What is several kilometres long, at least six metres wide and made of pure quartz crystal? Answer: A typical beach in northwest Florida. (Courtesy Visit Florida)
Pensacola, Fla. — What is several kilometres long, at least six metres wide and made of pure quartz crystal? Answer: A typical beach in northwest Florida. While many places brag about having white sand beaches, this part of the Sunshine State has some of the best. The quartz crystal, which gives beaches their sparkle, washes down from the Appalachian Mountains and eventually makes its way to the edge of the emerald waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
Winter months on this part of the Florida Panhandle see January highs around 16 C — pleasant but not sizzling. But warm spring temperatures make this one of the best times to visit if you want to play on the beaches. Not surprisingly, many area attractions are on — or near — the water. Here are some places worth a visit:
Beaches, fishing, diving, history, forts and a naval aviation museum are among the highlights of this Gulf Coast destination.
— Don’t miss: Tour historic Pensacola Village and experience 450 years of history with more than 20 points of interest, including one of Florida’s oldest surviving churches, mansions from the 1800s and three museums. Pensacola Trolley Tours run 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. seven days a week from the Welcome Center downtown.
— Free Music: Bands on the Beach concerts take place Tuesday nights from May to September at the Pensacola Beach Gulfside Pavilion. Sound of Summer concerts are held most Fridays, Saturday and Sundays from June to August at the Quietwater Shell.
Finds: One of the best lunch deals around can be had at Palace Cafe in the Seville Quarter. A tasty blackened grouper sandwich with sweet potato fries is $7!
Go local: Try a Pensacola Bushwacker, a concoction created at the Sandshaker bar — coffee liqueur, dark rum, creme de cacao, vanilla ice cream, coconut cream, and half and half! The signature dish at the Fish House is Grits a Ya Ya — smoked Gouda cheese grits topped with grilled shrimp (better than it sounds).
Wow Factor: Watch the Blue Angels practice most Tuesday and Wednesday mornings from March through November on the Flight Line at the National Naval Aviation Museum (free).
The Emerald Coast refers to a 160-km-plus area of the Florida panhandle, also called the “Miracle Strip.”
— Don’t Miss: Destin, billed as the "World’s Luckiest Fishing Village " The “100-fathom curve”
— where the ocean depth reaches 100 fathoms (183 metres)
— draws closer to the mainland at Destin than any other spot on the Florida coast. Not surprisingly Destin has the largest charter fishing fleet in the state.
— Photo Op: Great sunset photographs are guaranteed on Fort Walton Beach. It’s best appreciated if staying at one of the beachside hotels, such as Waterscape Resort.
— Accolades: The multi award-winning Marina Cafe in Destin. You can’t go wrong with the Tempura Main lobster-tail with ginger-lime vinaigrette and jicama salad as a starter followed by pan-seared yellowedge grouper with a blue crabmeat crust for an entree.
— Fun Factor: For evening entertainment try Howl at the Moon, a high energy rock ‘n’ roll dueling piano bar, where talented musicians perform songs from the 70s, 80s and 90s. Pick a song, they’ll play it, often infused with a dose of humour in between (or during) the tunes.
— Worth Noting: The Beaches of South Walton made Yahoo Travel’s Top 10 list of beaches for 2011.