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Weekender: Northern Gulf Coast, Florida

Frédéric Lagrange

Photo: Frédéric Lagrange

WHERE TO STAY

Gibson Inn 51 Ave. C, Apalachicola; 850/653-2191, fax 850/653-3521; doubles from $75. A 30-room 1907 inn overflowing with marvelous Apalach atmosphere, it's also a steal. Where else could you find tassel-fringed poster beds, black cypress beams, rockers on the porch—not to mention plenty of elbowroom—at this price?The prime downtown location puts you within seconds of galleries, eateries, and lazy bay-side neighborhoods. The inn's Old Florida, post-and-beam design isn't even marred by an elevator (you climb the flared cypress staircase to the third floor). Sip drinks on a balcony, where you have a clear shot of the bay.

Coombs House Inn 80 Sixth St., Apalachicola; 850/653-9199, fax 850/653-2785; doubles from $79. Thanks to a furious renovation last decade, the 1905 Coombs House is easily the area's most elegant lodging. Black cedar and tiger oak gleam in the foyer of the two-story, butter-yellow Victorian; in the parlor, you can sit on a French settee while your breakfast is served on Italian glassware. Former Miami decorator Lynn Wilson, who owns the inn with her husband, Bill Spohrer, chose classic Oriental rugs and damask and chintz bedspreads in all nine rooms. Splurge for the one with a Jacuzzi tub and an Indonesian four-poster.

Wakulla Springs Lodge 550 Wakulla Park Dr., Wakulla Springs State Park; 850/224-5950, fax 850/561-7251; doubles from $69 weekdays, from $79 weekends. Admittedly, the miles of marble and masonry are a tad austere. Yet it's tough to resist the whimsical juxtaposition of Deco and Spanish Mission plopped down beside the swamp. And there's nothing quite like strolling through the great lobby lavished with pink marble and European folk art, only to find a couple of alligators out back (not to worry; there's a fence between the guests and gators). The 27-room lodge was concocted in the 1930's by well-traveled financier Edward Ball (a man, no doubt, with a fine sense of swamp humor), who said Wakulla was the most serene place he'd ever encountered. Sit beneath the magnolias, alongside green-and-gold springs, and watch the mullet and manatees dance in the water.

Sweet Magnolia Bed & Breakfast Inn 803 Port Leon Dr., St. Marks; 850/925-7670, fax 850/925-0569; doubles from $85, including breakfast. This five-year-old surprise in St. Marks won't win any style awards (silk magnolias line the staircase), but it will charm you with touches like wine and cheese at check-in, a garden with a koi-filled pond, and seven spacious bedrooms stocked with novels and the latest issue of Southern Living. There's also the prospect of a dinner cruise aboard the inn's Sea House One, a 65-foot boat that plies the St. Marks River, where manatees are easily spotted (three-hour dinner cruise, with five-course meal, $70 for two).

Cedar Key Bed & Breakfast 810 Third St., Cedar Key; 877/543-5051 or 352/543-5050, fax 352/543-8070; doubles from $75. As comfortable as it gets in Cedar Key. The lawn in front of this 1880's house is long, the garden is shaded by a 400-year-old live oak, and the yellow pine walls still seep with century-old turpentine. But that's not to suggest a rustic B&B. The seven rooms come with plush terry robes and details such as French floor lamps and marble-front dressers. Tom Cruise has stayed in room 1, but ask for Jack's Room and you'll get a suite with rose-patterned stained glass and an antique apothecary collection.

Sawgrass Motel Dock St., above the Sawgrass Gallery, Cedar Key; 352/543-5007; doubles from $70. The "motel" is a pair of rooms above an art gallery, both as spiffed up as can be. The doors are tangerine, the bed cushions Key lime, the tables ruby red. There's no pool, ice machine, or front desk (check in at the gallery), but both rooms have a mini-fridge, and restaurants and stores are but steps away. Settle into a second-floor balcony rocking chair with a view of the sea, and it's as if the whole island of Cedar Key lies at your feet.

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