Pensacola, Florida

The Alabama border is just a few miles down the road, which helps explain the vibe of Pensacola, a city that jumbles laid-back Southern syrup with Florida brashness. With lively beaches, a Spanish-style downtown, and a thrumming military culture, this is by far the most interesting city in the Panhandle.
While urban-chic trends (locavore food, craft cocktails etc) are taking root, visitors still primarily come to Pensacola for an all-American, blue-collar vacation experience: white-sand beaches, fried seafood and bars serving cheap domestics. During March and April, things reach fever pitch when droves of students descend for the weeklong bacchanalia of spring break. Beware.

Downtown, centred on Palafox St, lies north of the waterfront. Across the Pensacola Bay Bridge from here is the mostly residential peninsula of Gulf Breeze. Cross one more bridge, the Bob Sikes (toll $1), to reach pretty Pensacola Beach, the ultimate destination for most visitors.