Side trips: Eglin Air Force Museum

The Air Force Armament Museum at Eglin Air Force Base is home to more than 25 different aircraft. The collection ranges from World War II bombers like the B-17 and B-25, an F-15 Eagle, a helicopter gunship and and the he SR-71 Blackbird, the fastest plane ever built.

Most of the planes are arrayed outside the museum building where you can walk up for a close look. Also outside is the MOAB, a 21,000-pound bomb developed prior to the Iraq war and dubbed the Mother Of All Bombs."

Attractions inside the museum include an extensive gun collection with American and foreign firearms. An open training cockpit for the A-10 Warthog is popular with kids and adults.

The museum is located on Highway 85 just past the Fort Walton Beach Airport. It's open from 9:30 - 4:40 except Sundays and federal holidays. Admission is free.

Side trips: Apalachicola

It's a bit of a drive through the endless stoplights of Panama City, across Tyndall Air Force Base and past Mexico Beach and Port St. Joe. But once you reach the old fishing village of Apalachicola, you've reached a quiet respite from the beachside bustle.

You can stroll along the public dock where relics are moored from Apalachicola's past as a booming port for fishing, shrimping and shipping up and down the Apalachicola River.

Streets near the dock are lined with stores that are mercifully short of t-shirts and other tourist dreck. Our favorite stop turned out to be the Tin Shed, which is packed to the gunwales with nautical antiques and leftovers. We also stopped in at John Lee's Retsyo store (that's oyster spelled backwards) on Main Street. John sells antiques and collectibles and he'll tell you stories about the Peter Fonda movie "Ulee's Gold," which was filmed in the town and nearby areas.

And, of course, Apalachicola is home to the finest and freshest oysters on the Panhandle. We took ours at Boss Oyster where outdoor tables offer a sun-drenched view of the river. 

The Lady Louise sites tied to the town's public dock. She won't be taking you for a cruise, but the Maritime Museum a couple blocks down Water Street offers a variety of excursions.

The Grady Market on Water Street, which once supplied the town's large fishing fleet, is typical of the restored old buildings in the area. 
The Tin Shed is packed to the gunwales with nautical antiques and leftovers.

A pirate lady swings from the rafters at the Tin Shed.

Apalachicola's riverfront used to be teeming with shrimp and oyster processing buildings.

The Venezellos is in permanent drydock on a Water Street lot.

Side trips: Longleaf Pine Trail

Faith and I have made a couple of hikes on the Longleaf Pine Geenway Trail in Point Washington State Forest and we both enjoyed every trip.

The eight-mile trail runs east and west through the woods between 30-A and US 98. The trail is clean and well-maintained and also well marked by metal signs and arrows painted on the trees.

There's an nice access point with a shelter and parking lot at Santa Rosa Beach. It's on Satinwood Drive, which meets 30-A near Goatfeathers restaurant. There's a box where you can deposit the $2.00 per person day use fee.

You can also enter the trail at marked crossings on County Roads 83 at Blue Mountain Beach, CR 283 at Grayton Beach and CR 396 north of Seaside. Here's a Google map and a ink to a PDF map that shows the Longleaf and Eastern Lake trails.

In addition to hikers and their occasional canine companion, the trail is also a favorite for off-road cyclists and horse riders.

Side trips: Topsail Hill State Park

Topsail Hill Preserve State Park is located about three miles west of Full Abalone. The entrance is on 30-A near the intersection with US98.

The park has camping facilities for tents and RVs, but it also has a wide variety of natural resources, including 3.2 miles of some of the most secluded beaches in the area with dunes more than 25 feet tall. Three rare coastal dune lakes provide excellent freshwater fishing and canoes and kayaks are available for rent.

The park also has furnished bungalows for weekly stays and a camp store.

Side Trips: Eden Gardens

Eden Gardens is a Florida state park that is  only a few miles from Santa Rosa Beach north of Highway 98 on County Road 395. It's also a step back into Florida's past to the days of hoop skirts and juleps on the veranda.

The centerpiece of the park is the Wesley Mansion, a beautifully-restored two-story mansion built by lumber baron William Henry Wesley in 1897. The property was acquired in 1963 by Lois Maxon who later developed the ornamental gardens on the grounds and later donated the house and land to the state.

The park has walking paths and a picnic area on the banks of a tributary that connects to Choctawhatchee Bay. There's also a small gift shop in the house. It's a favorite spot for weddings and celebrations.