Grabbing your girlfriends, heading to St. George Island, and sticking your toes in the sand for a few days is not only a wonderful way to celebrate friendship in a gorgeous locale, but it can actually help you live longer. According to scientific studies, friendships can ward off dementia and increased life expectancy. It has also been proven that active friendships help make you friendlier, more generous, and more trusting.

A girls’ trip isn’t just a vacation—it’s a chance to explore the best moments of the past and strengthen relationships for a happier future. And no matter what your tastes or interests, the island has what you need to relax and make memories that will last a lifetime.

Want to start your day limber and calm? Take the group down to the beach for sun salutations with Island SUP&Yoga. And once you’ve loosened up, try something new and take a paddle board lesson from the same female instructors. A properly balanced body helps clear your mind, which will undoubtedly lead you to maximum relaxation.

St. George Island and nearby Apalachicola also have numerous art studios where you can take a painting class or even try your hands at sculpture. Sea Oats Studio offers a variety of workshops both indoor and “en plein air.” It’s the ultimate way to connect creatively with your friends and have something unique to remember your travels by. And speaking of memories, having a comfortable place to stay on the island is the best gift you can give yourselves and each other.

Whether you’re traveling with your two best friends, or a group of 10 laughing ladies, Resort Vacation Properties has the place for you. Solitude is a seven-bedroom home located on the island’s east end and offers easy access to the beach while staying delightfully private. It features a screened-in porch adjacent to the pool, which includes a six-person hot tub and private deck.

For larger groups with a bit of do-it-yourself flair, A Glimpse of Heaven features a 40-foot-long, screened-in pool with a giant dolphin fountain. The pool is adjacent to an opulent living area, complete with a half bath and an outdoor kitchen. It’s like having a giant swimming pool at one end of your amazing living room! What could be better than sipping wine on a comfy couch and then taking a quick dip before having a delicious seafood dish prepared a few feet away?

Those are just a couple of the amazing properties available on St. George Island, and they’re all within a short drive, stroll, or bike ride from some of the best restaurants Florida has to offer. You can get everything from fresh Mexican fusion dishes to pit barbecue and blackened fish caught the same day. And St. George Island features some of the top bartenders in the business for when sharing stories makes everyone thirsty.

Companionship is a priceless commodity in today’s world, and what’s good about spending time with your closest friends is that once you’re together, everything else is just the cherry on top. Which is why the number one destination on the island for our visitors is the more than 20 miles of sandy beach. All you need is a chair, an umbrella, and some sunshine — plus the people you enjoy being with more than anyone else.

The warmer months help us forget the previous seasons until, like melted frost on a summer day, they are out of sight and far out of mind. But hurricane seasons like that of 2018 leave a lasting impact on our hearts and, in the case of the Florida panhandle, our communities.

Those of us in the area stand with our coastal cousins in the wake of Hurricane Michael and have supported disaster relief efforts since October 11, when he came ashore. Because we know what’s best for the Forgotten Coast is best for everyone living here year-round or just making it their home away from home.

Fortunately, St. George Island — and nearby communities like Apalachicola, Eastpoint and Carrabelle — were spared a majority of Michael’s wrath. The damaged roads, including U.S. 98, have been repaired, allowing access from the north, east and west, and the last of the debris has been cleared. And now that spring has sprung and the water temperatures are headed into the 70s and 80s, it’s the perfect time to rediscover the jewel of the Forgotten Coast.

St. George Island State Park—with its 2,000 magnificent acres—is once again open, and the charter boat captains are gassed up and running fishing tours multiple times a day. And all of the island’s outfitters have kayaks, canoes, paddle boards, bikes, and golf carts ready for rental.

And a huge positive to come out of Hurricane Michael’s churning of the Gulf waters has been the bounty of seashells that can be found for miles along the island’s southern shore. So, in addition to the sandy white beaches, natural souvenirs abound for collectors who want a few spectacular mementos of their trip to a true paradise the hurricane couldn’t tarnish.

If you have small children, had small children, or have ever seen small children from a distance, you’ll understand the desire to occasionally dine away from said children.

Don’t get me wrong; I love kids (I even have some), but sometimes you just want to enjoy a meal without your kids… and without anyone else’s kids either. Up the Stairs in Apalachicola gives you that opportunity.

But the real appeal at Up the Stairs isn’t just the lack of children (that’s just a bonus!).

Nestled above shops in the quiet fishing village’s historic district, this fine dining establishment combines fresh seafood, exceptional service, extraordinary signature cocktails, and a growing wine list to create an unforgettable dining experience.

House favorites like the crab bruschetta and crawfish as well as the shrimp and sausage gumbo reflect the unique flavors of Up the Stairs, where the freshest ingredients meet in the most interesting combinations. Shrimp Sambuca, Petit Curry Pot, and beef carpaccio also make an appearance on this anything-but-ordinary menu.

Up the Stairs is situated right in the heart of the village, convenient to shopping, museums, and the waterfront. So it’s a great place to refuel any time of the day or night. And if you’re not quite up for the whole dining experience, you can always choose to eat in the lounge, where you’ll find most of the same delicious dining room selections in smaller portions.

If you’re spending time on The Forgotten Coast – taking advantage of all the hidden gems you can uncover in the calm of winter – don’t miss Up the Stairs. The real star there is the food.

Or maybe the cocktails. Or the wine list. No, it’s definitely the food. I can’t decide; stop by for a bite yourself and let me know which one you decide.

Lunch and dinner served Wednesday through Saturday. Sunday brunch served 11am-3pm.

76 Market Street in Downtown Apalachicola.

Nothing beats autumn at the beach. The emerald water turns a little grayer, the sun is a little lower, the breezes are a little cooler. The crowds are even a little sparser.

But the best part of fall in the Panhandle is the Florida Seafood Festival.

Now in its 54th year, this two-day celebration is the state’s oldest maritime festival, drawing thousands of visitors to the historic town of Apalachicola on November 3rd and 4th!

The Festival is held at the mouth of the Apalachicola River under the shady oaks of Battery Park. This confluence of the river and the Gulf of Mexico form an estuary that gives the local oysters their distinctive salty-sweet taste. Some call these the best in the country, and in fact, nearly 90 percent of all oysters served in Florida come from this spot.

Of course, oysters are king at the Seafood Festival, but there’s more to it than just eating (though that’s really enough, isn’t it?). The festival also features arts and crafts exhibits, plus other seafood-related events including the Oyster Eating and Oyster Shucking contests, Blue Crab Races, a downtown Parade, 5k Redfish Run, and the Blessing of the Fleet.

There’s also musical entertainment with headliners I Am They, a Christian music group performing Friday, and country music star Jerrod Niemann on Saturday.

The entire event is free and open to the public, so just head over to Apalachicola and enjoy the fun!

This time of year, the airwaves are full of monster movies and creature features trying to scare you, but on the Forgotten Coast, we don’t have to look any further than the waters of the Gulf of Mexico discover the weird and wacky! Did you know that although oceans cover 70% of the world’s surface, humans have explored less than 5% of them? But even that 5% has proven to be home to some eerie organisms. Here are a few of our favorite freaky fish of the Forgotten Coast:

One creepy resident is also a favorite dish of ours—flounder! This fish may be known for its tasty flavor, but it also possesses a very distinctive profile. In adults, both eyes are on one side of its very flat body. But it gets even weirder: they’re not born that way! Baby flounders have eyes on both sides of their bodies, but, as the fish grows from the larval to juvenile stage, one eye migrates to the other side!

The Sheepshead Fish looks like your average, run-of-the-mill aquarium-type fish. Its black and white stripes are both eye-catching serve as the impetus for their nickname “Convict Fish.” However, their appealing appearance ends when they open their mouths—which contain what look like human teeth! They have many rows of them, too, to help grind up their favorite foods: mollusks and bivalves.

Barracudas also call the waters of the Gulf of Mexico home. Their signature features, such as the protruding under jaw and razor-sharp teeth, are definitely creepy, but it’s their attraction to shiny things that sends shivers up our spines. If you plan to swim in a barracuda’s habitat, be sure to remove all jewelry and watches. The sheen reminds them of their natural prey, and they’ve been known to attack humans, thinking their glittering trinkets are food!

What are your favorite creepy creatures from the deep?

Nothing brings together a group like live music—dancing, singing along, and rocking out can turn strangers into friends over the course of just a few hours. As friendly as the Forgotten Coast is, it’s no wonder the area has plenty of hotspots to get your live music fix!

Blue Parrot Oceanfront Café (68-A Gorrie Dr.) offers unrivaled Gulf views to accompany their summer weekend concerts, and this Island staple is pet friendly, so Fido can tag along, too!

Stop by the large, outdoor courtyard at Harry A’s (28 Bayshore Dr.) for live music and karaoke and stay for the mouth-watering seafood offerings on their menu—don’t miss the seared ahi tuna!

At Paddy’s Raw Bar (240 E. 3rd), you can take your live music with fresh Apalachicola Bay oysters and one (or more!) of their sixteen draft beers.

If you’re looking for something more low-key, head over to Sometimes It’s Hotter (112 E. Gulf Beach Dr.) on Thursday evenings for Circle of Friends, a weekly music and cash beer and wine bar event.

Across the Bay are even more options as Apalachicola is home to two fantastic spots. Tamara’s Tapas Bar (73 Market St., Apalachicola)’s motto “Eat, Drink, Bond” rings true with tasty tapas, mouth-watering cocktails, and live music on weekends. Over at Bowery Station (131 Commerce St., Apalachicola), a beer and wine bar with a taste of old Apalach, there’s live music every pumping every night, including Wednesday’s open mic night.

Venturing further along the Forgotten Coast to Carrabelle is one of the area’s mainstays: Harry’s Bar and Package (306 Marine St., Carrabelle). This Carrabelle mainstay has been in operation since 1942 and offers distinctively New Orleans flair in their popular courtyard. The attached Marine Street Grill offers a small but scrumptious selection of sandwiches, salads, and starters. Also in Carrabelle, you’ll find Fathom’s Steam Room and Raw Bar (201 St. James Ave, Carrabelle), where you can enjoy waterfront views as you sip, savor, and sway along to their band du jour.

Wherever you head to hear tunes on the Forgotten Coast, you’re in for a treat. With plenty of island talent and laid back beachy vibes from SGI to Carrabelle and back, there’s no shortage of coastal revelry at these live music hangouts!

For centuries, people have sought out the healing benefits of hot water, and it’s no wonder, as soaking can decrease swelling and inflammation, support sore limbs and improve circulation. While St. George Island may not have been blessed with natural hot springs, we have the next best thing: hot tubs in scenic locations. Here are a few of our favorite properties that include hot tubs!

1 Beach Memory’s 6-person balcony hot tub offers breathtaking views of the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico, but that’s just one of many amenities. This beautiful home, just steps from the sugar-white sand beach, is perfect for the chef in you, with Pro-Series stainless appliances in the kitchen and a fantastic gas grill on the upper level deck. After dinner, play some pool at the 9-foot professional pool table or binge watch to your heart’s content on any of the flat-panel satellite-equipped HDTVs.

Over on the bay, Waterbird Watch is a nature lover’s dream: the whole property has been protected by MosquitoNix, an insect control system safer than DEET, meaning you can enjoy Apalachicola Bay sunsets from the open air porches without even a nibble from a buzzing pest. Beach days are a breeze with the provided chairs and umbrellas, but the screened in pool is perfect for days you want to stay bayside. When you want to unwind after the kids are asleep in the custom-built kids’ bunkroom, a 5-person hot tub, surrounded by the sounds of cicadas and calling birds, awaits you. There’s even a library stocked with birding books to help you identify your neighbors!

The casual coastal décor and open floorplan of Shooting Star offer prototypical beach house vibes. Drop off your things and you’re ready to relax by the private pool or take a stroll down to the beach, which is accessed by a shared walkway. And, after a long day at the beach, rinse off in a private outdoor shower and changing room. The 4-person hot tub at this property is nestled among soaring pine trees and lush greenery, providing a stunning setting for a tranquil soak. An added bonus of this property is the elevator, making the luxurious relaxation accessible to everyone.

Each of these properties include a beach gear credit, and, like all Resort Vacation Property rentals, you don’t have to pack the whole house: They each come with a fully equipped kitchen, washer and dryer, linens and towels, wireless internet, and a starter supply of consumables, like coffee filters and garbage bags.

The Forgotten Coast is an enigma, a place unto itself and unlike any other, a haven for misfits and nonconformists, where those who march to the beat of their own drums can find solace in their peculiarity being matched by their neighbors’. It’s no wonder, then, that the area is home to shopping as unique as its residents. A prime example of the Forgotten Coast’s eclectic flavor is The Tin Shed, home “the most comprehensive maritime collection east of the Mississippi” tucked away in an eponymous shack in downtown Apalachicola.

You might recognize this spot from its iconic Buoy Wall. Aside from being a favorite photo opportunity for tourists and locals alike, it’s also popular with national publications. It was used as a backdrop for a shot in the 2012 Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, and, more recently, was featured in Garden and Gun.

Inside, it’s like a museum where the relics are available for purchase. Everything nautical you can conceptualize is here: buoys, flags, signs, carvings, old charts, and more. You could spend hours perusing and barely scratch the surface. Unlike many souvenir shops, these items are authentic instead of kitsch, each with a long history and distinctive flair, so whatever you purchase is a one-of-a-kind addition to your home. It’s that attention to detail that has made for almost 20 years of success for The Tin Shed—they’ve even provided the decorations for several restaurants across the country!

So swing by The Tin Shed, get a shot of the Buoy Wall, and pick up something special to commemorate your trip. You’re guaranteed to find something as unique as the Forgotten Coast itself in this truly extraordinary shop!

The Tin Shed is located at 170 Water St. in Apalachicola and is open every day from 10 AM to 5 PM.