For almost 50 years, the little coastal town of Apalachicola in Florida's Panhandle has hosted the Florida Seafood Festival each fall. The two-day event that begins on a Friday with the special "Blessing of the Fleet," features royalty, live entertainment, a parade and oyster shucking and eating contests brings tens of thousands of visitors to the area each year.
The festival is held in Battery Park, which is situated at the mouth of the Apalachicola River where it flows into the Gulf of Mexico. The large waterfront area is just northeast of Highway 98 and within sight of the John Gorrie Memorial Bridge. Score of vendors, campers and boaters add a down-home and laid-back atmosphere.
Perhaps one of the most colorful events of the Florida Seafood Festival is the Blessing of the Fleet. Held on Friday afternoon, the event is attended by several clergymen who bless the parade of passing fishing, shrimping, oystering and recreational vessels that jam the marina. The festival's royalty — King Retsyo and Miss Florida Seafood — join the affair.
The Florida Seafood Festival's RedFish Run begins at the historic Gibson Inn at the foot of the John Gorrie Memorial Bridge. The 3.1 mile (5000 meter) race winds its way through the streets of the 165-year-old Apalachicola.
A real treat for the kids is the colorful Seafood Festival Parade that his held on Saturday morning during the festival. The festive parade makes its way down Highway 98 to the Apalachicola River and features bands, floats, royalty and dignitaries from throughout the region.
Oysters are king in Apalachicola, so you should know exactly how to shuck them. The Oyster Shucking Contest tests participants' prowess not only in technique, but in speed. Often within a couple of minutes free hands signal they are done, but the winner isn't always the first one to complete their tray filled with 18 of the local delicacies. They must be clean, no nicks and meet more than a dozen criteria for a job well done.
The Oyster Eating Contest sounds like an easy win, but unless you can guzzle and keep down more than 250 to 300 oysters during the 15-minute competition you'll likely end up with nothing more than a stomach ache.
Details and Directions
The Florida Seafood Festival is held annually in late October or early November in Apalachicola. Usually, there is no admission charged on Friday. Admission is $5 on Saturday with children ages 12 and under admitted free.
Primative camping is available for tents, RVs and camping trailers (no electric, water or sewer hookups) on a first-come, first-served basis beginning Thursday evening before the festival. Camping spaces are usually $30 a day. Campers should enter at the Water Street Gate, where fees will be collected.
Apalachicola is located Florida's Gulf Coast in Florida's Panhandle approximately 80 miles southwest of Tallahassee, Florida's capital city. The scenic east-west Hwy 98 that mostly follows the coastline from Pensacola through the Panhandle cuts through the town before crossing East Bay via the John Gorrie Memorial Bridge. Battery Park is located northeast of Hwy 98 just before the bridge.