Pensacola to pretty Panama City Beach, Florida ... Jaunt.ca deal for Scotland
PANAMA CITY BEACH, FLORIDA - We did pass a few bodies of water. I think I saw a couple egrets. And the towers of downtown Mobile, Alabama, which look like copies of New York’s Chrysler Building, there was damn little to see on a drive from New Orleans to Pensacola, Florida.
But things got a lot nicer in a hurry once I turned off Highway 10. If you skip past downtown Pensacola (not much to see at 8 a.m. on Martin Luther King Jr. day in the U.S.) and head south, you’ll soon pass over to Pensacola Beach and it’s brilliantly tacky, colourful welcome sign. I loved it.
You pass along a series of motels and shops and a giant Ferris Wheel, but pretty soon it peters out and you’re driving alongside enormous stretches of pure, white sand dunes. To a northerner, they look like drifting snow banks. Thankfully they’re a little nicer to walk on. I pulled over for just a minute at a beach entry spot with stairs and walked out. And immediately fell in love.
I’ve heard about the pure, white sand of this part of Florida but I didn’t know it was quite like this. Pillow-soft. Three-ply Charmin toilet tissue soft. And fine grains with no visible rocks. And dazzlingly white.
I also was taken aback by the pure green colour of the water; like an Asian emerald. I was later told it’s really only this pretty, the water I mean, when it’s cold and that things get more murky and darker in the summer, when you really want to swim here. The water’s pretty chilly, maybe 13 degrees Celsius, but an outside temperature of 20 without much breeze is a perfectly fine day, especially in January when a temporary snowbird checks out the forecast in Toronto.
You can drive for miles along Gulf Blvd. between Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach Park and mass miles of wide-open beaches, with only a few high-rises to mar the view. Further along, after passing the usual strip of gun shops and car washes and banks and nail salons that litter suburbia all over North America, I drove over the small bridge that separates Okaloosa Island and Destin and immediately spotted a development called Harborwalk Village on the edge of Destin.
It’s a cute development with a ton of restaurants and clothing stores and surf shops that’s right on a lagoon/inlet with white sand dunes in the distance and towering boats tied up at the docks. A great place for a sandwich and a bit of shopping. We stopped at Harry T’s for fish tacos and blackened mahi mahi. The former were good; the latter was tremendous; a thick slice of fish with a perfect amount of blackening spice and seared perfectly.
From there it was on to Panama City Beach. There’s a nice development in the east end of town called Pier Park, which has a slew of nice shops and restaurants, plus a toy train and a small amusement park with a roller coaster, rock-climbing wall and lots of rides. It’s directly across from the beach, so if one person in the family wants to shop and the other wants to build sand castles or dip their toes in the surf it’s a perfect spot.
There’s a huge pier that’ll cost you $3 to walk out on, but it’s enormously long and it’s a great place to chat with locals or visitors about the catch of the day. Yesterday it was mostly pompano, I was told, but in the fall it’s not unusual to get massive mahi-mahi or even sailfish off the end of the pier.
I had a great visit at St. Andrews State Park (see photo) with a local worker who showed me the fine dunes and crystal-clear waters around the mainland and over towards Shell Island, a 10-km stretch of quiet beaches and dunes. It’s said that a Norwegian sailor marooned there in the 1920’s and lived in a seaside shanty for several decades, selling his fish and keeping domesticated chickens and other animals.
It’s a beautiful spot with surfing, sailboarding, paddleboarding, kayaking, sailing and, they say, some of the best diving in Florida. U.S. Navy divers train nearby and it’s said to be great for serious divers or casual snorkelers. There’s also a rock-enclosed “kiddie pool” that’s a great place for kids to swim and there are trails galore and campgrounds and playgrounds and such. The area is home to a large group of white-tailed deer and they’re fairly easy to spot. There’s also a gator pond and a few coyotes these days, we were told.
There are a ton of casual seafood joints in Panama City Beach, but we checked out a posh, delicious restaurant called Firefly. There’s a lit-up tree inside the restaurant that may or may not be your cup of Java, but the rack of lamb was perfect and featured six good-sized pieces of meat. The scallops were outstanding and a new friend raved about his Texas boar shank. Top that off with fabulous crème brulee with white chocolate and you see why I think I could use an hour walk on the beach today.
Off to delightful Dunedin and Clearwater Beach today; about a seven-hour drive from Panama City. Thank goodness for satellite radio and the Bruce Springsteen/E Street Band station. Not to mention, if I choose, the Canadian news or the Catholic station or hip-hop or the 60’s station I love or even the POTUS station (President of the United States news).
JAUNT.CA DEAL OF THE DAY
Jaunt.ca, a division of Torstar, has a deal on hand for a great trip to Scotland. It's a 10-day extravaganza priced at $3,481; a $2,898 base plus $583 in taxes and fees.Jaunt Highlights
- BONUS: Extend your flights for up to 30 days at no additional cost, and return from anywhere Transat flies in Europe
- BONUS: $150 Future Travel Voucher
- 10-day/8-night Scottish Dream Tour & Military Tattoo featuring a Loch Ness cruise, visits to Edinburgh Castle, reserved seating for the Military Tattoo and more!
- Includes return airfare from Toronto to Glasgow on Air Transat
- Includes all transfers in Scotland via luxury coach, services of a professional English speaking tour guide, and all sightseeing and entrance fees as per itinerary
- 8 nights' accommodation in Superior First Class hotels (based on double occupancy)
- Includes full breakfast daily (except day one), and 6 dinners throughout the tour
- The incredible amount of inclusions in the trip, from accommodations in Superior First Class Hotels, Military Tattoo, meal inclusions, to cruises, tours and more
- Visits and admissions to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Inveraray Castle, Clan Donald Centre at Armadale Castle, Culloden Battlefield Visitor Centre, Balmoral Castle or Crathes Castle, Glamis Castle, St Andrews and Edinburgh Castle
- Cruise on the legendary Loch Ness, and Loch Lomond
- Valid for travel on August 10, 2013
- Pricing (Rates are per person, and based on double occupancy):
Single: $3448 + 583 tax
Double: $2898 + $583 tax
- Valid passport required for travel from Canada
- This offer is refundable until 5PM EST on January 23, 2013. After that time, this offer is 100% non-refundable