Florida’s late summer weather can often be unpredictable; a passing storm or shower may shake up your vacation plans. But the Florida Scallop & Music Festival is a guaranteed crowd pleaser – rain or shine. A little downpour is just liquid sunshine to the folks in Gulf County in Northwest Florida.

The historic coastal town of Port St. Joe on Florida’s Forgotten Coast, has been the host of this celebrated southern tradition for 14 years. The weekend attendance has grown to nearly 10,000 since its inception.

The impressive musical talent often hailing from nearby New Orleans and the eclectic mix of local vendors and regional artists keep visitors coming back year after year.

The total hotel rooms are just shy of 150, so it is best that you lock in your accommodations at least a few months in advance of the event. Port Inn is a favorite, offering cozy rooms and the perfect downtown location with proximity to the festival grounds.

The Inn is also home to the area’s most popular watering hole – The Thirsty Goat. The bar which extends to an outside patio area is a local institution featuring some of the best live music on most weekends. The Thirsty Goat’s signature T-shirts rank as coveted souvenirs. And, a photo opportunity with the Port Inn Goat who likes to hide his celebrity status behind colorful shades should not be missed.

If there is no room at the Inn, check out MainStay Suites, its sister property nearby. The hotel offers modern deluxe suites with kitchens so you can enjoy all the comforts of home.

For those who prefer a remote romantic experience, an escape to the Turtle Beach Inn is a good match. Beautifully appointed and private oceanfront accommodations are the standard for this Indian Pass family-owned and certified green lodging property. Spice up your evening with a taste of Old Florida at the Indian Pass Raw Bar.

On any given night, you will usually find a line of hungry patrons (they don’t take reservations) eagerly awaiting a platter of fresh shrimp or the Raw Bar’s world famous baked oysters. You won’t find any impatient or disgruntled customers at his local haunt; the line generally turns into an outside party complete with music and dancing. The Raw Bar has been an icon on the coast since 1903. Owner, Jim McNeill, tells me there is no real secret to his success. A friendly staff and great seafood in a relaxed atmosphere are key ingredients to the establishment’s longevity. You will feel right at home with the family style casual seating and an honor system bar. Just mosey on up to the fridge and help yourself to a cold one!

For an intimate dining experience and spectacular bay vistas, I recommend the Sunset Coastal Grill, just across the street from Port St. Joe Inn. The menu includes fresh local seafood, steak, pastas and salads. The fried Apalachicola oyster sandwich and the fried dill pickles are divine.

Great Southern School of Fish Restaurant in Windmark Beach Village (new sister restaurant of Great Southern Café in Seaside, Florida) is another great dining spot. Sweeping views of the Gulf combined with an extensive menu will not disappoint. Chef Shirley’s fanciful southern flavored dishes include a favorite, Grits a Ya-Ya, smoked Gouda cheese grits smothered with a sauté of applewood-smoked bacon, spinach, shallots, garlic, mushrooms and cream finished with spiced shrimp and sweet potato hay. Grits never tasted this good!

This year, the festival underscored the importance of fresh attitudes and flavors with a special opening patron dinner honoring and showcasing the food and culinary talents of the country’s best Southern chefs. The top chef line up included Jim Shirley of Gulf County’s School of Fish, Louis Osteen of Nashville’s Watermark Restaurant and The Blind Pig No.55, Jason Alley of Richmond’s Comfort Restaurant, and Todd Richards of Atlanta’s Rolling Bones Premium Pit BBQ. Lucky diners were treated to a delightful mixed menu of tasty original dishes.

Miles of white sandy beaches, unaffected by the oil spill, are just another perk when you visit the Port St. Joe area. And, your furry friend can tag along; Gulf County is pet-friendly. If you want to get out on the water, local resident Captain Mark Howze is happy to be your guide. Fishing and scenic charters can be booked via Forgotten Coast Adventures.

Late afternoon is a perfect time to wind down and explore the downtown shopping on Historic Reid Avenue. Bow Wow Beach Shop, a chic pet boutique, caters to locals and tourists alike with a huge selection of pet must-haves including doggie yogurt ice cream and the latest in pet flotation gear. Palm Tree Books is a bookstore, gift shop and coffee house rolled into one. Stop in for a cup of joe and browse the best sellers or check email in the Wi-Fi café. For trendy coastal fashion finds, check out Persnickety.

Naturalists will enjoy a morning outing on the nearby Dead Lakes, an eco-phenomenon just 25 minutes north in the town of Wewahitchka (fondly known as WeWa to locals). This 6,700 lake area is a monstrous graveyard of cypress trees, stumps and vegetation created by a river flood hundreds of years ago. The silence, stillness, and eerie beauty of this mysterious place will long be remembered. Photographers, be forewarned, bring extra memory cards and film. You will want to capture every moment!

Whether you come for the crystal blue waters, fresh seafood or the down home hospitality, Port St. Joe and Florida’s Forgotten Coast will bring you closer to finding and appreciating the truly finer things of life.

The time is right to Discover Old Florida’s best kept secret.


About the Author:

Sheila is a freelance writer who crosses countries and continents to connect with the people and places that inspire and reignite one’s passion for living. True to her gypsy heart, Sheila reinvents herself daily and follows her dreams. Storyteller, historian, entertainer and true soul sister – this travel diva can’t wait for her next gig. Did someone say “TV Talk Show Host” or perhaps “Cruise Director”?

Sheila’s successful media career spans 30 years and her published work continues to engage and enlighten readers around the world.