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Panama City Beach

Going to the Beach

April 2005

 

One of my favorite rides is to leave Albany in the morning and arrive in Panama City Beach that evening.  I like to find different ways of going to the beach, but one of my all time favorite rides is chronicled below.

 

I leave Albany around 9:00 am heading south on highway 91.  This route takes me through many of the larger plantations in the area.  Nelson Tift was the founder of Albany and his plantation is one of the first I pass.  It is The Oaks and is located on the East side of the highway.

 

Next comes Nilo Plantation owned by Olin Corporation (Olin spelled backwards).  This plantation is about 10,000 acres, and is used by the executives and their guests for hunting.  I am also passing Wildfair Plantation on the left. 

 

About halfway between Newton and Albany is the Red Store Crossroads. At one time there was an old time country store located here.  Over time it became a Bar-b-que place and now it is closed.  If you were to turn right onto the dirt road and follow it to the dead end, you will be at Pinebloom Plantation, which is owned by U S Steel.  They have the only airstrip in the area that is paved and can handle small jets.  We used to use the runway as a practice target when I was learning to fly back in the late 60ís.  By practice target, we would stay at altitude, but practice lining up with the runway.

 

At the Red Store crossroads, there used to be a Honky-Tonk named the Plantation Club.  It was a really rocking place every Friday and Saturday night, and in my younger days I used to go out there.  It was owned by the local sheriff, and I always remember the night he came by our table and asked if anyone was under 21.  It just so happened that the GBI had parked themselves at the front door checking and was checking licenses.  Well, everyone at our table was under 21.   He directed us to a back door, and we managed to get away without being caught.  He was rather pissed off that the GBI would mess with his place.

 

Where the old Plantation Club once stood is a two story house.  No is living in the house nor has anyone lived in the house since it was built.  It has always been rumored that the house was built as a house of ill-repute, and that the law enforcement people found out about it before it had a chance to open.

 

After passing this area, you will be surrounded on both sides of the road with Pineland Plantation.  It is owned by the Mellon brothers, Mellon Bank and many other businesses.  The two of them use the plantation as a getaway.  It is the largest plantation in the area.  I do not remember how many acres they have, but it is over 20,000.  You will also pass a bunch of catfish ponds on the right just before arriving in Newton.  They commercially raise catfish here.

 

Newton is quaint little town with a real scandalous past.  It was run with an iron hand by a powerful sheriff.  At one time the only way to get from Newton to Camilla was by crossing the river on a single lane bridge.  The bridge is long gone, and the major downtown area is all but closed up, because of the yearly flooding.  If you get a chance to ride downtown and see the old courthouse, look at the building and know that the water from the Flint River has been as high as the second floor of the building.

 

Out of Newton and staying south on highway 91 you will be passing all kinds of farmland and crops.  The next bridge you come to is over the Itchaway-Notchaway Creek.  The land on both sides of the road once belonged to Robert Woodruff, the owner of Coca-Cola, and was called Itchaway Plantation.  When Woodruff died, he gave it to the Joseph P. Jones Ecological Center, who is the current owner.

 

Just a couple of miles later, I turn east on highway 253 which takes me to Bainbridge.  This road follows the Flint River on the west side.  Bainbridge is where I will cross the Flint River.

 

I take highway 97 from Bainbridge to Chattahoochee, where I enter Florida.  I came this way because we have just gotten over some major flooding in Albany, and all of this water along with the Chattahoochee River flows into Lake Seminole.  The dam for the lake is located just east of Chattahoochee and I wanted to see the dam with all of the flood gates open.  I rode east on highway 90 for a couple of miles and wow at the amount of water coming out of the dam.  Everything is covered in water below the dam.

 

I come back to Chattahoochee and turn south on highway 269.  I donít really remember which roads I take from here, but they end up at highway 20 where I turn east and arrive at my first gas stop in Hosford Florida.

 

They do not have pay at the pump at this station, so I have to go inside to pay for my gas.  Wow the smell of fried chicken, French fries, tater logs and other deep fried delights is almost overwhelming.  I am a real sucker for fried chicken, and this was sensory overload.  I had to get in a line that was about 8 people long, and it was almost torture waiting to pay for my gas.  More than once I almost got out of line and went to the back of the line to order some of that chicken.  I managed to keep my taste buds in check, but it was hard.

 

I left Hosford on highway 65, and for more than five miles, I almost turned back to get some of that great smelling food.  My saving grace was that I wanted to stop at a little place outside of Carrabelle.  A few miles outside of Hosford I make a turn onto highway 67.

 

Highway 67 is a desolate stretch of road with almost nothing but trees.  If you look at the road on a map, it doesnít look like much, but it is a great motorcycle road.  It goes through the Apalachicola National Forrest and there is very little traffic.  The last time I took this road, they were working on it, widening it and paving it.  Now the pavement is brand new and construction work is finished.  My GL1800 is rearing to go, so I let her out a little to stretch her legs.  Before I know it, she has the bit in her teeth and we are cruising along at 80 mph.  At eighty miles per hour, she is barely breathing hard and she handles like a dream.  I hold that speed for most of the trip to highway 98.  I made one stop to take some pictures of flowers along 65.  Alright they werenít really flowers, they were only weeds, but they had very pretty purple flowers.

 

Arriving at highway 98, I turn west for the trip to Panama City Beach.  Carrabelle comes into view in just a few short miles.  I am really getting hungry, and have two places in mind.  Either Hog Wild Bar-b-que or the Pit Stop.  As I pass Hog Wild, the parking lot is full, so I decide to go on to Pit Stop.

 

The Pit Stop, the first time I found it, was a bait shop with a little counter at the back that served local seafood.  There was an open metal box that was filled with ice and beer.  You helped yourself to the beer and placed an order with the girl behind the counter for the food you want.  My favorite was fried grouper and fries with a cold Miller Lite.  The girl would go to a walk in cooler, come back with some grouper fillets.  She would bread them lightly with flour and seasoning and fry them along with some fresh fries.  This was then served to you with homemade cocktail and horseradish sauce.  You just canít get any fresher than that.  You continued to get your own beer from the cooler.  When you were finished, you just went to the front counter and told them what you had.  I met a lot of local people here through the years and enjoyed many conversations with them.  This was a taste delight that has stuck with me for a lot of years and I continue to stop here almost every time I pass by.

 

Last year, or maybe the year before, they became a sit down restaurant.  I think part of the quaint atmosphere was lost, but the food was still good.  This year when I stopped in, I ordered the special, which was shrimp, fries, and hushpuppies.  Of course the Miller Lite is still ice cold, which makes the meal all the better.

 

I talked with a guy at the next table.  He specializes in helping hard to place people find jobs.  I am not real certain whether he worked for the state or local government.  He was telling me about a senseless killing of a Police Officer in Panama City Beach.  He was shot while making what should have been a routine traffic stop.  We talked about motorcycles and I gave him one of my cards with my website on it.  Maybe he will come back to the site later and read about himself.

 

A few miles down the road, I turn south and ride over the new bridge to Saint George Island.  It is hard to believe the number of houses that are being built here.  One of these days a hurricane is going to hit this area and we the tax payers will have to bail out the homeowners in the form of government backed flood insurance.  I donít believe anyone should build on the coast unless he is willing to self insure the property against hurricanes.

 

Coming back across the bridge I notice that the all of the water is stained dark brown from all of the silt coming from the flooded Apalachicola River that empties into the gulf here.  Back across the bridge and heading west again.

 

What used to be sleepy little fishing villages are now starting to turn into condo cities.  As the larger cities fill up, places like Port St. Joe and Mexico Beach begin to take the overflow.  There was a time when the only thing Port St. Joe was known for was the large stinking paper mill that has since been torn down.   I remember going to Cape San Blas when there was nothing on the peninsular except St Joe State Park at the end of the peninsula.  Now there are beach cottages everywhere.

 

For a good look at the area around Cape San Blas take highway 30 instead of highway 98 and then turn onto 30E for a ride to the end of St Joe Peninsula.  This is a very relaxing ride with the Gulf on one side and St Joe Bay on the other.  The bad part of this ride is that there is only one way out.  You have to turn around and backtrack.

 

There is a lot of history in the coastal community of Port St Joe.  If you have the time, stop and visit for a while.

 

Apalachicola is still a small fishing community.  They are well known for their oysters.  Everywhere you go in the panhandle, they advertise fresh Apalachicola oysters.  Now with modern refrigeration, the old tale about not eating oysters in months without rís in them is a thing of the past.  They have done a good job of making the downtown area a great tourist destination with shops and restaurants.  There is a lot to see and do here.  One great stop is the Museum dedicated to the doctor who discovered how to make ice.  If you get a chance to come here, there are more places to eat than Carter has Liver Pills.

 

Mexico Beach has always been a quiet beach community.  A few houses along the beach and a few motels used to dot the beach.  We used to camp there in the early 70ís, and if you wanted to go out to eat, you just about had to go to Panama City.  There was very little to do in Mexico Beach.  A few years ago, Wilson Holloway (my local Honda Dealer and friend), told me about a place in Mexico Beach called Half Shells Steam Bar and Seafood Market (www.halfshells.com).  They sell seafood, and also will steam it right on the spot for you.  They have tables and chairs for you to sit and eat.   I have been there twice, and have not been disappointed either time.

 

The last part of this ride is through Tyndal Air Force Base.  It is a very boring ride with very little to see unless the planes are flying.  Once in a while you are treated to a barrage of fighter jets taking off and landing.

 

Once you arrive in Panama City, the real drudgery starts.  Traffic is bad, and it seems I always end up here around rush hour.  There is no good way to bypass the city and end up at the beach without a 35 mile detour. 

 

The one saving grace to this part of the ride is finally arriving at the new Hathaway Bridge and entering the beach area.  The old Hathaway Bridge was blown up in 2004.  If you would like to see a video of that, go to Fun Time Page and look at Hathaway.  I love to ride straight down highway 98 or Front Beach Road as it is known there.  If you havenít been in a while, you will be surprised at the amount of construction going on there.  There are at least 20 high rise condominiums being built along the beach.  Not on Thomas Drive, but on Front Beach Road.

 

The old Miracle Strip Park, with it rides and arcades, has finally given in to Condos.  The Starliner Roller Coaster was bought by Wild Adventures and is being moved to Cypress Gardens.  All of the other rides are destined to move to new homes, and then up go the high rise condominiums. The face of the beach is changing.  I wonder where all of the new people are going to come from to fill these rooms.

 

There is a stretch of Front Beach Road where it first meets the beach where all of the old motels were.  If you are old enough to remember the ďHang OutĒ, you are probably ready for retirement.  This area of the beach has always been known locally as the ďRedneck RivieraĒ.  This was where all of the cheap motels were located.  Now they are all gone, replaced with condos and parking garages.  Condos on the beach side, and since there is not enough room on that side of the street, the parking garages are located across the street with elevated walkways across the road.  Sometimes the parking garages are as spectacular as the condos.

 

All too soon I am on the west end of the beach and my ride is coming to an end.  I have a condo in Southwind Condominium Complex, which is located about a mile west of highway 79.  This intersection of 79 and Front Beach Road used to be known as the Y.

 

After 300 miles and very enjoyable day, I am ready to prop my feet up and relax.  It is around 4:00 pm local time.  There is plenty of time for a short nap, and then bring on the night life of Panama City Beach.  I donít know about the rest of you, but the Night Life of Panama City Beach to me is a couple of Miller Lites, maybe cooking a meal at the condo, and sitting with my feet propped up in front of the TV.  Yeah, I could do this at home, but golly look at the great ride I had.

 

Stay tuned to hear about the ride home. 

 

P S   We are remodeling our two one bedroom condominiums (they sleep 6 people).  They will have new tile, new cabinets, new furniture, and new appliances.  If you are in the market for a place to rent, contact Stephenís and Associates at 1-800-476-0244.  When you talk to them, tell them you want to rent one of The Hinmanís condo.  I promise that there is no other condo in the complex that is any nicer than my two.

 
 
 
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