Picture the most beautiful sugar sand beaches you’ve ever seen surrounded by incredible shopping, from upscale to outlet malls.  Add in a concentration of the finest restaurants almost unequaled in America and you’ve pretty much described the Destin, Fla. area, where we have spent the last week.

There’s lots of camping here, with three excellent state parks – Grayton Beach, Top Sail and Henderson Beach – as well as several private campgrounds. We arrived the Monday after Christmas and found all the state parks filled so we opted for Camp Gulf, recently dubbed one of the Top RV Parks by the Travel Channel.

Camp Gulf is literally right on the Gulf of Mexico. Well, at least 15 of its spots are true beachfront but, because of county regulations, the RVs that camp in those spots must go to people who do not have dogs. That was okay for us, though, because even though we have Tai with us, those sites cost nearly $100 a night. Further back, prices drop dramatically. They are all flat, on a concrete pad, and come with full hookups.

Coming from Michigan, our RV was winterized. Because we will soon be back in the cold and snow, we have opted to keep it winterized. That means we use bottled water and haven’t hooked up to the water spigot outside, a minor inconvenience that will save me from having to re-winterize once we return north.

This is not really our favorite kind of camping.

The lots are narrow and most of our neighbors were monstrous Type A’s or Fifth Wheels. We felt we were surrounded by skyscrapers and although we could smell the beach, we were too far back to appreciate it.

We prefer wide open spaces and boondocking. But that sort of camping is not available in this part of Florida’s panhandle and, in all, our stay at Camp Gulf was quite pleasant. The folks who run Camp Gulf are friendly and the place is meticulously kept up. The restrooms and showers are all private and clean.

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Gulf Islands National Seashore

There are pools, a clubhouse and, great for us, passes to a nearby Gold’s Gym, just a couple miles west on Highway 98, the very busy road that parallels the beach from Panama City to the East to Pensacola on the west. We’ve been here before further into the season and found that road frequently gridlocks.

The time of year for our visit was not too bad, though the weather was. Temps reached the low sixties most days and that would have been great for our winter weary Michigan bones. But in the six days we stayed here, not one of those days could be called sunny.

We spent our mornings at the gym. We also drove west about 20 miles from Destin to the Gulf Islands National Seashore,  a spectacular narrow strip of sandy beaches and aquamarine water that is just a great place to hang out no matter the weather. I learned that you can’t use a drone on Natinal Park properties… so I have no drone footage to share. But the seashore is awesome,

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The Tradewinds in Niceville

On a personal level, I was delighted to run into an old high school buddy, Chuck Reddick, who I hadn’t seen in in decades snowbirding in Destin. He and his wife, Kathy,  invited us to dinner with a group of their friends on New Years Eve and, a couple days later, to a place in nearby Niceville, Fla. called the Tradewinds. It was one of the finest Italian restaurants we’ve ever visited. The place is totally unpretentious. There isn’t even a sign out front and the ramshackle building itself doesn’t exactly inspire culinary confidence.

But the food. Oh my. The place started out as a sandwich and beer joint, only open a couple of days a week. Now, it’s open Tuesday -Saturday. Don’t even think of going without a reservation. And you might need a local to help you find the spot. But the Tradewinds is so good that we would come back to this area just to eat there.

Good thing the folks at Camp Gulf gave us passes to the gym.

After a week of lousy weather, we’re pretty antsy to move move on. So we’re thinking about hitting the road and exploring the Gulf Coast south of Panama Beach for a couple days before turning north towards home.