Gotta Getaway: Winter Warmth in Florida’s Gulf County

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Every January, as the blustering winds howl off of Lake Michigan, Chicagoans are filled with dreams of making sand castles instead of snowmen and sipping mai tais instead of mulled wine. They’d much rather play dibs for a beach chair than a parking space, and trade in their scarves for sarongs. Boats gather dust, bikes gather rust, and we all longingly await warmer climes and balmy breezes.

To the rescue: Gulf County, Florida.

Surrounded by water, this Northwest Florida destination has forty-three miles of natural shoreline and several small-town communities offering everything from relaxing on the beach to fishing for your dinner to shopping in local boutiques.

What makes Gulf County such a great winter destination is its unique geography. Thirty-five miles south of Panama City the area bends into the Gulf of Mexico. Cape San Blas extends out into the Gulf and curves around to the north, creating St. Joseph Bay, a sheltered body of water that harbors crabs, flounder, and several types of sea grass as well as other marine life. Fishing is the order of the day here, and you can bring what you catch to local restaurants and they’ll prepare it for your dinner.

Cape San Blas is best known for its stunning sunsets. The westward-facing sandy white beaches, ground fine by the waters from the Gulf, offer the perfect spot to catch the spectacular colors of the day’s end and then light a bonfire as the waves lap at your feet. At the north end of the peninsula is the St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, which offers hiking and sand dunes as tall as a house.


Back on the mainland, Port St. Joe is perfect for families, fishers, and shoppers. During the winter you can explore the area with scavenger hunts, take the St. Joseph Buffer Preserve Tram Tour, or spend a day on the Intracoastal. Windmark Bay offers four miles of trails for walking, running, and biking if you’d like to be more active. Then head up to Lookout Lounge for a sunset nightcap, and when it gets too late just cross the timezone to gain an hour! 

Inland is the Dead Lakes. A photographer’s dream, this area is filled with moss-dripped cypress trees as well as the Tupelo, source of world-famous Tupelo honey. Here you can kayak, fish, and explore the lakes with a walk on the boardwalks. Camping, both tent and RV, is very popular and only $20 a day.


A night out on the town in Gulf County means something different than it does in River North. Instead of DJ’s spinning until the middle of the night, you’ll dance to live music under the stars. Bars and restaurants offer everything from blues and jazz to country and folk.


Gulf County is filled with natural wonders, peaceful solitude, and small-town camaraderie. It’s the perfect getaway from the hectic Chicago lifestyle and a balm to the harried city soul. There are tons of Winter Fun Events all the way through March. When you’re looking to warm up this winter, Come visit GCFL

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