Florida fun for budget travelers

By Melissa Nelson Gabriel

Pensacola beach in Florida's western Panhandle. Photo / Supplied
Pensacola beach in Florida's western Panhandle. Photo / Supplied

The gleaming white sand beaches and turquoise waters of Florida's Panhandle draw millions of visitors each year, but this area isn't known for glitz, glamour and high-end hotspots like some of Florida's other beaches. Instead, the Panhandle offers a laid-back vibe, Southern hospitality and family atmosphere. The region caters to budget-conscious travellers.

BEACHES

From Pensacola in the western Panhandle to Apalachicola in the east, you'll find more than about 320 kilometres of relatively undeveloped beaches. Walk the sand in the early morning or late day to glimpse a spectacular sunrise or sunset over the Gulf of Mexico. Because the beaches don't get lots of traffic shell seekers often make unique finds such as small conch shells and sand dollars. Pods of dolphins can often be seen frolicking in the distance and schools of stingrays glide just offshore.

During the busiest months, some beaches offer free outdoor concerts. Pensacola Beach offers live music every Tuesday night from April to October.

NATIONAL NAVAL AVIATION MUSEUM

The museum is located on Pensacola Naval Air Station and is open to the public 9am - 5pm daily. The museum offers an extensive collection of vintage military aircraft from all eras of flight and has numerous hands-on displays that give visitors a taste of what it was like to be a naval aviator through the generations.

On most Tuesday and Wednesday mornings from March to November, 8.30am to 9.30am, the US Navy's Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron practices in the skies above the museum. Visitors are treated to a full, jaw-dropping performance by six of the world's best fighter pilots.

SEASIDE

The picturesque village of Seaside is located on the Gulf of Mexico between Destin and Panama City and includes some of the priciest beach homes in the region. Seaside was the setting of the 1998 film, The Truman Show, starring Jim Carrey and is known for its pastel-coloured beach bungalows built in the old Florida tradition and its beautifully landscaped walkways and public areas.

The town has a selection of upscale boutiques and restaurants and often has live concerts during the evenings in its outdoor amphitheatre. Visitors are encouraged to pack a picnic and enjoy the music.

WENTWORTH MUSEUM AND HISTORIC PENSACOLA

A collection of historic homes, museums and other sites, this region highlights Pensacola's history dating to the mid-1500s under Spanish, French, British, Confederate and American control. Admission to the T.T. Wentworth Jr. Florida State Museum is free. The museum is open from 10am until 4pm, Tuesday to Saturday.

For a look inside the historic homes in Historic Pensacola Village, you can take a tour. The University of West Florida's archaeology department often conducts digs in the area and visitors can get a close-up look at a dig in progress.

THE DESTIN DOCKS

The sign welcoming visitors to the well-known Panhandle resort city of Destin calls Destin "The World's Luckiest Fishing Village". Destin has a large charter boat fleet and visitors can search for marlin and mahi on a deep-sea fishing expedition.

For visitors who don't have their sea legs, Destin's fishing docks still offer an entertaining stroll. Fishermen unload and clean their catch and display the fish for visitors to view, and the large grouper, snapper and other fish are usually an impressive sight.

Harborwalk Village and the Emerald Grand resort located on the west end of Destin, have a variety of seasonal events year-round and make a fun place for visitors to stroll.

- AAP

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