Trails Across the Country Lead to Places You Might Like
By Victor Block
Some people traipse through lovely landscapes as others explore history from the days of Native Americans to the present. Avid birders use binoculars to spot colorful feathered friends in flight while canoers and kayakers dip paddles into the water. At the end of the day, many of these visitors to Panama City, Florida, belly up to an oyster bar to enjoy freshly shucked bivalves that have been prepared in a variety of ways.
These seemingly disparate activities and attractions have one thing in common: They're all taking place along designated trails that focus upon a single thing to do, see or eat.
Countless trails around the country are available to people with a particular interest. From food to fashion, covered bridges to Kentucky bourbon, they offer something for everyone's interests. No matter how esoteric the passion, a walking, driving, biking, paddling or other trail somewhere focuses on it.
Consider Panama City, a community of about 37,000 residents perched along Florida's northwestern coast. For a smallish municipality, that town provides a surprising choice of routes that both locals and visitors can explore.
The Oyster Trail alone has enough appeal to bring some travelers to town. A dozen restaurants, ranging from a 10-stool oyster bar to a casual grill to a fine dining establishment, serve the fresh-from-the-sea food raw, baked, fried and prepared in other ways. Whether visiting Panama City for the bivalves or birds, hiking or history, you might find a trail with appeal.
Restaurants along a different oyster trail, which runs through Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Alabama, bring their own personal touch to their recipes. In addition to traditional preparations, some serve them barbequed, fire-roasted, Alfredo-style and in ceviche.
It's Louisiana's rich gastronomic culture that is celebrated along the Cajun Bayou Food Trail. It's comprised of restaurants that serve local favorites such as gumbo, jambalaya and pecan pralines. Some family-run eateries follow recipes that have been passed down for generations.
Variety of a different kind greets visitors to the Fields of Gold Farm Trail in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. Visitors can stroll through a farmers' market, tour a working spread, enjoy a locally grown meal at a garden-to-table restaurant or pick their own fruit at an orchard.
Fresh-picked apples, pears, grapes and cherries are sold at more than two dozen stands located along the colorfully named Hood River County Fruit Loop in Oregon. The 35-mile trail passes forests, farmlands and orchards. Vendors also offer flowers, pies, jam and local artisan gifts.