NEW YORK (MONEY Magazine) -
The 50-mile gulf coast stretch from Port St. Joe to Carrabelle has about as much in common with Miami or Fort Lauderdale as it does with Paris. There are no glam discos or high-rises -- just lovely beaches and very cheap real estate, at least by Florida standards.
Locals call it the Forgotten Coast. The onetime reason: an old paper mill that used to smell as bad as it looked.
"Nobody wanted to come on vacation and look at a paper mill," says local broker Diane Peevy of Port Realty.
Well, the mill closed in 1999, and home prices have been rising ever since. Among the nicer, still affordable homes is a two-bedroom condo in Barrier Dunes, a gated community on Cape San Blas. Steps from the beach, the Gulf-view unit is listed at $425,000. Just below the Cape, where the beach is less susceptible to erosion, a two-bedroom townhouse lists for $475,000.
But the area's undiscovered gem is Dog Island, an 1,800-acre barrier island three miles from Carrabelle. The island is accessible only by boat or small airplane. (A pair of local captains operate ad hoc ferries.)
Pam Housholder, Dog Island's resident realtor, believes today's prices will be recalled as bargains. She's probably right.
Click here for a gallery of affordable beach homes
Most of the island is owned by the Nature Conservancy and cannot be developed -- a big draw for both nature lovers and supply-conscious investors. Dog Island's dirt roads look more like hiking trails, and the beaches are just about perfect. (Yes, there are phones and electricity, but most people use water-purification systems to compensate for so-so drinking water.)
Gulf-front houses start at $650,000, but interior lots -- all with beach rights -- sell for $225,000 to $275,000. Another $200,000 could build you the cozy getaway of your dreams.
North Padre Island, Texas
Need a vacation? Click here for MONEY's Best Places to Vacation.
If you DO have a million to spend, here's a look at what you can get.