Florida: Bay County

Bay County (pop. 168,852) is east of Walton County, along the Gulf of Mexico. The only other Bay County is in Michigan, on Saginaw Bay.

The county is centered on St. Andrews Bay.

The county seat of Bay County is Panama City (pop. 36,484). It was incorporated in 1909, at the time of the construction of the Panama Canal.

On a line between Chicago and Panama

The Bay County Courthouse dates from 1915.

Classical Revival style

The separate city of Panama City Beach (pop. 12,018) has been called “The Spring Break Capital of the World.”

The beach can be crowded.

Panama City Beach’s many attractions for tourists include a Goofy Golf miniature golf course, dating from 1959, and a Ripley’s Believe it or Not! museum shaped like a sinking ocean liner.

Including authentic shrunken heads

At Big Willy’s Surf & Swim, customers enter the building through the mouth of a killer whale.

Nearby, Tyndall Air Force Base (established 1941) is home of the 325th Fighter Wing of the Air Combat Command.

Mexico Beach (pop. 1,072) has one of the world’s largest chairs, available for photos.

An Adirondack chair

The city of Lynn Haven (pop. 18,493) was established in 1913 as a retirement community for retired Union soldiers. In Monument Park is America’s southernmost monument dedicated to Civil War soldiers from the North.

The soldier is facing north.

The unincorporated community of Fountain, in the northern part of the county, has a barbecue smoker in the shape of a pig at Austin’s Smokin’ Butt Hut.

NEXT: WASHINGTON COUNTY

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Florida: Walton County

Walton County (pop. 55,043) is east of Okaloosa County. The only other Walton County is in northern Georgia.

The county was named for George Walton (1786-1859), secretary of Florida Territory from 1822 to 1826.

His father signed the Declaration of Independence.

Britton Hill (345 feet), in the northern part of the county, is the highest point in Florida. It’s the lowest high point in the U.S.

A very short walk from the parking lot

The county seat of Walton County is DeFuniak Springs (pop. 5,089). The city was named for Frederick R. De Funiak (1839-1905), who served as president of the Pensacola and Atlantic Railroad.

Walton County Courthouse (1927)

DeFuniak Springs was established as a destination resort on the railroad, serving as headquarters of the Florida Chautauqua Association. The Florida Teachers Association was founded there in 1886.

Activities were centered on DeFuniak Lake.

The Walton DeFuniak Library (1887) is the oldest library building in Florida that is still operating as a library.

St. Agatha’s Episcopal Church in DeFuniak Springs dates from 1896.

Carpenter Gothic style

The Walton County Heritage Museum is in the former Louisville and Nashville Railroad depot.

South of DeFuniak Springs, on the Gulf of Mexico, is the unincorporated community of Miramar Beach – which is nowhere near the city of Miramar, located in Broward County in South Florida.

“World’s Largest Fishing Lure”

The unincorporated, master-planned community of Seaside, east of Miramar Beach, was established in 1981.

Seaside was the setting for the 1998 Jim Carrey film “The Truman Show.”

An example of the “New Urbanism.”

NEXT: BAY COUNTY

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Florida: Okaloosa County

Okaloosa County (pop 180,822) is east of Santa Rosa County. “Okaloosa” comes from a Choctaw word meaning “black water.”

Much of the southern part of the county is in Eglin Air Force Base, home of the 96th Test Wing, a test and evaluation center for weapons, navigation, and guidance systems.

Established in 1935

Eglin extends into Santa Rosa County to the west and Walton County to the east.

The county seat of Okaloosa County is the city of Crestview (pop. 20,978). Crestview was historically known as “The Icebox of Florida,” with the coolest temperatures in the state.

January average high 62, low 38

North of Crestview, near the Alabama border, is the city of Laurel Hill (pop. 549), where the high school’s athletic teams are known as the “Hoboes.”

The girls’ teams are the “Lady Hoboes.”

In the southern part of the county, Fort Walton Beach (pop. 19,507) is an important beach resort on the Gulf of Mexico.

Fort Walton Beach averages 69 inches of rain a year – the highest total in Florida.

Summer is the rainiest season.

Goofy Golf, a miniature golf course in Fort Walton Beach, has been operating since 1958.

Two 17-hole courses

The city of Destin (pop. 12,305) is east of Fort Walton Beach.

Outside of McGuire’s Irish Pub in Destin is a double-decker bus full of mannequins.

The nearby city of Niceville (pop. 12,749) was originally known as Boggy. It is unclear why the named was changed to Niceville, in 1910.

It may have been named for Nice, France.

NEXT: WALTON COUNTY

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Florida: Santa Rosa County

Santa Rosa County (pop. 151,372) is in the western part of the Florida Panhandle. Its population has grown from just 37,741 in 1970, with the expansion of bedroom communities for military bases in Santa Rosa and adjacent Escambia and Okaloosa counties.

The only Santa Rosa County in the U.S., it was named for Saint Rosa of Viterbo (c. 1233-1251), who reportedly converted all the residents of an Italian village by standing for three hours in the flames of a burning pyre and walking out unscathed.

Canonized in 1457

The county seat of Santa Rosa County is the city of Milton (pop. 8,863).

Downtown Milton

In Milton’s early years, it was known as Scratch Ankle, because of the briars along the banks of the Blackwater River.

There’s an annual festival.

The former Louisville and Nashville Railroad depot (1909) in Milton is now the West Florida Railroad Museum.

Open Fridays and Saturdays

Milton is the home of Naval Air Station Whiting Field, one of the Navy’s two primary flight-training bases.

The city of Gulf Breeze (pop. 5,763) is on the Fairport Peninsula, which extends west into Pensacola Bay, with Escambia County on three sides.

Shoreline Park in Gulf Breeze has a reputation as a center for UFO sightings.

The movie “Jaws 2″ (1978) was filmed at Navarre Beach, east of Gulf Breeze.

The community of Bagdad is the hometown of golfer Gerry Lester “Bubba” Watson, who won the Masters Tournament in 2012 and 2014.

The community of Chumuckla, northwest of Milton, canceled its 17-year-old Redneck Christmas Parade in 2014 because of excessive rowdiness.

The parade was replaced with a “Redneck Mud Run.”

Much of the northern part of Santa Rosa County is in Blackwater River State Forest.

Many longleaf pines

NEXT: OKALOOSA COUNTY

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Florida: Escambia County

We begin our virtual trip through the 67 counties of Florida in Escambia County (pop. 297,619), located at the western tip of the Panhandle. This is the route that we’ll be taking.

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The county was named for the 258-mile Escambia River, whose name may have been derived from a Creek work meaning “clearwater.” The only other Escambia County is just to the north, in Alabama.

In Alabama, it’s called the Conecuh River.

Escambia County was one of Florida’s two original counties – along with St. Johns County, both organized in 1821. Escambia County included all land west of the Suwannee River.

The county seat of Escambia County is the city of Pensacola (pop. 51,923), located on Pensacola Bay on the Gulf of Mexico.

Naval Air Station Pensacola, just southwest of the city, is the initial training base for all Navy, Marine, and Coast Guard aviators, as well as all naval flight officers.

Home base of the Blue Angels

The University of West Florida (1963) is a public university in Pensacola. It has about 13,000 students.

The Pensacola Blue Wahoos, Double-A Southern League affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, play at Pensacola Bayfront Stadium (2012).

Facing Pensacola Bay

The Crystal Ice Company Building (1932) in Pensacola was built to resemble a giant block of ice.

No longer in use

The Saenger Theatre in Pensacola dates from 1925.

Home of the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra

The unincorporated community of Pensacola Beach is on Santa Rosa Island, a barrier island that protects the city of Pensacola from the Gulf of Mexico.

The beach is about eight miles long.

The “UFO House” in Pensacola Beach dates from the 1960s.

Sometimes open for tours

Escambia County’s western border, with Alabama, is the Perdido River; the eastern border is the Escambia River.

NEXT: SANTA ROSA COUNTY

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