“Well, I’d like to think that I’ll get out and do some beach time, maybe cruise the coast a bit,” he said early this week. “I sometimes find myself driving to work along West Beach Drive, looking out over the bay and thinking, ‘People save all year long to come stay here for a few days. You LIVE here! Get out and enjoy it!’ But frankly, I’ll probably be right here working.”
Harley was one of literally hundreds of people who responded when we asked them two questions: What do you look forward to doing in the area this summer, and what do you love about the place?
“One of the things I love about the area? I’d have to say the people,” Harley said. “I’ve lived all over the world and have never been any place where the people are so friendly. I recently had a British couple who now live in the L.A. area come visit. They were completely amazed at how kind and helpful people were.”
Bettina Mead of the Bay County Public Library is looking forward to “waiting for and watching huge black clouds and big afternoon rains each afternoon in July.” But what she loves about the area takes a little more telling:
“From 6 weeks of age, I was raised in New Mexico, but my mother’s family homesteaded in Defuniak Springs,” Bettina said. “My grandfather would take the West Bay Ferry into Panama City to go to work (he had the Brewer’s Rexall Drug Store on Harrison). We would come and visit once a year. It was so different from New Mexico — the humidity, the bugs, the Blue Jays, the vegetation.
“And oh, the Southern food. Fresh peaches every morning. Totally unmatched dishes and silverware. Heaven to a little girl’s heart. Even to this day, my sister and I will walk outside and say ‘it smells like Florida’ — a place of wonderful memories.”
Julie Gordon, county film commissioner, said the answers were easy, starting with her love of the people: “Bay County is a veritable plethora of characters, information, compliments and honesty. I believe that you have to have experienced a variety of lifestyle locations to appreciate the incredible paradise we choose to call ‘home.’ … I’ve sat in traffic longer to go to auditions in L.A. than it takes to get over the Hathaway Bridge, even with a train going to the port. This is HEAVEN, people!”
Julie said she is looking forward to “dragon flies hovering over the pool, playing badminton, great concerts, gorgeous beaches and knowing I live where people find it to be a fantasy.”
Here are some of the other responses we received:
- “I look forward to early morning swims in the Gulf and after-dinner walks on the beach with the family,” said Jason Hedden, associate professor at Gulf Coast State College. “I love to take my son to the rides at Miracle Strip at Pier Park.”
- “I’m looking forward to hitting the beach and going up to WaterColor to YOLO,” said Lauren Carvalho, director of The Hidden Lantern Gallery in Rosemary Beach. “I love the sense of community in the area. The locals are so lovely and supportive of the gallery and bookstore. Also, the merchants really stand together as well. People that visit the area routinely get swept up in it and become part of the community.”
- “I love the easy-going lifestyle and the Southern manners,” said Lauren Kolmetz, owner of The Rehearsal Room in Panama City. “I am looking forward to going to the beach and getting ice cream on the way home.”
- “I love the peach, pink light that covers my backyard just before the sun sets — it is soft and beautiful like a ripe Georgia peach, and it only happens in the summer,” said Margaret Webster of The Public Eye production company. “I look forward to walking the trails and peeking over the boardwalk railings at the Conservation Park on Back Beach Road and hiking at St. Andrews State Park.”
- “The thing that honestly keeps me moving back to Panama City Beach time and again is the weather,” said David Demarest, public relations manager for the Panama City Beach CVB. “I’ve lived in Nashville, Charleston, Austin and Atlanta, and the weather here is better than all those places — much better.
“For a meal, the Greek Petite at Boar’s Head Restaurant is impossible to beat,” he said. “It’s a fillet stuffed with feta cheese and bacon, and there’s it’s served over sliced tomatoes with some sort of vinegar dressing, which is a nice touch. Another thing I love about this area is that I just love water — and here you get more options than most other places. We have the bay, the Gulf, the rivers and the springs; they’re all different, but all close together.”
- “I love Bay County’s proximity to the water and taking advantage of the abundant fishing opportunities here,” said Valerie Sale, Bay County public information officer. “My husband and I fish every opportunity we get, and we’re looking forward to spending a lot of time on the water this summer. We caught an 80-plus pound wahoo last weekend!”
- “I love the Econfina Creek area and the parks that have been created for locals and canoeing enthusiasts,” said Maggie McKinney of the band Lucky Mud. “They are pristine and beautiful. I look forward to the concert series, ‘Americana Cafe Sundays’ at Roberts Hall in Lynn Haven, every Sunday afternoon and its sister series, ‘Americana Under The Stars’ at Topsail Hill Preserve State Park every Thursday night, presenting really great, touring Americana musicians. The best music scene around is in the Panama City and 30A area.”
- Storyteller Pat Nease said her favorite things are the “sunsets on the bay,” and she’s looking forward to “grandchildren visits and swapping tales (as opposed to swapping tails…).”
- “I'm looking forward to seeing summer blockbusters at The Grande and spending the 4th in Lynn Haven,” said local author Nick May. “I’m gardening this year, so I’m totally geeking out on compost and organic fertilizer. Can’t wait for my crop!” He added that he loves the area’s “small town life with big city aspirations.”
- “My answer is probably the same as everyone else: I love the beaches and coastal dune lakes,” said Tracy Louthain of Tracy Louthain Communications in south Walton County. “I want to start getting up early on Saturday mornings and taking out my YOLO board when the gulf is calm, with hope of spotting a green or loggerhead sea turtle or to have a close encounter with a school of dolphins.
“Plan B: We bought passes for the dolphin cruise. My son loves dolphins, so we’re going to make sure he sees them up close one way or another.”
- “Spending time with my kids” is how Panama City Downtown Improvement Board director Dutch Sanger will spend the summer. “We plan to visit more of the many truly unique attractions we have here in Bay County.” He added that he loves “the BEACH and fresh seafood — and of course, Downtown Panama City!”
- “I look forward to the PCB Community Concerts at Aaron Bessant Park every Thursday night, all summer long,” said Felicia Cook, director of development for Children’s Home Society of Florida/Emerald Coast Division. “What else could you love best: the World’s Most Beautiful Beaches! Just walking the piers, sitting on a deck or balcony, sitting or walking the beach to see the beauty of what we have right here in PCB.”
- “I cannot wait to go out on the boat with friends and spend the day floating around Shell Island with an ice cold beer — or two!” said marketing specialist Ashley Capps. “I love this area because there are so many great places to eat fresh seafood (my favorite) and enjoy the beautiful Florida weather — especially watching the sunset at Schooners.”
- “I love having easy access to the world’s most beautiful beaches. I also love driving over the Hathaway Bridge — it always makes me think, ‘Wow, I live in such a beautiful place,’ ” said Holly Pituch of Clever Girl Marketing. “I am looking forward to taking my visiting family out on the ‘Miss Triss’ luxury yacht for a day on the gulf.”
- “Bet you most people will say ‘beach.’ I’m saying Econfina,” said Simona Ondrejkova, financial adviser with Merrill Lynch and a former student intern at The News Herald, whose summer plans include “going canoeing in Econfina and kayaking in the Bay.”
- “Each summer I look forward to finding a new place to explore with my family — kayaking a new part of a stream or walking around town exploring new and old shops,” said Kristi Kirkland of Answer Marketing. “I really enjoy the variety of culture in Bay County; around every turn there’s the possibility of a new experience.”
- “What I love about this area is the water,” said photographer Lana Williams. “Whether it’s a boat ride, a walk on the beach, a walk on the bridge over the bay, there is just something so calming to me to see it. So of course what I’m looking forward to doing here this summer is boating and beaching — it never gets old to me!”
- Robin McNew, a producer at WKGC 90.7-FM, said she most loves “the beach! I wish I could go more than I do.” She’s also hoping to visit Pier Park more this summer: “Especially when it warms up and we can sit outside of Starbucks and people watch. Summer movies at the Grande are great!”
- Lois Carter, who I know through Kaleidoscope Theatre, loves the water too: “the beach, Deerpoint Lake, Econfina Creek, and the bays. Always beautiful, whether calm or wild.” She’s anticipating “having my grandson come down from Atlanta to visit and going to summer camp at Kaleidoscope Theatre with me.”
- Robin Shader, director of the Northwest Regional Library System, loves “the library (of course). Lots of great free programs to interest children, exercise their minds, and keep them reading over the summer. Personally I love the natural resources: beautiful beaches, state parks, hiking trails, etc. And the sugar/cinnamon twist donut at Dan D’s is out of this world!” She got some catching up to do this summer: “I’ve got a pile of books I’d like to read poolside.”
- “One of my favorite things about this area is the people. Anywhere I go, I always see someone I know and it just makes this place home for me. I enjoy meeting the diverse group of individuals we have in this area,” said Brittany Cole, vice president of communications for the Bay County Chamber of Commerce.
“Another thing I love is our city and county piers. What gorgeous structures, and they give you a great view of our beautiful beaches. I look forward to some deep sea fishing this summer. My family owns charter boats at Capt. Anderson’s Marina, and going out on the water with them and catching big fish is always a treat.”
- Josh Scalf, trombonist with the Go Big or Go Home band, intends to spend time practicing and writing while enjoying “the beauty of the area with friends and family — waverunners at the beach and bay, kayaking down Econfina, maybe hit up Shipwreck, do some SCUBA diving, etc.
“Of all the things I love about this area, I’d have to say aside from all of the great people around, it would have to be the natural beauty that we all too often take for granted,” Josh said. “I can get great food and entertainment anywhere, but we are blessed to live in town that has so many great places around the beach and the bay to enjoy.”
Josh is also looking forward to working this summer. As a professional musician, work is what he lives for: “I have several different things already lined up, from performing with Sinfonia Gulf Coast over in Alys Beach on May 26, working with the Village Brass over in Destin, playing some funk and R&B with Go Big Or Go Home, and maybe even playing some jazz with a few high level local players. And I am hoping to line up many, many more.”
- “Summer is a time when I love to go over ‘big barrier,’ i.e., the Hathaway Bridge, to the beach with my grandchildren and pretend to be tourists,” said Rosemarie O’Bourke, chairwoman of the Visual and Performing Arts at GCSC. “We go to the amusement parks, play putt-putt golf, visit the souvenir shops, hang out at Schooners and splash at the beach. This summer, we bought passes to Shipwreck Island and hope to lounge in the shade with my daughter while the kids play. In August, we will be deep into plans and auditions for ‘Les Miserables,’ (Aug. 5 and 6) so there goes the summer.”
- “I love the people — most are supportive, helpful and kind,” said Helen Ferrell of the Beach Art Group. “The beauty — as an artist, I love that I can find inspiration around every corner.” She plans on “enjoying some of the wonderful events we have in the summer like Back Stage Pass, and taking my dogs swimming.”
- “I believe that the Historic St Andrews community is a beautiful place and has great bones,” said Dan Bailey, owner of Amavida Coffee and Tea Co. “I am particularly fond of the trees and the older homes in the community along with the water vistas. The more time I spend in the area meeting residents, the more I enjoy and appreciate St. Andrews and its history. I look forward to bringing smiles to the new people that will pass our way.”
- “I love walking the beautiful beaches in these last few days before the tourist season begins, feeling that it all belongs to me — just for a few moments. My favorite place: the small town of Lynn Haven, living in the house where four generations of my family have lived,” said singer Margo Anderson, who will record a Christmas album this summer. “I plan to turn the thermostat to a very cold temperature to set the mood.”
- Linda Hawk of Kaleidoscope Theatre loves “the Gulf water and beaches from PCB to St. Marks,” and is looking forward to “directing 12 aspiring young thespians at Kaleidoscope Theatre’s 6-day summer camp.”
- “This area fosters a health conscious, environmentally connected community — families playing and celebrating together outdoors. Robert (my husband) and I love the state parks and trails. We frequent Deer Lake State Park (FloridaStateParks.org/deerlake/),” said Malayne DeMars, executive director, Rosemary Beach Foundation, who’s looking forward to the “Walk Her Way” fundraiser on June 6-7.
- “Besides the obvious white beach and clear water, one of things I love about this area is the seasonal nature of the business. When the season is done, I have time off whether I want it or not. It’s healthy. Otherwise, I’d work all the time,” said cartoonist and author Deano Minton. “This summer I look forward to making our visitors happy. When our visitors are happy, they’ll return and pay us for making them happy again. It’s a great way to make a living.”
- “Aside from the beautiful beaches, I’m always amazed at the many cultural events afforded to us in our town,” said actor and teacher Ron Holman, who is leading Camp Broadway this summer. “When I was growing up here, there was maybe one play a year in town. Today, there is theatre, arts and music almost every day of the week. We are so lucky here.
“Since I retired this year, I plan to attend local events that I have been putting off for years. And I plan to explore the surrounding areas as well. I love travel, but I plan to stay close to home this summer.”
- Karon Phillips, the assistant coordinator of marketing and communications at GCSC, said her “favorite place is Schooners,” but she won’t get to visit it very much this summer, as she’s moving to Destin.
- “I love CityArts Cooperative for all its wonderful artists (including myself of course),” said artist and co-op director Jan Bennicoff. “I am looking forward to painting plein air (outside) producing lots of great Florida landscapes, (and) to our upcoming show, “Dog Days,” opening on July 3.”
- “I thoroughly enjoy the concerts in the parks in Lynn Haven and Panama City. They are as wonderful as sitting on the porch in late afternoons enjoying nature in my back yard,” said local author Carole Bailey, who is looking forward to the Grand Slam World Series tournament in late June/early July at Frank Brown Park. “My older grandson from Columbus, Ga., is playing that week, and my daughter and younger grandson will be here as well for additional vacation days after the event. PCB has always been their favorite beach.”
- Living here has turned Michelle Gerth of Capt. Anderson’s Marina into a “fish snob,” she said, meaning “when I eat fish at a restaurant, it better be fresh and good — especially after eating grouper and snapper that I caught in the Gulf, I can really appreciate an outstanding fish dish.”
This will mark Michelle’s third summer living here, and she has promised herself to finally go to Gulf World and Wonderworks, and not just wait until she has company visiting.
“I have also promised Capt. Bobo Hobbs (the longest running captain here on the docks) to go on the Florida Queen 12-hour deep sea fishing trip, and am looking forward to catching the BIG fish so I can have my bragging rights,” she said. “The best part is they have bunks below so I can bring a pillow and crash on the way back to land.”
- “One of my favorite activities for this area is, of course, a day on Shell Island. You truly think you have landed on a Caribbean Island but it is literally just in the backyard,” said Stacia Hine of Panama City Beach. “I am looking forward to relaxing with friends and eating really great food. How about Los Antojitos or sushi at Shrimpboat?”
- Bonnie Jones, exhibits director and photography instructor at the Visual Arts Center of Northwest Florida in Panama City, said her favorite local meal is breakfast on the deck at Bayou Joe’s. She plans to spend time this summer canoeing.
- “One of the things I love is a place — St. Andrew Bay,” said local author Michael Brim. “It is a marine biologist’s paradise because of its diversity: biological (over 2,300 species); and geographic (bay, bayous, lagoon, tidal creeks and four bays in one — East, West, North, and St. Andrew Bay).”
A favorite activity of Michael’s is sailing with his son on the bay, and a favorite meal is the seafood gumbo at J. Michael’s.
“This summer I’m looking forward to spending as much time as possible in a chaise lounge on the beach, or sailing, or snorkeling, or fishing,” he said. “Anything outdoors near the water.”
- “What I love about this area is the area,” said Scott Kirkman, assistant professor of music at GCSC. “It is like we live in paradise all year long. It is really never too cold or too hot. I love it! I love being outdoors with my family, whether it is the beach or our own back yard.”
The Kirkmans also enjoy eating out, he said, adding “this area has some of the greatest food and restaurants anywhere.” Scott looks forward “to having the opportunity to enjoy the things listed above this summer. We will attend some of the outdoor concerts, enjoy shopping and working in my own yard.”
- “Northwest Florida is beautiful. Not the artificial beauty of steel and glass cities, but the incomparable beauty of sand and ocean and forest,” said local author Mark Boss. “But that’s not the reason I love this area. I love it because this is where the people I care about are. That is all that matters.”
Mark hopes to dust off his skimboard and spend some quiet mornings and cloudy afternoons at the beach this summer: “When I’m skimming on an inch of water and can smell the sea, hear the sounds of the waves and the gulls, and watch the little sandpipers dart across my line, I am at peace.”
- “I love the dining in downtown Panama City. It’s really great to have a list of restaurants that are completely local and unique to our community,” said Amanda Barrow of the Visual Arts Center of Northwest Florida. “I am looking forward to the ‘100 Years of Bay: A Centennial Exhibit’ at the Visual Arts Center. The exhibit will showcase photographs, art, artifacts and first-hand accounts of the growth of Bay County in the last 100 years. I really enjoy history, and this will be a great way to learn about our community.”
- “I absolutely love Kaleidoscope Theatre and what they are able to accomplish with nothing but volunteers,” said Mosley High School drama teacher Bruce Taws. “I have only had the opportunity to be in a couple of shows over the years because I am so busy with my own shows, but all of their shows have quality sets and actors for such a small theater. They also have a great lending policy for costumes and set pieces, so that is also a plus.”
Bruce is looking forward to producing two shows with his summer drama camps: “Seussical Jr.” with the little kids and “Cinderella” with the older kids.
“This has been a highlight of my summer for the last ten years, giving talented students a chance to shine on stage,” he said. “A bonus to this is that I was given a scholarship to attend a Broadway Theatre Teacher’s Workshop and see four Broadway shows. I will also have a chance to meet Mary Rodgers, the daughter of Richard Rodgers of Rodgers and Hammerstein fame, and who is responsible for composing one of my favorite musicals, ‘Once Upon a Mattress.’ The summer couldn’t be any better!”
- “My favorite thing about our area is the people. Nowhere will you find more welcoming and helpful folks,” said Sharon Churchwell, senior staff assistant at the office of the Panama City mayor and commission. “This summer, I am looking forward to enjoying the outdoors with my family.”
- Jim Barr, coordinator for Education Partnerships at GCSC, said “the caring people” are what he likes most about this area: “A more caring community, I have never known,” he said, adding, “I’m looking forward to watching the beautiful sunsets while exercising on the beach.”
- Barry Hertzog, an actor and director with Kaleidoscope Theatre, said he most enjoys the beach: “I love being near the water. I moved here five years ago from New Mexico. In New Mexico, I had all beach but no water.” He plans to spend the summer kayaking, fishing, swimming and snorkeling.
- “I love so very many things about the area, but if I have to pick just one, it's going out — to dinner, to a place with music and dancing — with friends and seeing other friends there. Hanging out, talking, laughing, dancing, etc.,” said local author Michael Lister. “Some of my favorite places to do this are The Place, The Buccaneer, The Fiesta, The Purple Grape, and many others.”
This summer, he’s looking forward to River Readings, the conference on spirituality and creativity he will lead on June 1 at Gulf Coast State College, as well as “seeing some great movies, listening to lots of live music, and eating some great meals — all with great friends.”