Folks who visit St. George Island tell us they don’t want to stay anywhere else. And we want them back every time, too. After all, it’s personal. For many of them, multiple generations of their families have made this their island for a few weeks or months every year, no matter where home is.

But St. George Island is a unique destination for everyone who visits, and we’ve put together a few reasons we think that that is. Here are the top 5 reasons St. George Island is truly one of a kind.

  1. No high-rise condos or massive buildings of any kind. Look up from any point on the island and while you may see our historic lighthouse or water tower, what you won’t see is a towering condominium complex or hotel. There are hundreds of places to stay on the island, but due to the strict, 35-foot height restriction on buildings, they’ll never block a sunrise or sunset. Our goal is to make sure that anything man-made complements and provides respectful access to the amazing scenery available no where else.
  2. Speaking of scenery, you’d be hard pressed to find another place where the Gulf of Mexico and a thriving interior bay are so close together. On St. George Island, you can take a dip in Apalachicola Bay or hop on a charter boat docked there before the powdery beach sand from the Gulf side has even brushed off your feet. The island is just shy of a mile wide at its broadest point and much more narrow elsewhere. It’s an especially cool experience by kayak, canoe or power boat. In Apalachicola Bay you can fish for more than 100 species of fish before rounding the point at St. George Island State Park, where 25 miles of sandy beaches and surf and offshore fishing await.
  3. From beaches to wilderness preserves and all the natural beauty in between, visitors to St. George Island coexist with incredibly diverse and unique wildlife. As a community we do our best to protect the several thousand green, loggerhead and Kemp’s Ridley turtles that hatch on the island during the summer months. But it’s not just the turtles who infuse our vacations with beautiful new life, there are also dolphins, more than 300 species of birds, as well as countless amphibians and reptiles who either stop by seasonally or call St. George Island home year-round. We love them all and have an amazing time appreciating their beauty. And with our “leave no trace” policy across the island, we all have a hand in making sure these special creatures are protected.
  4. On St. George Island, our domesticated animals are just as important to us as those living in the wild, and here there’s incredible access for pets, especially for our canine friends. The island is exceptionally pet-friendly, with dogs allowed on both beach and bayside on most of the island as long as they are on a leash. And in the business district, you’ll find many different shops and restaurants who not only allow them to join you, but offer a treat or two as a welcome.
  5. George Island State Park is a fantastic resource for everyone who visits the island. A beautiful public reserve spread over 2,000 acres, the park has nine miles of undeveloped shoreline, majestic dunes, a bay forest, and salt marshes. Here, you’ll also discover campgrounds, boat launches, and several miles of pristine sugar-sand beaches.

California chef John Taylor hadn’t been to St. George Island before December 2017, but his sister and her family have been visiting the island for 40 years. And through her tales and his own want to “bring the whole Mexican vibe to the panhandle,” the St. George Cantina was born.

Opened in June, the Cantina is located on East Pine Avenue and offers a lot that patrons won’t be able to experience elsewhere. Taylor, known as JT, has opened 52 restaurants throughout his career and decided now was the time to open one of his very own.

St. George Cantina Restaurant on St. George Island

“I’m excited to do it for myself,” Taylor says. “The biggest thing for me is guest service and food consistency, and I think the island could really use a step up in the way food is done. I want something really easy and clean.”

Taylor has tremendous respect for the chefs of Apalachicola and said he wants to create that standard at the Cantina. The menu is infused with diverse flavors and features pork, steak, vegetarian dishes, and lots of seafood. Taylor gets his shrimp and seafood from Apalachicola fishermen.

“We will feature a different fish every day,” Taylor says.

As a chef, Taylor has crafted the menu to include several fresh and homemade items, including his own hybrid corn-and-maseca-flour recipe for tortillas, which are used for the various tacos being offered.

An unusual offering guests will find at the St. George Cantina is the mac-and-cheese bar.

As Taylor puts it, “I love mac and cheese, and I want people to have fun when they come in.”

There’s a chef making cheese sauces and guests can add savory items like lobster and bacon. At the bar, the signature drink is the Moscow Mule, which has Taylor’s unique touch, adding passion fruit to the ginger beer and vodka that usually makes up the recipe.

Another distinct touch the Cantina offers is that only one item is fried — shrimp for the tacos — while everything else is sautéed or grilled.

Taylor is working with contacts in Tallahassee to bring in flamenco guitarists for folks who want a softer musical touch, but with plenty of beat to salsa or merengue dance to. He also offers the island’s only delivery service and has added catering services and cooking classes as well.

Another amenity he’s developing for the younger crowd is a teen night. He wants to put up a large tent over a grassy area and offer a DJ, hamburgers, and hot dogs for teens on the island.

“There needs to be something like that for them,” he says.

And it all benefits the greater island community, for locals and those here to enjoy a vacation.

“I hope everyone goes along with raising the bar,” Taylor said of setting a new standard. “It will increase traffic everywhere because if they can find it on the island, they’ll stay on the island.”

For the menu and more, visit StGeorgeCantina.com.

There are a lot of great restaurants on St. George Island, and elsewhere along the Forgotten Coast. But visitors and locals alike love the challenges of preparing their own gourmet meals, and when it’s time to choose from the best area seafood, they usually have two names in mind: Dail’s and Doug’s.

The two seafood trailers have been staples on the island for more than two decades, and offer a wide variety of the fresh bounty harvested from local waters daily. They are usually parked within a couple of blocks from one another in the central business district, near the two grocery stores that sell the items every chef needs to complete the perfect recipe.

Most days you’ll find Doug McKinney sitting in his red chair under the awning of his Doug’s Seafood trailer. Around him are usually several coolers filled with the day’s catch, which often includes local oysters, shrimp, scallops, snapper, and grouper, among others.

 

“I try to be the best I can be and offer the best seafood money can buy, seven days a week,” McKinney says. The former millwright went into the seafood business more than 25 years ago, and said his seafood is “known around the world” because of the vast diversity of visitors who come to St. George Island each year.

“I have people who have been buying from me for 25 years,” he says. “They’re like one big extension of my family.”

Doug's and Dail's Seafood Trailer on St. George Island

Family, and the connection with their customers, is something that’s cherished across the way at Dail’s Seafood as well. There, Anna and PeeWee Carmichael man what they like to call “the Wagon,” and dish out as many stories as they do pounds of shrimp and oysters.

“We have quite a tremendous, loyal customer base,” Anna says. She loves to talk with the folks who walk up to the trailer, which was originally opened in the 1990s by PeeWee’s parents, Dail and Betty Carmichael.

Anna’s journey began away from St. George Island, but she remembers her family vacationing here when she was a child. Eventually those regular trips turned into something even more lasting when she “married a shrimp man.”

Dail’s Seafood offers many of the same staples you’ll find at Doug’s, with the addition of yellowfin tuna and scallops, which aren’t commercially caught in local waters. And Anna also makes several gallons of her now-famous fish dip each week, which has become a favorite item for visitors and locals alike.

“We do everything but catch the fish,” she says. Her dip is made of mullet or mackerel which they smoke at their fish smoker at home, and she mixes up the rest of the secret recipe herself. Dail’s also offers crab cakes made by another local fishing family, the Amisons from Apalachicola. That family operates a seafood warehouse across the bay and partners with the Carmichaels.

For Anna and PeeWee, success is all about connection. They get lots of customers from social media and web advertising, but it’s the stories they share with one another that breed loyalty and fellowship between retailer and customer, they said.

“We love our customers, they’re the ones who support us year in and year out,” PeeWee says. To which Anna adds, “Engaging our customers is one of the most important things we do. In this new age of interaction through technology, human interaction is absolutely necessary.”