In October of 2018, the three-and-a-half-mile-long seaside town of Mexico Beach, Florida, was all but leveled by Hurricane Michael. The process of building back was slow but coming along—and then the pandemic hit, re-shuttering businesses and driving up the cost and time of construction efforts. But Mexico Beach has no quit in it. “We always knew it would be a marathon to come back, not a sprint,” says Kimberly Shoaf, the town’s director of tourism and a Mexico Beach native. “Now, we’re coming around our final curve towards the finish line, thanks to the dedication of our locals and the support of our visitors.”
The restaurants are back, the shops are open, three motels are welcoming guests, and the town hopes the fishing pier will be rebuilt by this time next year. The goal, as then-mayor Al Cathey said when Mexico Beach won G&G’s Best Beach Town bracket in 2021, “was never to build back bigger and better.” It was to restore Mexico Beach as it was. “We are comfortable in our skin, as quaint, charming, and friendly. This is laid-back Old Florida.”
Eat & Drink
Start the day off at Caribbean Coffee, the town’s favorite stop for a morning fix of caffeine, pastries, and breakfast sandwiches (don’t miss the cinnamon rolls). Food truck Bad Mamma Jamma or Crazy Beach Pizza—on the corner of 29th Street and walkable from the sand—take care of lunch on a beach day. So does Killer Seafood, where Shoaf and her husband love the seared tuna tacos. For dinner, Mango Marley’s is the only indoor dining option in Mexico Beach, serving seafood baskets, burgers, and bowls. If it’s sugar you’re after, head to Mexico Beach Sweets.
The town’s motels had to be rebuilt after Hurricane Michael. The Driftwood Inn, which has welcomed guests for five decades, sits just yards from the sand. So does the Gulf View Motel and El Governor Beachfront Resort; the latter is putting the finishing touches on its pool and bar. All three spots offer the same pastel colors and laid-back style as before, with updated amenities.
Since 1997, the Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association has installed over 150 reefs, which provide habitat for grouper, cobia, pompano, wahoo, and redfish. Book a charter (find a list here) and take your catch to Mango Marley’s—they’ll cook it for you if it’s filleted. If it’s Thursday, pick up fish dip along with souvenirs from the family-owned, third generation Shell Shack, which doubles as a fresh seafood market (Cathey and his wife like to pick up steamed shrimp there and take it home for dinner). “And you just can’t beat a beach day with a sunset,” Shoaf says. Find a spot on the five-mile stretch of sugar-white sand, whose quartz crystals originated in the Appalachians millions of years ago.
“When you come to Mexico Beach, you’re the entertainment,” laughs Cathey. “That’s who we are. But as to the recovery, oh my, it’s simply remarkable. People come back and can’t believe how good we look. I could not be more proud of my city.”