St. George Island, Florida has been our vacation destination for 10 years now and it’s become our little family’s happy place in the sun. Located on the Eastern edge of the Florida panhandle, St. George is one of the last unspoiled barrier islands and one of the most beautiful, undiscovered, pet-friendly and relaxing areas in all of Florida. If you’re on the lookout for a beautiful, affordable, non-touristy vacation spot, look no further than St. George Island.
Get to know the island
St. George Island is located in the Gulf of Mexico, about 70 miles East of Panama City, on what’s appropriately named The Forgotten Coast. It’s a long narrow barrier island that separates the Gulf from the Apalachicola Bay, creating a natural estuary that produces some of the most delicious oysters in the world. The island is connected to the mainland by a 4-mile bridge, which takes you over the Bay from Eastpoint, Florida. St. George is 22 miles long, but only a few blocks wide, making it an easy walk from the “bay side” to the “beach side” of the island.
The island consists of three main areas: (1) St. George Island State Park, which takes up 10 miles on the Eastern end of the island; (2) St. George Plantation, a private gated community consisting of 900 multi-million dollar homes and estates, which occupies the Western end of the island; and (3) a public strip of land in the middle that consists of restaurants, shops, private homes and public beaches.
Where to stay
While St. George does have a handful of inns and hotels, it has an overwhelming abundance of incredible homes, condos and estates that can rented out all over the island. There are three main property rental companies on the island: Collins Vacation Rentals, Resort Vacation Properties and Fickling & Company. Whether you’re looking for a small condo or cottage on the beach for a couple, a nice-sized private home with a pool for a family or a multi-level villa for your entire extended family, you’ll have a variety of options, locations and amenities.
Houses are usually rented by the week during peak seasons and come with lots of amenities like WiFi, private pools, fireplaces, ocean views, beach access and grills. Whether you’re right on the beach, across the street or with “beach access,” the beach is never more than a short walk away. Most homes (as well as the beaches and restaurants) are also pet-friendly, so feel free to bring your pups along, too! The island loves dogs and they’re welcome nearly everywhere you go! And if you want to “ruff” it, another fun option would be camping in the State Park, either in a tent or an RV, dogs are welcome there as well.
What to do
St. George Island is an outdoor adventurer’s dream, there are so many great things to do to get you outside and back to nature! The Gulf side of the island has twenty miles of gorgeous uncrowded white sand beach, perfect for shelling, fishing, sunning, sandcastle-building, swimming and playing in the surf. The bay side of the island is miles of pristine bay marsh, inlets and oyster bars, perfect for fishing, crabbing, watching wildlife and sunset viewing. St. George is covered in bike paths and hiking trails for anyone wanting to explore. Kayaks and boats are available for rental, or hire a charter and guide for a day of fishing, dolphin-spotting and shelling. If your kids are into treasure-hunting, there are tons of geocaches on the island as well. I’ve got an intro guide to geocaching with kids on my blog, if you need a primer. There are also a handful of shops and boutiques in town for anyone looking to stock up on souvenirs, as well as a playground for kids, the visitor’s center and the St. George Lighthouse.
Where to eat
You won’t find anything fancy or posh on St. George Island, but if you love seafood, this place is paradise. There are only a handful of restaurants on the island and none require reservations (most don’t even require shoes). The Blue Parrot is our family’s favorite, with its expansive deck right on the beach, tiki bar and views of the ocean. Order the softshell crab sandwich with conch fritters and a mango daiquiri and thank me later. Paddy’s Raw Bar, on the bayside of the island boasts incredible Apalachicola Bay oysters, tons of beers on draft and live music on the patio in the evenings. And if you’re not a seafood fan, BJ’s Pizza is the perfect place to pick up pizza, subs, salads and appetizers. If you want to cook at home, there’s a small grocery store on the island with all the necessities as well as seafood trucks offering daily fresh catches of shrimp, halibut, snapper, grouper and shucked oysters.
Tips from a veteran vacationer
After 10 years of vacationing on St. George Island, we’ve come to love this place as our own and enjoy sharing our knowledge about the island with anyone looking for a laid-back family vacation. Here are a few things you may not read in a traditional guidebook.
- Rent a golf cart – there’s no better way to explore the island than by renting a golf cart for the week. While it may be easy to walk from the bayside to the gulf, the island is 22 miles long and you’re going to want to check out everything it has to offer. Instead of dealing with buckling kids into their carseats in a hot car, get a golf cart for the week and enjoy cruising to a new section of beach, to the playground or into town for ice cream. You can get nearly everywhere you want to go in a golf cart and never have to worry about parking!
- Nightlife – the nightlife on St. George is wild…and no, I do not mean bars or partying! Make sure you pack your headlamps and flashlights and hit the beach or bay to discover the wildest nightlife around…crabs! When the sun goes down, the crabs come out and they are so much fun for kids to chase and catch. You can also discover tide pools filled with snails, hermit crabs, sand fleas and other interesting aquatic life.
- Apalachicola – just on the other side of the Bay Bridge on the mainland is a hidden gem of a town called Apalachicola. This quiet little river town is home to some of the best seafood restaurants and raw bars around. Take a stroll through town and check out the adorable boutiques, gorgeous oyster boats lined along the river and the hauntingly beautiful cemetery covered in willows and moss.
- Bring your dogs – for as long as we’ve been vacationing on St. George Island, we’ve been bringing the entire family, which consisted of dogs before we ever had kids. Franklin County prides itself on being incredibly dog-friendly and our four-legged friends are welcome on the beach and in many of the shops and restaurants. You’ll see dogs out with their families everywhere, making this a pet-lover’s paradise.
- Old Florida charm – if you’re used to vacationing on 30A or Sanibel, you may be in for a shock on St. George. You won’t find any high-rises, chain restaurants or mega-markets here. There are no fancy eateries, delis or coffee shops. There are no arcades, putt-putt courses or movie theaters anywhere close. This island is small, quaint and secluded, which is exactly what we love about it. But don’t worry, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how warm and friendly the people are, by how unspoiled the waters are and how uncrowded the beaches are. This is undiscovered all-natural Florida at its finest. Be prepared to choose your own adventure and provide your own entertainment.