A June 2001 trip
to Navarre by Kids-in-Tow
Quote: The 2001 trip to the Gulf Coast based in a beach house in out-of-the-way Navarre Beach. Once again, our resident brother made it easy to find the best activities. Our days followed a relaxing pattern of Leisurely Breakfast, Morning Beach Time, Lunch, Cat-Nap, Afternoon Sight-Seeing, Evening Restaurant, Sunset Swim, Visiting.
The beach is the cliché for the Florida Panhandle. Cool white sand, clear emerald-to-blue water, gentle surf: a perfect beach for young families. Proximity to Gulf Islands National Seashore means you’ll see more wildlife.
The Sunset Swims were heavenly. Bathtub warm water, low tide and gloriously colored skies made for a beautiful ending to every day.
This turned out to be a great base for afternoon forays to sites in Pensacola to the west and Fort Walton/Destin to the east. Navarre Beach itself has few non-beach attractions.
I have made many trips to this area with my Florida Brother to guide me. Please follow the links to my other journals for more information.
This trip’s party was made up of my husband and I, our two sons aged 3 and almost 6, my Midwest Brother (every boy's favorite uncle!), my Florida Brother, his native Floridian wife and their 7-year-old son. So we had a "boys" bent to our trip, but we "girls" had fun too.
By hitting the beach from 8 AM to 10:30 AM and again in the evening, we avoided crowds and sunburns. After lunch and a cat-nap (to keep the little ones well rested), we had plenty of time to see the sights in the afternoon. The evening meal could be taken in a restaurant close to our afternoon port of call, so the few options on the island did not bore us.
Don’t forget to take the kids on the beach after dark one night with flash lights. The white Ghost Crabs come out in force, one every five feet or so, in all different sizes. You may even see a sea turtle laying her eggs (we didn’t, but it happens).
We are already planning our next trip! Please note the Next Time entry, which list links and information about the activities we just couldn’t fit into this year’s trip. Maybe you will prefer them to the activities we enjoyed.
There is a toll bridge: 50 cents every time you cross to the island.
A bike path runs the length of the Navarre Beach community. It is open to pedestrians and non-motorized wheeled vehicles. Bring the kids scooters, roller blades and bikes! If you need to rent these items, you’ll have to visit Fort Walton or Pensacola. (/week) See full entry on biking.
With water all around, using a catamaran or motorized boat is a natural transportation option. Light-weight craft can be run right up on the beach. Some of the rental units have boat facilities.
We worked with ERA in Navarre. I like web sites that show bed configuration rather than just a number it sleeps (nobody in our party wanted to sleep on a sofa sleeper, our couples needed a queen not a double, etc.). Their building is at the foot of the Navarre Bridge and their large sign faces west (hard to see when coming from east/Fort Walton area.)
The beach house we had was good quality, I assume they have a standard and all their beach houses would be equally good.
Their staff was friendly and answered all of my silly questions without a fuss.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on June 29, 2001
ERA – Navarre Rental Agency
1804 Prado Street
Navarre Beach, Florida
It beat our expectations for cleanliness and size. The beds were comfortable. The house is on stilts (see the web site) so it swayed very slightly when the washer or dryer kicked in. Not a problem, less than the rocking of a boat. It had a dishwasher in the fully equipped kitchen!
The house is across the road from the gulf, so it did not have a sweeping 180-degree view of the ocean. That would have cost us $1000 more for the week. We could see the gulf through our 30-ft wide beach access, and we had nice views of the sound and the dunes from the back windows. That was good enough for my morning tea. (see pics)
We had no trouble getting to the beach through our beach access.
There was an outside shower (with hot-and-cold water) to get all the sand off after beach, and a clothes line under the house to hang up the wet items. We parked two vehicles under the house as well. There were lights for night-time use of this area. We saw two lizards here (small, harmless). If our party doesn’t get any bigger, we will definitely look to rent this beach house again!
Aquarius Beach House
7830 Gulf Blvd.
Navarre Beach, Florida
This is the only hotel on Navarre Beach. All other housing is condos or houses which are typically rented Saturday-to-Saturday.
My Florida Brother recommends this hotel and has stayed there.
We did not stay there this trip, mainly because their 2 Dbl Full or 1 King bed configuration did not meet out needs. Cots are $10 extra. Also, the rooms do not have refrigerators or microwaves, which would make snacking children between meals more difficult. Kids do eat free at Holiday Inn, but only with an adult meal.
The indoor pool is uniquely shaped and is 3 ft at its lowest end. It is not a huge pool, but there is also an outdoor pool. The pools appear to be used only in bad beach weather. The beach for the hotel is nice but crowded compared to the beach on the house end of the island.
The hotel has baby-sitting service (The Beach Brigade, Lunch Bunch and Parent’s Night Out). Please see their web site. You can check for room availability on-line. Hotel Website: The Tropics
If you cannot stay Saturday-to-Saturday or want to leave your options open in case of bad weather, this is the Navarre Beach accommodation you should choose.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on June 29, 2001
The Tropics – Holiday Inn Navarre Beach, FL
8375 Gulf Blvd
Navarre Beach, Florida
The local Chamber of Commerce newsletter was a buzz about the owner’s taking over management of the restaurant starting the spring of 2001. They have apparently brought in a new chef and totally re-done the menu.
I cannot tell you about service, as we had carry-out. On this particular evening, the kids preferred hot dogs and the adults preferred to stay sandy from the beach.
This is primarily a seafood restaurant. The menu items are Floribbean: Gulf shrimp, grouper, oysters, local crab and crawfish are featured. The Heavenly Grouper was very good (baked in white Dijon sauce with toasted almonds). The Cajun Angels (jumbo shrimp stuffed with crab meat, wrapped in bacon and broiled with Cajun spices) had the usual problem for bacon-shrimp combinations: either the bacon is underdone or the shrimp is overdone. In this case overdone. I believe this might be a problem with this dish only, or maybe just that night. Everything else we tried (pasta dishes, salads, sides) were excellent. The wine list is reputed to be one of the best on the Panhandle, but we did not try any.
Next time I want to eat in so I can try their Mango Cheesecake.
The Palms of Navarre
8649 Gulf Blvd
Navarre Beach, Florida
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on June 29, 2001
Barracuda’s Bar and Grill
8469 Gulf Blvd
Navarre Beach, Florida
Located at the foot of Navarre bridge on the mainland side, not on the island.
This restaurant does not take reservations, but you can call ahead to see if there is a long wait or to mention you will have a large party.
Excellent Saturday/Sunday morning Country Breakfast Bar made to order omelets and waffles plus western and southern breakfast food selections.
Sunday brunch includes everything from the breakfast bar plus soup/salad bar, hand carved roast beef and smoked ham, steamed shrimp and desserts. I recommend this particular meal because it allows you to stroll to the Visitor Information Center and the Nature Walk before or after you eat.
From the menu I’d stick with the steaks and the smokehouse items. The seafood items were not special, but their meats were better.
Our young children enjoyed coming here because of the decorations and the walk outside through the misters. The Nature Walk of Navarre starts just outside the door. This is a very family friendly place.
8673 Navarre Parkway
Navarre Beach, Florida
Stick to the buffet. My sister-in-law had a simple chicken basket and it was pretty raw. I guess they pay most of their cooking attention to the seafood that night.
The younger crowd happily ate grilled cheese and hot dogs. They don’t know what they are missing.
Navarre Beach Holiday Inn Friday Seafood Buffet
8375 Gulf Blvd
Navarre Beach, Florida
Attraction | "Navarre Beach, FL"
On Santa Rosa Island, it has both Gulf of Mexico surf and sound-side calm water. The sound-side is a great place to learn to handle water craft. The sands are white and cooler to the feet. The waters are emerald to blue and nicely warm in the evenings. The beachfront is changed with every tide movement, but is generally safe for adult-supervised younger children. Do pay attention to rip-tide warnings, as there have been 5 drownings of adults on Santa Rosa Island in June 2001.
While there are Jetski/WaveRunner/Parasail/Catamaran rentals available, it is not as busy as other local destinations. Good place for those first lessons…
Proximity to Gulf Islands National Seashore meant we saw many rare water birds and animals. A bike will give you the power to find a beach spot without another person or building in sight. Cars can’t pull off just anywhere, they get stuck in the sand. A bike doesn’t have this problem.
Be sure to go to the beach after dark with flash lights at least once to watch the ghost crabs and other "night-life".
For a young family beach experience, Navarre Beach is a rare find in Florida these days…
Biking the Beach
Santa Rosa Island
Navarre Beach, Florida
Bike rentals are available ($25/week) in Pensacola Beach and Fort Walton Beach but not in Navarre or Navarre Beach. A business opportunity for someone!
The bike trail ends at the entrance to Gulf Islands National Seashore (GINS), but you can easily switch to the lightly traveled road. You can then take the Pensacola Beach Bridge to Gulf Breeze and pick up the bike trail on the peninsula back to the Navarre Beach Bridge. This makes a loop of about 40 miles. It is almost all flat, but you have to cross two long bridges over the sound.
Bikes allow you to stop and enjoy the surf anywhere you want to along the GINS, something you cannot do with a car without getting stuck in the sand. This is a great privacy maker.
Bring fluids, the air temperatures can be over 100 F during summer.
I saw everything from roller blades to sit-upright bikes to helmeted racers on the bike path. Everyone I met politely said "Good Morning" or "Passing on Your Left!"
Attraction | "The Zoo 850-932-2229"
Gulf Breeze Zoo
5701 Gulf Breeze Pkwy.
Gulf Breeze, Florida 32563
Attraction | "The Nature Walk of Navarre, Butterfly House and Vi"
The Nature Walk is made up of shoreline, pond and bog exhibits. The boys were happy to feed the waterfowl and turtles. The Butterfly House was closed when we were there, but the 3-year-old was quite excited peaking through a window. We’ll have to stop back another time. There is a small public park with a basketball hoop and a climber shaped like a ship for the small ones.
This is worth an extra half-hour combined with your meal.
Nature Walk/Navarre Park
Santa Rosa Sound
Attraction | "Gulfarium"
The Gulfarium is older than that "other" theme park chain, but it doesn’t have the beer bucks behind it. The dolphin and sea lion shows were nice, but not near as expansive or glitzy.
The individual shows were shorter, which was an advantage for our young children. They were also able to get close to the animals. A highlight of the 5-year-olds day was getting his picture taken with a sea lion flipper in his lap.
There are 4 shows of 20-25 minutes each, run back to back with the cycle repeating. You can cover all the exhibits, shows and gift shops in about 3 hours. The shows are a dolphin show, a sea lion show, a dolphin-and-sea lion show and a "Living Seas" show (which is an aquarium of Gulf species with a scuba diver). All the shows except the aquarium show are outside with shade, so dress for the heat.
There were some touch tanks available for limited periods of time to give the animals a rest. The alligator pond was kind of boring for our boys as the ‘gators didn’t move.
This was one of our combo trips: Anglers Beachside Grill is conveniently next door and the Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier is also worth a stop.
Visit the Gulfarium on the web. Maybe you will be interested in their program where kids get to swim with dolphins.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on July 2, 2001
Gulfarium Marine Park Adventure
1010 Miracle Strip Parkway SE
Ft. Walton Beach, Florida
One night, my Florida Brother told us to come for a walk on the bike trail on Navarre Beach. He pointed out a distant "booming" sound. It was followed by a faint but perceptible rat-a-tat-tat. You had to concentrate, but you could hear them. These were the sounds of the night bombing runs at Eglin. The responding machine gun fire and anti-aircraft rounds could also be heard. My Florida Brother said you might actually see the flashes from communities closer to the base.
These sounds were not a problem; in fact the "boys" enjoyed them. You can’t hear them if you are actually on the beach because of the surf, and you can’t hear them from inside the poorly insulated beach house. I don’t want to scare anyone away with this report, just explain what you might be hearing in the distance.
With big and small boys in our family, military activity is just one of the attractions we got for free. Military Bases
If you have boys in your crew, this may be the airport for you. As you taxi to and from the terminal, you pass Air Force aircraft and equipment of all kinds. The adult "boys" were more excited than the 5 and 3 year olds.
This is a small regional terminal that caters to military personnel and families heading to the beach; it does not have extensive services. There are no bathrooms in the secured area, so pass thru as late as possible if you have small children. Also, we noticed unclaimed luggage was left unattended on the carousel.
Be aware that it does not have an Alamo Car Rental, which was offering the cheapest prices when we visited. The other rental agencies were running short on larger vehicles and offering deep discounts to those who reserved larger cars but were willing to move down a notch.
I discuss other area military activity in the general journal.
On Navarre Beach, the higher the street number, the closer to the bridge you are. Lower numbers (Under 7300) are quite close to the Gulf Island National Seashore (GINS). Near the bridge connecting Navarre and Navarre Beach (50 cent toll) are the new high-rise condos, equipment rentals and a few restaurants. Farther west from the bridge there are more free-standing beach houses and 3-4 story condos. There is the occasional empty lot, even a few on the gulf. About 3.5 miles from the bridge you enter the GINS, which has no houses/hotels and few public beach access points. This runs for about 15 miles east until you hit Pensacola Beach. The GINS picks up again west of Pensacola Beach and runs to the end of Santa Rosa Island at Fort Pickens (see entries).
My Florida Brother mentioned that the local fire department did not have ladder truck to reach the top of the new high-rises, so helicopters would be used to take people off the top in an emergency. Something to keep in mind…
East of the bridge is not developed, but my Florida Brother reports there is a nude beach. We could not see it from the road and didn’t go looking for it. I believe there is a web site for it.
Location - Gulf Breeze, Florida which is the middle peninsula, not the ocean-most barrier island (Santa Rosa) We didn’t feel the small boys were up to the nature trails this year. On another trip, I want to see the trees that helped build the USS Constitution and other vessels I have toured in other places.
5701 Gulf Breeze Pkwy. (Hwy. 98)
20 minutes west of Ft. Walton, FL
We will save this for a winter or spring trip, when the animals are a little more lively.
Catamaran Rental: On an earlier trip, my Florida brother and I rented a catamaran for an afternoon. It was great to get a different perspective of the beach. When the kids are 8 or so, we will take them out. Of course, maybe they will prefer the speed and excitement of the wave runners instead of silently gliding over the surface and planning every turn. Well, wave runners are available too.
Sailor’s Grill: This is the only other restaurant on the island. We’ll have to try it next time.
Trader Vic’s Caribbean Grill. This restaurant is close to the Navarre bridge on the mainland side. There was no time this trip, so it is on our list for next time.
Fishing Pier: The boys are not fishermen yet. We enjoyed our sightseeing visit to the Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier, maybe next visit they will want to try fishing themselves.
La Crosse, Wisconsin