How to Spend a Day in Port St. Joe, Florida
Whenever we see a reference to Port St. Joe, Florida, our minds immediately go to a platter of fresh oysters on the half shell. We can literally smell them – and taste them, too!
This charming little Gulf Coast town is close to where some of the most flavorful oysters come from, but those briny wonders from the sea certainly aren’t the only thing that Port St. Joe has to brag about.
Though it’s much lesser known than other places in this area of Florida like Panama City, Destin and Fort Walton Beach, Port St. Joe certainly has a lot to call its own.
About Port Saint Joe, Florida
One of the reasons that Port St. Joe is not as talked about is because its history as a tourist spot is relatively short. The town itself was first incorporated in 1835 as St. Joseph, taking its name from St. Joseph Bay. Its early history was brief, because of a series of calamities that included a yellow fever outbreak (in 1841) and a couple of major storms.
A new town with the more casual name of Port St. Joe sprang up in 1909. One of the town’s longtime industries kept a lot of visitors away, however, until it shut down in 1999. If you’ve ever smelled a paper mill, you’ll understand why lots of vacationers kept driving when they passed through Port St. Joe.
This friendly town of around 3,500 is located a bit inland from the open waters of the gulf, so it doesn’t necessarily serve up a classic Florida beach experience.
That’s part of its art of its allure – it’s a small town with a big personality all its own. You can enjoy Port St. Joe’s own picturesque shores, which are mostly along bays, or make just a short drive for shiny white sands and surf.
Another big draw for Port St. Joe is its typically balmy weather. Sure, it gets hot in the summers, often in the 90s, but it rarely freezes in the winter. It rains a lot year round (nearly 60 inches a year).
Get ready for a busy day as we show you how to make the most of your time in this quaint community along what’s sometimes called the Forgotten Coast.
You’ve got to start early to experience all that Port St Joe has to offer. Rise and shine for a hearty breakfast at Sand Dollar Café, right on the main drag at 301-B Monument Ave. (It’s another name for Hwy. 98.) Locals and tourists rave about made-from-scratch Southern favorites like biscuits and gravy and shrimp and grits. The award-winning chef/owners also get creative with an omelet of the day with surprising flavor combinations.
Linger too long at this kitschy casual café and you’ll miss an opportunity to saddle up for a horse ride on the beach at Rockin’ M Ranch, which is located at 240 Cape San Blas Rd.
Don’t worry if you’re a tenderfoot – the rides go at a slow, easy pace and are led by friendly trained professionals. These reservation-only rides are a great group activity and a truly memorable way to enjoy some Florida beach time.
Hopefully you’ve worked up an appetite again. Dagwood’s Delicatessen & Catering, 112 Reid Ave, is a definite go-to for over-the-top sandwiches.
These aren’t chain-level subs. This downtown deli puts a lot of special care into crafting its signature monster hoagies (piled with sliced ham, turkey, pastrami, roast beef, and bacon and lots of trimmings) and a lot more. First-rate reubens and cubans are served up alongside a creative assortment of street tacos and hot dogs.
The Beach Comber is another popular sandwich, but honestly you can hardly go wrong with anything on the menu. It’s often crowded, and folks don’t come for the atmosphere, if you get our drift.
You can walk off some of those new calories right there in the downtown district. Just a block off the highway, the peaceful Reid Avenue shopping district offers a vibrant mix of boutiques, bistros, galleries and spas. For most of the year on the first and third Saturdays you can also load up on fresh produce and browse antiques and artisan goods at the SaltAir Farmers’ Market.
The downtown stroll also gives you a close look at Port St Joe’s distinctive architecture, with many historic buildings repurposed for today’s tastes.
After a brief shopping excursion, you should have enough energy to spend some daylight hours exploring the St. Joseph Bay Buffer Preserve.
A lot of Florida has been overdeveloped, but there also many natural areas that remain unspoiled. The state of Florida has set aside a couple of million acres in preserves like this one. See for yourself as you tour some of these 5,019 acres along St. Joseph Bay. In this diverse habitat there are 425 documented species of plants and 250 different vertebrates.
You can enjoy observing wildlife and wildflowers (when in season) along a carefully maintained network of hiking and biking trails.
Port St. Joe is known for its fresh seafood, of course. Besides the oysters we mentioned earlier, the area is also a big producer of scallops. But the menu doesn’t end there by any means.
No one would blame you if you wanted to celebrate your good fortune by indulging in prime rib or a famous “Ronnie’s Ribeye” at Ronnie B’s Steak and Seafood, 114 Sailors Cove, which has been satisfying diners since 1960.
This panhandle mainstay isn’t one of those stuffy elegant steakhouses with dark paneling and soft leather chairs; it’s bright and airy and family friendly, and it’s known for its cheerful and prompt service and short wait times, even during the busy season.
After dinner, relax with a cocktail, glass of wine or even a cigar overlooking the beautiful bay. The Haughty Heron, at 112 Sailors Cove, which is part bar, part liquor store, is a beach bum’s paradise. There are indoor and outdoor seating areas, live music in the courtyard and a great view from the Heron’s Nest upstairs.
For a perfect nightcap, you might want to take a little time to enjoy some time on the beach. After Port St Joe’s turns out its lights is the best time to view the moon and the stars in the dark night sky. The sheer beauty of it will remind you why you came to Florida.
Where to Stay?
Presnell’s RV Resort & Bayside Marina, at 2115 County Rd. 30A, has 70 sites (most of them are 30’ x 65’) with 20, 30 and 50 amp service, full sewer hookups, Wi-Fi and cable TV.
The park has a heated swimming pool and offers a variety of pleasure crafts for rent, including skiffs, bay boats, pontoon boats, kayaks and paddle boats. You can even go scalloping right there in the bay!
A Casual Community for Serious Relaxation
Just from our itinerary alone, you can see why Port St Joe ends up on so many of those lists for “best-kept secrets” in Florida. The locals there probably wouldn’t mind if it got even less promotion than it does.
Though it’s by no means stuck in time, Port St. Joe offers today’s visitors a sense of how Florida used to be before it became so crowded. The casual name of this community perfectly suits its laidback lifestyle.
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