I was trying to remember the book I read that originally introduced me to the term the “Redneck Riviera” to describe the beach areas of Florida’s panhandle. It was a long time ago. I remember it was a detective series and it took place in the Destin area, when Destin was just a sleepy little beach town that no one went to, and a beach bum private eye could fish and drink in peace. I don’t hear the term too much anymore. There was an effort a few years ago to do a Jersey Shore-like reality show based in the Panhandle called Redneck Riviera, but I guess it it never went anywhere. Probably too politically incorrect.
I love a beautiful beach. I grew up around beaches on Long Island, have always lived near a beach and will probably die near a beach. This author’s description of miles of sugary white sand has always stuck in my mind, so, since we were driving west anyway, why not stop and feel that sand between my toes. It is a pretty drive west on Highway 98, along the Gulf coast through Mexico City, Panacea, and Apalachicola (They have a great seafood festival in the Fall and the best oysters, but that needs a separate Diary entry.) Then we arrived in Panama City and Panama City Beach. They are over developed, crowded with condos, tee shirt shops and fast food restaurants, and not very attractive at all. But we were here in the Panhandle to explore Destin and find those long white beaches. On we drove, glad we weren’t staying in this area.
We stayed in Peach Creek RV, just before Destin. It only has 14 sites, and was so small we couldn’t see it from the road and had to detour back to find it. Finding a spot to make a U-turn in an RV towing a car is always a challenge. Fortunately we came across a small shopping center and were soon on our way back. Our host, Helen, grew up in the area and helped out with a map and lots of chatter about how much the area has changed. We ate at the Red Door, a restaurant in Grayton Beach we had read about in the St Petersburg Times. It had good crab cakes, live music and a local flavor. The beach was nearby. It was a moonless night and we couldn’t see it, but I could hear it, and smell it. So far so good.
After a lazy Sunday morning we head for Destin and unfortunately, like Panama City, it is way too developed for our taste. We could not see the Gulf or the beaches as we drove along the shore road. We finally stumbled upon a public beach area and walked the white, sugary sands we had heard so much about, but it was a small oasis in a canyon of condos. Disappointed we returned to the RV and commiserated with our host Helen about the bane of economic development. She recommended we try a local beach in Seagrove. We packed up some drinks and head out to at least watch the sunset.
Thank goodness for Helen. This was a much nicer, low-key spot with small shops and lower profile homes and townhouses instead of highrises. The beach was perfect. Separated from the developed areas by dunes and berms it stretched, isolated and uncrowded, for miles. I could almost see that detective sitting in his beach chair, beer in hand, rod in the water, watching the sunset. We sat next to him and did the same, a perfect end our stay in the “Redneck Riviera.”