Published on Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Uncovering hidden Florida



In a nutshell
Well it does what it says on the tin. The beach or beaches at PCB (as Panama City Beach is referred to) are sublime. There is one that will suit everybody, and the quality of the sand is so high you could quite easily sell a truck load to Arabs. It screeches when you walk on it in a fresh snow fashion and such is the vast array of choice even at the busiest times the likelihood is that you will be able to squeak away in solitude.

Why your clients should go
PCB is not the best known of Floridian beach destinations for the UK and European markets and one suspects it is because it is not adjacent to an international airport with direct flights.  As part of a sunshine state tour it is a gem not to be missed. Located in the heart of the Florida Panhandle about two hours east of the state capitol Tallahassee, PCB is actually in the Central Time Zone so for most of the year its six hours behind the UK. Good shopping, a wide range of accommodation, entertainment, excellent selection of eateries plus of course sea, sun and the purest finest sand make it an attractive proposition.

What to see and what to do
Despite being a traditional seaside resort PCB has kept abreast of modern developments including the contemporary shopping centre concept at Pier Park which boasts over 120 shops and restaurants including all the brands that one would want to find if on holiday in the USA. Constructed in a village format it appears to be an attraction not just for tourists but for locals just to hang out, maybe stroll down to the sea front or have a coffee and for this it stands out favourably against many of the mall/centres I have been to in the past. Pier Park also has a deal of entertainment top of which for me was the Sky Wheel which affords you fabulous views out to sea and into the hinterland.

PCB has remained in touch with its environment and it was very encouraging to see not to mention rewarding to see such care being taken to protect flora, fauna and wildlife. The coastline is an obvious area for protection but also in the interior where state parks have been turned into eco preservation areas with easy access on foot and in some cases bike. These allow not only good exercise opportunities but fantastic prospects for observing local nature.

Food and drink
If you're in PCB you really want to be able to eat with a view of the ocean preferably with sand between your toes but not on your food. Lots of choice available as well as those with live music and recreation. For special occasions there are of course more up market options of which Firefly is a good example where the ambience is a little more subdued and you would be fully justified to make a complaint if your toes were deep in sand. The food is terrific.

It is however the breakfast options that require some coverage and not just for the food served but the ones I visited had identity issues alongside the fine fayre. First up was Andy's Flour Power which serves up standard USA breakfasts with bacon, eggs over easy and wheat toast. As an addition try one of the breakfast martinis which are a delightful combination of alcohol and Seville Marmalade. Surprisingly quaffable at 8.00 am,  I tried two. Upon introduction to the owner I said, 'Fabulous Martinis Andy'. He replied 'My name is not Andy its John. I only did that to be top of the yellow pages.'

Next up was Finns Island Style Grub who are purveyors of delicious fresh fish tacos. Not on your normal greasy spoon menu but when on the gulf coast do as the gulf coastians do. Again, I was introduced to the owner. "Hello Steve," I say. "Sorry my name is not Steve anymore. God visited me in the winter and told me my name is now John." Fair enough. "Nice tacos, John."

Finally, on the breakfast circuit was something we can nearly all get hot and sticky about as we chowed down at the Thomas' Donuts & Snack Shop. Here, such is the popularity amongst locals and visitors alike a queue is quite normal. The products are well worth waiting for and unsurprisingly the owners name is not in fact Thomas but Mike. I didn't meet him to offer my compliments.

Where to stay
As one would imagine, an excellent array of accommodation is available at PCB. On my most recent visit I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express and Suites - Panama City Beach Seafront. At first one would think this is a 'budget' choice. Not so as the hotel was excellent, right on the beach with large rooms, sea views and excellent facilities including quick wi-fi .It is indeed one that I would highly recommend with rates at the end of July of just over $250 per night for a two queen size bed suite with bunk beds and small kitchenette.

Don't Miss
Big music events are not to be missed at PCB and SandJam Fest in April is one of the biggest. I was lucky enough to see the Kings of Leon rocking it across the crystal white sands to a very enthusiastic audience. The organisation was superb and to get a drink or food was quick, efficient and affordable. In fact, the direct opposite of most UK festivals and it was still 25c at midnight.


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