1. Love Air Conditioning? Pay Your Respects In Apalachicola.
Source: Flickr user sun dazed
The first patent for an mechanical air conditioning unit/ice machine was granted to Dr. John Gorrie of Apalachicola in 1851. He was looking for a way to cool the rooms of his yellow fever patients. Gorrie was never able to capitalize of his idea and died broke and alone four years later.
Today, the town reveres Gorrie. Monuments have been erected and streets and bridges and squares are named after him. Learn all about it at the tiny Gorrie Museum on 6th Street. It's no Graceland, but you might wanna leave some flowers in honor of the man who is partly responsible for helping keep you cool in summertime.
2. This Telephone Booth In Carrabelle Was Once “The World’s Smallest Police Station”
Source: Wikimedia Commons, author Ebyabe
The tiny, idyllic fishing village of Carrabelle still has one of those full phone booths like the kind Clark Kent would use to strip down to his undies and become Superman.
In the days before 911, the phone booth served as the village's police station. Everyone in town had the booth's number. The officer on duty would sit in his squad car next to the phone booth and wait for any calls to come in. The booth was known as the world's smallest police station, but today it's nothing more than a photo op.
3. You Can Have Fort McRee And Its Beach All To Yourself For A Day
Source: Photo by the author
Fort McRee was constructed in the late 1830s at the eastern end of Perdido Key. None of the original fort is left, but the remnants of some battery walls and overgrown inner structures built at a later date still remain.
The ruins are today part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, and the beach here is a silky, sugar-white wonderland only reachable by boat or a very, very long walk through the sand. So, chances are you'll have the place to yourself upon arrival.
4. The Panhandle’s High Rises Are So Tall, They Get Their Own Weather
Source: Panhandle Helicopter via Facebook
Certain stretches of the Panhandle coastline are so developed that some of the larger buildings have their own weather patterns. It's known as "condo fog."
Warm, moist air coming in off the Gulf of Mexico is forced up to a cooler spot creating a mini fog bank that appears to swoosh over the tall buildings like a giant wave. Some of the most famous pictures of this phenomena were taken by helicopter pilot JR Hott of Panhandle Helicopters in Panama City Beach.
5. To Find A Tupelo Honey Farm, You’ll Have To Venture Off The Beaten Path
Source: Photo by the author
It's a wonderful type of honey famously sung about by Van Morrison, and it's harvested in the Panhandle. Far away from the beaches, tucked away down country roads, you'll find Tupelo honey farms and hidden Tupelo groves where beekeepers and their bees scurry about.
Head off the beaten path anywhere in northern Gulf County and you'll eventually come across a Tupelo honey operation such as Donnie's Bees. Donnie's been out there doing it for 35 years and he'd love to tell you all about it and show you how it's done, but you’ll have to find him first.
6. You’ll Need A Private Plane Or A Boat To Get To These Islands
Source: Photo of Black's Island in the distance by the author
In the middle of St. Joseph Bay, Black's Island is a private Caribbean-like retreat with bungalows for rent or sale. Off the coast near Carrabelle, Dog Island contains many houses and even a grass airfield for small planes.
Aside from landing your private plane on Dog Island, the only way to get to each island is by boat—no cars allowed. Be sure to stock up on supplies before heading because no stores exist on either island.
7. This Nature Preserve Houses The Ruins Of A Missile Test Launch Facility
Source: YouTube user WaltonOutdoors
Between Topsail Hill Preserve State Park and the Great Wall of development of Tops'l Beach and Sandestin resorts there's an overlooked nature preserve with the ruins of a World War II missile test launch facility on its grounds.
Thousands of people drive by Coffeen Nature Preserve daily on one of the Panhandle's busiest stretches of highway—U.S. 98 just east of Destin—and never notice the subdued entrance that also leads to Four Mile Village, a small collection a houses tucked away in the trees and sand dunes. Tours are available by appointment only.
8. The Endangered Red Wolf Gets An Island All To Himself
Source: Mandcrobertson from Wikipedia Commons
St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge is an island refuge for many species of wildlife, including the red wolf. This barrier island between Apalachicola Bay and the Gulf of Mexico is large enough and forested enough to serve as a place of propagation for the endangered red wolf.
You can only get to the island by private boat or charter, and it's so large and wild you'll only be able to explore a small portion of it on any visit. Most visitors never get too far beyond the pristine beach areas.
9. And If You Head Further Inland, You’ll Find A Whole Wolf Sanctuary
Source: Facebook user Seacrest Wolf Preserve
In a remote area north of Panama City and south of Chipley, Seacrest Wolf Preserve is a one-of-a-kind place not only for the Panhandle but in all of Florida. This rescue sanctuary is one of the largest wolf preserves in the United States. Human visitors are allowed only on Saturdays for the Wolf Encounter tour. An up-close, hands-on experience with some of these majestic and often misunderstood creatures is part of the tour.
10. The Spring-Fed Waterways of Washington County Are Simply Stunning
The inland waterways of the Panhandle are the stuff of paddlers' dreams—pristine creeks, rivers and lakes in the woods and off the radar that only the serious kayak, canoe, and stand up paddle board enthusiast knows about.
And Washington County, in the heartland of the Panhandle that beach goers often breeze through on their way to the coast, is ground zero for cool, clear, lakes, creeks, and rivers fed by fresh spring water. Try Holmes Creek and the Choctawhatchee River for starters. And bring an underwater camera for swimming and snorkeling the clear, blue-green spring water.
11. You’ll Have The Time Of Your Life Exploring The Dead Lakes
Source: Photo by the author
The Dead Lakes aren't really dead. This ginormous swamp was created when the Chipola River was naturally dammed by a sandbar centuries ago. It's now a hidden spot popular with paddlers, anglers and nature photographers. The bass fishing is sublime.
One of the best ways to explore the Dead Lakes is with a guided kayak or pontoon boat tour through appropriately-named Off The Map Expeditions, a small touring company based out of Wewahitchka in Gulf County. If you have trouble pronouncing that name, no worries, because even locals call shorten it to Wewa (wee-wa).
12. There Used To Be A Nude Beach Along 30-A
Source: Flickr user Rusty Clark
In the days before county highway 30-A became a hotbed for New Urbanism in the 1980s and '90s, it was an out of the way area home to a nude beach. This wasn't an official nude beach, mind you, just a secluded strand where those practicing an alternative lifestyle went to sunbathe topless or in their full birthday suit.
Today, this area is home to the posh, master-planned, family-friendly communities of Alys Beach and Rosemary Beach.
13. This Overgrown Boardwalk Crosses A Rare Coastal Dune Lake
Source: Photo taken by the author
People in Walton County know all about the many coastal dune lakes in the area—a type of lake that only exists in a handful of spots around the world, including in South Walton—and they have seen most of them, except for Morris Lake.
That's because Morris Lake is deep inside Topsail Hill Preserve State Park, not visible from any road and hard to get to because of unmaintained trails and boardwalks. If you make it there, you'll likely have the dunes and the lake all to yourself, even in peak season.
14. That’s Probably A Sea Turtle Nest Next To Your Sandcastle
Source: Facebook user South Walton Turtle Watch
The beaches all along the Panhandle are sea turtle nesting grounds, and not just the remote, unspoiled beaches, either, but crowded ones vacationers flock to, as well. Nests are hard to spot to the untrained eye. They can be right next to where you spread out your towel out and set up your umbrella for the day.
Thankfully, nonprofit organizations such as the St. Joseph Peninsula Turtle Patrol and the South Walton Turtle Watch are on the case, marking nests and educating the public about how to help protect sea turtles and spot sea turtle nests buried in the sand.
15. That Mysterious Place Where Santa Rosa Beach Is On Santa Rosa Island Isn’t Real
Source: Flickr user David Reber's Hammer Photography
This is a secret place because it doesn't exist, except maybe where unicorns live. It's an honest point of confusion for many.
In the Florida Panhandle there's Santa Rosa Beach, but it's not on Santa Rosa Island, nor even in Santa Rosa County. Many travel articles written by perfectly good travel writers have gotten it wrong.
It's really simple: Santa Rosa Beach is in Walton County. Santa Rosa Island (also called Okaloosa Island at it's eastern end) stretches for 40 miles along the Panhandle coast but doesn't contain Santa Rosa Beach. Got it? Good. Now try explaining it to your GPS.
What’s your favorite secret spot in the Panhandle? Tell us in the comments below!