Franklin County’s attractions highlight its natural beauty, such as the Apalachicola National Forest (picture above) and the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve, complete with fish tanks and interactive displays.
A longtime ago, a Liberty County resident named E.E. Callaway claimed he had found the Garden of Eden in Liberty County. Maybe, maybe not. But the county does have a part of paradise in its share of the Apalachicola National Forest. It also has the Veterans Memorial Railroad’s three historic trains—one of them with a coal-fired steam engine. And at the Panhandle Pioneer Settlement, in neighboring Calhoun County, the way it was, is the way it is.
No visit to Northwest Florida should end without a horseback ride on the beach, particularly in dream-like spots such as Cape San Blas. If you prefer your water inland (with oars or on a tour boat), head for the Dead Lakes, a unique ecosystem that’s part-swamp, part-river, part-lake, and all pristine wilderness.
In Panama City Beach, the Man in the Sea Museum covers the history of diving and the Navy’s “Man in the Sea Program,” which showcases SEALAB I, the Navy’s first-ever underwater habitat.
Panama City, too, lives on the water. Ashley Gorman Shell Island Cruises take you out to snorkel with the dolphins. And the Betsy Ann Riverboat, one of America’s last remaining sternwheel paddlers, will take you for a trip back in time with a crew in period costumes and themed dinners such as Murder Mystery and Live Blues.
The Beaches of South Walton have family fun spots like the Seacrest Wolf Preserve, where you can interact not only with wolves, but also with foxes, raccoons, skunks and Pecos the Coyote. At the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center, there’s a working beehive, a birdwatching station, a rescued snapping turtle, and several species of snakes and frogs.
The Destin/Fort Walton Beach/Okaloosa Island area, also known as the Emerald Coast, offers attractions such as the Gulfarium, where you can frolic in the water with rays and dolphins. If your kids love dinosaurs, head for Wild Willy’s Adventure Zone, with mini-golf, hamster ball pool, a trampoline, 30-foot rock-climbingwall, laser maze, arcade, incredible 4-D movie theater, and, yes, dinosaurs.
Santa Rosa County’s Gulf Breeze Zoo showcases over 50 acres of animals from around the world, and the Navarre Beach Marine Science Station combines hands-on learning and entertainment.
Historical Pensacola Village is the site of the original Spanish and British forts in a city over which five flags have flown. In the Pensacola Lighthouse, built in 1859, climb the 177 steps for a dramatic panoramic view of the Gulf coast.