Eternal vacation, that is how Jack and I feel about living in Florida. We usually spend weekends driving the backroads or riding the train to visit the cities and towns that make up this eclectic state. From the big city and bright neon lights of Miami to the sunsets and stars on a cloudless night in the quant villages that dot the Gulf Coast. The theme parks old and new are as fascinating for us as the state parks and hiking trails throughout the state.
Northern Florida is possibly as different from an outsider’s perceptions of Florida as can be. Caverns and waterfalls are found in what are now designated state parks. Along the west coast, rolling hills, bluffs and pine forests complement the snow-white Appalachian quartz sand and gem-colored sparkling waters of the Gulf of Mexico. On the east coast, the Gulf Stream waves lap ashore the cream-colored sandy beaches of the Atlantic Ocean.
The variety and quantity of seafood helped the area around Pensacola earn the title “Red Snapper Capital of the World” in 1868, while my hometown, Panama City, is home to the “World’s Most Beautiful Beaches.” Pensacola, the “City of Five Flags,” is known for its Spanish and Creole cooking and the Seville Square historic district of the old city area reflects the past and present with old wrought-iron balconies.
Unique events such as the annual Wausau Possum Festival and the Flora- Bama Lounge, Package and Oyster Bar “Mullet Toss” on Perdido Key are complemented by the tupelo honey for sale along the backwoods roads near the “Forgotten Coast.” Bars such as Outzs Too, near Wakulla Springs, which spring out of nowhere along the route, offer fresh oysters from Florida’s oyster capital, Apalachicola. Apalachicola oysters are just as popular at fish camps as they are at five-star restaurants.
Old Florida towns are sprinkled around the state, in places like Everglades City and Clewiston to the south, Cedar Key and Steinhatchee along the west coast and DeFuniak Springs to the north, while northwest Florida’s Gulf Coast shores are home to burgeoning seaside communities. All rely on the same ingredients to keep tourists coming back: the rich natural resources from freshwater fishing, quail and deer hunting, or combing the area for figs, persimmons and pears for a taste of old Florida.
At one time, regional cooking in North Florida was a reflection of the Old South, when wild hogs still roamed the sand dunes. Today, North Florida shares an Alabama- Georgia boundary and is as Southern as sweet tea in the antebellum towns of Madison, Monticello, Quincy and Marianna.
From the shores of the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico and south to a tropical paradise, from the highest point in the state, at Lakewood in Walton County, to the Underwater Park of the Florida Keys, from town with unique names such as Two Egg, Sopchoppy, Wewahitchka, Howey-in-the-Hills, Weeki Wachee, Pass-A-Grille, Yeehaw Junction, Apopka, Masaryktown, Micanopy, Chokoloskee, Bokeelia, Punta Gorda and Punta Russa, to the classic resort towns around the state, living in Florida is like an eternal vacation.