300 miles from Atlanta
What it is: Every spring, Atlanta families flock to these pristine white beaches as surely as birds migrate south in the winter. The rowdier sections have become a rite of passage for Southeastern high school and college students.
What’s to love: Clear, emerald waters and sugar-white sand unite a wide range of communities. There are the Panama City Beach high-rises filled with young families and partying coeds, the quaint New Urbanist communities along Highway 30A, a swanky golf resort at Sandestin, and old-school beach towns like Pensacola.
Insider tip: Take a sweatshirt. The spring weather can turn unexpectedly chilly.
Where to stay: Check out websites like VRBO.com or Homeaway.com to rent a private condo.
Where to eat: Stinky’s Fish Camp in Santa Rosa Beach for raw oysters and fried seafood baskets with hushpuppies.
What to do: Escape the crowds and explore the coastal ecosystem. Forty percent of South Walton County, which has five state parks, is undeveloped. Pack your bike and hiking shoes. You’ve got the summer ahead to work on your tan.
Rainy day activity: Visit Silver Sands Premium Outlets in Destin.
Why I go: “I got to be good friends with the owner of the Flora-Bama Lounge. He would let me stay at his beach house, and I spent a lot of time just sitting on the beach, dreaming and looking at the water and the sky. There’s a chill factor to the whole Panhandle.”—Hit singer Shawn Mullins, whose song “The Gulf of Mexico” is about a waitress at the Flora-Bama near Pensacola, home of April’s infamous annual “Mullet Toss” across the state line
This article originally appeared in our March 2014 issue.