The first thing that struck me when visiting Panama City Beach, Florida, was the Waffle House sign directly across from our hotel.
I had no desire to eat there, nor at any of the many other Waffle Houses in the area. OK, I'm lying if I deny my curiosity about the Pecan Waffles and the Pork Chops & Eggs. Instead, we ate breakfast at the in-house restaurant each morning, and the ready availability of bacon, sausages and mini pancakes was terrific.
One place I wish I had eaten was Thomas' Donut and Snack Shop, which has been around since 1971. I believe a key lime creme-filled donut or a smoked sausage and cheese kolach would've felt just right.
If I'd visited Panama City Beach by myself, instead of with my wife and kids, I might have stayed at this place, which has been around for more than 40 years.
When it was built I bet the Fontainebleau was really chic. The hotel's web site mentions that its "rich history" includes "numerous celebrity visits," but let's face it, that list could include Joey Heatherton or John Davidson. Nowadays on TripAdvisor people complain that the front desk is unstaffed and that there is "MOLD! MOLD! MOLD!" As I drove past the Fontainebleau, I saw the shot I wanted: a guy in a white t-shirt standing on a balcony, probably smoking a cigarette, under that great big sign. I missed it, though.
To be fair, some folks on TripAdvisor reported having a fine time.
I wish I'd brought my copy of the Magna Carta with me, so I could've visited one of PCB's numerous pawn shops. Coulda scored me some guns, jewelry or coins.
There were almost as many drive-through liquor stores as there were pawn shops. There's a reason Panama City Beach is considered a crucial component of the so-called Redneck Riviera along the Gulf Coast.
While the halcyon days of old-school amusement parks are long gone, there are plenty of newfangled entertainment options. Such as the Vomatron.
And if you need a t-shirt to clean up your puke, or simply want to watch an alligator being fed, drop by Moby Dick's.
Check out Big Willy's Swimwear or the Jaws souvenir shop.
For those of you who like a little turf with your surf, make sure to say hi to Big Gus before you strap on the feedbag at Angelo's Steak Pit.
There are so many blinged-out mega-hotels and condos along the beautiful white-sand beaches here, that when you're on the water looking toward the shore, it's brighter than Flavor Flav flashing his grille at high noon.
Seriously, though, the days of the modest motel in PCB are numbered. There are a few still standing, although Inn Paradise seems likely to be torn down soon.
The simply titled and quaintly situated Beach Motel seems to be doing OK.
A few doors down from the Holiday Inn Resort, where we stayed, stands the Bikini Beach Resort.
Somewhere between a motel and a hotel, this place features Bikini Dave's Tiki Bar. Now you're paying attention, aren't you?
Our hotel was really nice. We enjoyed the oversized hot tub a few times, and took a few walks on the beach. In looking through a pamphlet about area attractions, I saw mention of "historic St. Andrew's" in Panama City, which is a distinct entity from PCB. I convinced Beth and the kids to make the 20-minute drive across the Hathaway Bridge over North Bay, and check out this funky little neighborhood.
We ate lunch at the Shrimp Boat, a spot picked out by my son, Owen. It was a really great restaurant right on the water, with delicious soups and sandwiches, and an incredible chocolate cake we split four ways. As we drove into St. Andrew's and back out toward our hotel, I made note of several places I wanted to return to so I could snap photos.
The first picture I took upon my return early the next morning was this beast, which hangs right outside the Shrimp Boat. None of us noticed it when we were there for lunch.
This is a pretty good ad for the several charter fishing boats docked here.
Diagonally across from the Shrimp Boat is this old motel.
After seeing so many vacant lots along the beach that obviously used to feature motels, I got bummed when I saw this place. A sign on the front of the building says, "Cabana Courtyard Mall Coming Soon!" After doing some research into the place, I found out that the owner of the Shrimp Boat is redeveloping this property and will save at least some of the old motel.
St. Andrew's has become a hot spot for funky shops and restaurants lately, from what I understand. I wonder how much longer this topless bar will last?
A sign on the door lets patrons know that t-shirts are available. Obviously, these are not offered to the dancers.
I love this building. The members of this lodge might control the U.S. government, worship the devil or be in league with the Illuminati, but at least they have style.
This is the first museum I've ever seen dedicated to small-town publishing.
Beth spied this cool old sign on the road into St. Andrew's.
The little guy holding the "COAST TO COAST" sign is Speedee, the first McDonald's mascot. He was phased out in 1967 in favor of Ronald McDonald. Somewhere in there, according to various online sources, there was a character named Donald McDonald, who was portrayed by Willard Scott. Yes, that Willard Scott. Here's a commercial to prove it:
See, and you thought you were just coming here to look at some pretty pictures of the Gulf Coast. Didn't think you were gonna get a history lesson on fast-food mascots, did you?
I posted the above photo on a Facebook group, and a guy there who knows his stuff indicated that the muckety mucks at McDonald's didn't intend for restaurants to use the script logo for exterior signage. Rather, it was "supposed to be part of the packaging/trayliner advertising media package only. A lot of franchisees decided on their own to use it for signs and other unintended uses, and McDonald's was not happy about it. That's probably a reason why it's use was so short-lived."
You're still learning, aren't you?
From an interesting story about one of the most famous corporate symbols in world history, we move on to....a boring strip club.
Open 4 p.m. til 4 a.m. Friday-Sunday. Oh yeah, and they're hiring more girls.
After I finished taking shots in and around St. Andrew's, I took the long way back to our hotel. Here's an idea of the odd dichotomy you find in beach towns: humble brick apartment building just a few blocks from an opulent resort.
On our last full day in Panama City Beach, we ventured to St. Andrew's State Park. We went for a short hike, wary much of the time of seeing alligators. I think I was the only one who wanted to see one, albeit from a distance.
We didn't see any gators, but on a brief walk on a pier I saw this beast.
I'm no ornithologist, but I believe this is a heron of some sort.
Then, I got one last look down the beach.