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Destinations To Die For: Panama City, Florida

Kingdom of Joy | October


The Panama City Beach area is loaded with quiet bayous and creeks.

I guess there's some disagreement over whether newspaperman Howell Raines actually coined the term Redneck Riviera to describe the swathe of beaches and communities on the southern fringe of Florida's Panhandle. Whether the man did the deed or not matters little here, though, considering how well he's captured the populist, blue-collar spirit of the place in his recently published The One That Got Away.

Raines spent some time down in Panama City Beach (PCB) as a kid and came to know the town and its environs as the "kingdom of joy." In his book he elegantly conveys just how paradisiacal this rough-and-ready little realm of recreational fishing was during the '50's.

Many things have changed since then, of course. Certainly PCB is more of a military town now, thanks to growth spurts at Tyndall Air Force Base and other military installations. And it's perhaps more of a tourist trap, too, particularly during the summer. Driving safely on a Saturday night in July can be a flat-out challenge, what with hordes of wild vacationers zooming loose.

But hey, the essence of the place continues to saunter on today, its shirt sleeves rolled up and an affable grin on its face. Family-owned fishing boats still supply restaurants on a daily basis with some of the freshest, most delectable, most reasonably priced seafood on the planet. If you don't believe me, check out the crab-stuffed Grouper Imperial (with mashed potatoes, steamed veggies, and angelic hush-puppies on the side) at the Capt's Table Fish House on Beck Avenue. Or the sesame-crusted tuna with thai slaw at Uncle Ernie's on Bayview.


A tourist attraction with live shark feeding!

Marine service facilities are hangin' tough as well, remaining abundant and do-it-yourselfy. I first patronized the aforementioned restaurants some years ago while temporarily docking my boat at nearby St. Andrew's Marina so I could have some engine work done. Diesel mechanics from a shop within walking distance were kind enough to tell me where to eat, as well as how to save money on parts. Moreover, they told me about Miller Marine and Lighthouse Marina, local outfits with facilities that handle large vessels.

Despite coastal development, the physical beauty is still there in spades. The sands of Panama City Beach are still spectacularly white, the flatwoods pine trees just as numerous, and the blue waters almost as rife with fish as they were when Raines first set eyes on 'em.

Spend a night onboard in one of the area's many piney, palm-studded anchorages, particularly during October. Most likely, the temperatures will be cool—no air conditioning needed. A sense of remoteness will prevail, although downtown'll be just a few miles off. There'll be no insects but millions of stars. And, with luck, you'll come to appreciate what Raines really meant by the phrase kingdom of joy.

Destinations To Die For

January: Plymouth Harbor, Dominica
February: The Spanish Virgin Islands
March: Mazatlan, Mexico
April: Man-O-War Cay, Bahamas
May: Southport, North Carolina
June: Greenport, New York
July: New York, New York
August: Penobscot Bay, Maine
September: Block Island, Rhode Island
October: Panama City, Florida
November: Key West, Florida
December: Staniel Cay, Bahamas

This article originally appeared in the December 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.