Turtle Beach Inn
Doubles cost $140-$175 per night; cottages, $195-$250 per night or $850-$1,600 per week.
AS WE SET FOOT on a deserted two-mile stretch of white Gulf of Mexico sand along Florida's "Forgotten Coast," a startled bald eagle leaped up from his fish breakfast and flapped away into the pines. My wife, our four- and six-year-old sons, and I then tried to catch some fish of our own. Using a seine strung between two poles, we waded into the 70-degree water and scooped up jellyfish, tiny baitfish, squid, and a baby octopus that the boys named Inky.
Two hours southwest of Tallahassee, in a blink of a hamlet called Indian Pass, the Turtle Beach Inn comprises two multifamily cottages and a beach house with four guest rooms, all on stilts and nestled beneath tall slash pines and sabal palms. We came to explore this remote nub of Florida's Panhandle and to see a beach so clean and untouched that loggerhead turtles nest and hatch here each summer. St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, three miles from the inn, was rated No. 1 in 2002 by coastal geologist Stephen Leatherman, a.k.a. Dr. Beach. So we gamboled the park's maze of bulbous and stark-white dunes, snorkeled, and raked a few scallops. But the highlight was renting two double sea kayaks and paddling atop the transparent waters, looking down on the lush sea life we'd scooped into our net.
That night we walked up the road to the crusty Indian Pass Raw Bar, a converted gas station, to linger over gumbo, spicy shrimp, and some of Florida's sweetest oysters. All the boys talked about, though, was capturing tomorrow's lunch.