Panama City Beach vs. Southern California: Where would you rather live?

Peter Fischetti

By Peter Fischetti

Before long, many of us will be floating along in the Gulf on the boogie board, trying desperately but unsuccessfully to “catch a wave,” as the Beach Boys sang. Of course they were inspired by the Pacific Ocean surf, which actually has waves. The Gulf is usually calm, but our water temperature in the summer is heaven. Hmm, I wonder how warm the Pacific gets.

That prompted a question I’m often asked: What was it like to live in Southern California? My instinct, after almost six years in Panama City Beach, is to say that it’s different, but that’s not a very good answer. 

Let me put it this way: If I were still in the Army when I moved from New York to California, I would have asked for overseas pay. Yes, in many ways it's a different country, and maybe it's worth comparing to living here.

So back to boogie boarding. The water temperature in the Gulf reaches an average of 86 degrees in the summer. I looked it up, and on Los Angeles beaches, the Pacific is likely to ever reach 70 degrees. 

Inspired by such research, I thought it might be interesting to compare Florida with California and, when possible, Panama City Beach with Corona, the Southern California city where I lived for 35 years and still miss. So here we go.

Housing. A friend of mine who lived four blocks from the Gulf sold his house last fall for $324,000. It sits on a quarter acre, has 1,200 square feet and was built around 2000. In Manhattan Beach, a house on Zillow with the same square footage and distance to the Pacific is listed at $2 million. It sits on a tiny lot and was built in 1942. Geez, it's older than I am. 

Fuel. In Florida and California, the price of gasoline varies widely within the state. But as I write this, the lowest price for unleaded regular gas in Panama City Beach  is $2.78. In Corona, it’s $3.69. It’s no wonder Tesla is building its electric vehicles in California.

Utilities. In both states, air conditioning is a must for at least half the year. In Florida, the average cost of electricity is 11.37 cents per kilowatt hour. It’s 19.90 cents in California.

Taxes. Florida (God bless its heart) has no state income tax. In California, the rate varies depending on income. So if you have taxable income of $100,000, the state would take $3,840. Our sales tax is 7 percent. In Corona it’s 7.75 percent.

Climate. This is interesting. In Panama City Beach, the average July high temperature is 90 and the average January low in 43. In Corona, those numbers are 93 and 42. Pretty close until you consider rainfall. Here the annual average is 60 inches; it’s 12 inches in Corona. (I guess that’s where I got my dry humor.)

Commuting. Yes, traffic congestion on the beach continues to get worse. Still, commuters here spend an average of 42 minutes round-trip. In the Corona area, it’s 64 minutes--the fifth worst in the country.

Well, so far it seems we have it pretty good here compared to California. But there’s another side.

Income. The average annual salary in Florida is about $43,000; in California it’s $65,000. But at least we spend less time commuting to make less money.

So there you have it. Those are some of the reasons we’re in Panama City Beach. What we miss most about Corona, other than our friends, are the mountains. I should point out that the highest elevation in Florida--345 feet--is Britton Hill in northern Walton County. Mount Whitney in central California rises 14,505 feet. Of course it’s much easier for old people to ride a bike here.

Oh, I forgot. There’s one other comparison I should include.

Politics. Yes, there’s a big difference in this category. Bay County has twice as many Republicans than Democrats. In California, it's the exact opposite.

In most of California, Republicans are an endangered species. The Democrats run the state and have passed legislation to make that clear. I know it sounds crazy, but were you aware that drivers there are restricted to making only left turns? Even worse, supermarkets can’t sell chickens with a right wing.

That’s why we left California. I love chicken wings.

Peter Fischetti is a retired journalist from Southern California, which he hopes you won't hold against him. He lives in Panama City Beach.
Mount Whitney rises 14,505 feet while Florida's highest point is 345 feet. National Park Service

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I provide a weekly column that responds to local news in the Panama City/Panama City Beach area. It is written in a first-person format and almost always has a humorous theme.

Panama City Beach, FL

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