Frommer’s, the market leader in travel guides, has named “Florida Panhandle Beaches” as one of its top destinations to visit in 2010. The region, also known as THE Beach, stretches for more than 200 miles along Northwest Florida’s Gulf Coast and is the only U.S. mainland destination on the list of 12 must-see places.
Lesley Abravanel, author of Frommer’s Florida, offered this description of the up-and-coming region: “Stunning beaches, nature trails…great restaurants, and a cozy, yet quirky sense of community.” It’s a fitting description for a region that has fiercely protected its natural resources, history, culture and easy-going way of life.
“For a long time, we’ve felt like one of America’s best kept secrets, and we’re thrilled that the secret is out!” said Mel Ponder, executive director of Coastal Vision 3000, the non-profit marketing group that promotes tourism to THE Beach.
THE Beach has long been a popular drive destination for residents of the Southeast, but has largely remained off the radar of the rest of the country. This may change when the new Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport opens in Panama City in May 2010. Low-cost carrier Southwest Airlines recently announced that it will begin operating non-stop flights to the new airport from four yet to be named U.S. gateways (the region is currently serviced by four airports).
Northwest Florida’s greatest asset undoubtedly is its natural beauty. Spanning seven counties from Pensacola/Perdido Key to Carrabelle, its powdery white quartz beaches are dotted with rare coastal dune lakes, a feature found in only a handful of places on the planet. All manner of outdoor recreation, such as fishing, kayaking, canoeing, bird watching and biking, are available in 19 state and national parks and well over one million acres of preserved land. Gulf Island’s National Seashore, Cape San Blas at St. Joseph Peninsula State Park and Grayton Beach State Park are just a few of the places where one can soak up sun rays while spotting bald eagles, dolphins and rare and endangered wildlife.
Off the beach, visitors will find plenty of interesting diversions. Art galleries, museums, aquatic parks, historic sites and eclectic boutiques offer a diverse choice of entertainment, while seafood shacks and fine dining restaurants alike serve up fish fresh from the Gulf. Some of the top attractions at THE Beach include the National Naval Aviation Museum, Blue Angels, Silver Sands Factory Stores (largest designer outlet mall in the nation), Emerald Coast Science Center, Gulf World Marine Park, fishing in Destin (the “world’s luckiest fishing village”) and close to 40 golf courses designed by legends such as Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio and Greg Norman.
Venturing off the beaten path and visiting in the shoulder season reveals another side to this dynamic destination; a side many refer to as “Old Florida.” Places like the Ruskin Place Artist Colony in Seaside, the Panhandle Butterfly House in Navarre and the historic fishing village of Apalachicola are well worth the visit. What’s more, in fall and winter the weather cools down and towns large and small come alive with spectacular festivals celebrating everything from seafood and wine to art and culture.
For more information and to reserve a vacation to THE Beach - Northwest Florida’s Gulf Coast, visit www.thebeachfla.com.