Many make the trip to Navarre Beach for breathtaking views from the Navarre Beach Pier or they arrive anticipating moments of simple family fun, fishing the day away while others travel to the area for long days spent at the beach hunting for seashells and delighting in solitude that is becoming a rare find amongst Florida beaches. Below are four more reasons why a beach vacation to Navarre Beach, Florida, should be on your vacation planner for 2019.
Embracing A Tiny Town
The area has been given the title of “One of the Best Tiny Towns,” by Southern Living Magazine, draws families from the region and beyond. Families are attracted to the area like magnets on a refrigerator, as 12 miles of uncrowded beaches give way to waterplay — kite boarding, surfing, and snorkeling are all part of the day’s journey. Children can run like the wind without bumping into a beach chair, car, or another human, oh so refreshing. What’s even more fun is watching Moms and Dads trying to capture these moments on video. It’s tough as these undisturbed beaches bring a freedom vibe that kids tap into, slowing them down for a video is rarely an option! Add in the silky-smooth white sandy beaches perfect for tiny feet and crystal clear turquoise waters and you have an ideal family beach. Open spaces also encourage building large sand castles, walks on the beach, and beach sittin’ time with your favorite book.
Remember the thrill of catching your first fish? Families will find fishing experiences to be plentiful in and around the area. One of the best places to start is on the Gulf Coast’s longest pier, the 1,545-foot Navarre Beach Fishing Pier. The views from the Pier are outer- worldly and make the perfect backdrop for Instagram-worthy photos. Plus, the ease of finding a space to set-up and cast away makes the pier uber family-friendly. Another interesting aspect of the pier is the copious number of instructional signage, which appear as you wonder the quarter-mile structure. The dedication to educating visitors on safe fishing practices is impressive. Signs issue instructions to protect endangered sea turtles, birds and dolphins, and in case of an emergency, aka a hook gets entangled, phone numbers are posted to rectify the situation immediately. This is a wonderful teaching moment for parents to explain the relationships between man and the environment.
For fishing enthusiasts who seek a more active experience, there are opportunities to enjoy Florida’s back county by kayak fishing along the inshore mangroves, grass flats, and rivers. Pro Tip: Seashells are numerous under the pier.
2. Into the Wild
A fun and nostalgic outing for families is a day at the park, but not just any old park. Why not visit one of only ten National Seashore parks in the United States, Gulf Islands National Seashore, and discover why the Gulf of Mexico is so alluring? The attraction starts with eight miles of pristine Gulf-front beaches to the west of Navarre Beach. A top stop is a visit to Fort Pickens, known by many as the “Guardian of the Gulf Coast.”
Fort Pickens is riddled with history and a structured tour of the area provides an excellent opportunity to get in a quick history lesson. A museum is also located on site offering a variety of hands-on exhibits and videos showcasing the natural and cultural wonders of the area. After an enriching tour, families can spend time unpacking a delicious beachside picnic, hike or bike, and birdwatch ‘til the sun goes down. Pro Tip: Say goodbye to Siri for an hour or two and head on over to The Eastern National Bookstore, just inside the entrance to Fort Pickens. Park rangers and volunteers (yep, real people), are on hand to provide tips and suggestions to make the trip a memorable one.
Looking for an entirely different kind of park adventure? Check out the Navarre Marine Park, which is free and open to the public, offering visitors a marine sanctuary and an artificial reef. The park is south of Sea Oat Pavilion (just ask a local). Once there, follow the kayak/scuba boardwalk leading directly to the beach. The reef is located 100 yards offshore near lifeguard station number one and is open when water conditions are safe. Beyond snorkeling and diving, one of the most popular activities is the clear bottom kayak reef tour. This is an exciting way to discover what lies beneath the waves, without flippers, masks, tanks and snorkel gear. Kids will want to be on the lookout for endangered turtles, reef fish, and enjoy the swaying and swinging of the sea grasses.
Go into the wild at Blackwater State Park in Milton, Florida, an extraordinary park in so many ways. The park was certified in 1980 as a Registered State Nature Feature as an example of Florida’s natural history. It is also known as having one of the oldest and largest collections of Atlantic white cedar stands lining the river, and in 1982 it was recognized as a Florida Champion Tree. Today visitors will encounter more than 600 acres of virgin wilderness, complete with a 65-mile kayak trail. Blackwater River is also one of the purest sand-bottom rivers in the United States, making it ideal for swimming. Grab a paddle, a fishing pole, an inner tube, or catch some air ziplining through the trees. Forgot your kayak or canoe? No worries as rentals are available from local outfitters. Bagdad Park is all the rage with families as the area is equipped with benches and picnic tables. Blackwater State Park is famous for its diverse hiking trails, so if you want to spot a white tail deer, hit the trails in the early morning. It’s also prime time to observe wading birds like Herons and Egrets fishing for their breakfast. The Park is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail, so keep your binoculars handy as you may be lucky enough to spot the Federally Endangered Red-cockaded Woodpecker. Shaded campsites are a big draw and a favorite option for families
3. Local Eats
You may find yourself longing to bump into some other vacationers, so head on over to Navarre Beach Boulevard and stop in at Sailors Grill, which sits right on the beach and often with volleyball tournaments in full swing. The food is American fare and the atmosphere is great for kids. Don’t miss the sunsets! One not-to-miss is Windjammer’s on the Navarre Fishing Pier, where succulent seafood is the catch of the day. The spiny lobster melts in your mouth while the Mahi-Mahi tacos are equally tasty. Of course, visitors will find standard fare for kid’s burgers and grilled cheese. Looking for an upmarket dining experience? Try East Bay Crab House, which offers an array of seafood dishes from stuffed founder to grilled cobia and New Orleans-inspired dishes like Tuna Orleans and Grouper Etouffee, to name a few. The restaurant easily accommodates large families, and TripAdvisor gives it a 4-star rating. Pro Tip: IC Station, Navarre’s newest ice cream shops brings a slice of New York to its shores. Manager, Steven Zheng trained in the art of stir fry ice cream in New York, yet the art of stir fry ice cream began in Thailand. Strawberry and brownie is a top pick!
4. Stay in a Treehouse?
Remember the days when treehouses were a summer escape, a place to get away from it all even though it was in your own backyard? Feel like a kid again, with your kids and plan to overnight in a luxury tree house nestled amongst a dense magnolia canopy with two queen beds, kitchen and bath at Coldwater Gardens. The Gardens is an intimate retreat and a quick 18-mile drive from Blackwater State Park offering posh cottages and luxe camping outposts. Guests will be transformed as lush foliage gives way to hands-on activities — feed the animals, arts and crafts, kids’ tours and more create a wonderful back-to-nature stay. Additionally, the area offers a plethora of overnight accommodations from the expected chain hotels: Hampton Inn & Suites, Regency Inn & Suites, Spring Hill Suite by Marriott, and others. For those who prefer home-away-from-home stays, condo and home rentals are prevalent.
With so much to do in Navarre Beach you will to come back again and again. Just a few fun facts to leave you with: much of the 1978 film Jaws 2 was filmed at Navarre Beach; historic Milton is the “Canoe Capital of Florida;” and the 50-acre Gulf Breeze Zoo features hundreds of animals from around the world. Learn more visit here: https://www.getrelaxing.com/
The article was written by Nina Zapala, a travel and lifestyle writer, based in the South. The article first appeared in the Naples Daily News, Naples Florida, part of USA Today Network Florida, in August 2018. The article was updated and revised for Speaking of Travel. Find Nina on Instagram, Pinterest or LinkedIn @ninazapala for more travel shenanigans!