The seat of Gulf County and one of the hubs of Florida’s Forgotten Coast, Port St. Joe offers the perfect perch along the enticing waters of St. Joseph Bay, a stone’s throw from the coastal wonderlands of Cape San Blas and the St. Joseph Peninsula.
From lazy sunbathing and soaking to world-class fishing, boating, and hiking, a Forgotten Coast idyll based in Port St. Joe can be all-around bliss. Here are five fantastic places to go to get a taste for the magic!
T.H. Stone St. Joseph Peninsula State Park
One of the honest-to-goodness treasures of the Forgotten Coast, T.H. Stone St. Joseph Peninsula State Park took a beating (as did the whole area) from Hurricane Michael in the fall of 2018, but it’s well on the road to recovery. The hurricane cut a breach through the park north of the Eagle Harbor boat ramp, but by the spring of next year currents had filled that breath with sand: a natural repair job that’s been enhanced by the park’s own sand additions.
St. Joseph Peninsula State Park provides critical habitat for a wide range of species, including nesting grounds for birds such as the snowy plover and several kinds of sea turtles. This is also a refuge for the endangered St. Andrews beach mouse. Hike the half-mile Maritime Hammock Trail through a spectrum of native ecosystems—maritime hammock, for one thing, plus coastal scrub and marsh—and you may see deer, coyotes, foxes, opossums, armadillos, river otters, and other wild denizens of the park.
Other trails slated to reopen soon include the Bay View Trail loop and the solitude-rich Wilderness Preserve Trail in the park’s beautiful backcountry.
Fishing on both the bay and the Gulf side is excellent; you can cast for red drum, flounder, bluefish, speckled trout, and more here, and scalloping is a major seasonal pastime as well. Boating’s also popular off both shores, with St. Joseph Bay an outstanding place for canoeists and kayakers; it’s also ideal for snorkeling.
The park’s beachfront has in the past been celebrated by the well-known Dr. Beach as the nation’s best, and indeed it’s postcard-perfect: a great place to sunbathe, go shelling, or take a dip (no lifeguards, though, so be cautious).
Cape San Blas Lighthouse
Treacherous shoals jut out into the Gulf of Mexico from Cape San Blas, which forms the southern footing of the St. Joseph Peninsula. In 1849, a brick lighthouse shining a beacon visible 10 miles offshore was erected on the Cape to safeguard vessels navigating those tricky waters. A storm took out that first Cape San Blas Light only a couple of years later, but a replacement soon took up the vital job—even after sustaining some major damage during the Civil War.
Coastal erosion and hurricanes forced successive lighthouses to be moved farther inland. The current lighthouse, a skeletal tower design just shy of 100 feet that dates from the 1880s, was automated in 1972 and then deactivated in the mid-1990s.
In 2014, this long-serving structure was transported to a new, high-profile home among the handsome pines of Port St. Joe’s George Cove Park, where the Cape San Blas Light—on the National Register of Historic Places—now ranks among the city’s chief landmarks. You can climb the tower, study vintage lighthouse artifacts, and pick up souvenirs at the associated gift shop, all while appreciating the noble heritage embodied in that tall steel frame.
The Rockin M Ranch
The gleaming beaches of the Forgotten Coast are unforgettable to begin with, but you can log some truly incredible memories by experiencing them from the saddle. The Rockin M Ranch offers guided horseback rides along the surf of Cape San Blas: the chance to get your cowboy or cowgirl thing on amid palm trees, sugar sands, and Gulf of Mexico sunsets!
Along with the group equestrian outings, the Rockin M Ranch also offers private rides: easily one of the best options for an out-and-about date in the Port St. Joe area.
By the way, you don’t need to be a veteran of the saddle by any means to take a horseback beach ride with the Rockin M Ranch: Complete beginners are more than welcome, as you’ll be under the watchful eye of ranch staff, and meanwhile, the well-trained, well-behaved steeds are calm as they come.
The Port St. Joe Marina
In the process of being restored in the wake of Hurricane Michael, the Port St. Joe Marina is one of the city’s prime centers of action. Offering a range of boat slips and services, the marina is a great place to arrange a charter fishing trip, rent a boat for your own offshore explorations, or kick back over a meal at the Dockside Seafood & Raw Bar. You’ve also got ready access to the BayWalk path, and you’ll find yourself close to plentiful Port St. Joe shopping and dining attractions.
Frank Pate Park
Speaking of the BayWalk, that 0.7-mile gravel pathway runs from the Port St. Joe Marina to Frank Pate Park, a wonderful bayside greenspace named for former Port St. Joe Mayor Frank Pate, Jr. Here you’ll find a four-wide boat launch, a fine fishing pier, and a sheltered pavilion with picnic tables, plus a lighted tennis court, a swing set, and a play structure whimsically designed to look like a pirate ship.
Besides the marina, strolling the BayWalk out of Frank Pate Park lets you hook up with the multiuse Port City Trail, an awesome (and dog-friendly) paved path accessing other city parks.
Enjoy the Forgotten Coast to the Fullest In & Around Port St. Joe
Paddling or fishing at St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, taking in the Cape San Blas seashore from a saddle perch, relaxing and sightseeing in city parks: Port St. Joe is an ideal springboard for experiencing the joys of the Forgotten Coast, one of the Florida Panhandle’s most seductive stretches!