PENSACOLA, Fla. -- The gleaming white sand beaches and turquoise waters of Florida's Panhandle draw millions of visitors each year, but this area isn't known for glitz, glamour and high-end hotspots like some of Florida's other beaches. Instead, the Panhandle offers a laid-back vibe, Southern hospitality and family atmosphere. The region caters to budget-conscious travelers who often drive from nearby Southern cities like Atlanta, Birmingham or New Orleans.
Hotel and restaurant costs climb during the peak summer months, but even the priciest Panhandle resorts are generally less expensive than Miami Beach, Naples or the Florida Keys. And the Panhandle offers many opportunities for great memories visiting local attractions that cost nothing at all.
From Pensacola in the western Panhandle to Apalachicola in the east, you'll find more than 200 miles (about 320 kilometers) of relatively undeveloped beaches. Walk the sand in the early morning or late day to glimpse a spectacular sunrise or sunset over the Gulf of Mexico. Because the beaches don't get lots of traffic – except for a few towns that draw college spring breakers in March – shell seekers often make unique finds such as small conch shells and sand dollars. Beachgoers often glimpse pods of dolphins frolicking in the distance and schools of stingrays gliding just offshore.
During the busiest months, some beaches offer free outdoor concerts. Pensacola Beach offers live music every Tuesday night from April to October, . http://visitpensacolabeach.com/what/bands.php
NATIONAL NAVAL AVIATION MUSEUM
WENTWORTH MUSEUM AND HISTORIC PENSACOLA
For a look inside the historic homes in Historic Pensacola Village, you can take a tour for $6. The University of West Florida Archaeology department often conducts digs in the area and visitors can get a close-up look at a dig in progress.
THE DESTIN DOCKS
The sign welcoming visitors to the well-known Panhandle resort city of Destin calls Destin "The World's Luckiest Fishing Village." The sign is an homage to a time when the area was known for its fine snapper fishing and shrimping rather than high-rise condos, but fishing remains a huge part of local culture. Destin has a large charter boat fleet and visitors can spend hundreds or thousands of dollars searching for marlin and mahi on a deep-sea fishing expedition. For visitors who don't have their sea legs or who don't want to spend serious money trying their luck at offshore fishing, Destin's fishing docks still offer an entertaining stroll. Fishermen unload and clean their catch and display the fish for passers-by to view, and the large grouper, snapper and other fish are usually an impressive sight.
Harborwalk Village and the Emerald Grand resort – _ located on the west end of Destin, have a variety of seasonal events year-round and make a fun place for visitors to stroll before or after checking out the day's catch. http://www.emeraldgrande.com/harborwalk-village.aspx