Attractions

By STEVE WINSTON

Franklin County’s attractions highlight its natural beauty, such as the Apalachicola National Forest and the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve, complete with fish tanks and interactive displays.

A long time ago, a Liberty County resident named E.E. Callaway claimed he had found the Garden of Eden in Liberty County. Maybe, maybe not. But the county does have a part of paradise in its share of the Apalachicola National Forest.

No visit to Northwest Florida should end without a horseback ride on the beach, particularly in dream-like spots such as Cape San Blas. If you prefer your water inland (with oars or on a tour boat), head for the Dead Lakes, a unique ecosystem that’s part swamp, part river, part lake, and all pristine wilderness.

In Panama City Beach, the Man in the Sea Museum covers the history of diving and the Navy’s “Man in the Sea Program,” which showcases SEALAB I, the Navy’s first-ever underwater habitat.

New to Panama City Beach is Swampy Jack’s WONGO Adventure, a hybrid amusement park that opened last fall. It currently features five thrilling rides and attractions including Marrakesh Road Rally—an interactive electric go-kart experience and the Yacuma—a huge serpent wipeout ride. Also, the SkyWheel entertainment venue—whose leading draw is the SkyWheel, a 53-meter, observation wheel with 30 climate-controlled, fully enclosed gondolas—added the SkyTrail Ropes Course to their current lineup. It is an aerial attraction with suspended bridges, cargo nets and rope ladders, engineered for an adrenaline rush.

Panama City, too, lives on the water. Shell Island Cruises takes you out to snorkel with the dolphins.

Chipley has family fun spots like the Seacrest Wolf Preserve, where you can interact not only with wolves, but also with foxes, raccoons, skunks and Pecos the Coyote. At the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center, there’s a working beehive, a birdwatching station, a rescued snapping turtle, and several species of snakes and frogs.

The Destin/Fort Walton Beach/Okaloosa Island area, also known as the Heart of the Emerald Coast, offers attractions such as the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park, where you can frolic in the water with rays and spend time observing dolphins. If your kids love dinosaurs, head for Wild Willy’s Adventure Zone, with animatronic Dinosaur-themed and Pirate-themed mini golf courses, a bungee trampoline, laser tag, arcade, incredible 4-D movie theater, and, yes, dinosaurs.

Santa Rosa County’s Gulf Breeze Zoo showcases over 50 acres of animals from around the world, and the Navarre Beach Marine Science Station combines hands-on learning and entertainment. In Escambia County, historic Pensacola Village is the site of the original Spanish and British forts in a city over which five flags have flown. In the Pensacola Lighthouse, built in 1859, climb the 177 steps for a dramatic panoramic view of the Gulf Coast.