April 2, 2008 Edition

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Frankly speaking . . .

A trip to Panama City Beach, Fla., revealed that it is more historic than some other areas of the Florida panhandle we have visited, such as Destin. Panama City Beach, as we expected, is also a primary destination for college students on spring break, whereas Destin seems to attract mostly families.

Our first 30 or 45 minutes in PCB was probably the wildest of our stay. It was a Saturday, and spring breakers were cruising Beach Front Road, and the bumper-to-bumper traffic just barely moved.

Later, we would learn to take the middle or back road to make better time. However, after that one experience, the traffic never seemed to be as congested. We thought that possibly it was just an overlapping of the spring breakers or the end of a busier week.

******

A man named Gideon Thomas is credited with seeing the potential of Panama City Beach as a place to attract tourists. According to plaques, at Pineapple Willy's, a beachfront eatery, in the early 1930s, land was primarily valued for what it could produce. Others saw the white sands as of little use, since they were not suited for food crops.

However, Thomas believed the area could grow people. He was one of the first to visualize the area as a mecca for tourists. He realized his dream, and others built on that dream. In 1953 state officials commemorated his contributions to Panama City Beach naming a street Thomas Drive.

Panama City Beach was once four separate communities ? West Panama City Beach, Panama City Beach, Edgewater Beach and Long Beach ? I believe. These communities voted a few decades ago to consolidate. The city of Panama City is across the bay from Panama City Beach.

In 1995 hurricane Opal devastated Panama City Beach. However, the storm also brought positive things for the city, as older buildings were modernized and new structures built.

******

It is interesting to note what people do at the beach. It is a great place for long walks and shell hunting or a great place for sitting under an umbrella and doing little or nothing.

Of course, it is a treat to gaze out at the blue and green ocean waters of the Gulf or watch the people and all the activity on the beach. Some like to read or nap, while others are more active. Beach volleyball is popular with many, while others try to surf on boogie boards, ride jet skies or parasail.

Sandcastles, sand art and hole digging is also popular. We chose the latter and spent part of two days digging. Our hole ended up being big enough for four or five kids and was five feet or more deep. It's hard to dig deeper once you hit water. To enter our hole, we dug a gradual descending slope. We also built a low sand wall around it for safety.

People asked why we dug, and there was no real reason other than the challenge of doing it. We had fun joking about digging to China and taking orders for Chinese carryout. Other kids came and enjoyed playing in the hole, and we noticed others carrying on the project a day or two later.

******

There were many good restaurants in the area and many of the usual activities, such as miniature golf, go-cart racing and water parks. One diversion we enjoyed was a boat ride and visit to Shell Island. Our captain and crew encouraged the children to feed the seagulls and gave us close-up views of dolphins along the way. While Shell Island did not have as many shells as the name might imply, we did find it to be a beautiful area that remains in a natural, almost-undisturbed state.

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