Lessons From The Florida Panhandle

The Florida Panhandle. It’s a place I know well. It is a place that is near and dear to my heart.

My daddy, his siblings, and all my first cousins grew up there. I was born there. My grandparents lived there. My daddy is buried there, and my mother’s ashes are there.

When I was five months old, my family moved to Brewton, Alabama, and I never lived in the Panhandle again, but we visited family there regularly. We also vacationed at the beaches along the gulf coast in the Panhandle. I learned a lot in the Panhandle.

This past week, I took my teenage daughter on a road trip through the panhandle. Neither of us had been there since 2007, and she had no recollection of that visit. I also showed her some places she had never been. She didn’t act particularly interested in all my stories, but maybe she will remember some.

Maybe she will remember my telling her about doodlebugs in the Panhandle. Nope, I’m not talking about VWs. I’m talking about antlions, insects whose larvae dig pits to capture prey. If you’re not familiar with them, this will be as confusing to you as it was to my daughter. But doodlebug pits look like tiny holes in the ground with a small crater around them. When my cousins and I were little, our Granddaddy showed us how to get doodlebugs to come out of what we thought were their homes. He told us to put a tiny stick down into the hole and stir it while saying, “Doodlebug, doodlebug, come out and get a cup of coffee. Doodlebug, doodlebug, your house is on fire.” After a few stirs and a few chants, the doodlebug would emerge! We thought it was because of our chanting, but as an adult, I know it was because of the stirring. I think Granddaddy was just giving us something to do, so we wouldn’t bother people, but we spent hours bothering doodlebugs…and we had fun and made memories!

I also learned about biddies in the Panhandle. Nope…not gossiping old ladies or hot girls (urban slang). Biddies…young chickens. I must have been about six or seven the first time I heard young chickens called “biddies” by my cousin, Patti. I think we were visiting her house when she suggested we go see the biddies. I followed her to someone’s barn…I have no idea who it belonged to. I don’t remember much about the biddies, but I do remember there were cats there…and hay. I also know my mother must not have known where we were. She would have been worried about snakes. I don’t think we stayed long, but I learned that some folks call young chickens “biddies.”

When my Granddaddy died, a family friend took some of the cousins to get a milkshake at cousin Patti’s other grandparents’ store in Sneads while the grownups talked. They didn’t have a chocolate shake, so I ordered a strawberry shake. I feel sure the folks at Patti’s grandparents’ store knew how to make good milkshakes, but on that day, I learned I don’t like strawberry milkshakes.

On the beach in Panama City Beach one year, when I was a teenager, I learned that tar sometimes washes up with the tide. There had been an oil spill in the Caribbean, and the jetstream pushed a lot of the tar into the Gulf of Mexico. I knew nothing about it, until I was walking the beach near the Fontainebleau Terrace and got some tar on my white sneakers. Had to throw those away…tar doesn’t just wash out easily.

Also in Panama City Beach, at Miracle Strip Amusement Park, I learned a Scrambler amusement park ride is a lot more fun when it’s enclosed in a giant building shaped like an abominable snowman with loud music playing and mirrors on the walls…and bright lights flashing. I also saw a chicken play a piano at Miracle Strip and rode the Starliner roller coaster.

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Miracle Strip Amusement Park in 60s or early 70s

And everywhere in the Panhandle, I learned that gnats will congregate around your eyes, your nose, and any cuts or scrapes you have. Natural springs are naturally cold (Blue Springs Recreational Area). And more info here. I learned that Spanish moss is beautiful, even though it’s not a moss at all…it’s a flowering plant. I learned about stalactites and stalagmites at Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna. In Quincy, I learned about a banker who loaned folks money to buy Coca Cola stock….eventually making them millionaires. Many years later, I became friends with that banker’s great granddaughters purely by accident, after meeting one of them at a party in Charlotte! From my daddy and his siblings, I learned what life was like in the rural Panhandle after the Great Depression. I learned about peach trees right outside the door whose limbs were used as switches. I learned about the one room schoolhouse in Bascom and Faye Dunaway’s being a student there. Yes, that Faye Dunaway…of Bonnie and Clyde fame. I listened to speculation about how a community called Two Egg got its name, and I ate as much pound cake as I could when I visited a great aunt in Two Egg. In my grandmother’s house, I learned what an antique sewing machine looked like, and I heard stories about my grandmother and aunt playing organ and piano at folks’ weddings and funerals…oh, one funeral story I’ll have to share another time. At the beaches in the panhandle, I learned how much fun it is to bunk with all your cousins in one house on vacation. And I used my first crosswalk button to cross the beach road in Mexico Beach when I was six…it was malfunctioning and shocked the stew out of me. On that same trip, I learned about wading out into a bay to catch scallops on the same trip. And I learned that fireworks are pretty on the beach.

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Blue Springs Recreational Area and Park, Marianna, Florida

The coastal Panhandle looks different now. There are planned communities and high rise condos where beach houses and roadside motels used to be. The original Miracle Strip Amusement Park is long gone from Panama City Beach, but there is a new Miracle Strip located near Pier Park on the beach road. Shipwreck Island waterpark and Capt. Anderson’s Restaurant are still there, and even the old Fontainebleau Terrace is still standing…it was a beauty in its heyday.

A little farther north, along Highway 90 in Jackson County, one big difference is that most motel/hotel accommodations either closed or moved over to I-10 after it was completed through the area. Well, that and the Hurricane Michael damage that is everywhere from Panama City to Jackson County…lots of devastation. In Marianna, lots of the downtown businesses were damaged and/or destroyed. I have lots of memories there…getting my first Florida State University sweatshirt at Daffin’s, seeing the RCA dog on top of one downtown business, and watching Mary Poppins in the old movie theatre there. The theatre has been gone for a long time, but I remember. Say a prayer for the folks who are still affected by that terrible storm. Lots of people are still suffering, including my aunt, whose house in Panama City was badly damaged by the storm.

The Panhandle taught me a lot. All this, and I didn’t even mention Tallahassee, Destin, and other places yet! Whew! I’ll share stuff about those places soon. Big lessons from all over the Panhandle. Mostly, it taught me my aunts, uncles, and cousins are keepers. Maybe we need to plan another beach vacation for the whole bunch!

I hope my daughter will remember some of it…

***Some friends asked me about the planned communities along the Gulf Coast. You can find lots of rental information here.

 

 

 

 

 

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Hooray for Hollywood! Must-see LA

Hooray for Hollywood

Where you’re terrific, if you’re even good

Where anyone at all from TV’s Lassie

To Monroe’s chassis, is equally understood.

–Hooray for Hollywood

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It’s no secret to our friends that my daughter and I love visiting Los Angeles.

As many times as we’ve been, we’ve never done everything we wanted to do. Friends often call me before they go and ask what they should do with their families when they visit. It’s difficult to say, because there is so much to do. I send them a list (a long list) of things to do, but I usually mark which ones are the ones people will ask them about later. That’s what I’m giving you here…the quintessential Los Angeles family-friendly places to visit. Like the Empire State Building in New York, these are the things people will ask you about later.

When you plan to be a tourist, wear comfortable shoes, and wear layers. In the LA area, the weather can change quickly from warm to chilly and back, so be prepared.

***All of my suggestions are based on family trips and are listed in alphabetical order.***

261365_2273227074989_3597282_nBEVERLY HILLS There is a lot to see and do in Beverly Hills, and lots of photo opportunities. Rodeo Drive is known for its high end boutiques. Most first-time visitors love to get photos under one of the Rodeo Drive street signs. People watching is great, and if you pay attention, you might recognize a celebrity or two. I’ve seen several celebrities on Rodeo Drive during the day, so keep your eyes open! (For info on Rodeo Drive, click here.) There are shops, shops, and more shops throughout Beverly Hills. Stroll down Beverly or Canon for some different boutiques and restaurants. The Blvd Restaurant at the Beverly Wilshire is easily accessible from Rodeo Drive and a nice place to have lunch. Make a reservation in advance. Ask for a table on the patio for good people watching (for info click here). Beverly Garden Park on Santa Monica Blvd is a beautiful green space with a giant Beverly Hills sign providing a great photo backdrop. Real Housewives fan? You’ll want to make a reservation in advance to dine at Villa Blanca, owned by Lisa Vanderpump (info here) or Sur (info here), located in nearby West Hollywood. The Paley Center for Media is a fun museum at the corner of N. Beverly Drive and S. Santa Monica…a nice air conditioned place to get some “Hollywood” info and buy souvenirs (info here). *The photo below is John O’Hurley of Seinfeld fame. He was at a traffic light next to us in Beverly Hills. I had met him years 20 before on a flight from Atlanta to LA, so I talked to him while we sat at the light. *
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DISNEYLAND The original Disney theme park opened in 1955 and is located in Anaheim, a short drive from Los Angeles. The drive is an easy one on the freeway. If you’ve never been to the original Disney theme park, it’s worth a visit. Smaller than Florida’s Disney World, it has a much more intimate feel. Tickets can be purchased in advance or at the gate. For more information, click here.

 

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GRIFFITH PARK AND OBSERVATORY Another iconic spot, you will recognize it from movies like LaLa Land and The Terminator, and from television shows like 90210 and Keeping Up With The Kardashians. A municipal park covering more than 4,300 acres, Griffith Park is a great place for hiking and taking photos of the city below, and it offers a great vantage point for the world-famous Hollywood sign. Trails within the park offer closer access to the sign, but the decks around the observatory offer great photo ops without the hike. Admission to the park and observatory is free, but there is a nominal charge for the planetarium shows. Tickets can only be purchased at the Planetarium. Griffith Park is accessible on foot from Hollywood Blvd (1.5 mile walk) or by car. Parking can be scarce, and there is sometimes a $4 charge for parking. I prefer to take a car service. For information on Griffith Park and its attractions, click here.

THE GROVE The Grove is a large shopping area home to Dylan’s Candy Bar and The American Girl Store. There is also a Sprinkles Cupcakes located here. To see a full listing of stores and attractions at The Grove, click here. There is a large Barnes and Noble, and I always check the events there before I go, because they often have book signings…sometimes celebrities you would recognize. You can check online in advance here. My daughter and I have encountered some celebrities shopping at The Grove. We saw a girl from Dance Moms, and last time, I was shopping in Nordstrom Shoes next to a well-known Hall of Fame former football player (Pittsburgh Steelers).

HOLLYWOOD WALK OF FAME Something everyone needs to see once, and once is probably enough. It’s not the cleanest part of town, and maneuvering through the tourists and the “characters” can be challenging. BUT, you don’t want to miss it. This is where you will see the sidewalk stars on the Walk of Fame. For info on star ceremonies or to locate your favorite entertainer’s star, you can check the website here. Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum is here, and kids love the opportunity to take photos with the “stars” inside (info here). The El Capitan Theatre, built in the 1920s, is also here.  El Capitan was converted from a show theatre to a movie theatre in 1941 for the screening of Citizen Kane. Movies are shown daily, and it’s a beautiful setting from a bygone era for watching a movie. For info on the theatre and showtimes, click here. *Beware: the “characters” on the street are not official representatives of any studio. If you take photos with them, they expect $$$*

 

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IN-N-OUT BURGER Just go. It’s one of those things you have to do. There are locations all over town, but we prefer the one in Westwood, near UCLA, on Gayley Avenue. Everyone will ask you when you get home if you had In-n-Out, so just do it. Order your burger Animal Style. See their menu here.

 

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MALIBU Everyone should visit Malibu at least once. We’ve been a few times. You can drive straight up the Pacific Coast Highway from Santa Monica. Park near the Malibu Pier and watch surfers from the pier. Take some photos with the sign in the background. At the end of the pier is Malibu Farm Cafe, a counter service restaurant (walk in only), and at the start of the pier is the Malibu Farm Restaurant (accepts reservations), a table service restaurant. Both are farm-to-table and offer great views. For info on the pier and both restaurants, click here. For shopping, visit the Malibu Country Mart or The Malibu Lumber Yard, both located just off the PCH and full of retail shops and restaurants. Again, these are places you might see some celebrities. Geoffrey’s, located on the PCH, is a 70-year-old legendary hot spot for lunch or dinner, having served JFK and Marilyn Monroe, among others. It offers incredible views of the Pacific Ocean. Reservations suggested. For info on Geoffrey’s, click here. For shopping in Malibu, check out Malibu Country Mart, where you’ll find different stores and possibly spot a celebrity or two. Pepperdine University is also in Malibu. If your kids are with you and they like Nickelodeon’s Zoey 101, lots of the outdoor scenes were filmed on this campus. For info on visiting the campus, click here.

PUEBLO DE LOS ANGELES This is an historic area in downtown LA that was the original settlement that eventually became the city of Los Angeles. The area is home to numerous historic homes (the oldest one in LA!), museums, exhibits, and the famous Olvera Street Market, an iconic Mexican marketplace open since 1930. For more info on Pueblo de Los Angeles, click here. 

 

419598_3582456844915_30828700_n.jpgSANTA MONICA PIER You’ve seen images of Santa Monica Pier in movies (Forrest Gump, Hannah Montana: the Movie) and television shows (Charlie’s Angels, Three’s Company opening sequence). More than 100 years old, the pier offers historical walking tours from its Carousel Bldg on Saturdays and Sundays at 11am and noon. The pier is also the official end (or beginning) of Route 66 and the home of Pier Park, an amusement park featuring a rollercoaster, ferris wheel, and more. The ferris wheel offers beautiful views, and where else are you going to ride a rollercoaster on a pier? Be careful walking around, as the boardwalk is uneven. There are restaurants and vendors along the pier and numerous photo ops. I recommend photos with the ferris wheel in the background, one with the Route 66 sign near the front of the pier, and one along the rail with the beach and Pacific Ocean in the background. Another good photo op: the main sign at the start of the pier. For more information on the pier, click here.

 

IMG_0215SPRINKLES CUPCAKES The original Sprinkles Cupcakes is in Beverly Hills, on Santa Monica Blvd. Sprinkles offers the world-famous 24-hour Cupcake ATM. If you’ve never experienced this, it’s worth a visit.  (They also have a location at The Grove, as mentioned above.) Sprinkles also offers delivery. For more info on Sprinkles, click here.

UNIVERSAL STUDIOS A working movie studio and theme park. Ride the various thrill rides and tour the studio facilities. Many of the rides and attractions are linked to popular movies. Harry Potter Wizard World is most popular, and other popular attractions are rides and experiences based on Jurassic Park, Transformers, Despicable Me, and more. If you like amusement parks, this could be a fun experience. I haven’t visited, because we have an excellent amusement park in Charlotte (Carowinds), and I prefer to spend my time in California doing other things. If this is your thing, though, you’ll likely love it. For more information, check out their website here.

VENICE/VENICE BEACH Home of famous Muscle Beach, a skate park, a freak show, and free spirits, Venice Beach is a must-see. Rent a bicycle in Santa Monica and ride down to Venice Beach along the beach bike path. There are lots of bike rental shops from which to choose. Walk out to the Pacific to stick your toes in the water. Spend some time watching the skaters at the skate park…they are amazing. Shop some of the vendors along the boardwalk and just take in the scene. Enjoy the street performers and artists, and soak up some sun! In Venice, stroll down Abbott Kinney Boulevard, a few blocks off the beach, where there are varieties of boutiques, coffee bars, and restaurants. Check out the Venice Canals while you’re there too. For more info on Venice Beach, click here.312713_10200977986596714_1094907258_n

All of these places can be covered in two or three days, if you get an early start and plan well, with the exception of the amusement parks. You should allow a full day for each. Maybe Santa Monica, Venice Beach, and Beverly Hills in one day, followed by The Grove, Hollywood Blvd, and Griffith Park. You can eat at In-n-Out for one meal and enjoy a cupcake from Sprinkles for dessert. This is just a sampling of what the city offers for tourists, but these are iconic spots. There are so many more things to do (see below for a list of more). We’ve been countless times and still have things to check off our list.

Hooray for Hollywood!

Kelly

MORE PLACES TO SEE AND THINGS TO DO:

Hollywood Museum

Sky Slide (see photo at right, it’s a clear slide from the 70th floor to the 69th floor on the outside of the US Bank Bldg in downtown LA)25354018_10215003092335592_3751396268366778484_n

Hollywood Bowl

La Brea Tarpits

Getty Villa and Gardens

Greystone Mansion/Park

Reagan Presidential Library (Simi Valley)

Lakers Basketball at Staples Center

Dodgers Baseball

The Broad Museum

Museum of Ice Cream (tickets are hard to get…must book well in advance)

Museum of Tolerance

Westlake Village

Paramount Studios Tour

Warner Bros Studios Tour

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