Several members of my family live in the Pensacola area, so every few years we converge on the Panhandle and spend our time at the beach. Between hurricanes and development, both Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach have undergone numerous changes over the past fifteen years, but the overall atmosphere has stayed the same, and it remains one of our favorite destinations.
Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach, along with Fort Pickens (famous for housing Geronimo during his incarceration) occupy the western portion of the thin barrier island known as Santa Rosa Island, located just off the shores of Pensacola near the Alabama border. The road between the two beaches is impassable due to hurricane damage, and unfortunately, the breach occurs in the middle of scenic Gulf Island National Seashore. Damage has also cut off Navarre from nearby Fort Walton Beach. The road to Fort Pickens is closed on the Pensacola side, so in essence, both Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach are now fairly isolated, accessible only by one bridge on each side. The remote feeling is more apparent on Navarre, and for us, added to the sense of escapism that we enjoyed during our short visit.
After our arrival, we spent the evening with family, then checked into the Hampton Inn, located on Hwy 98 in Navarre proper. The next morning, we traveled over the bridge to Navarre Beach, parked in one of the spacious (and free) public parking areas, and took a long walk along the shoreline of the sugary white sands. The water was of the clear turquoise type on this day, and we watched schools of fish roiling in the surf as we walked. It was the first of many visits to this beach. Our next trip involved sitting on the sand and watching a sunset near the skeletal remains of Navarre's pier. Next, well, that's a story....
Navarre Beach is 6.4 miles long. We know because we rented a tandem from a vendor located at the main pier and for the next two hours, we rode the heavy touring bike to the crash barrier and back again. I'm tall, so my knees kept hitting the handlebars (and my husband's rear.) I forgot to put the 70 SPF on my fair skin. A tern, angry at us for passing too close to her nest somewhere in the sea oats of the pristine dunes of Gulf Island National Seashore, tried to chase us out and at one point, tried a kamikaze attack as we rode along. The cost for this tortuous delight? Only $20.00, and it was worth the price and the experience, especially because we did remember to bring our hiking pack which had Gatorade and water in it.
Where Navarre is quiet and sedate, the romantic walk along the beach, Pensacola Beach is rambunctious, the life of the party. Free concerts every Tuesday evenings are just one of the activities available on the west side of the island.
Home to the fishing Pier, Quietwater Beach, the indomitable Tiffany's Restaurant, and the marina where you can catch a boat like Sean Kelley's Total Package for a day of deep sea fishing, when the locals head to the waters, they plop down the $1.00 road toll fee and go to Pensacola Beach where all the action is. My family and I have spent hours roasting on the sands, shopping at Alvins Island Gift Store, and watching dolphins frolic in the water from the Pier, and we love it. It will forever be the focal point for reunions. It's family friendly (with the exception of Memorial Day weekend, which isn't technically Adults Only but should be) and fun. The hotels are expensive during the high season, but one can find affordable lodging in the city of Pensacola and nearby Navarre.
So if you're thinking about traveling to Florida, and you're not sure you have enough gas to make it to Orlando or Miami Beach, consider Navarre or Pensacola. And if you do go, don't forget to stop at Flounders Restaurant on Pensacola Beach for a piece of Key Lime Pie:
If you would like to take a look at Navarre, click on the link to access a live webcam: www.navarrebeachlife.com/
Photos from our trip are at carolinians.smugmug.com