I’m a contented beach bum married to a hyperactive nature nut. Give me lazy hours under a shady umbrella with a great beach read. He’s always on the lookout for exciting eco-adventures. We also want to escape big city clamor, crowds and freeway snarl-ups. We discovered the best of both our vacation worlds in Northwest Florida's Santa Rosa County.
The welcome mat is out in Navarre Beach where miles of protected beach stretch between Gulf Islands National Seashore and Navarre Beach Park. It’s no wonder these beaches make “best beach” lists year after year. Particularly impressive: Santa Rosa’s proactive nourishment of nature’s gifts.
Here’s how fun flows on island time:
- Jumpstart the morning. Follow the irresistible aroma of warm homemade sticky buns to Sailors’ Grill for breakfast.
- Roll out a beach blanket and feel stress slip away while daydreaming to background music of lapping waves and laughing gulls. For a change of pace, park a beach chair beside Santa Rosa Sound and enjoy the unending parade of pleasure boats and barges.
- Can’t sit still? Organize a rousing game of beach volleyball. Pedal the paved path along the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Rent a Jet Ski or sailboat at Navarre Beach Ski & Sail. Reel in a big catch at new Navarre Beach Fishing Pier that stakes its claim as the longest fishing pier in Florida. The pier is also perfect for a morning or moonlight stroll.
- At day’s end, pull up a seat at Juana’s Pagodas and watch the world turn red, plum and gold as the sun slips below the horizon. Hang around awhile and boogie to beach music.
Break from the Beach
When it’s time for a break from the beach, here’s a sample of nearby family-friendly activities:
- Flutter by the Panhandle Butterfly House and marvel at the butterfly nursery.
- Talk to animals from around the world and feed the friendly giraffes at Gulf Breeze Zoo.
- In Milton, step back in time at the L & N West Florida Railroad Museum, listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Float, Zip or Blaze a Trail
It’s just a short drive from the beaches to the rivers, for another playground in the Blackwater River State Forest, the “Canoe Capital of Florida.”
- Hike woodland trails in the 590-acre Blackwater River State Park. Take a cooling dip in the Blackwater River, one of the purest sand-bottom rivers in the world.
- On Coldwater Creek, Adventures Unlimited Outdoor Center corners the market on eco-fun. Canoe, tube or kayak. Picnic on white sandbars. Take the Challenge on the Ropes course. Whoosh through the forest canopy from roost to roost via exhilarating zip lines.
For value-conscious travelers, deals abound on the beach and beyond. Choose from condo stays, hotels, vacation rental homes and rustic forest cabins. Roll in on an RV and make new friends at area parks. Bring gear and camp out under the stars.
For more information and dozens of specials, visit Beaches to Rivers of Santa Rosa