To get from New Orléans, Louisiana, to Destin, Florida, you need to go through the states of Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, over the Gulf of Mexico, and known as the Florida Panhandle. All the clichés about the South and blacks and prejudice were undeniable, but there was some surprisingly unique countryside.
Because we were driving from New Orléans on the Coastal Highway along the water on the Gulf of Mexico, many of the houses at the water’s edge were on stilts.
The longest bridge we’ve ever seen was over Lake Pontchartrain, a huge lake just North of New Orléans. I gasped when I couldn’t see the end of the bridge, especially when glancing down at the GPS to see that we were actually six meters below sea level.
Shortly after, we crossed the border into Mississippi.
P1110059 Map H 90 Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida
Just before Gulfport, Mississippi, we came to Long Beach, miles and miles of beach along the highway. The sand was so white that it disappeared into the horizon.
But it was foggy in Gulfport and the huge trees were veiled in a delicate mist hiding elegant homes set back from the highway.
On a whim, we checked one of our favourite sites, Booking.com, and there was a big hotel in Biloxi for $9 a night. Of course we booked it right away, and bonus, it was a Casino!
That night I went down to the Casino and played a little Roulette. Lo and behold I surprised T by bouncing back into the room and announcing that not only had I won more than the measly price of the room and dinner, I won a few hundred dollars! And no, I am not an addicted Gambler – I just find it immense fun, but I know when to quit.
Down the road we continued crossed the border into Mobile, Alabama, crossing yet more prolonged bridges over great expanses of water.
From Mobile, we followed the coastal road again, H 98, passing through Fairhope, Alabama, a pretty little town, with soft hills and valleys, nicely treed.
Then Magnolia Springs, Alabama, with – guess what? Magnolia Trees.
Mississippi and Alabama
As we travelled across Mississippi and Alabama, there were many fascinating signs and little stores along the highway, the kind of signs we never see at home, so it was a quick education in local culture.
Especially loved this sign, “Free Ride In Sheriff’s Car”… if you shoplift from this store.
Innocently enough and not accustomed to any type of segregation or discrimination in Canada, we stopped for gas in a small town in Alabama. The staff was all black. They stared and stared at us, and we realized that not many – or probably no – white people come into this gas station. They just found it odd to see white people. They were friendly and polite, but looked like they were in total shock. Back in the car, we had to giggle at our naïvety and their perplexed confusion.
Just before crossing the border into Florida, we came to Orange Beach, stopping to check it out. It’s the first of many beaches along a stretch of keys and long skinny peninsulas stretching across the gulf towards the Florida Panhandle. Orange Beach, for all of its advertising as the best-kept secret in the U. S., was too developed for our tastes. High rises and condos everywhere you looked, and we couldn’t even find a public beach.
This was the setting outside a little restaurant where we stopped for lunch in Orange Beach. Steps away from the restaurant, a ditch pond with signs saying, “Don’t Feed the Alligators” was a little alarming.
Zipping along the highway we crossed the border into Florida passing through the Port of Pensacola across more massive expanses of water on never-ending causeways that, quite frankly, spooked me a little.
Then across the maze of inlets, peninsulas and islands to Okaloosa Island to get to Destin Beach, our next stop.
Destin Beach was actually quiet. The powdery white sand was delicious to walk in, but it was windy and cool so swimming wasn’t an option, plus we weren’t willing to risk losing a limb if the water was full of alligators.
Scenery on the way to Panama City, Florida
Panama City, Florida
More scary far-reaching causeways over great masses of water, water, water.
Super super long bridge to St George Island on Apalachicola Bay. Can they get any longer?
P1110281 Super Super Long Bridge To St George Island In Appalachiola Bay
A Bear Crossing. That was a surprise.
Stopping in St. George’s Island for delicious Soft-Shell Crab.
OMG. More wildly long causeways and altogether too much water to be balanced over. I felt like I was walking a tight rope.
Next stop was to pick up a bag of hot Boiled Peanuts. Not bad.
St. George’s Island was kind of quaint, but again it was cold with a fierce wind.
Back on the road to fly over more water. I only had to hold my breath for about half an hour before we got back on land again at Tarpon Springs.
We were now well around the Florida Pan Handle heading South towards Tampa. It was somewhere around this area that we stopped on an open stretch of road where a few other cars were parked on the side of the road. Water hugged both sides of the highway. As we walked towards a little beach area in the ditch, we were astounded to see a man with a little boy poking a stick at a big alligator. Physically, we froze with mortifying anxiety, horrified that the alligator would snatch the little boy in a tenth of a second. Not wanting to add to the drama the man was creating, we left, hoping that he would leave too without an audience to encourage him to continue. A picture was out of the question.
More interesting signs.
Smoked Mullet and Swamp Cabbage
Big truck, little boat…. errrr… Big boat, little truck! Wonder if he has enough motors?
The wind-swept marshmallow sand dunes at Clearwater Beach near Tampa and St. Petersburg were perfectly photogenic.
Past Treasure Island, another looming causeway bridge felt like we were going up a giant roller coaster.
Santa Maria Island was a pretty island too with its wind-blown sand dunes and blue waves.
Maybe you’re interested in buying a condo in Florida? Friends of ours had just bought one in Fort Myers, so we stopped by to take a look. Great spot for boaters, and friendly retiree residents.
Since we were flying home from New Orléans, we started heading back towards Nola, this time taking the I75 and I10 fast route highways instead of the coastal highways. The highlight of the trip home was Tallahassee, in Northern Florida, a gorgeous city with gigantic trees, elegant homes and a peaceful ambiance.
Tallahassee Park, Florida
Mississippi, Alabama and Florida
You can probably tell that we weren’t all that thrilled with Florida: very busy, highly populated, high rises, windy, alligators and over-developed, but we are still very glad we went. If we went again, we would go further down to the Florida Keys and Cape Canaveral. You never regret travel, but some places are definitely more memorable than others. Those causeways will definitely be one of the first things we think of when we recall our travel through Florida.
Louisiana and Mississippi were tantalizingly off-beat. We went through only a short part of each of them on our way to Florida, but still we got a little taste of the authentic Southern states.
Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida