24 Things You Need To Know About The Florida Panhandle Before You Move ThereThink the Panhandle's just another part of Florida? Y'alls got another think coming.
1. The Panhandle Is The Deep South, And It Could Be The 51st State If It Really Wanted
It's a paradox, but in Florida, the farther north you travel the more Southern it becomes. And when you get to the Panhandle, you've reached the Deep South. It’s not the place you see on the news that makes you scared of neighborhood watchmen, texting in the movie theater and the earth suddenly opening up and swallowing you whole. It’s more like Alabama and Georgia, but there’s still something inexplicably Florida about it.
2. Think Twice Before Criticizing The Seminoles
Tallahassee is home to the Florida State Seminoles, the college football team of choice in the Panhandle. "Go Noles!" is a common battle cry heard in the region, but "War Eagle," "Roll Tide" and "Go Dawgs" are also heard from the Alabama and Georgia tourists and transplants.
3. It's Home To The Best Beaches In America, According To Dr. Beach Himself
In his annual "America's Best Beach" survey, environmental coastal sciences professor Stephen P. Leatherman, aka "Dr. Beach," has declared three Panhandle beaches No. 1 over the years—Grayton Beach, St. Joseph Peninsula and St. Andrews. High marks are also given to St. George Island by the good doctor.
4. The Indian Pass Raw Bar Is Impossible To Pass Up
It’s hard to find places like this anymore. It’s a seafood dive in the middle of nowhere along a lonely stretch of county highway between Apalachicola and Port St. Joe. You serve yourself beer from the cooler then let them know how much you had when you settle up. There’s usually live music on the front porch, where a horde of locals and tourists gather to wait for a seat inside.
5. The Best Songwriters In The World Come To Town Each January
Every MLK weekend, famous and up-and-coming singer/songwriters converge on the Panhandle for the 30A Songwriters Festival. The fest takes place at multiple intimate and larger venues along Scenic Highway 30A, allowing fans an up close encounter with their favorite artists. Past performers have included Suzanna Hoffs of the Bangles, Indigo Girls, Matthew Sweet and John Oates of Hall and Oates fame.
6. And People Come From All Over For The Florida Seafood Festival
In October, the charming, historic port town of Apalachicola hosts the Florida Seafood Festival. It's Florida's oldest maritime event and draws upwards of 25,000 thousand people from around the nation and the globe each year. Apalachicola Bay is famous for its oysters, a focal point of this lively fest right on the water near downtown.
7. Living There Messes With Your Your Mind As Much As It Messes With Your Cell Phone
Plan on losing your signal. Even in some of the major beach areas cell service is spotty. Beach houses in particular always seem to get one-to-zero bars. When you're in the middle part of the Panhandle, set the clock on your mobile device to manual so it doesn't keep automatically switching between the Eastern and Central time zones. If you don't do this in places like Gulf County you will eventually end up in an insane asylum.
8. FunLand Arcade Is Old-School Florida At Its Best
This arcade and snack bar across the street from the beach in Panama City has been around since the early 1950s. And they still have some of those old games with dispensers that crank out tickets you can redeem for cheap prizes at the souvenir counter in back. Cheap beer, frozen beach drinks and fried food are served up at the adjacent snack bar.
9. There Are Two Coasts, And They’re As Different As Night And Day
Panama City Beach and points west are generally referred to as the Emerald Coast. Everything east of PCB is called the Forgotten Coast. The only thing they have in common are the sugar-white sand beaches. The Emerald Coast sports high rise condos fronting crowded beaches, gated and non-gated master-planned communities and a pulsating nightlife. The Forgotten Coast has a much more laid back vibe where the focus is on nature and local culture
10. You Go Through A Time Vortex Driving Anywhere
Even when there's no traffic, it seems to take forever to get from point A to point B in the Panhandle. Road mirages are common. Flat, long, straight stretches of highway cut through some of the most boring landscape known to man—unless you love seeing nothing but miles and miles of pine trees interspersed with strip malls before reaching the beach.
11. Panama City Beach During Spring Break Is The Real March Madness
Panama City Beach is ground zero for college kids looking to party. There have even been reality TV shows about it. During March, the place becomes overrun with spring-breaking students gone wild. Traffic grinds to a crawl and the local police resort to using mobile jails.
12. Yes, It's Going To Rain
This is still Florida. Always plan on encountering a fast rain shower. It rains quickly and unexpectedly here, even when it's sunny out. Keep a rain slicker or umbrella handy, or wear a swimsuit as underwear.
13. Y'alls Is A Word Here
As in, "Where is y’alls beach house at?"
14. It's Home To The Last Great Roadhouse
The legendary Flora-Bama Lounge sits at the state line with Alabama right on the beach in Perdido Key. It's the quintessential dive bar where millionaires and bikers hang out side by side and all are welcome. Hurricanes have tried to wipe this place off the map, but to no avail. Jimmy Buffett has even sung a song about it.
15. And A Bunch Of Furry Black Bears
No, not a sports team, but the kind of bears found in the Smoky Mountains. With so much forestland, it's a given. You'll even see bear crossing signs posted alongside many of the highways.
16. But Let's Not Forget The Gators
Gator sightings are rare, but there are still plenty of them in the lakes, swamps and waterways of the Panhandle. South Florida has millions of alligators, but the Panhandle only has thousands. They aren't considered a nuisance animal here like further south, so no worries about an alligator welcome wagon on your back patio.
17. Hurricanes Are A Way Of Life
Every place has one major threat from Mother Nature they must be prepared to contend with—earthquakes out west, tornadoes in the Midwest… Well, in Florida it's hurricanes. The good thing about hurricanes is you have plenty of advance warning to evacuate.
18. The Panhandle’s Gone From The Redneck Riviera To The Birthplace Of New Urbanism
The beaches of the Emerald Coast have been called the Redneck Riviera for decades, and there's still an element of that in spots, but the area has blossomed culturally in a major way. The master-planned community of Seaside made its successful debut in the early 1980s, and lots imitators have followed, mostly along county highway 30A. FYI: "30A" is a tag that's also an indicator of the lifestyle there.
19. There’s More Forestland And Farmland Than Beach
The Panhandle is a mostly rural area where you'll encounter plenty of good ol' boys and girls. At the marina docks, they’re ready to take you out in the Gulf on a charter cruise. Further inland, they harvest timber and cotton and Tupelo honey, among other things.
20. People From The Panhandle Are Serious About Protecting Sea Turtles
Local, state and federal authorities are adamant about protecting sea turtles and their nests on the beaches. Learn turtle etiquette when you're at the beach, or you might wind up paying a hefty fine. Between May and October—the nesting season—local non-profit sea turtle organizations such as the South Walton Turtle Watch and the Gulf County Turtle Patrol need volunteers to help monitor the beaches and protect the nests. It’s exciting as you patrol the beach early in the morning, marking off nests and reporting any activity such as the awesome sight of fresh hatchling tracks heading into the surf.
21.The World's Greatest Precision Flight Squadron Is Stationed Here
That would be the Blue Angels, who are based out of the naval air station (NAS) in Pensacola. It's free to watch their practice shows, which only occur a few times a year because the squad keeps a busy touring schedule. Locals know the best place to see the practice shows is from a boat on the bay near the NAS.
22. The Coastal Dune Lakes In The Panhandle Are A Gorgeous Phenomenon
Along 30A there are a series of small lakes called coastal dune lakes. These types of lakes occasionally cut channels through the beach to connect with the sea, only to close themselves off again. This phenomenon only happens in a few places on earth.
23. Yes, The Bugs Are Hellacious In Summer
While many things about the Panhandle are different from the rest of the Sunshine State, an abundance of annoying flying insects in summertime isn't one of them--mosquitoes, no-seeums, junebugs, palmetto bugs, bugs with no name that only seem to exist in Florida... Come prepared with flyswatters, cintronella candles, bug spray, natural home remedies, whatever.
24. But The Panhandle Has The Most Beautiful Part Of The National Seashore
Pensacola is home to the easternmost sections of the Gulf Islands National Seashore that stretches from Mississippi to the Panhandle in a string of barrier islands. If you want to be all alone on pristine stretch of sand head to the Perdido Key and Santa Rosa Island units of the national seashore.
What do you love about living in the Panhandle? Leave a comment and let us know!