Year after year, as I travel across the state looking for that perfect boating destination, I often find myself coming back to one small fishing community located in the heart of the Forgotten Coast. Carrabelle, Florida is not your typical tourist destination. Most people I talk to actually have no idea where Carrabelle is located or if they do, they quickly associate it with fishing. So during our last visit we set out to find other adventures -- adventures that could be enjoyed either by the entire family or by a couple just looking to reconnect.
The beauty of Carrabelle is found in its simplicity. There are no red lights (there’s only one in the whole county!), but there are great boat ramps, mom-and-pop restaurants and lodging, plus easy access to Dog Island and St. George Island. You don’t have to look far to feel like you’ve stepped back in time. For this trip, we chose a private beach house on St. George Sound, just a few miles from the center of Carrabelle. Not quite sure what to expect, we were elated to find a beautiful three bedroom home located directly on the beach and surrounded by towering pines. A private deck provided a priceless view of the sunset over St. George Island. This oasis delivered everything we needed to escape from our everyday lives.
Our goal for this trip was to try new things, so we left our boat at home this time and set out in a smaller craft. Carrabelle offers all kinds of recreational activities that could be easily missed by the weekend traveler. Two options we really enjoyed were a kayak tour of the Crooked River and an Eco Tour of St. James Bay.
The Crooked River connects the tidal estuary of the Ochlocknee River to a junction with the tidal Carrabelle River. The 25-milewaterway winds its way along 13,000 acres of marshland created to preserve the black bear land, which is now a part of Tate’s Hell State Forest. Whether you are an experienced kayaker or a novice, you can’t go wrong with this tour. There’s something new to see around every bend as you discover Florida the way it was meant to be. We chose a guided tour provided by St. James Bay Golf Resort, which is a destination unto itself, providing the areas only Audubon golf course, which features fifteen lakes, and world-class accommodations.
Our next adventure was to embark on an Eco Tour with Captain Chester Reese of Natural World Charters. Capt. Chester was by far one of the most interesting individuals I have met in some time. His wide and varied local knowledge made the tour come to life. As we traveled the 3.5 miles across the St George Sound in his 24’ Morgan Sport Fisherman, it became clear that his passion for the area was contagious. Stories about the history of Dog Island came to life as Capt. Chester explained how the French discovered the island in 1536 and common sailors -- known as dogs -- were left on the island so they could not jump ship when they hit the mainland. The pirates are long gone, though. Today only a few homeowners and the Nature Conservatory inhabit the island. A short stop provided a great opportunity for shelling as well as a closer look at history.
No trip to the Forgotten Coast is complete without experiencing some of the freshest seafood found in the state. Over the years we have found a few favorites we think should be visited by everyone who finds themselves along the banks of the Carrabelle River.
Fathoms Steam Room and Raw Bar provides a rustic atmosphere with live entertainment and fresh steamed or raw seafood. There’s nothing fried here. Sitting around the outside bar eating oysters while conversing with the locals gives you the feeling that this small town doesn’t know a stranger.
Another location that stands out is The Fisherman’s Wife. Known for fresh seafood, the locals will tell you it also has some of the best hamburgers in the area. I chose a shrimp quesadilla, not something I would normally order. Still, I decided to take a chance and order something out of the norm. This dish has now become one of my favorites. Fun fact: The Fisherman’s Wife started as a roadside trailer where the locals could purchase a quick lunch. The entrees became so popular that they had to move to a more traditional type building. However, the original trailer still sits on the property and that’s where cooks prepare the food and pass it through the windows to servers. As they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Lastly, if you’re looking for that fish camp feel along the water’s edge, you must try the Carrabelle Fish Camp at the Carrabelle Marina. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, you won’t find a better location to enjoy the beauty of the area while enjoying local cuisine. The beauty of this location is that it includes a full service marina, boat ramp and even condos for rent. Chances are you will find yourself content just to sit on the deck and watch the hours go by.
Carrabelle, Florida is a destination that should not be overlooked. If you’re a fisherman, it’s perfect. If you’re a boater, it’s paradise. And if you’re a tourist who is looking to relax, it’s a dream come true. It’s no wonder that so many of us are hooked on Carrabelle.