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  • Writer's pictureCharles Harned

Travel: Florida Panhandle

From time to time, I feel that it’s important to take a break from the strategy and intricacies of writing and focus on something that’s significantly more enjoyable, or at least stress free:


Not everybody likes to travel. Sometimes there really is no place like home. And I’ll be the first to admit that my list of destinations I want to visit far outdistances the list of places I’ve been. But for so many people—writers in particular—there is something so fulfilling about traveling to a new place and introducing yourself to a different slice of the world.

I wrote a guide to Montreal, one of my favorite North American cities. If you haven’t checked it out, click here.

As a writer who loves incorporating locations from all over the world into my work, new places are everything. More importantly, I find myself drawn to cities and regions that are authentic, different from what I’m used to, or sometimes just plain nice to look at. And when they aren't terribly far away from home that's just an added plus.

The coastal cities of the Florida Panhandle can’t help but fall into the picturesque category. There are practically endless white sand beaches along this stretch of the Gulf of Mexico. The three major “cities” in the region—Panama City, Destin, and Pensacola—all have something different to offer.

In the overheated throes of summer, I enjoy sitting down with a good book that's set in a tropical paradise. Likewise, sometimes when writing I can’t help painting parts of a story over an idyllic, sun-splashed backdrop. Florida is known for Miami and the Keys. The Panhandle gets less love, but might be just as much of a slice of paradise.

Whether it’s beach towns or secluded pieces of wilderness you’re after, let’s dive into what the Florida Panhandle has to offer and why it’s intriguing from a writer’s perspective.


Destin is truly amazing. Truth be told, I envisioned a somewhat private getaway for the snobbish and elderly before I first visited. That couldn't have been further from the truth. Destin is certainly a vacation destination I would consider upscale, but it's also a lot of fun. With crystalline shores and the whitest sand I've ever glimpsed in the continental U.S., Destin is an extremely accessible paradise for Americans on the east coast.

Check out the multi-storied bars and restaurants along the scenic HarborWalk Village for plenty to eat and drink. Fishermen keep their boats here, and it's beyond easy to book a charter for a day for a little deep sea fishing or just exploring the gulf. As for the harbor itself, be sure to check out Crab Island. Destin's best-kept secret, this "island" in the middle of the harbor is really a sand bar where the water fluctuates between 1 and 2 feet deep, depending on the tide. Floating bars, obstacle courses, and plenty of pontoon boats keep the good times rolling.


Pensacola is the biggest city along the gulf coast and known for being the home of the Blue Angels as well as a significant Naval Air Base. But there's so much more. Cross a couple bridges from the mainland and you're on Pensacola Beach, a spit of land stretching along the gulf with beaches that rival Destin. Walk up to Crabs right off the beach for killer seafood, or check out Flounder's Chowder House on the harbor side of the island for one of the coolest combinations of restaurant, live music, and leisure area (all backing up directly to the water) that you'll ever experience.

In between meals, head over to Pensacola's National Aviation Museum or check out the Pensacola Lighthouse, oldest and tallest on the Gulf coast. Venture inland from the beach and take a turn around historic Seville Square and then head inside Seville Quarter when it gets dark. This space is home to seven unique bars along with an outdoor concert venue and a party plaza.

Panama City

It seems like everyone and their fraternity went to Panama City Beach for Spring Break (insert year). Houses and high rises up and down 27 miles of white sand beach. Here, water sports are king. Scuba dive, kayak, and parasail through the clearest waters you're going to glimpse from the shores of the continental United States. Snorkeling opportunities abound and fishing charters are copious. Check out uninhabited Shell Island or two of Florida's nearby state parks (St. Andrews and Camp Helen).

It goes without saying that Panama City has plenty of restaurants and night life. Hit Gary's Oyster Shack for a dinner on the water and then jaunt over to Sandpiper Tiki Bar or Club La Vela if you're in the mood to make things a little more interesting.

The Vibe

Writers understand that truly accessing the feel of a place, its earnest vibe, is really what matters. The Florida Panhandle is a place where life moves a little slower; fishing and enjoying the water, weather, and the company you're in take precedence. Impossibly clear water for people used to the Atlantic and Pacific, perfect beaches, and tons of sun make the region a relaxing getaway from reality. But while commercialization has come into play, the Panhandle isn't necessarily a place that's trying to be something it's not. Beach life truly seems to come first.

I will say this; there aren't a ton of novels set along Florida's gulf coast. That really needs to change. The Florida Panhandle is the kind of place we're all dying to read about when we're stuck at work or enduring miserable weather. Like a little slice of the Caribbean without the plane ticket. Hidden beaches and practically unheard of towns like Navarre and Miramar Beach only add to the allure. Paradise often provides the best backdrop for the most captivating crimes and mysteries. When you're considering that next place to read or write about, don't sleep on the Panhandle.

Thanks for reading. As always, subscribe and comment below or email me at Stay safe and keep reading!

Check out these links for books set in Florida:

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