Best Road Trips For Orlando Residents: Franklin County
296 Miles | 5 hours Drive Time
Northwest Florida’s Big Bend Scenic Byway is a drive through corners and cobwebs of Old Florida. The Coastal Trail portion of the byway (U.S. Highway 98 and 319) runs along the Gulf weaving through small-town Carrabelle, the fishing village of Eastpoint, the beaches of St. George Island and the port town of Apalachicola.
In Carrabelle, the Crooked River Lighthouse and Museum ranks as one of Florida’s historic gems. Surrounded by forest, the lighthouse stands 103 feet tall, painted half white, half red, with a black parapet for viewing. It takes 128 steps to reach the top. What sets it apart from the state’s other beacons is its iron skeleton structure, which resembles something kids create with Erector sets. Exhibits in the Keeper’s House Museum elaborate on the methods of constructing such a lighthouse and a display showcases the original 1894 Fresnel lens made in Paris.
With its weather-worn docks, Eastpoint is one of the few remaining working waterfronts in North Florida. Fresh local seafood is sold at family-owned markets along the highway. It’s also the gateway to Tate’s Hell State Forest, a great place to stretch your legs by trekking High Bluff Coastal Hiking Trail through pine flatwoods and elevated sand dunes. Keep an eye out for bald eagles soaring above and gopher turtles burrowing below. If the forest’s name puzzles you, here’s the local legend: In 1875 Cebe Tate got lost in the swamp searching for a panther that was killing his livestock. After seven days of wandering the swamp, he arrived in Carrabelle and on his dying breath, uttered, “My name is Cebe Tate, and I just came from Hell.” Hence, the name Tate’s Hell.
Farther down the highway is the bridge to the pristine beaches of St. George Island. No high-rises were built on the 22-mile barrier island, but there are plenty of beachfront and bayfront vacation homes elevated on stilts with porches for cocktail hour or sunset gazing. On a rental bicycle you can pedal a 6-mile path exploring all the way to St. George Island State Park on the northeast end. The island caters to visitors, so art galleries, beach shops, boutiques and restaurants are plentiful.
You’ll know you’ve arrived in the heart of Apalachicola when you descend from the John Gorrie Memorial Bridge that crosses Apalachicola Bay and see the Gibson Inn. This piece of classic Old Florida with its wraparound porch and rocking chairs is a welcoming sight. The downtown borders the picturesque Apalachicola River, where shrimp trawlers glide by after a day’s work. However, the area’s charm—a mix of history and hipness—is infectious. You’ll want to spend a day meandering cool shops and cute cafes with vintage style before heading to a seafood restaurant where river views make dinner special.
Repeat visitors may wonder what happened to the Apalachicola oyster that put the town on the foodie map. Harvesting of wild-caught oysters is on pause through 2025, an effort to replenish the bivalve population in surrounding waters. However, there are still oysters being harvested from oyster leases, whose owners have grown them via aquaculture methods.
Fresh off a renovation, this old gal couldn’t look better. Apalachicola’s iconic Gibson Inn, originally built in 1907, now boasts refinished pine floors. Pretty floral wallpaper dresses up guestrooms with poster beds, and updated bathrooms retain their original claw-foot tubs. Head to the lobby, adorned with handsome woodwork, to sink into an overstuffed leather sofa. At the adjacent Parlor Bar, enhanced with inlaid oyster shells, you can share a longneck with salty locals or indulge in a craft cocktail served with Southern sophistication.
A tried-and-true Apalachicola spot, Up the Creek Raw Bar is a kick-back casual place, where a cold beer pairs perfectly with chilled oysters on the half shell and a river view. For sand, surf and sunshine with your meal, visit Blue Parrot Oceanfront Café on St. George Island. Grab a spot on the open-air deck and order smoked yellowfin tuna dip and a grouper sandwich. Craft beer lovers can sample various brews at Eastpoint Beer Company’s taproom where live music and bay views add to the experience.
Apalachicola’s music-loving residents launched Porchfest a couple of years ago and now it’s a fall favorite (Oct. 22, 2022). Bluegrass bands and acoustical musicians set up on porches around town, entertaining folks who wander from impromptu stages to backyards. Art lovers have a special spring festival, Forgotten Coast en Plein Air. Watch artists document the area’s landscape and culture—the last vestige of authentic Old Florida—with the stroke of a paintbrush.