A woman watches sunrise at St. George Island, FL.

We Visited America’s Best Beach. Did It Live Up to the Hype?

St. George Island has always been beautiful, but Dr. Stephen Leatherman, widely known as “Dr. Beach,” shared the secret with the entire world when he named St. George Island State Park America’s number-one beach for 2023-2024.

Naturally, Julie and I could not resist the temptation to visit when Collins Vacation Rentals invited us to explore the area. So, does St. George Island live up to the hype?

Where Is St. George Island?

A bird's reflection appears as the ocean waters recede at St. George Island.
St. George Island is an excellent place for birding. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Julie and I had just heard of St. George Island when Dr. Beach announced the Top 10 Beaches List of 2023. For those unfamiliar with the island, like us, it is an easily accessible barrier island along the Florida Panhandle in the northern Gulf of Mexico. More specifically, it sits in the Apalachicola region of Franklin County, spanning 28 miles long and 1 mile wide at its widest point. This region is dubbed the Forgotten Coast.

Contrary to its name, the Forgotten Coast is not a testament to mediocrity but a celebration of the unspoiled, pristine beaches that have miraculously escaped the clutches of mass commercialism. This area, including St. George Island, is a haven for nature lovers, where the beauty of the land and sea takes center stage, undisturbed by the trappings of modern life.

From Oyster Capital of the World to America’s Best Beach

Scott McConkey of the Miles with McConkey Travel Blog walks the beach just after sunrise at St. George Island.
There’s nothing quite like a morning beach walk to start the day. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

St. George Island originally received acclaim for its delicious oysters. Apalachicola Bay sits between Apalachicola and St. George Island. At one time, the environment yielded the perfect freshwater and saltwater ratio, contributing to 90% of Florida’s oyster production. Accordingly, the region became known as “Oyster Town” and the “Oyster Capital of the World.” 

Various factors contributed to the environment becoming less than ideal over the years. The region is pivoting, attempting to regain its former glory through oyster farming. Many locals will tell you the practice leads to a better product.

Do not fret. You can still enjoy plenty of tasty oysters during your visit. Well, I can’t due to a shellfish allergy, but you can. I saw plenty of satisfied smiles from our fellow media members. And some literally had oysters at every restaurant. Oysters are such a prominent part of the local culture that you can even get them at restaurants that do not feature seafood.

Friendly, Passionate People

Julie sits in a rocking chair on the porch of our vacation rental at St. George Island.
Enjoying the porch at our Collins Vacation Rental. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

St. George Island has a small but mighty population of 600 to 800. The hard-working, fun-loving islanders are some of the most friendly people you will find anywhere. With so many friendly people and so much natural beauty, you will quickly adapt to the laid-back island vibe and enjoy your vacation.

No Chains

Julie takes a boardwalk stroll at St. George Island State Park, FL.
Enjoying a boardwalk stroll in St. George Island State Park. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

One of the things Julie and I love most about the island is that you will find primarily local businesses. We only encountered one restaurant chain, Subway. It is a refreshing change and is partly why the island feels undisturbed compared to most other beach destinations.

Dog-friendly Island

A dog enjoys a walk near sunrise on the beach at St. George Island.
St. George Island is the perfect vacation spot for the entire family. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

When we say St. George Island is the perfect vacation spot for the whole family, we mean it. Fido is welcome on the beaches and in most restaurants. We encountered many happy, well-behaved furry companions as we explored the island.

St. George Island State Park

Scott McConkey of the Miles with McConkey Travel Blog looks at the beach from a picnic shelter in St. George Island State Park.
Enjoying the view from a picnic shelter in St. George Island State Park. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Julie and I love beaches, but many are surrounded by high-rise buildings or touristy shops. That is not the case here. The raw beauty of the undisturbed beaches in Dr. Julian G. Bruce St. George Island State Park is breathtaking. A sense of peace enveloped us as we took in the rolling waves, white sand, beach grass, and large shelters with grills and picnic tables.

Not far from the beach, we discovered a beautiful boardwalk that cuts through fragrant pines and coastal scrub, ending in an observation deck. The boardwalk leads to a wooded trail for hiking and birding. 

You will find many other things to do in the park, such as swimming, sunbathing, canoeing, kayaking, biking, and camping. It is a beach paradise with so much natural beauty and so many things to do. The island offers many other places to explore, but the state park is its crown jewel.

Sea Turtles

A leatherback sea turtle on the beach heads toward the ocean.
A leatherback sea turtle. Photo credit: londondeposit via Deposit Photos

One of our daughters is fascinated with sea turtles. Accordingly, Julie and I have taken an interest as well. So, we were excited to learn that loggerhead sea turtles regularly return to their hatching grounds along the Forgotten Coast to nest and lay eggs between May and November.

Our visit coincided with the beginning of turtle season. To our surprise, volunteers discovered a leatherback turtle nest a few days before our visit. Why is this significant? Kimberly Alexis, Assistant Coordinator of the St. George Island Turtle Patrol, advised us this is the first confirmed leatherback nest on the island in eight or nine years. You could feel the electric buzz of excitement as she spoke about the development.

We saw the nest, which is clearly marked with signs so people know not to disturb the area. Many residents use dim, red exterior lights to help protect the sea turtles. Bright lights may discourage females from coming ashore to nest. They can also disorient hatchlings, causing them to move inland rather than toward the ocean. Seeing the community so devoted to the region’s sea turtles warms my heart.

Stargazing

A man looks at the stars in the night sky.
St. George Island is excellent for stargazing. Photo credit: Allexxandar via Deposit Photos

While the St. George Island beaches are gaining recognition for their beauty, their night skies harbor other natural treasures. Julie and I were delighted to discover St. George Island State Park is in the process of earning a coveted Dark Sky Park designation.

I will let you in on a little secret. You do not have to be inside the state park to see many stars. Julie and I saw the night sky glitter with thousands, if not millions, of bright stars directly outside our vacation rental. It was magnificent.

How is this possible? Once again, the lack of commercialism pays dividends. Without bright lights from skyscrapers and factories, there is little light pollution. Those same red lights used to protect the sea turtles also limit the light pollution, yielding excellent views of the night skies.

Kayaking, Paddleboarding, and Yoga

St. George Island guests enjoy kayaking and paddleboarding.
A morning on the water. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

If you enjoy combining nature and exercise, Island Fit Stand Up Paddleboard and Yoga is a fantastic experience. Our group decided to skip the yoga and head straight for the water. Julie and I navigated the calm waters in a tandem kayak while a few others had either a single kayak or a stand-up paddleboard. The scenery here is beautiful, and we spotted several birds and a few mullets jumping out of the water. 

Owner Sam Fortunas is a kind-hearted soul who loves sharing her passion for the island, paddleboarding, and yoga with travelers. Regardless of which activity you choose, you will feel better physically and mentally after a session with Island Fit.

Dolphin Cruise

A dolphin jumps out of the water
Putting on a show for the dolphin cruise. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

One of our most incredible experiences was a dolphin cruise with Fortunas Family Charters, which included time to explore Little St. George Island. While cruising, we gained a water-level view of the impressive 4-mile-long bridge onto St. George Island. It really puts the size of the bridge into perspective.

We encountered many birds, including pelicans, black skimmers, an osprey, and a bald eagle. They call it a dolphin cruise for a reason, and the show’s stars delivered. Our captain enticed the dolphins to follow our boat, and they obliged, playfully swimming and jumping in our wake. It is something I will never forget.

Little St. George Island is a dream come true if you enjoy birding or beachcombing. We saw tons of birds and shells, and the whole experience was a lot of fun.

St. George Island Lighthouse

Cape St. George Light at dusk
Cape St. George Light at dusk. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

I have an affinity for lighthouses, so I was excited to tour St. George Island Lighthouse, also known as the Cape St. George Light. The beautiful white tower comprises over 160,000 bricks, 22,000 of which come from the original lighthouse, built in 1833. It was rebuilt three times, in 1848, 1852, and 2008. 

While the tower once housed a third-order Fresnel lens, it now holds an LED light that is visible for 17 to 18 miles. The current building is 77 feet tall and requires a climb up 92 steps to reach the beacon. It has the most beautiful wooden stairs I have seen in a lighthouse.

Lighthouse keeper Patricia Hale gave us a tour and the thrill of a lifetime when she allowed us to walk outside the lantern room. Although I fear heights, I could not pass up the opportunity. I leaned so heavily into the glass as I edged around the perimeter that I was surprised it did not shatter. 

Beyond the tower, the St. George Island Lighthouse also has a gift shop and a fantastic museum with artifacts and information on its history and keepers. While the lighthouse is lovely from a distance, the fascinating tour is worth your time.

Beach Walks, Sunrise, and Sunset

Julie pretends to hold the sun in her cupped hands during sunrise on St. George Island.
Catching sunrise on St. George Island. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

The beautiful St. George Island beaches are perfect for beachcombing. Julie and I arose early each morning to enjoy sunrise and a peaceful stroll along the coast. We enjoyed looking for shells and watching birds run toward receding waves to peck in the sand for food. 

On calm days, we spotted dolphins in the water. The pristine beaches yield stunning sunrises and sunsets. My heart swells just thinking about it. I’m ready to visit again.

Bike Rides

Scott McConkey of the Miles with McConkey Travel Blog rides a bike on a bike path in St. George Island
Enjoying a peaceful bike ride. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Julie and I enjoyed a lovely bike ride during our visit. A paved path parallels the main road, taking you from St. George Plantation, a gated community, to St. George Island State Park. While the bike trail yields more trees near “the Plantation,” you will discover small dunes and beaches toward the park. It is a peaceful ride and an excellent way to explore the island. You can rent bikes from Island Adventures.

After a bike ride, you will work up an appetite. So, let’s discuss our favorite food experiences.

Weber’s Little Donut Shop

Beautifully decorated donuts in a box
Beautifully decorated donuts from Weber’s Little Donut Shop. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Do yourself a favor for breakfast and check out Weber’s Little Donut Shop. I was skeptical when I heard they serve only cake donuts, but the shop has a wide variety. Julie and I sampled several different donuts, each delivering tons of flavor. 

I felt guilty eating them because they were so beautifully decorated, but do not let that stop you. The donuts taste as good as they look. A word of warning, though. Plan on going early. Word has it that they regularly sell out quickly.

Paddy’s Raw Bar

A Hawaiian chicken sandwich and a bag of chips at Paddy's Raw Bar in St. George Island.
Hawaiian chicken sandwich from Paddy’s Raw Bar. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Head to Paddy’s Raw Bar, a fun waterfront restaurant and bar that features live entertainment to accompany your seafood and draft beers. You will officially be in vacation mode between the setting and tasty fare.

Popular starters include tuna dip with crackers and crab dip with tortilla chips. Oysters are the main draw; you can order them raw or steamed. The restaurant offers many versions, from Rockefeller to Hawaiian Island style. You can always request the Kitchen Sink approach or build your own.

Paddy’s Raw Bar serves shrimp, catch-of-the-day fish, burgers, and a Hawaiian chicken sandwich. Veggie, Hawaiian chicken, and burger wraps are also available. Kids will be happy to know grilled cheese sandwiches and hot dogs are on the menu. All of our food was fresh and tasty. Julie enjoyed a Hawaiian chicken wrap, while I had the sandwich version. Our table ordered three different styles of oysters, and a smile lit up each face.

Mango Mike’s Sports Bar and Grill

Oysters, potato wedges, and a cocktail at Mango Mike's in St. George Island.
Oysters, potato wedges, and a Goombay Smash at Mango Mike’s. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Go to Mango Mike’s Sports Bar & Grill if you want a relaxed, family-friendly meal. Although a full-service restaurant and bar, it is perfect for families with kids. You can watch games on the tv screens or play games like cornhole in the grassy courtyard. The kids’ menu features burgers, corn dog bites, and chicken bites.

For adults, oysters take center stage with various options, including Mexican, Italian, and American varieties. The menu includes a house salad, burgers, St. Louis-style ribs, tacos, a Cuban sandwich, and PoBoys. Pair your meal with beer, wine, or one of their specialty cocktails. We suggest the Goombay Smash with coconut and spiced rums, pineapple, orange, and cranberry juices.

Julie and I thoroughly enjoyed our time here. The island-inspired fare and tiki-themed deck instantly put you in a relaxed mood. Our food was fresh and tasty. Julie and I each ordered the mahi mahi sandwich. She paired hers with fries, and I had the black beans. The chef cooked the fish to perfection. Due to my shellfish allergy, I can only vouch for the oysters through the power of observation. Being surrounded by contented smiles, I can confidently say they are fantastic.

Blue Parrot

A plate of key lime pie
Key lime pie at Blue Parrot. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

There is no doubt about it. The Blue Parrot Oceanfront Cafe is an island staple and a favorite among locals and tourists. It is the only restaurant sitting directly on the beautiful white sand beaches of St. George Island. Our group enjoyed our dinner so much that we returned for lunch on our final day.

The Blue Parrot proudly serves farm-fresh oysters from Rattlesnake Cove. Our table quickly devoured them. Beyond the tasty oysters, the menu has considerable variety, perfect for seafood lovers and those who prefer other options. 

Starters include wings, jalapeno poppers, cheese bites, hushpuppies, cocktail claws, and peel-and-eat shrimp. Entrees include steak, chicken tenders, Hawaiian chicken, fresh fish, seafood platters, shrimp, scallops, crab cakes, burgers, and sandwiches. Pair your meal with a beer or an island beverage. I tried their famous Sand Blaster with mango, blackberry, lime, and rum with a 151 floater. The drink bursts with fruity flavor and packs a punch.

Julie had the Hawaiian chicken, and I ordered the “Cheeseburger in Parrotdise” with a side of cheese grits. The burger was perfectly cooked and seasoned, and my lightly peppered cheese grits were a nice change of pace. Julie savored her plate of tender, juicy chicken. 

Try to save room for dessert. The Blue Parrot serves bread pudding, key lime pie, and a dessert of the day. We shared a delicious slice of key lime pie to close out a wonderful evening on the beach.

Beach Pit

Plate of oysters at Beach Pit in St. George Island
Plate of oysters at Beach Pit. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

At its core, The Beach Pit is a Texas-style BBQ joint. You may be surprised to learn that the family-friendly eatery serves plenty of seafood, including grouper, flounder, tuna steak, snow crab legs, and several versions of shrimp and oysters. The Beach Pit is casual and family-friendly and offers indoor and outdoor seating.

While the menu features barbeque plates and ribs, you can order chicken strips, burgers, a smoked turkey breast sandwich, or a sausage dog. The eatery also offers salad options, seafood gumbo, and Brunswick stew.

Julie enjoyed a BBQ baked potato while I savored my smoked turkey sandwich with a side of green beans. We love Beach Pit’s variety and unique style. The fun combination of Texas and beach fare with an island vibe is an excellent dining option. 

Aunt Ebby’s Ice Cream

A person holds an ice cream cone in one hand and a cup of ice cream in the other.
Frozen treats at Aunt Ebby’s Ice Cream. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

When you want a frozen sweet treat, head to Aunt Ebby’s Ice Cream. The charming shop has been putting smiles on the faces of locals and tourists since 1993 with its delicious hand-dipped ice creams. 

We could not help but grin when we stepped inside to see brightly colored tables, each painted with a unique design. Then, we had the challenge of choosing a flavor from all the tempting offerings. Julie settled on a waffle cone with cookies and cream, and I ordered a cup with scoops of coffee and blackberry cobbler. All three flavors delivered frozen bliss as advertised.

Your Table! Your Chef!

Dessert with Tupelo honey and whipped cream sitting on a plate
Dessert prepared by Chef Ian. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Sometimes you want to stay in for dinner. If you want a real treat, do yourself a favor and book a luxurious meal with a private chef through Your Table! Your Chef! I cannot adequately do justice to the dinner prepared for us by Chef Ian Williams. First, the food is exquisite. Second, he does it all. Chef Ian prepares the meal, serves you, and cleans up. It is a wonderful experience and will create a lasting memory for your family.

Chef Ian’s passion for food shines as he describes what he has prepared for you, setting the stage for your culinary journey. Our three-course meal started with a mixed appetizer of jumbo lump crabcake with smoked Vidalia onion remoulade and sauteed Gulf shrimp in a saffron cream sauce, topped with a pickled onion microgreen salad. Chef Ian kindly prepared a separate appetizer for me: a mouthwatering crispy wonton with tripletail and teriyaki.

The main course was a yellow-edge grouper filet with lemon basil cream sauce served over vegetable parmesan risotto. We had Tupelo honey creme caramel with homemade vanilla honey whipped cream for dessert. The entire meal was excellent from start to finish. It is some of the best food we have ever tasted, and Chef Ian was so gracious.

I do not mind preparing meals while on vacation, but it is nice to be pampered on occasion. The St. George Island restaurants serve tasty food and offer a fun environment. However, an evening with a private chef in your vacation rental is special. Chef Ian’s food and passion are so noteworthy that it is a unique experience you will never forget. His menu features various options from which you can choose. Book your meal well in advance because Chef Ian is in high demand.

Collins Vacation Rentals

Julie McConkey of the Miles with McConkey Travel Blog sits on a porch swing at a vacation rental house in St. George Island.
Enjoying our private backyard oasis. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Now that we have covered the natural beauty of St. George Island, fun things to do, and where to eat, you need to know where to stay. Yes, Collins Vacation Rentals hosted our visit, but all opinions are our own.

Their properties include everything from beachfront homes and luxurious villas to quaint cottages. Many vacation rentals offer excellent amenities, including private pools, hot tubs, and patios. Some can sleep up to seventeen guests, perfect for large families.

Julie and I stayed in a four-bedroom beach home called “Cowboy Boots & Bathing Suits.” We love the open-concept kitchen, dining, and living room. There is plenty of space for everyone to relax. A screened-in porch sits just off the dining room, where you can see the beautiful beach. Julie and I spotted dolphins in the water from the porch and kitchen on calm days.

The private backyard oasis beckons with a pool, hot tub, porch swing, and grill. You have everything you need here and more. We loved our place and can envision our family returning. Everything inside and outside was well-maintained and very comfortable. The amenities make the vacation rental a genuine escape from the stresses of daily life.

We saw a few other vacation rentals, including a six-bedroom beachfront home with soaring vaulted ceilings  in the Plantation called the “Lazy Gator.” The urban design and spacious rooms scream luxury. Everything about the place feels modern, elegant, and open. 

The expansive deck with a spectacular view of the beach blew us away. This property features a game room, an EV charging station for electric cars, a pool, and an outdoor kitchen. It is ideal for large families.

Collins Vacation Rentals offers nearly 300 accommodations for travelers. The houses we saw were clean, well-maintained, and chock full of incredible amenities. Whether you have a small or large family or want to stay in the Plantation or near the state park, Collins has many options to meet your needs for your dream vacation.

Does St. George Island Live Up to the Hype?

Scott McConkey and Julie McConkey of the Miles with McConkey Travel Blog pose for a picture inside the St. George Island Lighthouse lantern room.
View from the St. George Island Lighthouse lantern room. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

St. George Island offers volumes of natural beauty, from its pristine beaches to its dark skies. You will discover many recreational activities like beachcombing, kayaking, peaceful bike rides, and thrilling dolphin cruises. Accommodations span from cozy rentals to sprawling, luxurious houses. Cuisine includes world-class oysters and other delicious local fare served in family-friendly restaurants or prepared by a private chef in your vacation home. Although St. George Island sits along the Forgotten Coast, it delivers an unforgettable vacation.

Featured image credit: Miles with McConkey



Scott and Julie at Miles with McConkey

Scott And Julie McConkey

After 30 years, Scott and Julie McConkey left the corporate world for a life of travel and adventure. What started as a gap year became a second act, and they are now full-time travel bloggers!
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