Panama City Beach
We’ve been spending our vacation at this beach community during the off season. There’s a lot of advantages to visiting this area before the Spring Break degenerates descend – the restaurants are nearly empty, shops and services are waiting for customers, and the beaches have plenty of room to stretch a blanket.
Of course the disadvantage of off-season camping is the variable weather. We were fortunate to catch a week’s worth of mild and sunny climate, but then the day we were scheduled to leave, Tuesday, the elements changed. A strong front was surging from the west, bringing a string of tornados from the Panhandle up through the Wire Grass (mid-Alabama). The storm was tracking along the same route that we would need to travel home, and the following day was expected to bring fierce winds. So a quick decision was made to extend our stay an additional two nights here at St. Andrews State Park in Panama City Beach. It was a wise choice, as tornados did crop up all around us last night, ripping through an RV park in Pensacola, just west of here, and killing a bunch of campers. Yikes!
We’ve spent the day indoors today, snuggling in the new motorhome as the winds whip across the lagoon and swirl through the campground. It’s given me a chance to sort out our vacation pictures and catch up on some paperwork.
Here’s the highlights of our trip –
The food has been suburb in this area, and we’ve gorged on seafood at every opportunity. Recommended restaurants are Schooners (Sunday brunch with a beach view), Hammerhead Fred’s (50 beers on tap), Sharky’s (good lunch spot), and Half-Baked (oyster dive). We also boiled up a pound of fresh-caught Gulf shrimp using local spices and their recipe – boil for 5 minutes, soak for 25. Don’t skip the soak!
Many creatures were spotted in and around the state park, including tame deer that are so small the buck looks like a reindeer. Sea birds of every type ply the waters of both the lagoon and the gulf. Lizards, frogs, and snakes are found in the margins of the marshes. And the nastiest creature we encountered was our own puppy who is busy cutting her adult teeth. Makes her very cranky and disagreeable for a few days.
St. Andrews, where we are camped, is a large park with diverse ecosystems and plenty of walking trails. The Gator Lake area is a fresh water pond with looping trails through hanging Spanish moss. And, yes, there are alligators in that water. I think Coco could take one with her new set of choppers.
At the end of the park’s peninsula is a salt water marsh with many hiking trails that twist through the bogs of saw palmettos and wander among sandy brackets. We spotted odd formations of button moss and found wild rosemary and licorice-smelling sage. It was a two-hour stroll around this area, which proved to be more strenuous than the puppy could manage so she needed to be carried home the last half-hour.
This was an enjoyable off-season beach vacation, and I even got to spend a few afternoons on the shore with my sand chair and a lavish appointment of sun screen. And it will be a comfortable ride home tomorrow under sunny, calm skies.