I had been driving for five hours — from Tampa, up US 19, then west on US 98 — and all the while, I was probably no more than a few miles away from the Gulf of Mexico. But all that time, I never saw the water, until I arrived in tiny Panacea, Florida.
A side street off US 98 turned into a dirt road, which turned into a muddy cul-de-sac as it reached the edge of the water. The view was only a couple of blocks away from the highway. Fortunately, I’d be seeing a lot more of the Gulf from now on.
[tmt_info =””]Panacea is home to the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab. The aquarium is located near this spot — in fact, there’s a sign for it as you turn off US 98. The Gulf Specimen Marine Lab has tanks full of all the creatures you’d find in the Gulf, and admission is a reasonable $7.50 for adults, $5 for kids. Here is the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab’s website.
Carrabelle: World’s Smallest Police Station
Carrabelle has one claim to fame: it’s home to the world’s smallest police station. Sure, it may look like a phone booth, and the truth is, there’s not even a phone in it anymore. But, no other town can claim to have had its police force operating out of a 4-square-foot office.
[tmt_info =””]Up until 1963, Carrabelle’s police officers would answer calls, using a call box that was hanging on the side of a downtown building. It wasn’t a very good system, because the officers would get wet when using the phone during bad weather, and at other times, civilians would use the phone to make long-distance calls, on the city’s dime. When the phone company replaced a phone booth in town, the phone company gave the old one to the police, and moved the call box into the phone booth. People still sneaked in to make long distance, though, until the police removed the dial. These days, the original phone booth/police station is on display in Carrabelle’s Chamber of Commerce office.†[/tmt_info]
Here’s my time-lapse dash-cam video of the drive from Panacea to Apalachicola:
Crooked River Lighthouse & US 98 Along Florida’s Gulf Coast
It would be easy to miss a great landmark along US 98. I almost drove by the Crooked River Lighthouse, but managed to make a gravel-tossing turn just in time. A narrow dirt road leads off the highway to the lighthouse (which is on the north side of the road–the opposite side from the Gulf of Mexico). There’s only one tiny sign, and it doesn’t provide enough warning.
[tmt_info =””]The Crooked River Lighthouse is located west of Carrabelle, Florida, off US 98.[/tmt_info]
Since 2006, restoration has been underway at the Crooked River Lighthouse. It’s obvious the work has been a success. The old lighthouse, which was built between 1893 and 1895, appears to be in great shape today.
For $5, you can buy a ticket to climb the narrow spiral staircase to the top of the lighthouse.[tmt_info =””]The Crooked River Lighthouse stands 103 feet tall. It was electrified in 1933, automated in 1952, and decommissioned in 1995. Its lens, a 4th order Fresnel, was made in Paris in 1894, and is now on display in New Orleans, at the Hale Boggs Federal Building.[/tmt_info]
US 98 West…
After the lighthouse, you’ve reached the very best part of US 98. From Carrabelle to Apalachicola, the highway spends most of its time at the edge of the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a beautiful drive, that remains uncluttered by development. There were some pesky orange cones providing contrast to the otherwise perfect view during my drive in June, 2009, but hopefully they’ll be gone by the time you get there.