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    Pensacola,

    Florida

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    Pensacola () is the westernmost city in the Florida Panhandle, and the county seat of Escambia County, Florida. As of 2019, the population was estimated to be 52,975. Pensacola is the principal city of the Pensacola Metropolitan Area, which had an estimated 502,629 residents as of 2019. Pensacola is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the Gulf Coast region.Pensacola is the site of the first Spanish settlement within the borders of the continental United States in 1559, predating the establishment of St. Augustine by 6 years, although the settlement was abandoned due to a hurricane and not re-established until 1698. Pensacola is a seaport on Pensacola Bay, which is protected by the barrier island of Santa Rosa and connects to the Gulf of Mexico. A large United States Naval Air Station, the first in the United States, is located southwest of Pensacola near Warrington; it is the base of the Blue Angels flight demonstration team and the National Naval Aviation Museum. The main campus of the University of West Florida is situated north of the city center. The area was originally inhabited by Muskogean-speaking peoples. The Pensacola people lived there at the time of European contact, and Creek people frequently visited and traded from present-day southern Alabama and Mississippi and southeast of Louisiana. Spanish explorer Tristán de Luna founded a short-lived settlement in 1559. In 1698 the Spanish established a presidio in the area, from which the modern city gradually developed. The area changed hands several times as European powers competed in North America. During Florida's British rule (1763–1781), fortifications were strengthened. It is nicknamed "The City of Five Flags", due to the five governments that have ruled it during its history: the flags of Spain (Castile), France, Great Britain, the United States of America, and the Confederate States of America. Other nicknames include "World's Whitest Beaches" (due to the white sand of Florida panhandle beaches), "Cradle of Naval Aviation", "Western Gate to the Sunshine State", "America's First Settlement", "Emerald Coast", "Red Snapper Capital of the World", and "P-Cola".
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    Pensacola Articles

    Road Trips

    6 road trips stops along the underrated Gulf Coast

    On a recent road trip with my family from Pensacola, Florida, west along Interstate-10 through Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, I got a taste of all I’ve been missing out on in the Gulf Coast. I’m pretty sure this stretch of Interstate-10 and the backroads branching off make for the the most underrated road trip in the South. Read on for a six great stops to make during a road trip along the surprising Gulf Coast. ALABAMA Meet sloths and lemurs at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo There is so much to love at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo in Gulf Shores, Alabama, it’s hard to know where to start. Dubbed “The little zoo that could” for how it’s survived three major hurricanes (and now the pandemic, too), this beautiful and largely open-air facility offers phenomenal animal encounters you hardly find everywhere, including the chance to hand-feed sloths for just $19.95 per person (in addition to zoo admission, which is $19.95 for adults and $14.95 for kids ages 3 to 12). Whatever you do, don’t miss the zoo’s butterfly exhibit, featuring a jaw-dropping collection donated by a local resident that’s housed inside a room designed to look like a field research tent. Hundreds of incredible butterflies and moths (some with patterns on their wings that look just like snake heads, to scare off predators) are the stuff of pure wonder. Even if you’re not visiting the zoo itself, you can still have lunch on a spacious deck overlooking the grounds at The Safari Club (no zoo admission required), where a menu of delicious wood-fired pizzas, Gulf Coast seafood and more awaits. For a bike ride through Gulf State Park, Alabama Home to bobcats, bald eagles, alligators, owls and many more animals, Gulf State Park (free admission) has 28 miles of paved trails and boardwalks that are a blast to explore by bicycle. The park even has a free bike share program you can access with your smartphone. And you can rent tandem bikes and trailers for pulling kids along the trails, too, through Beach Bike Rentals in Orange Beach, Alabama (all rentals come with helmet and locks, starting from $25 for the day). When you’re not paddling through the coastal habitats, make time to relax at Gulf State Park’s two miles of white sand beaches and check out the Gulf State Park Campground, one of the best places to put up a tent or pull in with an RV in the state. Shrimp boats at sunset. Credit: Coastal Mississippi. MISSISSIPPI Hang out in the adorable town of Ocean Springs, Mississippi Continuing west along Interstate-10 into Mississippi, plan to spend a night or longer in the adorable coastal town of Ocean Springs, where a stay at the new-in-2020 Beatnik hotel (rooms from $157 per night) is nothing short of revelatory. The property has just four cabins decorated in mid-century boho style, each with a private patio complete an outdoor shower and hammock. There’s a communal plunge pool and fire pit, too, where guess gather for socially-distanced drinks at sunset. Stroll along Front Beach, the town’s small sandy beach, or visit the many outdoor galleries and cafes in Ocean Springs’ compact downtown. The best spot for a delicious and budget-minded breakfast is undoubtedly The Greenhouse on Porter, right next to the Beatnik, with heavenly housemade biscuits slathered with honey butter. Mississippi Aquarium Brand new in August 2020, the Mississippi Aquarium (admission $29.95 per person, $24.95 for kids ages 3 to 12) in Gulfport houses over 200 species of animals and native plants within indoor and outdoor exhibition areas overlooking the Mississippi Sound in downtown Gulfport. Among the many interesting animals you can see here are bottlenose dolphins, cow nose rays, American crocodiles and green-winged doves. Visitors age 10 and older can even get into the water with SeaTREK ($79.95 per person), a two-hour experience during which you don a helmet and enter one of the aquarium’s habitats to see fish, sharks and rays upclose from a perspective that’s similar to a scuba diver’s vantage point. LOUISIANA Go deep into Honey Island Swamp on a bayou tour with Cajun Encounters in Slidell, Louisiana This Florida girl got an education on the difference between the Everglades and freshwater bayou habitats during a fascinating tour by boat into Honey Island Swamp in Louisiana’s St. Tammany Parish with Cajun Encounters (from $57.50 per person, $37.50 for kids ages 3 to 12). We spotted wild boars sloshing around the bald cypress tree-filled bayou (essentially a flooded forest, as the guide explained it), learned all about the mythical bayou swamp monster called Letiche and even visited a floating village that looked like something straight from a Swamp People episode. Private and group tours are available. Take a family-friendly hike with Canoe and Trail Adventures in Covington, Louisiana Prefer to stay on dry land when exploring the bayou? A Louisiana Master Naturalist is your guide during hikes that can be as easy or adventurous as you like with Canoe and Trail Adventures in Covington, Louisiana (the company also offers paddling tours and canoe and kayak rentals). I loved exploring trails maintained by local Boy Scouts troops at Northlake Nature Center with our guide, Chad Almquist, who showed my kids how to scoop up crawfish and tiny minnows using nets in the shallow bayou waters. Our hike led us along boardwalks and trails through wetlands and hardwood forests where we scouted for salamanders under rocks and spotted native birds (private tours from $49 per person).

    Budget Travel Lists

    24 safe budget getaways for spring

    According to a recent study by vacation rental search engine HomeToGo, bookings are up by 46% compared to last year, with travelers opting to stay within 257 miles of home. Hotels and campgrounds are getting in on the action, with Hilton offering up to 20% off rates at certain properties and free night deals at Sun RV Resorts in Arizona, California and Texas when you book by March 7 and travel by March 31. If remote cabins or unique camping experiences are more your style, check Vacation Renter and RVC Outdoor Destinations for more off-the-beaten-path ideas. If you’re willing to wear a mask, practice social distancing and follow health and safety protocols, spring might be a good time to venture out, especially with hotels and destinations doing all they can to keep employees and visitors safe. Here are 24 socially distanced trips you can drive to this spring, all under $200 a night. New York Save on a Finger Lakes stay at 1795 Acorn Inn, located near Canandaigua Lake about five hours from NYC. Mention the Winter Weekend Package to unlock nightly rates from $130, daily breakfast and a free third night when you book a two-night stay Thursday through Sunday by April 25. Pennsylvania Choose from cabins, cottages, yurts, bungalows, villas, RV and tent campsites and a 52-room lodge at Lake Raystown Resort, about 3.5 hours from Philadelphia or 2.5 hours from Pittsburgh. Bike or hike the 400-acre property’s scenic trails, visit the WildRiver Waterpark or Proud Mary Showboat and dine by the water at the Marina Café. Nightly rates start at $139 for bungalows and villas, $124 for cottages, $94 for cabins, $89 for lodge accommodations and $30 for tent campsites. Washington, D.C. The Cherry Blossom package at The Ven at Embassy Row includes a cherry blossom themed amenity, hand-painted postcards designed by a local artist, a commemorative lapel pin and a $15 rideshare app credit, with rates from $154 a night when you book and stay through April 30. Virginia Head to Southwest Virginia for fewer crowds and beautiful natural surroundings roughly 2.5 hours from Charlotte or six hours from DC. Bring your bike and take on the 35-mile Virginia Creeper trail, hike to the highest point in the state at Mount Rogers or see the wild ponies in Grayson Highland State Park. At The Sessions Hotel in Bristol, the Birthplace of Country Music Museum package includes breakfast for two and admission to the museum, from $194 a night. Nearby, rates at The Bristol Hotel, which makes its home in a restored 1925 landmark building, start at $139 a night. Near Shenandoah National Park in Northern Virginia, the Vacationing on the Clock package at Massanutten Resort comes with two complimentary cups of coffee, nightly rates from $195 and your choice of lift tickets or waterpark passes when you book and stay at least two nights Thursday through Sunday in a one-bedroom condo by March 7. South Carolina Visit Myrtle Beach, home to more than 60 miles of Atlantic beaches and 50 mini-golf courses. Stop by the LW Paul Living History Farm, stroll through Brookgreen Gardens or treat yourself to a private kayak tour with Black River Outdoors to enjoy the area from the water. Stay at Island Vista, where each room has a balcony overlooking the beach (from $87) or Hotel BLUE, home to South Carolina’s first swim-up pool bar (from $75). About 30 minutes from Charleston, Wild Dunes Resort, a Hyatt property in Island of Palms, offers plenty of outdoor space, tennis courts, a fancy 36-hole championship golf course and opportunities to fish or try stand-up paddleboarding. Rates start at $160 a night this spring. History buffs will love the Olde English District, located about an hour’s drive from Charlotte or Columbia, where you can learn about the area’s African American heritage and Revolutionary War history at a living history site, enjoy the great outdoors at Goodale State Park or get a bird’s eye view by sailplane with Bermuda High Soaring. Nightly rates at the charming East Main Guest House Bed and Breakfast in Rock Hill start at $129. Florida Celebrate Tampa’s Cuban heritage with a staycation at Hotel Haya, located on 7th Avenue in the heart of Ybor City. The Grab & Go Breakfast package, available from $174 a night, includes a homemade guava pastelito, a can of traditional con leche and fresh fruit. Between Pensacola and Panama City Beach, Hotel Effie Sandestin’s location within the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort and proximity to Silver Sands Premium Outlets make it a great base for those in need of a round of golf or a shopping spree, with rates from $189 a night. In the Florida Keys, you’ll save 20% on weeknight vacation rentals or motel stays of at least two nights at Pelican RV Resort & Marina in Marathon (from $165) or Riptide RV Resort & Marina in Key Largo (from $150) when you book by April 30 and stay Sunday through Thursday by May 31. Mississippi Calling all Elvis fans: Whether you’re heading to Tupelo as part of a larger road trip from Memphis or Nashville or just enjoying the city’s history, music and foodie scene in its own right, there’s a lot to see here. Tour the King’s birthplace by bike, take a scenic drive along the Natchez Trace Parkway and camp lakeside at nearby Tombigbee State Park, with cabins from $60 a night and fully equipped vacation cottages from $75 a night. Texas Try a Texas Hill Country getaway or day trip this spring to see the wildflower bloom in March and April, enjoy Barbecue Month celebrations in May or spend time wandering charming towns like Fredericksburg, which celebrates its 175th birthday this year. Aviation enthusiasts will love the Hangar Hotel in Fredericksburg, a quirky hotel built to resemble a 1940s WWII hangar (rooms from $149), while an hour away in Dripping Springs, Lucky Arrow Retreat offers luxury yurts and cabins (from $159–$199) next door to the Bell Springs Winery and Brewing Company. Families near Dallas can enjoy early access to the Hilton Anatole’s new JadeWaters waterpark, which will be open to hotel guests on weekends from April 30 to May 31 before opening fully on Memorial Day weekend. Packages offer a $50 daily credit or complimentary breakfast, from $169 a night. About 90 minutes from Dallas in East Texas, the Deer Lake Cabins Ranch Resort in Mount Vernon offers more than 800 acres of trails and lakes so you can really get back to nature. Spend your days hiking, fishing, feeding farm animals, horseback riding or cruising around on a UTV, and your nights at a cowboy cookout or on a hayride, with cottages from $189 a night. Ohio The Mohicans Treehouse Resort & Wedding Venue, roughly 90 minutes from Cleveland or Columbus, is offering discounts through March 16 on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday treehouse stays. Use promo code BUDGET2021 to unlock $200 nightly rates for the Moonlight, White Oak, Little Red, Old Pine and The Nest treehouses and $250 rates for the Tin Shed, Silver Bullet, The View and El Castillo. In Columbus, check out the Chihuly collection at Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, wander the historic German Village district, take on the largest free outdoor climbing wall in the country at Scioto Audubon Metropark and get some air along the 253-mile Scioto Mile. Springtime rates at Moxy Columbus Short North start at $91 a night, while the Work Anywhere Stay Pass package includes early 6 a.m. check-in, late 6 p.m. check-out, complimentary Wi-Fi and a $10 food and beverage credit. Illinois Those seeking a pet-friendly staycation should check out the Radisson Blu Chicago’s VIPup package, which includes a doggie bed, as well as a welcome toy, portable food and water bowls, gourmet treats, a food and drink mat and a waste bag dispenser, with rates from $149 a night. Wisconsin There’s plenty of outdoor fun to be had in Door County, just 45 minutes from Green Bay and two hours from Milwaukee. History buffs should head to the Heritage Village living history museum in Sturgeon Bay, which will be reopening in May, as well as the Door County Maritime Museum to learn about the area’s shipbuilding past. Stay at Eagle Harbor Inn, a charming bed and breakfast in Ephraim, with rates from $98 a night. Nearby, the Fox Cities area offers many outdoor attractions — head to High Cliff State Park near Lake Winnebago to hike one of the park’s seven historic trails or try your hand at making maple syrup in Bubolz Nature Preserve. Stay in Appleton and book the CopperLeaf Boutique Hotel & Spa’s Winter Warmer package — you’ll get complimentary hot chocolate, two handcrafted stoneware coffee mugs, two mini bottles of Dr. McGillicuddy’s liqueur and a $50 credit toward dining or spa treatments, from $174 through March 31 — or the Girls’ Night on the Town package, which includes a bottle of wine and a $20 minibar credit (from $150). South Dakota The Badlands and Black Hills are full of scenic outdoor spaces worthy of a road trip, like Badlands National Park, Crazy Horse Memorial, Mount Rushmore National Memorial, just to name a few. Visit Custer State Park to see the buffalo roam, then stay onsite at Custer State Park Resort, where you can save 20% and receive a $20 credit on two-night stays (or save 25% and receive a $25 credit) when you stay between April 26 and May 22 and mention the Stay and Save This Spring package. Rates for lodge and cabin rooms start at $140 a night. Colorado Those booking two weekend stays in Arrowhead, Bearclaw or Foxtail cabins at the River Run Resort in Granby will get one free weekend stay when they book and travel by March 28. Two-weekend packages start at $520 (which breaks down to $130 a night) and come with six free bowling games, plus you can add extra nights for 20% less if you want to stay longer. Back in Denver, The Curtis has a great package for groups who want to enjoy a safe getaway together. The Choose Your Adventure package lets up to 24 guests take over an entire floor — that’s 12 guest rooms at double occupancy — from $2,000 a night, which breaks down to about $166 per room or $83 per person. You’ll also get to book your choice of socially distanced adventures, like laser tag, a silent disco or murder mystery game night, among others. Washington For an epic outdoor escape with a luxury resort twist, head 90 minutes from Seattle to Suncadia Resort, a Hyatt property situated among more than 6,000 acres of beautiful mountain scenery in Cle Elum. Spend some time hiking or biking more than 40 miles of trails in Wenatchee Washington National Forest or trying your hand at archery or axe throwing, among other activities, with rates from $171 a night.

    Inspiration

    Outdoor holiday celebrations around the United States

    It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and many parts of our country are feeling festive despite the pandemic. If you are still cautious, or on the fence, or simply prefer an outdoor experience, this list is for you! Here are a few places around the U.S. where you can get into the holiday spirit outdoors and admire holiday decorations and lights from walking paths. Here’s where to celebrate the holidays this year— remember to check out our private booking platform with discounted rates! Northeast New York City, New York The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree will be lit daily from from 6am-12am. On Christmas Day, the Tree is lit for 24 hours and on New Year’s Eve it is lit from 6am to 9pm. New Hampshire The 2.5-mile drive-through light show at the New Hampshire Speedway in Loudon features 400 different lighting displays with snow-covered mountains in the background. Woodstock, Vermont Celebrate the holidays Victorian style at Billings Farm & Museum, where you can try your hand at candle dipping, watch traditional holiday cooking demonstrations, create your own gingerbread ornaments—or just head straight to the onsite Dairy Bar for cider donuts. Mid-Atlantic Maryland At Ocean City, Maryland's Winterfest of Lights guests can explore zillions of sparkling holiday lights, animated light displays, and a 50-foot holiday tree on display along a paved path in Northside Park. The Annmarie Sculpture Garden is transformed into an outdoor wonderland until January 1st with many light sculptures of wild animals, winter wonderlands, musical holiday scenes, and magical beings. Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia The White House isn’t the only place in the nation's capital that’s getting in on the holiday spirit. Civilians can enjoy the undeniable festive energy in the District through New Year’s Day by visiting the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. The National Menorah will be lit throughout Hanukkah. About 25 minutes away in Vienna, Virginia, celebrate the season at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens’ Winter Walk of Lights. Stroll the one-way half-mile path full of holiday lights and festive decorations, admire the Fountains of Lights and watch as the “sing to me” tree’s lights dance along with all your favorite holiday tunes. Timed tickets must be purchased online ahead of time and are available on a limited basis. Roanoke, Virginia Treat yourselves to a lovely half-mile walk through the woods, toast marshmallows around the fire, shop for presents at the Artisan Christmas Market, donate canned goods to help others, meet Santa and his elves, and feast your eyes on more than 500,000 lights during the Illuminights Winter Walk of Lights at Explore Park. Purchase timed tickets online or by phone to access this event. Virginia Beach, Virginia Head to Virginia Beach for a unique beach-themed holiday lights display. At the Holiday Lights at the Beach, you’ll drive on the Atlantic Ocean boardwalk that has been transformed into a nautical lights display, including a surfing Santa. Southeast Aiken, South Carolina Enjoy more than two miles of beautifully lit paths with over 100,000 lights and holiday decorations at Christmas in Hopelands Gardens. This year, the colorful displays will be lit up all December long to help keep spirits bright. The Christmas Craft show features handmade crafts and goodies made by talented artisans from across the Southeast. There is sure to be something for everyone’s style, taste, and budget. The Christmas Craft Show is also a great place to shop for your holiday gifts and décor. South Walton, Florida If you’re in the Florida panhandle, don’t miss 12 Nights of Lights at The Village of Baytowne Wharf, located about halfway between Pensacola and Panama City Beach in South Walton. Enjoy a festive light show every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday leading up to Christmas! This sparkling event will also be featured during our special holiday edition of the Wednesday Night Concert Series. Watch three dazzling shows each night! Houston, Texas The Space Center in Houston is hosting Galaxy Lights, a technological holiday celebration featuring kinetic light shows, choreographed light and music sequences, an interactive light pad, a large light tunnel and the chance to see a film about astronauts celebrating the holidays in space, among other themed attractions. Galaxy Lights requires its own tickets, which can be purchased online, and takes about 90 minutes to fully enjoy. Pigeon Forge, Tennessee Dolly Parton’s Dollywood features an award-winning spectacle, set in the backdrop of the Smoky Mountains. The festival features over 5 million lights, and even include fireworks this year. Midwest Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin Visit the Tree of Light, a 55-foot silver maple tree decked out in 30,000 lights near the River Walk in Wisconsin Dells. As the holiday season kicks off, Wisconsin Dells will deliver a little extra cheer again this year with one of the biggest and brightest displays of all. In the open-air located off the River Walk in downtown Wisconsin Dells, a towering 55-foot silver maple tree will showcase 30,000 dazzling points of light, making it the only – and we mean only – light display of its kind in the Midwest. Stroll along the River Walk and view additional lighting in the form of 70 holiday trees, all sponsored by area businesses. Indiana The Santa Claus Land of Lights is a 1.2 mile Drive-Through Family Christmas Light Adventure located inside Lake Rudolph Campground & RV Resort. Enjoy the largest campground holiday light show in North America and the only light show that tells a story in lights and storyboards! Create new family memories and family traditions this Christmas Season at the Santa Claus Land of Lights – Family Christmas Light Adventure! For more themed light displays cruise through The Christmas Lake Village Festival Lights. The gated community of Christmas Lake Village invites you to drive through nine miles of festive light displays! Awards for Judges’ Favorite, Kids’ Favorite, Reason for the Season, and Best Lights will be awarded to four homes. Cheyenne, Wyoming Celebrate the holiday season Western-style this year in Cheyenne, where you can get your letter to Santa stamped by an Elf and see the mail get picked up by a Pony Express rider, visit holiday horses at Santa’s Saloon and Stables, hear Cowboy Carolers sing and meet Mr. Claus by the fire at Kringle Ranch, part of an event by the Little America Hotel & Resort. Check the calendar for more Old West holiday festivities happening through December 31. West Sonoma County, California Cue that legendary piano music and celebrate trees of all shapes and sizes all December long at Windsor’s annual Charlie Brown Christmas Tree Grove. This year, more than 200 trees were decorated by neighborhood families, classes, small businesses and community groups for you to enjoy on a socially distanced stroll through Windsor Town Green. San Luis Obispo, California Don’t miss San Luis Obispo’s annual Light Up Downtown event, the region’s destination for making holiday memories for more than 40 years. This year, they will feature the return of our annual Holiday Parade, Santa's House, and the Classic Carousel. Explore and celebrate local businesses and check out the lights, sights, and family fun in the Holiday Plaza! Nevada The Polar Express in Carson City, Nevada drive-through lights experience is operating until Christmas Eve. The brilliant light show will feature Santa, Mrs. Claus, and dozens of elves busy at work as they prepare for Christmas. Guests are encouraged to wear their favorite holiday pajamas and bring hot chocolate as they travel through the North Pole experience. Hawai’i Get into the Mele Kalikimaka spirit at the 25th anniversary of Kauai’s Festival of Lights. The displays use recycled and reclaimed materials at the Historic County Building park and can be enjoyed until New Year’s Day. Millions of colorful lights illuminate the park’s looming coconut palm trees wrapped in colorful lights as well as upcycled decorations including aluminum can flowers and water bottle butterflies. Arizona Make the best of the holidays at the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix. The gardens offer a dash of holiday magic with 8,000 hand-lit luminaria bags and thousands of white twinkle lights. Las Noches de las Luminarias includes pre-recorded carols to enjoy during the experience. In Lake Havasu City experience London Bridge Resort's Festival of Lights—the Bridgewater Channel is lit up with over 500,000 lights that set the water aglow and spark the holiday spirit.

    Inspiration

    Spend some time on the sand watching these beach web cams

    With beachside vacations being put on hold with coronavirus-related closures, there’s an alternative way to access sand and surf – right from your screen. Across United States, the nation’s beaches are being represented on screen from coast to coast. Embrace these picturesque views across the United States through these web cams. In California, view Doran Beach in Bodega Bay’s Doran National Park in Sonoma County beach. Torrance Beach’s webcam captures this 1.5 mile stretch of sand. Meanwhile in Monterey County, the Tickle Pink Inn in Carmel keeps a camera’s eye on the Big Sur Coastline. In San Diego, the landmark Hotel del Coronado shows off its sandy scene online. On Visit California’s website, take a 360 degree VR experience along California’s North Coast Beaches; catch more of the Golden State’s beaches through LiveBeaches.com. Wisconsin’s Madeline Island, the largest of the state’s Apostle Islands, is home to the two-mile Big Bay Beach along with Big Bay State Park. In South Carolina, see different parts of Myrtle Beach through this EarthCam plus Edisto Beach on Edisto Island can be seen through video too. In Virginia Beach, view various filming angles of this coastal city, including its boardwalk, along with the waterside community of Sandbridge. The Wildwoods, NJ lights up with nine cameras throughout this five-mile island capturing its boardwalks and beaches. Also, find different feeds of the Jersey Shore beaches, from Asbury Park to Atlantic City and Cape May. Other Jersey beaches range from Jenkinson’s Point Pleasant Beach to Bay Head. Long Island, New York has live cameras on locations, including Long Beach, with its 2.2-mile boardwalk; Main Beach in East Hampton; Coopers Beach in Southampton; and Fire Island. Florida has their beaches covered and can be seen through the Visit Florida website. However, their respective regions are also showing their sand off. Paradise Coast is experiencing cameras across Naples and Marco Island, while The Palm Beaches have their eight beach cams collectively on one website; Florida Keys and Key West have a wide variety of water and beach view web cams. Also in Florida, South Walton is streaming Alys Beach and Grayton Beach and Grayton Dunes in Grayton Beach State Park. Pensacola Beach can be screened with east, west and south views. St. Pete/Clearwater through four live beach webcams of Clearwater Beach, Indian Rocks Beach and two different views of St. Pete Beach. Or check out Miami's sand scene with these beach cams.

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    Budget Travel Lists

    America's 10 best winter beach retreats

    1. SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO With more than 100 hotels welcoming guests, 4,000+ restaurants cooking away, and 107 tourist attractions open to visitors, San Juan’s post-Maria comeback is something to behold. Add to that the stunning beaches and the 16th-century colonial history, and you have the makings for a trip that mixes relaxing tropical vacation with cultural getaway. Hit the beaches in the blissfully uncrowded mornings (Ocean Park Beach and Isla Verde Beach are local favorites) and spend your afternoons strolling the cobblestone streets and admiring the candy-colored buildings of Old Town. History buffs won’t want to miss Fuerte San Felipe del Morro (“El Morro” to locals), a 16th-century fort perched at the edge of a triangle of land. READ MORE: The Best Day to Buy Airline Tickets EAT: Alcapurrias, bacalaitos, empanadillas – do yourself a favor and familiarize yourself with the names of popular Puerto Rican street foods pre-trip so you’ll be ready to hit the food trucks the minute you land. Choose from the many vendors in Old San Juan, or if you’re up for exploring, drive about 30 minutes to Piñones, famous for its authentic street food. For an eclectic array of options, head to Lote 23, a collection of food trucks serving everything from poke bowls to croquettes to made-to-order donuts. STAY: Like San Juan itself, The Gallery Inn is a masterful mix of old-world charm and gorgeous tropical getaway. Originally built in the 17th century, the inn is a labyrinth of lush gardens (19 of them, inf fact), art studios, fountains, a music room (check the front desk for concert times), a pool with waterfalls, and 27 guest rooms. Don’t miss the wine deck, with its panoramic views of Old San Juan (rooms from $117). EASY ESCAPE FROM: Miami (three-and-a-half-hour flight), Orlando (four-hour flight), New York City (five-hour flight). 2. SANIBEL ISLAND, FLORIDA The sea is hands-down the main attraction in Sanibel, and while there are some top contenders when it comes to beaches – Lighthouse Beach, Bowman’s Beach, and Blind Pass Beach are all stellar options – whichever spot you choose you can rest assured you’ll be treated to fine white sand and calm turquoise waters. To get out on said waters, sign up for a kayak tour with Tarpon Bay Explorers, where a naturalist will explain every wading bird and mysterious underwater shadow you encounter as you paddle through the mangrove forest (tours from $35; includes use of the kayak for the rest of the day). Cool off with a trip to Pinocchio’s Original Italian Ice Cream, a local institution famous for its island-inspired flavors (Key-Lime Hurricane, Dirty Sand Dollar) and signature animal cracker perched atop each scoop (scoops from $4). EAT: “Restaurant” doesn’t seem like quite the right word for The Island Cow. It’s more of an event, complete with an outdoor corn-hole set-up, photo opps, live music, and yes, food. The bustling spot serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a four-page menu that has everything from pancakes to conch fritters (breakfast from $8; dinner entrées from $10). For something a little more serene, Gramma Dot’s sits dockside at the Sanibel Marina and serves all manner of local seafood, from grouper and tilapia to soft-shell crab and shrimp (entrées from $26). STAY: In a state where beachside hotels are plentiful, Seahorse Cottages is a welcome departure. Tucked into a quiet residential neighborhood, the collection of cottages – ranging in size from studio to two-bedroom – feels welcoming and quaint, almost as though a relative has given you the keys to a guesthouse for the weekend. Hospitality prevails, with free cruiser bicycles for guests to explore nearby Old Town Sanibel, as well as beach chairs, umbrellas, and wagons to cart your beach gear back and forth (adults only, from $135). EASY ESCAPE FROM: Miami (2 hr 45 minute drive), Orlando (1-hour flight), New York City (three-hour flight). 3. KAILUA, OAHU, HAWAII Winter months mean towering waves at many of Oahu’s most popular beaches – which is great if you want to sit on the sand and admire the world-class surfers, but far too dangerous for mere mortals to go swimming. Kailua Beach, however, is nearly always calm and safe. The small, gentle waves make it an ideal beach for everything from swimming to kayaking to kiteboarding. On days when the water is extra calm, rent a kayak from Kailua Beach Adventures and paddle the mile or so out to the Mokulua Islands (rentals from $59). Conveniently, the town’s best shave ice is just a few storefronts down from the rental shop. Post-kayaking, drop off your boat and treat yourself to an icy, syrupy delight (shave ice from $3.50). EAT: Just across the road from the beach, Buzz’s Original Steakhouse has been serving up tropical drinks and steak and fish dinners for 55 years. The feel is part tiki-bar kitsch, part tropical elegance (no tank tops after 4:30 p.m.) (entrées from $23). STAY: Kailua and neighboring Lanikai are primarily residential, so hotels are few and far between. In-the-know visitors opt for house rentals instead – and fortunately, there are plenty to choose from. You’ll likely be spending most of your time here at the beach, so look for something that’s walking distance to the water. EASY ESCAPE FROM: Honolulu (20-minute drive), L.A. (six-hour flight), San Francisco (six-hour flight). 4. HANALEI, KAUA'I, HAWAII Kaua'i has managed to stay a little more under the radar than other Hawaiian islands, and that's what makes it so appealing. Hanalei, on the North Shore, is as close to magical as a town can get – lush green mountains, fields of taro, and rainbows on a daily basis. The horseshoe-shaped, secluded Hanalei Bay is the best beach for swimming and lounging on the golden sand, but if you want to get out on the water, sign up for one of the four-hour motor-powered raft trips with Na Pali Riders. You'll explore sea caves, go snorkeling, and almost definitely spot dolphins (tours from $149). Afterward, dry off with a hike along the Hanakapi'ai Trail, which follows the stunningly beautiful Na Pali Coast to Hanakapi'ai Beach and back, about four miles altogether. EAT: You can't go to Hawaii without trying a plate lunch: a local specialty that consists of two scoops of rice, macaroni salad, and your choice of protein (often teriyaki chicken or seared ahi). Locals rave about the version served up at the Hanalei Taro & Juice Co., a restaurant owned by a family that's been farming taro in the valley for generations (plate lunch from $10). For straight-from-the-ocean fish, have dinner at The Hanalei Dolphin Sushi Lounge (hanaleidolphin.com). STAY: The four studio apartments at casual Hanalei Inn, just a block from Hanalei Bay, have full kitchens and an outdoor lanai with a grill, so you can save money by cooking meals during your stay. Plus, the picnic table looking out at the mountains is the perfect place to have your morning coffee (from $159). EASY ESCAPE FROM: Honolulu (40-minute flight), L.A. (six-hour flight), San Francisco (six-hour flight). 5. LAGUNA BEACH, CALIFORNIA Done the right way, this SoCal beach town can be surprisingly down-to-earth. After all, some of its first citizens were not glamorous teenagers or housewives but early 20th-century struggling artists such as William Wendt and Lolita Perine. The arts still play a big role here, thanks to the Laguna Art Museum, galleries along the waterfront, and the Laguna Playhouse. Still, the seven miles of classic California coastline are the big draw. Beaches fill up during the summer, but in the winter months they're blissfully crowd-free – especially 1,000 Steps Beach, just off 9th Street (don't let the name scare you; there are actually only 230-something steps leading down to the beach). The waves are perfect for boogie boarding, and the views – golden cliffs and multimillion-dollar houses, some with elevators – are pure SoCal. Post-beach, drive a mile and a half along Laguna Canyon Road to Laguna Canyon Winery, where you can sample award-winning reds and whites in the cozy, low-lit barrel room (tastings from $2, waived with bottle purchase). EAT: As you watch the sun dip below the horizon from Sapphire Laguna’s patio, you’ll understand why they call their happy hour “Sunset Hour.” The menu – a pared-down version of their lunch and dinner offerings – includes a curated selection of wines, beers and specialty cocktails, plus a just-right sampling of snacks and entrées. Beware the house-made potato chips, made with rosemary, sage, and sea salt – they’re so deliciously addictive you could easily order them on a loop, staying long past the actual sunset. During the cooler months, stay warm at a table near the fire pit. (snacks from $4; entrées from $11). STAY: With its Spanish Colonial architecture, lush gardens, and towering palms, Casa Laguna Hotel & Spa is quintessential Southern California. Each of the 23 rooms is unique and lively, designed with Moroccan tiles and bright fabrics. Start the day with the complimentary breakfast, then choose between the heated pool, on-site spa, or the beach, just across the street (from $230). EASY ESCAPE FROM: L.A. (50 miles; about one hour by car), San Diego (73 miles; about 90 minutes by car), Chicago (four-and-a-half-hour flight). 6. GRAND ISLE, LOUISIANA In the winter, the population of this barrier island off Louisiana's Gulf Coast shrinks back down to its 1600 permanent residents from its summer high of 14,000. But temperatures remain warm enough to sunbathe, and you can do so without the crowds. Anglers adore this island thanks to the more than 280 species of fish in the surrounding waters, and many flock to Grand Isle State Park to fish in its calm waters. Those not obsessed with reeling in The Big One head to the beaches. Although the 2010 oil spill closed all beaches on the seven-mile-long island this summer, most stretches of golden sand reopened in August 2018, after an intensive cleanup effort. EAT: Most of the restaurants on Grand Isle specialize in – what else? – fresh fish, particularly catfish and trout. So make like a local and indulge in the fish sandwiches and po'boys at Starfish Restaurant (sandwiches from $5.25). STAY: The old-fashioned, no-frills Cajun Tide Beach Resort sits beachside and caters to anglers with a fish-cleaning room, a screened-in cooking room, and enough barbecue pits for guests to cook up feasts from the day's catch (from $50). EASY ESCAPE FROM: New Orleans (109 miles; about two hours by car), Baton Rouge (160 miles; about three hours by car), Chicago (three-hour flight to New Orleans), Detroit (four-and-a-half-hour flight to New Orleans). 7. SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA San Diego is a small town with big ambitions: the revitalized Gaslamp Quarter, with its shops and restaurants, feels urban, but the crashing waves of the Pacific nearby create a vibe that's classic American beach village. However, the best way to experience it all is to hit the boardwalk. At Pacific Beach, known for its wide stretches of sand and perfect surfing waves, rent a beach cruiser from Cheap Rentals and ride the three-and-a-half-mile stretch to South Mission Beach, passing all manner of local characters along the way: scantily clad in-line skaters, vacationing families, throwback '60s hippies, and even the random guy on a unicycle who always seems to make an appearance (rentals from $6 per hour). EAT: The massive breakfast burrito with eggs, sausage, and fresh avocado at beachside Kono's Surf Club is a San Diego rite of passage – as is the line that snakes out the door and around the corner (breakfast from $3.50). STAY: Beach shacks in the area sound charming...until you see the shag carpet, wood-paneled walls, and sagging mattresses. Tower23 is a welcome departure from the norm, with its modern, glass-box look, neutral-palette rooms filled with teak furniture, and a hip indoor/outdoor restaurant and bar with a view of the ocean (from $229). EASY ESCAPE FROM: LA (120 miles; about two hours by car), Phoenix (one-hour flight), Seattle (two-and-a-half-hour flight). 8. ST. SIMONS ISLAND, GEORGIA One of four islands that make up Georgia's Golden Isles (a collection of barrier islands just off the southeastern coast), St. Simons is known for its centuries-old moss-draped oak trees, historical landmarks, white-sand beaches, and 99 holes of golf. Cars are allowed on the island, but the leisurely pace of life here will make you want to stay away from anything with a motor. Instead, rent a beach-cruiser bike from Ocean Motion Surf Co. and pedal your way past King and Prince Beach, plantations, the lighthouse, and Christ Church, originally built in 1820. The ride covers about 14 miles, and there are plenty of stops to admire the scenery, so allow at least a half day (rentals from $15). EAT: Owned by the same family for 30 years, Crabdaddy’s Seafood Grill prides itself on its passed-down-from-generations recipes and its welcoming we’re-all-friends-here ambiance. With the exception of a few obligatory chicken and steak dishes, virtually everything on the menu is seafood-based. Whatever you choose, be sure to start with an order of shrimp and grits, the house specialty (entrées from $18). STAY: The oak trees on St. Simons are so treasured that the Village Inn & Pub was built around them – not one tree had to be cut down during construction. This place is as charming as it gets: the reception area is a restored 1930s cottage, the English pub is outfitted with a huge stone fireplace, and each of the 28 guest rooms is named for a historical figure with some significance to the island, such as Sid Lanier, a poet, novelist, and composer (from $135). EASY ESCAPE FROM: Savannah (84 miles; about two hours by car), Atlanta (282 miles; about five hours by car), Charleston, S.C. (193 miles; about four hours by car). 9. ORANGE BEACH, ALABAMA Most people don't automatically associate the phrase "beach retreat" with Alabama – but don't tell a local that. Alabamians are adamant that their Gulf Coast beaches are among the most beautiful in the country. The sand is 95 percent quartz, meaning it's snow-white and sparkles in the sun, and the waters are as blue as any you'll find in Florida. Nine-mile Orange Beach has everything you need – warm water, lots of room to spread out your beach blanket, and restaurants just off the sand. Dolphins love the waters around here so much that Dolphin Cruises Aboard the Cold Mil Fleet guarantees sightings (90-minute tours from $20). EAT: Gulf Shores Steamer is a rarity in these parts: a beachside seafood joint that doesn't fry everything in sight. In fact, the folks here don't fry anything. Instead, the fresh fish, shrimp, crabs, and oysters are steamed or grilled—and always delicious (gulfshoressteamer.com, entrées from $15). STAY: The beachfront 346-room Perdido Beach Resort is like a community unto itself, with four restaurants, an indoor/outdoor pool, hot tubs, and tennis courts (from $94). EASY ESCAPE FROM: Mobile, Ala. (54 miles; about 90 minutes by car), Pensacola, Fla. (29 miles; about one hour by car), St. Louis (four-hour flight to Mobile). 10. GALVESTON, TEXAS In this South Texas hotspot, savvy travelers skip crowded East Beach (which gets overrun in March with spring breakers) and head to the more secluded West Beach or Galveston Island State Park. Both have wide expanses of sand that are perfect for trolling for shells or soaking up some sun. Once you're out of the water, the historic Strand district, along Strand Street between 25th and 11th, is worth a stop. Buildings from the 1800s have been restored recently and now house restaurants, antiques stores, and many galleries full of fine art and photography. The town's other big attraction is the Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Indoor Waterpark, which attracts families with its water chutes, speed slides, wave pool, and, for the adults, enormous 30,000-person hot tub with a swim-up bar (from $26). EAT: A few blocks inland from the waterfront is Postoffice Street, where you can get authentic gumbo and a cold brew at Little Daddy’s Gumbo Bar (gumbo from $12), known as the best place to get gumbo on the island, or try the Ceviche Corinto at Latin-influenced Rudy & Paco's (ceviche $17). STAY: Overlooking the wharf, the 42-room Harbor House has an old-school nautical vibe and is less than a 10-minute walk from downtown (from $102). EASY ESCAPE FROM: Houston (53 miles; about one hour by car), Austin (212 miles; about four hours by car), Denver (two-hour flight to Houston), Chicago (three-hour flight to Houston).

    Road Trips

    Driving the Florida Panhandle

    Day 1: Tallahassee to Wakulla Springs Minutes after leaving the Tallahassee airport, my boyfriend, Ted, and I realize we're about to experience a side of Florida quite different from hard-partying Miami and built-up Orlando. This is the South: The airport abuts the Apalachicola National Forest, and the road out is lined by thick pines. The forests are so dense, in fact, that Ted makes uncomfortable jokes about expecting to hear "Dueling Banjos." Wakulla Springs State Park, 15 miles from the airport, has a freshwater spring that's 70 degrees year-round. Over the years, divers have explored the depths--at 185 feet, it's one of the world's deepest--and come back up with, among other things, the skeleton of a mastodon, a prehistoric elephant-like animal, which was found in the 1930s. Meanwhile, fishermen found Old Joe, a 650-pound alligator (shot between the eyes in 1966 and now in a vitrine in the lobby of the Wakulla Springs Lodge). We arrive at 10:30 a.m., just in time for a 40-minute boat tour on the Wakulla River, which runs through the park. Our guide is J.J., a young, handsome guy who loses points when he instructs us to call him Captain Crash. "Don't touch the alligators, because they'll touch back," warns the Captain. Beady eyes blink at us from the water, and touching what's attached to them couldn't be less appealing. On the shore, an anhinga, a black-and-white-feathered waterbird, is standing still, its large wings spread out to dry. Somehow it seems foreboding; the fact that the 1954 horror flick Creature From the Black Lagoon was filmed at Wakulla Springs comes as no surprise. Back onshore, I see a sign reading alligators--swim with caution. A more appropriate sign would say swim elsewhere. We move on to meet some friendlier animals at the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. The 68,000-acre refuge is a protected winter stopover for migratory birds. We pick up a driving guide to the seven-mile Lighthouse Road, and dutifully veer off at each of the seven pullouts to admire marshes and man-made freshwater pools. From start to finish, ours is the only car on the narrow road; the action is confined to cabbage palms swaying on the shoulder. Signs along the road and walking trails list bird species to look out for, as well as relevant historical facts. Among other interesting tidbits, we learn that Native Americans and colonists used the bark of prickly ash trees to soothe tooth-aches, and made tea from wax myrtle as a stomachache remedy. Spring Creek is a small fishing community 13 miles south of Wakulla Springs. Spring Creek Restaurant, owned by the Lovel family, has an attached gallery that displays drawings of flounder and other fish by the son, Clay Lovel. The fried oyster sandwich is plump and delicious, and while eating, Ted and I flip through Spring Creek Chronicles, a two-volume paperback collection of short stories by the father, Leo, describing his "mullet catching, turkey shooting, offshore fishing, and law evading" activities. We're suitably intrigued and ask Leo, who's behind the counter, to elaborate. He tells us it was nothing serious: "Just fishin' with an outlawed net, but I'm still in court for it." The exchange somehow raises more questions than it answers. We join Old Joe, the monstrous gator, at Wakulla Springs Lodge, built in 1937. A family is playing checkers at one of the marble-topped tables in the lobby, which has hand-painted beams on the ceiling. Our room, which faces the springs, is furnished with a comfortable chaise and a four-poster bed. Ted falls asleep within seconds. Not me. I'm haunted by thoughts of what might be lurking outside. Alligators? Creatures from the Black Lagoon? Leo Lovel with an outlawed net? Lodging Wakulla Springs Lodge550 Wakulla Park Dr., Wakulla Springs, 850/926-0700, floridastateparks.org/wakullasprings, from $85 Food Spring Creek Restaurant33 Ben Willis Rd., Crawfordville, 850/926-3751, fried oyster sandwich $7 Activities Wakulla Springs State Park550 Wakulla Park Dr., Wakulla Springs, 850/926-0700, floridastateparks.org/wakullasprings, car fee $4 St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge1255 Lighthouse Rd., St. Marks, 850/925-6121, fws.gov/saintmarks, car fee $4 Day 2: Wakulla Springs to Apalachicola From Wakulla, we head over a five-mile causeway to St. George Island. At first, I'm disappointed--the Panhandle is famous for its 220 miles of sugar-white beaches, but all I see are masses of vacation homes on stilts. On the less-developed east end, there's more of what I'm looking for. The white sand at St. George Island State Park is dazzling, marked only with the tracks of blue herons. A nature trail winds through a pine forest to the bay side of the island. We're spending the night six miles farther west on the mainland in Apalachicola, which has a long history as a hub for the oyster, sponge, cotton, and lumber industries. Today, the warehouses and offices are mostly gone, replaced by restaurants, boutiques, and tourist shops. Despite all that, it feels more like a lovely, slow-paced village than a buzzing town. (Apalachicola got its first stoplight only weeks before we arrived.) A guy standing in front of the chamber of commerce says that if we want a lunch place with character we should head to Indian Pass Raw Bar, 18 miles west in the town of Indian Pass. From outside, the ramshackle, paint-chipped building looks abandoned. Inside, it seems like the whole town has showed up for lunch. There's hardly room at one of the long tables, which are covered with plastic checkered tablecloths. Each table has a roll of paper towels and a box of Saltines; both come in handy when sopping up the spicy seafood gumbo. It's a small bowl, but it's mighty filling. Returning to Apalachicola, we check in at the Gibson Inn. The grand Victorian was built as a hotel in 1907, and our room has an antique four-poster bed and wicker chairs. I'm glad we're not in room 309, where the ghost of a ship's captain is rumored to appear occasionally. We walk around town, looking at all the beautiful Greek Revival and Victorian buildings dating back to the 1830s. The men who made their money in the town's industries built stately homes, some of which have been turned into inns. We're happy to discover Tamara's Café Floridita. The original owner, Tamara Suarez, moved to Apalachicola in 1996 after 10 years as a TV producer in Venezuela. On a vacation, she fell in love with the town's quaintness, and thought--rightly so--that the locals could use a restaurant that served something other than fried fish. She recently sold the restaurant to her daughter and son-in-law, but the menu remains Latin fusion. Ted and I split four tapas (shrimp with garlic, mussels in wine sauce, crab cakes, and prosciutto with fruit). The crab cakes have a real kick, and we use bread to polish off the wine sauce loaded with capers, red peppers, and shallots. We're in heaven, and somehow we still find room for the perfectly tart key lime pie. Back at the Gibson Inn, we have a nightcap of mint juleps while sitting in rocking chairs on the wraparound porch. Lodging Gibson Inn51 Ave. C, Apalachicola, 850/653-2191, gibsoninn.com, from $85 Food Pass Raw Bar8391 C-30A, Indian Pass, 850/227-1670, gumbo $5.25 Tamara's Café Floridita17 Ave. E, Apalachicola, 850/653-4111, shrimp tapas $5.50 Activities St. George Island State Park1900 E. Gulf Beach Dr., St. George Island, 850/927-2111, floridastateparks.org/stgeorgeisland, car fee $5 Day 3: Apalachicola to Ft. Walton Beach Route 98 is the main road tracing the coast, and for 60 miles to the west, there isn't a whole lot to see other than stores selling spring-break souvenirs. We speed past Panama City, with its go-kart joints, video arcades, and body-piercing salons. In Seagrove Beach, we stop at Cocoon's, a deli and take-out market, to pick up tuna sandwiches and marinated artichoke salad. Then it's on to Eden Gardens State Park. Lois Maxon, a wealthy New York publisher, bought the former lumber baron's estate in the early 1960s and spent most of the decade renovating it and planting 11 acres of gardens. The Choctawhatchee River used to be the main artery for lumber barges, and we make a picnic in the park at a table beside the Tucker Bayou, an inlet of Choctawhatchee Bay, where the lumber was loaded and carted by barge up to Alabama and beyond. On a 45-minute house tour, the guide gives us the lowdown on Maxon's impressive antiques, which include the country's second-largest collection of Louis XVI furniture. The Panhandle of Florida is one of the only places in the country with coastal dune lakes. Because the lakes are filled with freshwater in addition to small amounts of salt water, migratory birds depend on them as a water source, as did Native Americans some 10,000 years ago. It begins drizzling just as we start walking down the two-and-a-half-mile Morris Lake nature trail toward one of the lakes at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park. Still, we continue on through the wet sand, and the sound of the ocean gets louder. A shimmering lake appears between the dunes; lily pads are floating on the surface, mist is rising from the water, bass are jumping and flopping. A quick look is all we can manage before we race back to the car, drenched. Later, someone tells us that alligators live there, too, but luckily we didn't cross their path. Food Cocoon's4101 E. Hwy. 30-A, Seagrove Beach, 850/ 231-4544, tuna sandwich $5 Activities Eden Gardens State ParkC.R. 395 off Rte. 98, Point Washington, 850/267-8322, floridastateparks.org/edengardens, car fee $3, mansion tour $3 Topsail Hill Preserve State Park7525 W. Scenic Highway 30A, Santa Rosa Beach, 850/267-8330, floridastateparks.org/topsailhill, car $2 Day 4: Ft. Walton Beach to Tallahassee The rain has finally stopped by the time we wake up, but it's still a cold 50 degrees, which is fairly normal for winter. Clearly, indoor activities are in order. Every region in the country seems to be gunning for the title of the Next Napa these days, and this part of Florida is no different; in fact, there are five wineries on the Panhandle. At Chautauqua Winery in De Funiak Springs, a short video presentation gives the long view on local winemaking, pointing out that the first wines in the New World were made in Florida in 1662. To our delight, the tasting is free, and the Chautauqua goes all out, serving a total of 17 varietals--in small amounts--including chardonnay, merlot, and zinfandel. My favorite happens to be one of the specialties, the wildflower honey muscadine, a dessert wine made from local muscadine grapes. Because it's a chilly day, the tasting ends with a small glass of hot mulled wine with cinnamon and cloves.  With a late flight out of Tallahassee, we've got just enough time to visit Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna, about an hour from the airport. I tend to experience claustrophobia, but ranger Frank Strickland assures me there are no tight squeezes. On the 45-minute tour, Strickland explains how water dripping through the limestone ceiling eventually dissolved the calcium and produced stalactites, stalagmites, and flowstone, a cave formation that resembles a frozen waterfall coating the cavern walls. Some of the especially unusual rock formations we see include a column in the form of a wedding cake and a large blob of flowstone that looks strangely like a pipe organ. It did to me, anyway. Then again, maybe I had a bit too much of that muscadine. Activities Chautauqua Winery364 Hugh Adams Rd., De Funiak Springs, 850/ 892-5887 Florida Caverns State Park3345 Caverns Rd., Marianna, 850/ 482-9598, car fee $4, cave tour $6 Finding your way Pensacola, on the Panhandle's western edge (and served by AirTran), can also work as a starting point for this trip. Note: Hurricane Dennis did some damage to Indian Pass Raw Bar as well as St. George Island State Park. The restaurant will be fixed up by early 2006. However, it's wise to call ahead for updates before visiting the area. A couple of navigational pointers: To drive closest to the beach, take 30A, which veers off Route 98 after Sunnyside; the Chautauqua Winery is at the intersection of exit 85 on I-10 and Route 331, off Business Park Road (it can be tricky to find).

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