I lived in Pensacola for a while. Since you've visited Panama City I won't be telling you anything you don't already know but that part of Florida, in the Panhandle, is pretty ho-hum. It's not the scenic Florida that most folks think of as being "Florida."
That said, there are a few exceptions. I thought P'cola Bay was pretty and there are some gorgeous, quiet views from the beaches and cliffs along Scenic Highway.
The old town area of P'cola around the harbor has some nice older buildings that would suit the themes you've been working toward. There are both some well maintained older buildings, some that are in various stages of refurbishment and some that are abandoned and decaying. (BTW, I was last there six or seven years ago so some things may have changed - but not much, I'd reckon; P'cola is a slow town.)
Mobile is somewhat similar to Pensacola in overall style. I don't think it's worth a special trip, but that's just my opinion.
BTW, didja know there are only two seasons along the Gulf Coast? Yup. There's Mardi Gras. And there's Gittin' Ready For Mardi Gras.
In Florida beware of looking like a professional photographer in a State park (eg, homestead sites) - I understand they try to charge a fee if you plan on selling your pictures. If you do come to Florida, you might wish to contact LF camera groups in the State ( currently two - Cental Florida & NE Florida LF groups) for members' suggestions/guidance.
Just wanted to make sure I am not scaring you away from New Orleans. It is a really cool town, sort of psuedo-european in the French Quarter. What I want to convey is that it is a city where you can go from safe to dangerous very quickly, often within the space of a few blocks without realizing it. Just be aware. If you confine your walking to the area between the river and Bourbon street, you are pretty much okay.
Those grave yards out on the way to the airport are areas to have a group of people with while photographing also. Not in the best neighborhoods.
If you find yourself in s. LA, then you may want to check out Port Fourchon. Its more a less a crap town, but there is a lot of fishing and oil field service things there, whihc might make for interesting photos. I've been meaning on going to Battleship Texas Monument here in Houston, which may prove useful to you as well. Galveston Island is also a possibility for coastline and old architecture. Its been about 6 years since I was there so I can't say exactly where to check out. Hope this helps.
With regard to tripods, I've photographed all over the Southeast for decades and have never had anyone challenge a tripod with one exception. I was taking a shot of the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta and a security guard did not want me on the grass - as long as I stayed on the sidewalk, I was fine.
I've never been to Kansas, so I don't know what kind of humidity you're used to. In the Southeast, particularly along the coast and particularly in Florida, the water fills the air and causes a harsh glow to everything. At the same time, the brightness of the sun can cause extreme SBRs. It's not impossible to photograph, just different at some times of the year. The fall is usually the better time of year for lower humidity without a lot of rain.
The humidity combined with the flatness of much of the landscape means there are not a lot of the huge vistas seen in the west. As a result, I think you are wise to be thinking about structures.
In many areas, wetlands have gotten harder to shoot - lots of development along the water in many places. You might want to make a list of state parks and do a bit of research. You might also want to research guides in the area you choose. Some of the wetlands are reachable only by boat.
If you decide to come to NE Florida - Jacksonville, St. Augustine - , as Doug says, we have a LF group here. Let me know and we'll give you some suggestions.
Don, if you go over to the Atlantic side near the Jacksonville area, be sure not to miss the Georgia Barrier Islands - Jekyll(!), St. Simon's and Cumberland Island. There's also the Altamaha Swamp, on US 13 a few miles West of Brunswick, Ga. Also, if you're willing to go a few hours North of there, both Savanah and Charleston are inexhaustible sources for fine photographs.
If you get into Florida...
St. Joseph Peninsula State Park ("St. Joe Spit") southwest from Apalachicola has some high dunes and white sand beaches, with some good vantages from dune crossovers.. The spit is oriented n-s.
Apalachicola and Carrabelle are still to some extent fishing towns although rampant gentrification is "ruining" them and steadily turning them into versions of Seaside. Get 'em before they're gone. There's an interesting lighthouse (Crooked River Light) back in the pines just west of Carabelle on US 98.
Continuing eastward, eat at The Oaks at Ochlockonee Bay and the Spring Creek Restaurant at Spring Creek.
The character of the coast changes east of Ochlockonee Bay; it becomes wide salt marshes without beaches, and is a low-energy area of the Gulf.
In Wakulla County, be sure to go to Wakulla Springs and take the boat ride down Wakulla River. That's feasible for handheld photography only, but it's a great trip.
Continuing east on US 98, just after the bridge at Newport is the turnoff to the right to the St. Marks NWR. Here there's lots of wildlife, upland and marsh views, and a nice lighthouse at the end of the road. As for food/supplies, the nearest are a couple of beer joints at Newport; there's nothing in the refuge.