To get a good grip on the area that makes up the Florida Panhandle you will need to mark the territory bounded by Alabama and Georgia on the west and north and the Gulf of Mexico to the south. The eastern boundary is different for different people and geographers. Not to get into that debate, one could say that it is approximately 200 miles (320 km) long and about 60 (80 km) to 100 (160 km) miles wide.
The Panhandle is served by the Apalachicola River, the largest in the area. It runs from where the borders of Alabama, Georgia and Florida meet. Flowing south it goes through the town of Apalachicola.
The Panhandle lies to the north and west of the state. It has several really large naval and air force installations including Pensacola Naval Air Station, Eglin and Tyndall Air Force Base. Many thousands of acres of the region are protected by seven aquatic reserves, several state parks and forest authorities.
The combination of state and federal conservation bodies and defence services ensures that the Florida Panhandle area has not gone the way of southern Florida. It has staved off commercial development and preserved the natural beauty and wonders of the area.
The coastline here is washed by the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. There are a large number of quiet and largely unvisited pristine beaches covered with endless stretches of silvery, powdered sand and sea shells. The colour of the water ranges from aquamarine to sapphire to turquoise to sky blue. These strips of sand are the closest you will get to nature and heaven.
Besides the above there are, of course, the highly populated, well-known, commercially ploughed and tourism driven beaches of Pensacola, Port St. Joe, Fort Walton Beach and Panama City Beach.
The towns on the beaches of the Panhandle area have long been the destination of college students on their spring break. It is also mockingly called the Redneck Riviera. The marketing and advertising types, bless their hearts, are now selling the area as the “Emerald Coast.”
Till 1821 the Florida Panhandle was under Spanish rule and Pensacola was the only ‘city’ of the region. While it has been a strongly agrarian culture it has never been a citrus fruit growing region because of the regular wintertime frosts. Tourism is now a major component of the region’s economy.
Unlike many of the other tourism driven areas of Florida, the Panhandle has managed to keep an excellent balance between commercial development and environmental preservation.