Updated: Jun 18
As Hurricane Michael, ravaged the Gulf Coast of Northern Florida, my thoughts and heart was with the people who live, work and vacation in this beautiful part of the world. It is a long and difficult journey to rebuild after a hurricane. Its effects are long lasting and some scars will never go away. I write this blog post to encourage you to make the Gulf Coast part of your near term travel plans. While Mexico Beach or Port St Joe may still be rebuilding, the surrounding areas are ready to receive visitors. The best thing you can do to help the people of the gulf coast is spend your vacation dollars in these areas.
My favorite spot along the Florida Gulf Coast is Navarre Beach. It is 12 miles a pristine beach on Santa Rosa Island. The powdered sugar like sand that forms this barrier island is believed to be quartzite river sediment from the Appalachian Mountains, carried south by the Chotawatchee River. This powdered sugar sand is the bed for the sparkling, azure blue waters found in this part of the Gulf of Mexico.
On Navarre Beach, there is only one hotel, a Springhill Suites by Marriott, and four restaurants. Most visitors rent a condo or beach house. There are less than a dozen high rise condo buildings on the east side of Navarre Beach. The other 10 miles of seashore is comprised of private beach homes and town houses. Navarre Beach is anchored on the west end by Santa Rosa National Seashore and on the east by Navarre Beach County Park. The causeway and bridge to the mainland has a 25 mph speed limit to protect nesting birds as does the road from the west through the National Seashore. Walking and biking paths wind through the area. Overall, there is much more nature and natural beauty than development in this slice of paradise.
CaptK and I discovered Navarre Beach on our honeymoon, 38 years ago. We spent 5 blissful days at the Holiday Inn Navarre Beach. In subsequent years, we returned to the Holiday Inn many times for family vacations, with our children. As our vacation parties began to include extended family and friends, we started renting condos or townhouses on Navarre Beach. This is where our son first learned to surf and our daughter and her friends took a polar bear plunge into the gulf one 30 degree New Years Eve night. It is the last place I went on vacation with my Dad and the place we go to celebrate my Mom’s milestone birthdays. Spring Breaks, Fourth of July’s, Thanksgivings and New Years Eves memories make Navarre Beach a special vacation spot for our family.
This summer I returned twice. In mid July, my siblings and I brought four generations of our family to a nine bedroom beach house to celebrate our Mother’s 80th birthday. In late August, my Louisiana girlfriends made our 21st annual beach trip and for the first time, breaking our Gulf Shores, AL tradition, we rented a four bedroom penthouse condo in one of the high-rises on Navarre Beach.
Navarre Beach has changed a lot through the years. In 2004 Hurricane Ivan devastated the area, wiping out much of the structures including the Fishing Pier and the Holiday Inn. The new Fishing pier reopened in 2010 and the Springhill Suites opened in 2018, in the place where the Holiday Inn once stood. A Marine Science Station and a Sea Turtle Conservation Center has opened in the Navarre Beach County Park.
In conjunction with the Marine Science Station, 3 artificial reefs were created, one in the gulf and two in the sound. The Louisiana Girls and I snorkeled the gulf reef in August. I am looking forward to a return trip to snorkel the two in the bay. The conservation efforts are evident, my grandsons and I saw sea turtles close to the shore in July, along with rays, dolphins, and schools of fish.
Pristine, uncrowded beaches are the main attraction on Navarre Beach, but it is not without some“Tiki Bar” fun. Windjammers on the Pier offers cold libations and bar food with an ocean view and the added benefit of watching the fisherman bring in delights of the sea. The Beach House Bar and Grill has a beachfront outdoor deck with a panoramic view of the ocean and fire pits, which are lit in the evenings. It is the perfect place to sip a cocktail and watch the stars or in our case a spectacular moonrise. Broussards of Navarre is on the corner of Navarre Beach Causeway and Gulf Blvd. It has indoor dining and a small patio with the ocean in the distance. People do not go to Broussard’s for the view, they go for the food. My Cajun girlfriends give it two thumbs up and I felt the Gumbo Salad with remoulade dressing was worth every calorie.
The mainstay of the Tiki Bar scene on Navarre Beach is Juana’s Pagoda and Sailors’ Grill. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, this multi-pagoda complex has been feeding and entertaining guests since 1989. It has been rebuilt or repaired after every hurricane and has something to offer for everyone in the family. They rent paddle boards and jet skis, host sand volleyball tournaments and leagues, and serve (in my opinion) the best key lime pie you will ever taste. For our family, every trip to Navarre Beach starts with a Pagoda Fish sandwich and a piece of Key Lime Pie, along with a whole pie to go, for feasting later in the trip. It is also worth a visit late in the day, to let the kids swim in the quiet bay waters, sip a cocktail and watch the sunset. It is the best place for viewing sunsets on the island. Sunset viewings can melt into some adult evening fun, with live music played almost every night during the summer.
Whether you are going to soak up the sun from a beach chair, enjoy a bike ride along the shore, or chase hermit crabs under the stars with youngsters, Navarre Beach offers a salty respite on a sugar white beach. For more information check out the following websites:
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