Escape The Winter Blues In This Underrated Florida Destination

As tourists and holiday travelers fly south for the winter like migratory birds, it has left more people than ever passing through places like Miami International Airport this year. The beaches of South Florida and theme parks of Central Florida, where Disney World and the Universal Orlando resort are located, are natural escapes for anyone looking to combat the winter blues. However, another place worth visiting that might not be on your radar is the Florida Panhandle.

Bordered by Georgia, Alabama, and the Gulf of Mexico, the Panhandle makes up the northwest part of the Sunshine State. It's where you'll find the state capital, Tallahassee, along with coastal cities like Pensacola and Panama City. A highway drive along US-98 will take you along the Emerald Coast, stretching from Pensacola Beach to Panama City Beach, where you're unlikely to see snow unless it's "Florida Snow," meaning white sands.

That said, you might need warmer clothes than shorts and T-shirts on a winter trip to the Panhandle. On some rare occasions in recent years, snow flurries have fallen on Tallahassee and Pensacola, but those cases are the exception to the rule in an otherwise temperate climate. It could still be cold since Tallahassee's average temperature in wintertime ranges from lows in the mid-40s to highs in the mid-60s. This is cooler than Palm Beach, where it stays in the mid-60s to mid-70s, though it might be a warm walk in the park compared to somewhere like Maine.

A road trip along Florida's Emerald Coast

A road trip from Tallahassee to Pensacola, with stopovers in Destin, Panama City, St. George Island, and St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, would only involve about six and a half hours of driving along Florida's Gulf Coast. Since Pensacola, as the Panhandle's westernmost city, inhabits a different time zone, you'd also gain an hour toward the end.

Starting in the state capital, you can pick up a pamphlet from the Florida Welcome Center and take a self-guided tour of the Capitol complex in downtown Tallahassee, on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The 22nd-floor observation deck is worth a visit, as is the Historic Capitol Museum, which is included on the National Register of Historic Places, and which stands in front of the current Capitol building. About 3 miles from there is another National Historic Landmark, Mission San Luis, which now functions as a living history museum where you can learn about the capital's colonial Spanish and Apalachee Indian roots.

Tours of Tallahassee's Doak Campbell Stadium, home of the Florida State Seminoles college football team, are currently suspended. However, you can still park in the visitor lot and tour Florida State University. Meanwhile, 23 miles south of FSU, nature lovers can explore the hiking trails of the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. This 17,000-acre refuge and its lighthouse (pictured above) were the inspiration for Area X in New York Times-bestselling author Jeff VanderMeer's sci-fi novel, "Annihilation," before it was adapted into a Natalie Portman movie.

Panama City, Pensacola, and more

The many moss-covered live oaks in Tallahassee and other places near the state border almost make some parts of north Florida feel more like south Georgia. As you head down toward the Gulf Coast, though, you'll begin encountering more beach resort towns in the Panhandle. Yet it's actually a state park — the one on St. George Island — that emerged as one of America's top-ranked beach vacation spots this year.

The similarly named St. Andrews State Park in Panama City is another beautiful spot with clear blue waters. While it might be too cold in the winter for the usual beach activities like swimming, you can still enjoy glamping in eco-tents with a view of St. Andrews Bay. Take the ferry to Shell Island for 7 more miles of white sand, unspoiled by the crowds or condominiums of other Florida beaches. Or just enjoy hanging out during the off-season on Panama City Beach, which comes alive in January and February with events like the Mardi Gras and Music Festival and the Food Truck and Craft Beer Festival.

If you enjoy being out on the water, another great destination for fishing adventures on the way to Pensacola is the city of Destin. Pensacola itself holds another pristine beach with a landmark ball tower, plus the Lighthouse and Maritime Museum, the free National Naval Aviation Museum, indoor axe-throwing at Grizzly Axes (with rage rooms for venting your frustrations), and many more activities to fend off the winter blues.