degree water will entice you to jump in.
1. Bring your fishing gear and a fryer because you get the best of both worlds —freshwater and saltwater — on this river. Red fish, sea trout, large mouth bass and bream can all be caught here, right from the deck of your floating weekend house.
2. In Fanning Springs, disembark for the fried green tomatoes and smoked mullet dip at the Lighthouse Restaurant (352-463-7771) and the ribs at BBQ Shack (352-463-0355), both just a short walk from the river.
- Looking for what to do for Valentine's Day for the perfect couple's retreat? Take a look at our picks for the sexiest hotels and resorts in Florida and start planning your romantic getaway — just the two of you.
- Get a taste of the Old South in North Florida at Honey Lake Plantation, where rustic and modern blur amid towering cypress trees.
- No one passes through Apalachicola Bay, in Northwest Florida, without sampling the amazing oysters named after this historic fishing village.
- Are you looking for a cool cocktail to quench your thirst? Here are 3 local spots to enjoy a refreshing drink on a hot summer day.
- In honor of the Florida State Parks System’s 75th anniversary, we head outdoors, FT+L-style. As it turns out, roughing it is — thankfully — not what it used to be.
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