It is tradition in my family that we spend Independence Day at the beach watching the waves crash to the shore as thousands of sparkles ignite overhead in a thundering fireworks display. There is nothing like it, 9 miles of beach all igniting in a brilliant performance. From our spot we could see the marina, 4 resorts, 2 restaurants, 2 piers and the bay all igniting fireworks. They are everywhere and some classify it as mayhem. Children playing with sparklers and adults lighting explosives right beside you. While I can’t say it is completely safe, I highly recommend that at least once in your life you take a trip to the gulf coast for the July 4th celebration.
The gulf coast shore line is only 6 hours from Atlanta and we have been coming to the gulf coast shores since I was a child. Summers were spent in Carabelle, Gulf Shores, and Panama City Beach. My teen years I spent summer evenings hollerin’ at boys from the back of pickup trucks, slowly crawling up and down the “strip” of Front Beach Road in Panama City Beach. I have a memory of sitting in the back hatch of a red Camero while Poison’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me” was blasting out the rear of the vehicle. Why are kids so obnoxious? Why were my parents ok with this? Back then the “strip” housed old hot pink hotels, beach bars, and souvenir shops selling cheesy beach items. Today, the run down pink hotels have been replaced with high rise condo’s but the beach bars and cheesy shops are still there. The strip is still packed bumper to bumper with trucks, cars, motorcycles, pedestrians and kids that are still obnoxious about their music.
The first week in July in Panama City Beach is insane. It is so crowded! Yet, we still come. Every restaurant and grocery store is packed. Go early if you want to eat out. During the summer months, we usually eat a big breakfast, skip lunch and then eat dinner around 5pm. If you go after 5pm expect to wait 2+ hours to be seated. I ain’t kiddin’ y’all, it’s crowded. My favorite places to eat are not the hip places on Front Beach Road. While I do like Sharky’s atmosphere, I enjoy going to the marina to eat at The Captain’s Table or Uncle Ernie’s. The Captain’s Table is a “hole in the wall” that has large portions of local fish. The fried shrimp are large and yummy, as well as the grilled grouper. The cheese curds appetizer is good too.
Uncle Ernie’s sits on the marina and you can watch boats come and go from outside deck seating. It is expensive but the portions are large and it is very good! Their soft shell crab is unbelievable as are the crab cakes. A lot of people like Hunt’s Oyster Bar and the wait for it is usually long no matter what time a day you go. It is a tiny hole in the wall restaurant that is known for it’s oysters. You will wait a couple of hours to be seated if you go for dinner. The food better be darn good if I am going to wait more than 30 minutes; and it is. I happen to like the Mullet at Captain’s Table and there is rarely a wait there, so I usually opt for eating there instead.
The beach itself is ridiculously crowded. My family calls it “Tent City”. People bring these canopies to the beach to protect their families from the harsh sun and while I hate them, I also carry one over. They block the view, but also the UV rays so I get why people use them. What I don’t understand is the music blaring out of speakers. Different genre’s of music can be heard all over the beach and it usually is playing loudly. Because they are sitting right in front of a speaker the vacationers have to yell to be heard by one another. This REALLY annoys Olivia, who complains about it and makes us all irritable. How do we combat this? We use sound blocking headphones and only pull them out to talk to each other. This is OK because we like to read or take a nap under our obnoxious but super shady canopy tent.
The condo we stay in, is at Gulf Highlands Beach Resort, a gated community of condo’s on Front Beach Road. The resort has several pools and an exercise room. There is a pool house that serves food and drinks poolside at the beach.
These condos are quieter, and less crowded. These are small 2-3 bedroom town home style condos.
This week, at any given time there were no more than 20 people at the pool and our little area of the beach was less crowded than the hotels to either side of us. It took us 3 minutes to walk from the condo door to the beach and to us, not staying directly on the beach gives us an escape from the crowds. No kids running up and down the hallway at 2 am. Also, by staying off the beach you can get a condo for about 100 dollars less a night. You can book this condo on AirBnB.
Okay so, if we hate obnoxious music and crowded beaches so much why in the world would we come down for Independence day?
Every year, on the fourth of July, as the sunsets and the warm breeze rolls up the coast. The masses take to the beach. Thousands of people are spread out over the miles of shoreline but it isn’t shoulder to shoulder crowded. There is plenty of space to spread out. There is zero stress because we don’t have to drive anywhere. No sitting in a car trying to get there and home. Just walk to the beach, set up a chair and watch the sun go down and the explosions go up. People share sparklers with children and we have even been given hotdogs by some really nice people from Alabama. Everyone is kind, generous and social. The excitement builds as the first rocket is ignited before the sun has even set. It is an exhilarating touch of freedom.
We are awed at the amount of firecrackers that are set ablaze. You have NO idea guys. It is insane. Vacationers stop at firework stores on the way down to purchase hundreds of poppers, candles, streamers, whistlers, they dig holes in the sand and ignite these bad boys right beside you! The tiny rockets whistle, as the light trails through the air and explode sending tiny luminous ash streams over head. It is stunning. Thousands of dollars are spent by ordinary people getting ready to ignite gunpowder filled canisters. This is ONE man’s bootie! Two wagon’s full!
Hotels have pyrotechnic shows, both piers are lit up in a professional display by the city, and the marina also goes all out.
Firework displays symbolize the horrors of war in ironic beauty.
It is a surreal moment for me. I get emotional watching fireworks explode over me. I think about what it must have been like for Francis Scott Key and Dr. William Beanes as they watched the 25 hour bombardment of Fort McHenry from a British ship. “Bombs bursting in air“. It has been known to move me to tears, add “The Star Spangled Banner”, and I am done.
This being said, I am going to stop talking and just let the photos explain to you why we come to the beach on the 4th of July to celebrate America’s Independence. (make sure you hum the “Star Spangled Banner” as you watch.)
Keep the Lust for Wandering, Y’all!
Thanks to the City of Panama City Beach for supplying me with information about the Firework displays.
I was not paid to endorse any of the restaurants discussed here. They are really good and are my favorites. The condo at Gulf Highlands Beach resort was given to us free of charge for the week.