The roughly 200-mile belt known as the Florida Panhandle has been lauded as a top vacation destination for its gorgeous beaches, yet its rural qualities have always hindered its image as a luxury escape. In recent years, however, Florida’s northwestern cities have drawn much-deserved positive attention; Tallahassee, for instance, is coming into its own as a hip city, shedding its reputation as just a blasé university or government town.
Miles from Palm Beach: 414 (Tallahassee), 525 (Panama City Beach), 537 (Rosemary Beach)
Why go: Panhandle cities are hidden gems of exquisite homes, sleepy fishing villages, national parks, oyster shacks and funky beach towns.
Try this: Based in Panama City Beach, Island Time Sailing takes visitors on a catamaran cruise around Shell Island and then snorkeling with Atlantic bottlenose dolphins.
Where to sleep: The suites at Tallahassee’s Hotel Duval boast varnished tree-trunk stools, oversized rain showers and a digital in-room concierge. The Panhandle’s first true luxury hotel, Rosemary Beach’s 55-room boutique hotel The Pearl (thepearlrb.com), is also the first in the country to feature Apple TV in guestrooms.
For foodies: Indulge in the seafood dishes and raw bar at the iconic Boatyard (above), an 11-year-old institution relocating this summer to a larger home on Grand Lagoon at Treasure Island Marina. Firefly in Panama City Beach (below) uses a 1,800-degree broiler to produce top-notch cuisine in a seductive ambiance. In Tallahassee’s emerging Midtown district, the New Orleans-inspired resto-lounge Wine Loft matches handpicked wine selections with succulent small bites.
Top attractions: Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park (above), where some of the original Tarzan films were shot, houses miles of protected forest, the largest and deepest freshwater spring in the world and diverse wildlife including turtles, birds and deer. In Tallahassee, the Goodwood Museum and Gardens (below) still operates as a working plantation and is open to detailed tours.