Formally known as the “Playground of the Gulfcoast” and later dubbed the “Miracle Strip,” the 100-mile stretch of scenic Highway 98 that features fabulous motels, hotels and nightspots between Pensacola and Panama City is now known most commonly as the “Emerald Coast.” It gets this name from the emerald green waters that lap against its sparkling, sugar-white sand beaches.
The area is a very family-friendly destination and is welcoming to guests and motorcoach groups. Seafood aficionados will find much to like about the area as fishing is both a major recreational sport in the area as well as a full-time job for many locals along the coast. We’ll travel from west to east as we take a look at each of the major tourist spots below.
The westernmost city of the Emerald Coast is Pensacola. This area has a lot of history, as it was one of the first sites that Spanish explorers settled. History buffs will find plenty to take in, but more rowdy tour groups might opt to continue further along the coast.
All groups, however, are sure to enjoy the Pensacola Bay Center for big ticket events. Pensacola is home to several additional theaters for live performances, plays and musicals.
Throughout the Emerald Coast, you’ll find famous airforce bases, and Pensacola is home to the National Naval Aviation Museum which is a great stop for groups that fancy flight.
Destin is the most popular tourist destination on the Emerald Coast and since the 1980s, it has exploded from a small fishing village into a major tourism center entertaining over 4.5 million visitors each year. There is plenty to occupy groups of all sizes here.
The city itself is located on a peninsula with the Gulf of Mexico on one side, and the deep blue waters of the Choctawatchee Bay opposite.
The Emerald Coast is a joy to visit any time of the year, with pleasantly warm weather and sunny skies year-round. Plenty of shopping centers, attractions and restaurants offer entertainment even on rainy days. October is a particularly enjoyably month to visit Destin, as it is host to both the annual Destin Fishing Rodeo and Destin Seafood Festival.
Destin is known as the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village.” In fact, the biggest industries for the coast, aside from fishing, are tourism and hospitality. Be prepared to travel to a wonderfully welcoming area that is no stranger to tour groups! There are dozens of large fishing vessels to charter, and catches include delicious fish and even small sharks.
At the eastern end of the Emerald Coast is the famous Spring Break town of Panama City. Beach-side high rises put the ocean in your backyard and the main tarmac strip will take you past dozens of restaurants and shops selling all manner of kitschy fun-in-the-sun items. Set the group free to roam Pier Park for a shopping and dining excursion. Putter up for minigolf on the local courses or go for speed with parasailing and moped rentals.
In addition to animal theatrics, fans of illusions should stop by Gulf World Marine Park to see the highly-rated Noah Wells presents Maximum Magic. Catch a ride on a dolphin at Water Planet, and get a hole-in-one at Rainforest Black Light Golf & Arcade.
Fans of the Truman Show movie starring Jim Carrey can make a point to stop in the town of Seaside, Florida, as it was the main filming location for the flick.
For tour groups looking for a more solitary escape, Florida’s “Forgotten Coast” follows the Gulf of Mexico shoreline to the east of Panama City into Appilacha Cola and Cape San Blas. Stretching from Mexico Beach to the Apalachee Bay, the area incorporates many coastal communities. The beaches here are immaculate, with fine white sand edging on the waters of abundant marine wildlife. This is a dream destination for oyster and shrimp lovers.
Ride the beach on horseback at sunset with Broke A Toe and stop by Port Saint Joe to witness the restored Cape San Blas Lighthouse that was saved from erosion on the cape and erected at its new location in July of 2014. The Forgotten Coast suits smaller tour groups best, but its beautiful water and beaches are enough to satisfy even the hardest-to-please traveler.
Get started on your Florida escape by getting a group together and checking out the charter bus operators in your area on BusRates.com.