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Northern Gulf Coast
The Mississippi Gulf Coast is known as the southeast’s gaming coast with nearly a dozen casino resorts bringing visitors from nearby states and around the country.
An area steeped in history and southern culture, the transformation from a sleepy seaside community to world class destination is the goal of area tourism leaders.
Snowbirds flock to the casinos in the winter, many by bus or personal car and a growing number by air.
2009 marked the 450th birthday for Pensacola and the area celebrated with a year-long event highlighted by a visit from the King and Queen of Spain.
Known as the “City of Five Flags”, Pensacola and its surrounding communities each have their own personalities.
The west side of town is home to the cradle of Naval Aviation – Naval Air Station Pensacola. On base you can explore the area’s deep history at the National Museum of Naval Aviation.
Many of the area’s retirees first discovered the area during officer’s training early in their careers and they never forgot the sugar white beaches and the community that helped shape their lives.
Some 20 years ago the 50-mile stretch between Destin and Panama City Beach was little more than sparsely populated beach communities surrounded by scrub pine.
Today, world-class communities dot the landscape spurred by the New Urban development called Seaside, familiar to moviegoers as the location of The Truman Show.
Long time visitors to the Alabama Gulf Coast will tell you that the area changed dramatically after Hurricane Frederic hit in the late 1970s.
Before that the area boasted mostly beach homes on spacious lots and mom and pop hotels with a few townhomes and condominiums scattered through Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.
Don’t let Destin’s moniker coined decades ago “The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village” fool you.
This gem of a community is still a lucky place to sport fish, but today is anything but little.
A popular summer tourist destination from nearby surrounding states, the area returns to a small community in the winter and rentals are a bargain compared to the southern part of the state.
Panama City Beach has undergone an incredible transformation in the past few years.
Yes, come Spring Break in mid March through Easter, the hordes of college students still make the trek to the destination made famous by MTV.
But before then as early as October the Snowbirds begin arriving enmasse.
The area is particularly popular with Canadians who in winters past rented rooms at the dozens of mom and pop hotels with kitchenettes.
Where: East of Panama City and south of Tallahassee
Getting there: Take Hwy. 98 east to Florida 30A. If traveling I-10, take U.S. 231 exit 130 south to Hwy. 98.
Details: www.visitgulf.com or 800-482-GULF
By Karen Harrell
Years ago if you mentioned the northern Gulf Coast, many people would recognize cities such as Pensacola, Mobile or Panama City, but few knew of areas such as the “Forgotten Coast.”
Although they likely tasted Apalachicola’s juicy and plump oysters in restaurants throughout the country, a long stretch of beach communities east of Panama City remained nearly anonymous.
Today the moniker, Forgotten Coast, has piqued the interest of many who fondly remember small quiet beach communities that today have been developed and sometimes overdeveloped.
Getting to the Forgotten Coast using the coastal route is a slow but scenic drive.
We took Hwy. 98 on a day trip from Panama City through Tyndall Air Force Base. We wished we had time for an overnight stay to allow time to explore the many communities that seemed to almost blend into each other.
Even the names of some of the communities are intriguing … Mexico Beach … Alligator Point … Port St. Joe … St. Vincent Island … Cape San Blas. On your visit you’ll also note small billboards advertising “Oyster Radio 100.5” which put a smile on our faces.
The area has been home to loyal Snowbirds for years, many of whom bring their RVs to small and simple campgrounds dotted along the coast. Here also are many small motels, simple beach homes and smaller and older condominium developments also rented by winter visitors by the month.
Seafood restaurants are housed in old-style seaside buildings and souvenir stores are small with a yesteryear feel. You are more likely to see small antique stores, flea markets and country gas stations (even though many have brand affiliations) than fancy high-end retailers.
One of the best-known attractions is the fanciful and welcoming Gibson Inn, located in downtown Apalachicola. The inn is a community hub hosting large events such as weddings and ever-popular murder mystery weekends. Overnight and day guests can enjoy a tasty home-cooked meal or a relaxing cocktail at the inn’s restaurant and bar and then “set a spell” in one of the many rockers on the deep wrap-around front porch.
The area’s largest employer for many years was the St. Joe Paper Mill and before that the ports with ships hauling cotton up the Apalachicola River brought prosperity to the area.
But once those two entities left, the area was largely left alone.
The Forgotten Coast today attracts tourists who love the small and homey feel. Many will admonish you not to tell too many people about the region.
They don’t really want it to be “found.”