Florida Panhandle

The Florida Panhandle is the name given to Florida’s northwest region, which consists of a narrow strip of territory that juts out from the main, peninsular part of Florida. During the 19th century, the region was of vital strategic importance. It has also had the unfortunate distinction of being the site of deadly hurricanes. Today, the Florida Panhandle is best known for its beaches, resorts, tourism industry, and military-related industries.

Florida Panhandle
Florida Panhandle

Geography

The Florida Panhandle is approximately 320 km long, though it should be noted the placement of the eastern border of the panhandle is arbitrary. The panhandle is about 80 to 161 km wide. It is bordered to the north by the states of Alabama and Georgia, to the south by the Gulf of Mexico, to the east by the peninsular part of Florida, and to the west by a small section of Alabama. The state capital of Florida, Tallahassee, is located in the panhandle.

Emerald coast Pensacola beach
Pensacola Beach in the Emerald Coast of Florida.

The Florida Panhandle includes two coastal regions, labelled the Emerald Coast and the Forgotten Coast. Like the panhandle itself, however, what particular territory constitutes the two coastal regions is debatable. For example, the Emerald Coast often refers to the beaches and coastal resorts situated between the cities of Pensacola and Port Joe, though it has also been used to denote the entirety of the Florida Panhandle.

Florida Panhandle
Cape San Blas along the Forgotten Coast of Florida.

In contrast, the Forgotten Coast often refers to the coastal portion of the panhandle between Mexico Beach or southeastern Bay County on the Gulf of Mexico and St. Marks on Apalachee Bay. According to the website of Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection, however, the Forgotten Coast is a much larger region that consists of the coastline of 13 counties.

History

The Florida Panhandle historically had strategic importance. The site of present-day Pensacola, for example, was a good natural harbor. The region’s strategic importance is exemplified by the presence of several forts that dot the coast of the panhandle. These forts were all built after the War of 1812 to fortify the coastline.

Destroyed oceanside condos from Hurricane Ivan in Pensacola Florida. Editorial credit: Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com

During the late 20th and early 21st century, the Florida Panhandle was hit by several hurricanes, some of which did significant damage to the region. The worst of these hurricanes were arguably Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and Hurricane Michael in 2018. The former destroyed thousands of homes and caused significant damage to the panhandle’s infrastructure. Similar damage and destruction was caused by the latter. One of the worst man-made disasters to hit the Florida Panhandle was an oil spill in 2010 that severely damaged the tourism industry and required a massive clean-up effort. 

Economy

Panama City Beach, Florida.

The economy in the Florida Panhandle today is dominated by military-related industries and tourism. The region is home to several military installations, which specialize in aviation and aerospace-related activities. Other major industries include internet technology (IT), distribution and logistics, financial services, and transportation manufacturing. The beaches and resorts of the Florida Panhandle’s attract many tourists. Some of the famous beaches in the region include Pensacola Beach, Seaside, and Panama City Beach. Several of the Florida Panhandle’s best beaches are located in the region’s state parks.

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