I’ve been vacationing at some beach on the Panhandle my entire life – some of my earliest, my precious memories are sitting on the white sands, staring out at the Gulf.
Over forty some odd years, not much has changed in that regard. I still love nothing more than pulling up my chair to the shore and just getting lost as the tactile sensations of wind, cool ocean spray and taste of salt envelop me. I realize this communion I have with the sea isn’t for everyone – but Florida’s Panhandle offers so much more than just lazy days at the surf’s edge (although there are moments I can’t imagine anyone NOT wishing to partake in this love affair).
My husband and kids and I realized early on that we all shared this passion. When we first started that great southern tradition of throwing kids in the back of the car and heading south, we were like most family vacationers: we’d plan for months for that seven days of heaven on the beach.
That lasted all of about…well, maybe one year.
We couldn’t stay away. One beach trip became two trips – a long week of Saturdays in June followed up with perhaps a long weekend over Labor Day.
Then it became three – perhaps a Memorial Day weekend, a week in July and Labor Day – that should do it!!
Um, no. We then discovered that the week after Christmas, starting on December 26th was a completely different type of vacation – no long afternoons turning into late night evenings on the beach – but instead, coveted early afternoon hours in December with a jacket and a fire pit – and late night evenings playing Uno, or Risk or Monopoly with the sound of surf outside the door. And unbelievably gorgeous winter sunrises and sunsets that light the sky on fire. But most importantly: quality time with loved ones, decompressing against the backdrop of an ever changing blue sea and sandy shore that simultaneously changed almost daily with our growing kids – yet offered a constant reassurance in our lives that was always somehow “there” for us. Our place. Our sandy beach. Our surf. Our memories.
And while we jokingly started naming “beaches” where we rented “Jeanne and Stan’s Beach”, we really wanted to find our own little place that really was just ours. Several years ago, we finally made that dream come true as well.
I must say though, one of the best pleasures I’ve had in this journey is helping other people discover their own beach. Over the years folks would start asking me:
“Where do you stay?”
“What’s the closest beach to…..?” ”
“What’s the best driving directions from…?”
“Where’s the best place to get oysters?”
“What’s the best dinner on the beach?”
There’s a million places on the net to get these answers – and those answers may be wholly different if you hail from say, some place where snowflakes don’t shut down the city. But I didn’t start that great southern tradition of trekking to the gulf – I just embraced it wholeheartedly. There is a specific flavor to the south and to the southern week of Saturdays. I found myself sending (sometimes fondly mocked as “epistles”) long emails to friends who asked these questions of me – “If you’re in PCB, Go to Buddy’s Seafood on 79 and get their steamed shrimp and corn and taters to go – or better yet, have your husband do it – either way, get it to go and bring it back to your spot on the beach. Best. Beach. Supper. Ever.”
And so after years of throwing out beach thoughts to any fellow traveler trying to cram lost years into five or six days, I decided to put those thoughts into one centralized location, and ask for your thoughts as well. I’d like to create a place where folks from Memphis and Birmingham and Atlanta can offer up tidbits like: best driving options (we all have our tried and true “Fastest Route Ever, I Swear!” – yet continually look for that one additional short cut – after all, ten minutes saved in driving is ten extra minutes in paradise). And of course, we’d like to share which stops along the way have the cleanest bathrooms! And where is your particular “I’m now on vacation” declared? When I was a kid, my mom would declare this as soon as he hit 98 in Mobile. Never mind it was another two hours to the beach house in Santa Rosa – once she saw water we were ON VACATION! And we would declare this by stopping to eat at a little restaurant/bar named Red Beards in Pensacola. It just FELT like we had arrived at that point – the last two hours down the scenic side of 98 were SO exciting as we squealed when seeing the waves and sand and old Florida motels and sea shell shops and, and, and…..).
So follow me on this journey to create a guide of sorts of Panhandle must-dos and tips. And feel free to share with us your own special beach tips, must-dos, and memories. After all, isn’t that what the great southern trek to the beach is all about?
I’d like to give a shout out to Suzanne Johnston (East Memphis Moms) for inspiring a wanna-be blogger 😉 Thanks!