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Florida Attractions, Panhandle

The Florida Panhandle is a relatively unpopulated part of the state -- relatively for Florida, that is! For the purpose of grouping the attractions, it's from Pensacola in the west, to just about Perry in the east.

The Florida Panhandle has a different kind of climate, wildlife and vegetation (trees, flowers, etc.) than the rest of the state. In winter is sure is colder -- not the best time for beaches! On the other hand, Summer is glorious beach weather in the Panhandle!

(The Florida State Parks in the Panhandle are especially nice to visit in Fall and Spring...and even Winter too!)

But there are other things to see and do, so here we go. I'll start with Pensacola and move east from there.

 
  • Destin SurfNational Museum of Naval Aviation: One of the world's largest air and space museums. Historical warbirds - first airplane to cross the Atlantic - world famous Blue Angel Skyhawks and more. Open daily 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. NAS Pensacola, FL (850) 452-3604

  • Pensacola Beaches: The beaches are back in action!  They had been closed due to the 2004-2005 hurricanes that came through, but they got a break in 2006.  Yay!

  • Gulfarium:  This is a small attraction that features sealife shows -- dolphins, sea lions and multi-species.  No rides or anything, though.  The website reports that the average visitor stays about 2.5 hours, so it could be a nice time-filler for a free afternoon or morning.  Open daily 9 AM until 6 PM (admission ends at 4 PM).  Closed on major holidays and from October through February, it's closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.  Fort Walton Beach, FL  (850) 244-5169.

  • Destin Beaches:  Destin beaches are also back in operation after the 2004-2005 hurricane season.  Gorgeous white sands make Destin a great place if you are beach-bound.
  • Florida Caverns State Park: Yes, we have caves in Florida! These are the only dry (air-filled) caves that also have a tour. Stalactites, stalagmites and other cave formations make this a must see if you are in the Panhandle. Open 8 to 5 year round (although cave tours don't start until 9), three miles north of Marianna on State Road 166.
  • Florida Caverns State ParkMiracle Strip Amusement Park: Basically a boardwalk, and I believe it's the only Coney-Island-style boardwalk in Florida. Rides, games and the usual suspects -- done up old Florida style. Panama City Beach, FL. (850) 234-5810

  • Gulf World Marine Park: Swim with the dolphins, see live animal shows, a laser show, and other neat stuff. Opens at 9 AM until ? (varies by time of year). Panama City Beach, FL (850) 234-5271

  • Airboat Adventure Swampvette: Think of it as the Panhandle's version of the Florida Everglades. Different kind of scenery though, different wildlife too (except for the alligators). Still, a fun ride if a bit pricey (then again, with the price of gas these days, maybe not). Panama City Beach, FL (850) 230-8322

  • Local Zoos, Panhandle: I can't recommend them, outside of Gulf World. Save your zoo visits for another part of the state.

  • Panama City Beaches: Go for it! Lots of surf and sand for you. Panama City beaches are on the Gulf of Mexico. What this means is that most of the time, the water is calmer, better for swimming. I've seen the sea get pretty riled up, though, so no guarantees either way.

Something to Think About:

Yes, the Florida Panhandle is kind of sparsely populated, as far as attractions go. What it does have is a lot of rivers, forests, parks and springs. If you like all things outdoors, this is the part of Florida you want to visit.

Oh, and let's not forget fishing, especially the deep-sea variety. Remember, to some people that in itself is an attraction!

If you aren't overly fond of crowds do not go to Panama City (or Panama City Beach) during Spring Break! It's a madhouse of college kids letting loose. On the other hand, if that is what you were hoping for - have at it!

When is Spring Break? It really varies from year to year, but a decent rule of thumb is from March to the middle of April. Students come from all over the United States, and different colleges have different schedules, so there is a 4 to 6 week period of utter chaos in Panama City Beach. If you're really concerned about the crowds, check with your travel agent before you make plans to visit.

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