Northwest Florida:
SOUTHERN SWANK ON THE GULF

BY JANET GROENE

North West Florida Tourism Guide - Free Magazine Subscriptions & Download

The rim of Northwest Florida begins with the whitest of white Gulf of Mexico beaches, edged with dazzling turquoise waters. Along the bleached sandy shores between Destin and Panama City Beach, a strand of luxury, low-rise vacation homes have become a hideaway for celebrities.

It began with the urban-chic development at Seaside, which caught the public’s eye and imagination when it was featured in the Jim Carrey 1998 film, The Truman Show. High-rise developers were kept out of the area by laws overruling multi-story buildings. Now one- and two-story beach “cottages” have morphed into millionaire mansions. Also attracting the glitterati are ultra-luxe resorts, such as the WaterColor Inn and Resort at Santa Rosa Beach, which ranks No. 15 on US News and World Report’s list of Florida’s 400 best hotels, out-ritzing hundreds of better known hotels in Miami, Palm Beach and Orlando.

One stretch of Highway 30A is becoming known as “Nashville South” and sometimes “South Hollywood” due to the many celebrities who pay up to US$28,000 a week to stay in exclusive beach houses. Celeb watchers have spotted such luminaries as Kenny Chesney, Emeril Lagasse, Reese Witherspoon, Sandra Bullock, Faith Hill, John Oates of Hall and Oates and NFL stars Tony Romo and Eli Manning. In January 2015, the annual 30A Songwriter’s Festival welcomed A-list notable performers such as Graham Nash, Leon Russell, Jason Isbell and Glen Phillips of Toad the Wet Sprocket.

Celebrities aside, there’s always a warm welcome here for travelers who seek accommodation at a familiar chain, such as Holiday Inn, Homewood Suites or La Quinta. Although summer is high season here, many snowbirds choose to roost here during the winter months because of the attractive rates available at motels, residential suite hotels, cottages, self-catering condos and RV resorts.

The tourism menu is rich in variety starting with nature’s gifts. Gulf waters, beaches and water sports are just the beginning. Upland there are pristine woods and waters, an encyclopedia of flora and fauna including many rare and endangered species, and a state park threaded with Florida’s only dry caves, which are open for exploration year-round. Outdoor pursuits range from golf courses, horseback riding and paddle sports to backcountry camping, hiking and fishing. For birdwatchers, spring and fall migrations fill the Panhandle with an outstanding aerial show.

European discovery in the New World began with a Spanish settlement at Pensacola in the early 1500s. The strategic location of Pensacola made it a military center and, today, ancient brick forts still beguile tourists while modern-day Blue Angels jets roar overhead.

Attractions exclusive to the Panhandle include the National Naval Aviation Museum, home of the largest collection of naval warplanes in the world, and Torreya State Park with its stands of rare Torreya conifers. On the last Friday and Saturday of April, the small airport at DeFuniak Springs swarms with the largest fly-in air expo in Northwest Florida. Rivaling the more famous fly-in at Lakeland, it attracts aircraft from all eras and features workshops, vendors, food booths and demonstrations.

WHAT’S NEW

Now that a major airport has been added between Pensacola and Tallahassee, it’s easier than ever to reach the Panhandle. The former Northwest Florida Regional Airport, now known as Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport (VPS), is served by American, Delta, United and US Airways flights, which connect with hubs at Atlanta, Dallas-Fort Worth and Charlotte. Southern Airways Express also flies to Atlanta, Memphis, and Oxford and Jackson, Mississippi.

Growth gallops ahead in the Panhandle areas where higher, larger hotels are permitted, giving visitors more choice in accommodation and shopping venues. Scheduled to open in Destin in spring 2016 is a US$300-million luxury hotel, The Henderson, which aspires to five-star status.

Visit the National Naval Aviation Museum during Discovery Saturdays for special events such as meetings with real-life aviation heroes. In addition to the popular indoor restaurant, there’s now an outdoor food kiosk for visitors viewing the massive display of aircraft on the grounds. The total collection has grown to more than 150 airplanes and spacecraft.

Featuring regionally-inspired beers, such as the “1890 Founder’s Ale” (a classic amber with balanced malt and hop character), “White Dunes” (a Belgian white featuring hints of spice and citrus), and “30A Beach Blonde Ale” (a light-bodied blonde ale with subtle citrus nuance and mild malt sweetness), the three-year-old Grayton Beer Company has become a favorite of visitors and locals alike. The company’s newly-opened taproom features a 40-foot recycled wood pallet 25-tap bar where Grayton Beer Company’s specialty small-batch beers will be exclusively available. Idyll Hounds, the second brewery to open in South Walton, brews its beer with a flavors-first mentality. Inspired by the white-sand beaches, forever-blue sky, and warm waters of the Gulf coast, Idyll Hounds’ first two beers are “Divide & Conch’r” (a double IPA with notes of grapefruit, pine and passion fruit) and “Man O’Wheat” (an unfiltered pale wheat ale). The brewers place a special focus on both eco- and beach-friendly products, using 100 percent recyclable materials to can their beer.

Florida has long been a national leader in creating artificial reefs. Now Northwest Florida is the recipient of a US$11.4-million project, which is creating nearly 5,000 artificial reefs at 37 sites in the Big Bend area of the Gulf of Mexico. Sport fishing, already a tourism blockbuster in the region, will benefit anglers and divers as well as aid fish populations.

ARTS AND CULTURE

World War II history is preserved at the Camp Gordon Johnston World War II Museum in Carrabelle. The camp, which once housed half a million troops, opened in 1942 and trained amphibious forces for assaults from Normandy to the Bay of Pigs.

John Gorrie Museum State Park in Apalachicola is a modest site, but well worth a stop to view a replica of the ice-making machine invented by Dr. Gorrie to cool his patients during a yellow fever epidemic. The larger discussion here, shown in interpretive displays, is the important role yellow fever, malaria and other tropical agues played in the early Americas.

One of the region’s most intriguing cultural enclaves is in the time-warp hamlet of DeFuniak Springs, founded in the 1880s. Leaders of a quaint education movement in the 19th century known as Chautauqua, after its origins on Lake Chautauqua in New York, established a winter home on the scenic shores of what was then called Lake DeFuniak. The Florida Chautauqua Theatre remains active.

Glorious seas, skies, sands and woodlands here have attracted scores of resident artists, many of whom have their own studios or galleries. Several Panhandle communities host gala Art Walk celebrations seasonally or throughout the year. Galleries keep longer hours, wine may be served, restaurants post special menus and music plays throughout the art districts as visitors browse, shop and mingle. Sometimes gallery night is part of a larger celebration in a street scene of food kiosks and performers. Apalachicola holds its Art Walk & Wine Festival annually in the spring.

South Walton’s numerous artists’ colonies encourage an exchange between fine painters, crafters and sculptors who in turn support local workshops and festivals. A steady stream of incredible live music lends an upbeat soundtrack. And the talented players at the Repertory Theater are always ready to add a touch of drama to the mix. Beyond the myriad events and festivals, there’s an engaging array of galleries, studios and public performing arts. A host of galleries are found at Ruskin Place in Seaside and Shops of Grayton, where visitors can enjoy a diverse array of art and meet many of the local personalities in one colorful location. On the first Friday of every month, several of South Walton’s more than 60 art galleries host a First Friday Art Walk along Highway 30A. On this night, galleries stay open late and shoppers have the opportunity to view new artwork, meet the artists and enjoy refreshments and live music.

Easily overlooked because it’s part of the larger Heritage Park and Cultural Center, the Indian Temple Mound Museum in Fort Walton Beach includes a Native American temple mound and relics said to date back to as early as 14,000 BC.

The Mattie Kelly Arts Center at Northwest Florida State College in Niceville provides a showcase for visiting international artists as well as local talent, including the Northwest Florida Symphony and Northwest Florida Ballet.

For Civil War groupies, Northwest Florida offers significant sites. The Battle of Marianna in 1864 saw more than 25 percent of the male population killed, wounded or captured. Battlefield tours can be arranged. Fort Pickens in Santa Rosa Beach was occupied by Union forces through most of the war. A historic marker in Bagdad remembers the Skirmish on the Blackwater.

Revisit the early 1900s, when live vaudeville acts were giving way to movies at the Museum of Local History in Milton. It’s housed in the stately Imogene Little Theatre, built in 1912 and now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Milton is also home to the West Florida Railroad Museum in a typical depot waiting room from the 1880s. Newly restored in 2015, the Arcadia Mill Archaeological Site in Milton preserves remnants of one of the largest antebellum water-powered industrial complexes in Northwest Florida. Operations included a sawmill, lumber mill with planning and lathing machines, gristmill, a bucket factory, shingle mill, cotton textile mill and an experimental silk cultivation operation.

History buffs know Pensacola was settled earlier in the 16th century than St. Augustine but lost the right to call itself the nation’s oldest city when the original settlement on Pensacola Bay was abandoned for a few years. The city center is now built on the site of an early fort and Spanish culture survives in place names, architecture, cuisine and historic markers. The city, which served under five flags, had a brief French occupation and Britain’s Royal Navy built Fort Barrancas in 1763. Costumed characters toil daily in Historic Pensacola Village, taking on the roles of candlemakers, quilters, bakers and merchants who lived here centuries ago. The Museum of Commerce is a street scene of typical 18th- and 19th-century shops.

Culturally aware, Pensacola has its own ballet, symphony, theater and art museum. Opened in 1925 in downtown Pensacola, the Saenger Theatre, a relic of the golden age of Hollywood, has been restored to its original Spanish Baroque/Rococo magnificence. Ongoing programs include classic movie showings and a Broadway series, plus a busy schedule of classical and pop performances.

If you’re visiting Pensacola between April and December, check the schedule for Gallery Night, when the city’s downtown streets come alive on one special Friday each month. Visitors and locals gather at these festive block-party events to enjoy music, art and cuisine provided by dozens of local businesses.

BEACHES

With more than 200 miles of beaches along the Gulf coast, not to mention excellent beaches on bays, lakes and rivers, Northwest Florida is the ultimate beach vacation destination. The question is, which beach? If you’re staying in beachfront accommodation, a beach is on your doorstep. If not, you’ll need to find public beaches, perhaps with parking. Many are shown on free tourist maps available at hotels and other visitor stops, as well as on tourism websites listed here.

This being the birthplace of YOLO Board, visitors can try their hand at standup paddleboarding (SUP) with experts on the region’s rare 15 coastal dune lakes. Open to the public, YOLO Board Adventures is dedicated to creating awareness of what is the world’s fastest-growing water sport activity. SUP is easy to learn and a perfect way to explore the Gulf of Mexico or Western Lake, one of South Walton’s dune lakes.

In addition to its white-sand beaches, South Walton boasts the Choctawhatchee River (Florida’s fourth largest in volume), Choctawhatchee Bay, many creeks and streams, and 15 extremely rare coastal dune lakes, providing a variety of opportunities to get out on the water. Ecotours on the Choctawhatchee River with the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance is a great way to explore the extraordinary ecosystems, which are home to numerous and unusual native plants and animals. Similarly, guide Karl Renelt has been introducing people to South Walton’s extraordinary beauty since the early 1990s and leads diverse tours with Into the Wild Eco Diversions (ITW), which include hiking, biking, kayaking and sailing on either the Gulf or the Choctawhatchee Bay.

For a quiet picnic, the best beaches are the remote and pristine sands on Dog Island, Dr. Julian G. Bruce St. George Island State Park and T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. For families, the beaches at state parks are always an excellent choice. So is the Florida District of Gulf Islands National Seashore, a snowscape of beaches with cycling and hiking trails, ranger-led nature programs, historic forts and spots for swimming, snorkeling and fishing.

One of the nation’s most credible beach experts is Dr. Stephen P. Leatherman, a professor at Florida International University, also known as Dr. Beach. T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park, St. Andrews State Park and Grayton Beach State Park are among his top picks in this region.

The best shelling is not on the most popular beaches but in sheltered bays and on remote sand spits. Horse conchs might be found on the north side of Shell Island while Crooked Island Sound is a happy hunting ground after a storm. So are Mexico Beach and Cape San Blas. At marinas that offer day cruises, such as Capt. Anderson’s Marina in Panama City Beach, ask about shelling cruises that sail to beaches accessible only by boat.

DINING AND NIGHTLIFE

From fine dining to raw bars, Northwest Florida holds many pleasures for foodies. Plenty of eateries still offer the traditional shore meal of fried grouper, French fries and cole slaw. Apalachicola gave its name to sweet, succulent oysters, favored by many local chefs and served by the bushel at rustic raw bars throughout the region.

For the south in your mouth, the area abounds in soul food favorites. Hole in the Wall Seafood in Apalachicola is known for southern, soul fare and seafood with a Creole accent. At Five Sisters Blues Café in Pensacola, you can sample such Dixie favorites as fried chicken, cornbread, pulled pork, fried okra and collards.

Good taste reigns for all palates at Gormley’s at the Gibson in Apalachicola. Chef Brett Gormley, who has been featured in the New York Times, prepares classic French cuisine. Reserve early; the room is open only a few nights each week.

The Firefly Bar and Library Lounge in Panama City Beach offers an extensive menu with options for children and early dining, plus a wide selection of soups, starters, sushi, pizza and specialty entrees, martinis and samplers.

Luxury reigns at the Havana Beach Bar & Grill, the happening place for cocktails in The Pearl resort in Rosemary Beach. Thursday through Sunday, sing along at the piano bar. Gourmet food is served indoors, or you can enjoy small plates on the veranda. Take a moment to enjoy the room’s original art.

The Hub on 30A in WaterSound (South Walton) is a popular gathering place with great restaurants, entertainment and shopping with family and friends. On Seaside’s Airstream Row, vintage Airstreams sit across the street from the beach and serve a variety of American favorites and Southern classics. According to Seaside founder Robert Davis, “The Airstreams are fun and funky and the size of the place means the proprietors keep it simple.”

Stinky’s Fish Camp in Santa Rosa Beach is known for “oysters all day, all ways” and a host of seafood specialties such as crawfish pie and catfish meunière.

A comprehensive menu at Cuvee Bistro in Destin spans from crisp-crusted pizzas to duck, venison, steaks and a signature black pepper yellowfin tuna.

The Cubi Bar Café in the National Naval Aviation Museum serves food and is also an exhibit based on the famous Cubi Point Officers’ Club that hosted naval aviators in the Philippines during the Vietnam War. It’s plastered with memorabilia from the original Plaque Bar.

The buzz on Pensacola Beach is the Casino Beach Bar & Grille, a Caribbean-style hangout at the foot of the Pensacola Beach Gulf Pier. Check out special events for holidays such as New Year’s and Mardi Gras. The iconic McGuire’s Irish Pub, a favorite for St. Patrick’s Day events, has locations in Pensacola and Destin.

Nightlife is easy to find. Trends include a growing number of brewpubs and Margarita-style beach hangouts. In Pensacola the after-dark crowd goes to the Seville Quarter Historic District, which finally went smoke-free in 2015. Worth looking into while visiting this dining-entertainment-shopping complex is the Vinyl Music Hall housed in the historic Masonic Lodge. Check out its current list of headline music acts.

Keep an eye on the almanac for phases of the moon, then do a search for “city name”+ “full-moon party.” They’re usually found at beach landmarks, such as the Margaritaville Beach Hotel in Pensacola Beach, Crooked River Lighthouse in Carrabelle and the Cape St. George Lighthouse on Little George Island.

FAMILY ENTERTAINMENT

All-day family fun is a definite promise at WonderWorks in Panama City Beach. More than 100 hands-on activities include its Ropes Course, Lazer-Tag, the Hurricane Shack with category-one winds and a bubble lab that generates giggles for all ages.

The Betsy Ann Riverboat at St. Andrews Marina in Panama City Beach is a true sternwheeler. Miniature golf is always a hoot for families, especially when it’s the original Goofy Golf dating back to 1959 on Panama City Beach. Mini golf by the same name is also found in Fort Walton Beach.

The Shell, a landmark amphitheater near Panama City Beach, is always a photo-op backdrop and often the setting for concerts. Arrive on the free Shell Island Shuttle or by ferry. Visitors may also come by boat and tie up at the dock or drive in and park at the public beach.

The Track Family Recreation Center in Destin is raw entertainment, a non-stop carnival with rides, bumper cars, mini golf, a bungee jump, arcade games and much more. Big Kahuna’s Water and Adventure Park in Destin is the place to cool off in summer with thrill rides and slides. Try the new Kawabunga Racer.

Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park in Fort Walton Beach showcases dolphins and other sea creatures, and kids love feeding the penguins. Day cruises are offered out of most major marinas in the region, with the focus being on dolphin-watching, shelling, diving, snorkeling or fishing.

Known as Florida’s Playground, Santa Rosa County brings together centuries of history and adventures. Explore Florida’s Playground Trail, made up of 12 sites connecting Milton and Navarre Beach, named one of the top 25 beaches in the US by TripAdvisor in 2014. Following beautiful signage, begin at the Navarre Beach Marine Science Station, with its educational center, sea turtle conservatory and near-shore reefs. Then follow a variety of sites along the beachfront, including the Navarre Beach Fishing Pier, the longest in Florida and on the Gulf of Mexico. Next, make your way to historic Milton, the canoe capital of Florida, and Blackwater River State Park, for a variety of kayaking, canoeing, tubing, fishing, historic sites and zip-lining experiences.

The Pensacola Children’s Museum in Historic Pensacola Village has blossomed into a sensation filled with hands-on exhibits for kids. As kids play, they learn about the city’s multi-cultural past, its lumber and maritime industries, military history and Native Americans who had a thriving community here in the 13th century.

The ultimate family experience for both amusement and learning is the National Naval Aviation Museum. Older children are sure to be wowed by the MaxFlight 360 flight simulators. Unlike arcade games, they’re the real deal. The museum is also the home of the Naval Flight Academy, which offers six-day programs for youngsters.

The Pensacola Blue Wahoos are giving baseball fans something to cheer about. The Double-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds has moved to Pensacola, playing in minor league baseball’s Southern League. Games in the showplace Pensacola Bayfront Stadium are action-packed reminders that the city has long been a steppingstone to the major leagues. Pensacola baseball alumni include such immortals as Ted Williams, Ty Cobb and Shoeless Joe Jackson.

Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola is attracting more national auto racing events, including the NOPI Nationals car show and the famous Snowball Derby 300-lap stock car race. Family-friendly, tailgate-friendly events feature offbeat cars in out-of-the-ordinary races, such as noisy, smoky-tire “drift nights” and double headers in which winners of the first race start last for the second show. When races aren’t running, licensed drivers 18 and over can drive the half-mile track in a real racecar. Packages are priced for 10 to 30 laps.

ROAD TRIPS

Drive US 98, the 157-mile-long stretch referred to as the Emerald Coast Route or the Gulf Coast Highway from the forgotten hamlet of Carrabelle and historic Apalachicola to Gulf Breeze for almost non-stop views of shining waters and white sands. Although the trip can be done in a day, every mile tells a story and every lay-by beckons visitors to take a video and send an Instagram. The unhurried visitor can detour from the main highway to explore stunning St. George Island and St. Joseph Peninsula. Both are slender sand spits, alight with scenery but require backtracking to get back to US 98. Traffic gets denser around Panama City and Panama City Beach, both ideal locations for lodging and attractions.

Continuing west, drop down to State Road 30A at Inlet Beach for a beachfront ramble through beachside neighborhoods including Seaside and a visit to picturesque Grayton Beach State Park. Destin is a quaint village known for its fishing fleets and Fort Walton Beach offers sightseeing plus urban shopping, dining, lodging and attractions. Here, there’s a chance to leave US 98 again for a leisurely drive to Okaloosa and Santa Rosa Island. If you’re on a fast track you may prefer to stay with US 98. There will be other bridges later to take you out to Santa Rosa Island, Fort Pickens and the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Depending on tourist traffic, shore roads can be slow, and the only way back is to retrace your route through the same, dazzling scenery.

The fast lane through this region is Interstate 10, an alternate route with its own appeal. The route follows the Old Spanish Trail, blazed more than 400 years ago by Spanish traders traveling between St. Augustine and Pensacola. Just off the highway are the hospitable small towns of Chipley, Bonifay and DeFuniak Springs and such natural treasures as Ponce de Leon Springs, Falling Waters and Florida Caverns state parks, and the 189,848-acre Blackwater River State Forest.

SHOP

Outlet malls here are enormously popular with travelers. For smarter shopping, opt into the e-mail list ahead of your trip to receive coupons, news and an idea of where to find things. When you arrive, start at the information kiosk to inquire about coupons, a free shopping bag or other “insider” promotions.

Silver Sands Premium Outlets in South Walton is the largest in the region with 110 stores. Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort is a city-size resort with a pedestrian Village of Bay Wharf filled with shops and places to dine. The area’s natural beauty attracts artists specializing in all media from watercolor to fusion glass, textiles, jewelry and shell art. Places to find prominent galleries include Seaside and other communities along County Road 30A.

30Avenue in Inlet Beach is an up-and-coming shopping mecca. Notable retailers in the new shopping center include Willow + Mercer, which has expanded from the original Willow boutique.

The Pensacola Beach Boardwalk (formerly the Portofino Boardwalk) is a typical Florida shopping, dining, entertainment, beach and water sports complex that’s well worth a whole day or an entire evening.

Anchored by Dick’s Sporting Goods and an upscale Dillard’s, Pensacola’s sprawling 120-store Cordova Mall has food galore and dozens of familiar chain stores.

SPAS

Outstanding spa services and surroundings are found in the Serenity Spa at the Bay Point Golf Resort & Spa in Panama City Beach, the InnSpa at the WaterColor Inn & Resort in Santa Rosa Beach, and the Serenity by the Sea in the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa in Miramar Beach near Destin.

Guests at chic beach communities such as Seaside and Rosemary Beach have a wonderful choice of day spas, many of which offer luxury services. The Pearl Spa in Rosemary Beach offers a signature facial with crushed pearls. Enjoy your treatments in the spa or in a poolside cabana.

The Emerald Grande at HarborWalk Village in Destin is a full-service resort with a lavish spa. Guests and non-guests can buy membership in the fitness center on the second floor overlooking the Gulf.

Portofino Island Resort in Pensacola Beach is another great choice if you seek a resort with full-service spa facilities as well as a comprehensive fitness center offering personal trainers, triathlon training and a smoothie bar.

Fusion is a day spa in Gulf Breeze across the street from the Hilton Pensacola Beach Gulf Front Hotel and Holiday Inn Resort and features an Aveda skin care massage and salon services.

UNIQUE PLACES TO STAY

This region’s heyday was during the Victorian era, when opulent homes were built to house lumber and cotton barons. Today, some of these mansions, such as Noble Manor in Pensacola and the Old Carrabelle Hotel, are bed-and-breakfast inns.

Apalachicola’s Gibson Inn, built in unpretentious Florida Cracker style, is in the heart of town. Old-world style also graces the boutique Hotel DeFuniak in DeFuniak Springs. It’s two blocks from the lake and a favorite with the many cycling tourists who come to the area. Ask for maps of several routes designed for the hotel by Kinetic Community Bikes.

Situated northeast of Panama City, Bay Bares Park in Youngstown is a campground member of the American Association for Nude Recreation. Tent and RV sites are available.

Ranging from rustic to modern, rental cabins are found in state parks including T. H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula, Three Rivers State Park, Topsail Hill Preserve and Grayton Beach. A wide choice of campgrounds spans from primitive sites in government parks to lavish RV resorts.

Becks Lake Fish Camp & Wildlife Refuge in Cantonment isn’t a traditional farm stay. It’s a working farm, which welcomes visitors to pitch a tent or hook up an RV, pick crops, paddle the river and fish in a pristine outback setting.

INSIDER’S TIPS

The best time to visit Northwest Florida is in the off-season, between September and early May, when temperatures are prime and crowds disperse. There are also many festivals and events at this time of year. You can get great value for your dollar by renting a condo, cottage or home, which are more plentiful than hotel rooms. However, unlike downstate Florida, this area can get frosty during the winter months. Some attractions are closed in winter and most others have varying schedules so be sure to check ahead.

Look for rental fat-tire wheelchairs (and sometimes strollers) in most major beach areas. Conventional wheelchairs can’t navigate the soft sands.

Turtles come ashore to lay their eggs on Panhandle beaches from late May through early July. Nighttime turtle walks in beach areas are led by experts. Don’t intrude on turtle-nesting sites; it’s against the law.

In small-town America, automobile “cruises” were sometimes the only recreation for young people on Friday and Saturday nights. By silent agreement, cars would just show up to rev their engines, crank up their speakers and cruise slowly up and down Main Street. Such cruises still rumble informally in many Panhandle communities. Some have become large festivals where visitors can mingle with other car buffs. One of the largest is in downtown Panama City Beach where Friday Fest cruises on the first Friday of the month, February through November, feature hundreds of cars as well as bands and vendors covering a six-block area.

This area of the Gulf coast offers world-class fishing with a wide choice of guided charters and boat rentals. The least expensive way to go “out to sea” is simply to walk out on fishing piers where a modest fee is charged for anglers and a token fee for observers. Locations include Panama City Beach, Navarre, Carrabelle and Pensacola.

Gainesville
Martin County
Crystal River
Holiday Inn Club Vacations
Florida Southern College
Okeechobee
Sebring
Royal Shell
Flagler Museum