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Get to know Panama City Beach

PCB is a tourist destination, and it wants the world to know it. The 9-mile strip of sand is as stellar as any beach in Florida, but the entertainment amenities take it from mere beach town to international beach destination. There are water parks, amusement park rides, and all of those touristy museum-like businesses that are necessary for post-sunburn recovery. There are also lots of high-rise hotels, giant pools, flip-flop specialty stories, frozen drinks, and peel-and-eat shrimp platters. If this sounds perfect, then Panama City Beach is for you. But there’s another side to this town, a side that’s focused on the nearby parks and preserves, that fills fishing charters heading into the bright blue waters, and that brings scuba divers from the world over to explore its reefs and coves — and it’s the one that acts as an overeager evangelist for the miracle that is the Florida beach town.

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Living on the Emerald Coast

If the Northwest Coast of Florida has been overlooked, it’s because it’s just perfectly out of the way. Compared to other parts of the state, the scale of things is smaller and development came later, so the white-sand communities here seem thoughtfully planned rather than hodgepodge legacies of land rushes. Though the feel (and the traffic) is less metropolitan, today’s Northwest has plenty of top-notch culture, exceptional restaurants, and incredible retail experiences. This is a natural wonderland in its own distinct way, with wide rivers flowing through thick forests, vast stretches of preserved parkland, and a variety of beaches — from wild and rugged to picture-perfect strips of white. There’s plenty of golf and tennis, but the focus is on the pristine water and a boating culture that runs from yachts to fishing boats to kayaks, and from deep water to grassy flats to sparkling bays — and to the requisite bayous, teeming with waterfowl and fish. The sand is softer, the summer’s a little cooler, and the reservations are a little easier to come by — but it’s still 100 percent Florida.