Summer at the Gulf
Escape to Florida's Panhandle, where the water sparkles clearer, the sand shines whiter, and the fun never stops. Our Editor reveals his favorite haunts.
Shopping--Everything Under The Sun
From antiques to outlets to just good junk, you can't go very far without finding something to buy. Palace and Alvin's Island rank as the Panhandle's souvenir shop kings, but there are numerous others, too, especially on the strip in Panama City Beach. Antiques shops and art galleries (some fine and others not so fine) tend to cluster at either end of 30A. Maybe the area's biggest draw is the Silver Sands Factory Stores, where the art of outlet shopping can be explored to the fullest with more than 100 retailers. (See next page for my 10 favorite local shops.)
Things To Do--Just for Fun
Anywhere on the Emerald Coast you'll find beautiful beaches that make for perfect lounging and relaxing. But if you want something more active, you've got plenty of options. The area's two big water parks, Shipwreck Island in Panama City Beach and Big Kahuna's in Destin, are warm-weather, family-based attractions that offer all-day passes for fun away from the surf. (Note: These parks don't open on a regular basis until the end of May.) Deep-sea fishing is outstanding all along the coast. In fact, it's a hard choice between the harbor in Destin and the marinas on St. Andrews Bay in Panama City Beach. Port St. Joe Marina not only features fishing charters, but it is also a good resource for area dive charters, snorkel outings, and ecotourism trips. Port St. Joe offers horseback riding along the surf as well. Finally, nearly every major beach has opportunities to ride the waves in a catamaran or shoot across the ocean on a personal watercraft. (Visit www.beachesofsouthwalton.com to scout out more area activities.)
Fun is relative for those who want to enjoy a glass of wine at sunset on water's edge. This is a place where, on a clear day, sunsets rival the ones you see in Key West. Biking? You'll find 19 miles of trails along the open road of 30A and plenty of shops that rent wheels. The big-time teenage/adult party spot is Panama City Beach with its Miracle Strip amusement park and other family-style entertainment, such as miniature golf, miniature race cars, and skee ball. Destin offers more of the same. Believe it or not, on 30A you can even visit a gossip parlor named Miss Lucille's for lots of talk with coffee, desserts, and libations.
Florida's Emerald Coast has been a special place for my family for generations past, and, I hope, for generations to come. It may only be a 95-mile stretch, but the opportunities for fun are limitless.
My 10 Favorite Places To Shop
- Beach Bums: (850) 837-7111. Name-brand beach wear.
- Collaborations: (850) 231-0171. Funky art, restored furniture, and all kinds of cool stuff.
- The Gourd Garden and Curiosity Shop: (850) 231-2150. Native plants, pottery, herbs, and gourds.
- Gulf Place: (850) 267-2562. Several shops featuring everything from designer clothing to chic furniture.
- The Inside Story Interiors: (850) 234-7868. A nice designer store loaded with name-brand furniture and unique accessories.
- Pizitz Home & Cottage: (850) 231-2240. Cottage-style home furnishings and accessories.
- Shops of Grayton: (850) 231-3331. Individual shops full of furniture, antiques, and beach stuff.
- Smith's Antiques Mall: (850) 654-1484. Good junk, fine antiques, and everything in between.
- Summer House Village: (850) 231-0718. Different dealers with a variety of merchandise.
- The Zoo Gallery: (850) 231-0777. Fun contemporary crafts store with sculpture, pottery, jewelry, and more.
For More Information
- Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort: (850) 267-8000, 1-800-277-0800, or www.sandestin.com. Rates: vary seasonally.
- Seaside: 1-888-732-7433 or www.seasidefl.com. Rates: start at $142 during the summer season.
- WaterColor Inn and Resort: (850) 534-5000, toll free 1-866-426-2656, or www.watercolorinn.com. Rates: start at $315 during the high season.
- Marriott's Bay Point Resort Village: 1-800-874-7105 or www.marriottbaypoint.com. Rates: range $159-$239 from the end of April through Labor Day.
- Destin and Fort Walton Beach: Contact the Emerald Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau at (850) 651-7131, 1-800-322-3319, or www.destin-fwb.com.
- Panama City Convention & Visitors Bureau: (850) 233-5070, 1-800-327-8352, or www.800pcbeach.com.
- Mexico Beach Visitor Information Center: 1-888-723-2546 or www.mexicobeach.com.
- Port St. Joe: Contact the Gulf County Tourism Development Council at (850) 229-7800, 1-800-482-4853, or www.visitgulf.com.
This article is from the May 2003 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.