It’s only fitting that the oldest Florida seafood festival calls Apalachicola its home. Folks have been fishing here since the early 1800s, although at the time, the town was established primarily as a shipping port for cotton.
As railroads replaced ships for the transit of cotton, the port attracted the sponge trade, leading to the harvest of prolific oyster beds that are fed by freshwater easing out of the Apalachicola River (known as the Chattahoochee River in Georgia) and the spring-fed Chipola River.
Four barrier islands encircle the bay, protecting it from the Gulf of Mexico and providing a bowl of brackish water, making it an ideal nursery for shellfish, crabs and shrimp.
The port itself is an important commercial fishing hub. Today, more than 90% of Florida’s oyster production is harvested from Apalachicola Bay, so you can be sure oysters take center stage at the seafood festival with the annual Oyster Shucking Contest and Oyster Eating Contest.
Oyster shucking contest
Don’t blink. If you do, it’s over.
Each contestant, wearing gloves and armed with a shucking knife, faces off against 18 Apalachicola Bay oysters.
Within two minutes, it’s over.
Well, not quite over because you have to demonstrate finesse. There can be no chipped shells or mutilated oysters.
There are more than a dozen criteria that will penalize your time, and your score, so the last man (or woman) standing is not necessarily the fastest. The judging takes longer than the actual event.
Oyster eating contest
You might want to sit a couple of rows back to watch this 15-minute competition.
The oysters are shucked ahead of time and counted out into paper cups. Contestants have 15 minutes to eat as many oysters as they can, one paper cupful at a time without, ahem, regurgitating.
We’re talking about the consumption of 250-300 oysters, and not every competitor can make it without, ahem, regurgitating.
From Florida Rambler: Things to do in Apalachicola & St. George Island: Cute town
Places to stay – B&B
St. George Inn, 135 Franklin Blvd., St. George Island – Southern-style inn with 17 guest rooms and suites, a reading room and wraparound porches. Hardwood floors throughout. Each room has a mini-fridge, microwave, coffeemaker and wireless internet. Some rooms are pet friendly. Winter rates (September-May): $90 and up. For reservations, call 850-927-2903.
The Gibson Inn, 51 Avenue C, Apalachicola – A restored Victorian Inn with 30 guest rooms and a full service bar. Each room has a full bath, telephone, TV, wireless internet and access to wide verandas the surround the house. This three-story inn was built in 1907 and is the National Register of Historic Places. Rates $115 and up. For reservations, call 850-653-2191 or book online at gibsoninn.com
Coombs House Inn, 80 60th Street, Apalachicola – This historic (1905) inn has 23 guest suites, each with its own bath, in three Victorian-style mansions. Some rooms have Jacuzzi baths. Authentic period décor throughout and 12-foot ceilings. Guests enjoy complimentary gourmet breakfasts and weekend wine and cheese receptions. Rates: $109 and up. For reservations, call 850-653-9199 or book online at coomshouseinn.com
Camping and cabins near Apalachicola
[mappress mapid=”139″ alignment=”left” initialopeninfo=”false”] Festival Camping, Battery Park – The Florida Seafood Festival is offering primitive camping spaces along the Apalachicola River on a first-come, first-serve basis, for $30 per day starting Thursday plus $5 per person for Saturday admission to the festival. There are no hookups. Campers should enter at the Water Street Gate.
St. George Island State Park, 1900 E. Gulf Beach Drive, St. George Island, FL 32328 (850) 927-2111 – The 1960-acre state park is on one of the barrier islands that embrace Apalachicola Bay. It is an ideal playground for kayakers, boaters and fishers. There’s a 2.5 mile nature trail that meanders through a pine flat-wood forest. Otherwise, the park is swept by a sea of sand dunes along a magnificent 5-mile white, sugar-sand beach, ranked among the best in the world. The campground has 60 sites, all with water and electric hookups (30-50-amps). Each site has a fire ring and picnic table. Restrooms, showers and a dump station on site. Pets allowed. Rate $24/night plus taxes and fees. For reservations up to 11 months in advance, call 800-326-3521, 8 am-8 pm, Monday through Friday.
St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, 8899 Cape San Blas Road, Port St. Joe, FL 32456 (850) 227-1327 – Another barrier island on the Gulf, protecting St. Joseph’s Bay, this state park featurs 10 miles of white-sand beaches and some of the tallest dunes in Florida. Swimming, fishing, shelling, snorkeling, canoeing and kayaking are topped only by beach bumming as activities. There are 119 campsites in two campgrounds, and there are 8 cabins overlooking St. Joseph Bay, fully stocked with appliances, sleeping up to seven people, and linens are even provided. Cabins $100 per night, and campsites are $24 plus taxes and fees. Electric (15 amp) and water hookups are available at each site, as well as a picnic table and fire ring. Restrooms, showers and a dump station on site. Pets allowed. For reservations up to 11 months in advance, call 800-326-3521, 8 am-8 pm, Monday through Friday.
Ochlockonee River State Park, 429 State Park Road, Sopchoppy, FL 32358 (850) 962-2771 – A small but scenic 540-acre state park at the junction of the Ochlockonee and Dead rivers, nestled between Apalachicola National Forest and the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. The park has a boat ramp ($4) for small boats, kayaks and canoes. Nature trails are along the river and through a pine forest. As you can imagine, this park is teeming with wildlife. The campground has 30 shaded sites in a thick forest with electric (30 amp) and water hookups. $18 per night plus taxes and fees. Restrooms, showers and a dump station on site. Pets allowed. For reservations up to 11 months in advance, call 800-326-3521, 8 am-8 pm, Monday through Friday.
Wright Lake – Apalachicola National Forest – A quiet, scenic lakefront campground on the Apalachicola side of the forest. The clear, spring-fed lake is ideal for fishing, swimming (sandy beach) and boating. Hikers can enjoy a 5-mile interpretive trail that winds around the lake. A campground bathhouse includes flush toilets and hot showers. The campground has 18 spacious campsites with lantern poles, pedestal grills, picnic tables and fire rings. Each site is equipped for both RVs and tents, but only water hookups. No electric or sewer. Dump station on site. A volunteer host lives on site. Pets allowed. $10 per night. Reservations are not accepted, but you can call 850-643-2282 and ask about availability. For more information, visit the U.S. Forest Service web site.
Hickory Landing – Apalachicola National Forest– A sister to nearby Wright Lake, Hickory Landing has limited facilities for tent camping and self-contained RVs. This is a primitive campground with vehicle access, but stay away during hunting season. This is a hunting camp. The sites are secluded in a hickory and oak forest, and there’s a mineral spring near the boat ramp. The lake is not really a good place for paddlers because of the influx of powerboats. There are 10 primitive sites with tables and grills but no hookups, although drinking water is available nearby. Use the dump station at Wright Lake. Chemical toilets, no showers. Camping is $3 per vehicle. Reservations are not accepted, but you can call the ranger station at 850-643-2282 and ask about availability and if the hunters have taken over.
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Bob Rountree is a beach bum, angler and camper who has explored Florida for decades. No adventure is complete without a scenic paddle trail or unpaved road to nowhere. Bob co-founded FloridaRambler.com with fellow journalist Bonnie Gross 12 years ago.