Dive into Summer Camp on Navarre Beach

The weather is heating up down here on Navarre Beach, and I find myself more and more busting out the sandals and shorts.

Finally!

The warm up can only mean one thing, summer is almost upon us. And that means parents are searching out summer camps for their children. While you could stick with the same old cabin in the woods (and don’t get me wrong that is a lot of fun), there is a new kind of summer camp here on Navarre Beach.

Paddle boarding along the beach, touching some of the Gulf of Mexico’s unique wildlife and even getting up close with dolphins could make for some magical summer memories at the Navarre Beach Marine Science Station.

Charlene, Heather and the crew of volunteers at the Navarre Beach Marine Science Station really care about sharing marine science and beach life with children of all ages. As licensed educators they know the tricks to not only teach the kids all the amazing science but to make it fun.

Their yearly summer camps are no exception.

The season kicks off with the fifth annual Autism OdysSea May 6.

This special event spun out of Charlene’s experience vacationing with a neighbor. Her neighbor’s son had autism and while they were visiting Disney World, Charlene was surprised to see the challenges and sideways glances her friend received.

Inspired she and the science station team banded together to create an event specifically catered to these families with sensory stations and wildlife encounters.

As for day camps the station offers a variety of camps that will engage children of all ages in hands on activities and animal encounters during the day and have them back home by night fall.

For younger kids, 4 to 5 years old, the station has added a new camp called Turtle Tots. This camp allows little ones to experience and explore the lives of sea turtles through games, playing “turtle veterinarian” and beach visits.

Possibly the coolest of the camps for the older kids is the Guy Harvey Fishing Camp. For five days your child will learn all there is to know about fishing the Gulf of Mexico’s diverse selection of sporting fish.

Children 9 to 14 will learn best tackling methods and techniques to catch the big one. In addition to learning fishing 101, the kids will get a lesson in respecting the ocean and all that she has to offer and come up close with fish and more.

The highlight of the camp is a deep sea fishing experience aboard the Entertainer charter boat where they get to apply what they learn.

These kids walk away with more than just the knowledge. They receive the gear to get fishing with a custom Guy Harvey tee, tackle box and a fishing pole to apply what they learned.

Because of the Science Station’s unique commitment to ocean conservation and public education they have been selected as the only location in Northwest Florida to partner with the Guy Harvey Foundation for this one of a kind experience.

Here is a schedule of all the camps the station has in store this summer:

Autism OdysSea

May 6, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Families with children on the spectrum

$10

 

Dolphin Discovery

June 12-16, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Students entering third through eighth grade

$275 (private dolphin cruise included)

 

Turtle Tots

June 19-23

Ages 4-5

$150

 

Jellyfish Jam

June 19-23

Students entering first and second grade

$150

 

Guy Harvey Fishing Camp

June 23-30

Ages 9-14

$350 (includes deep sea fishing, fishing gear and custom tee)

 

Paddlepalooza

July 24-28 or July 31- Aug. 4

Students entering third through fifth grade

$300 (include water sports lessons and activities)

 

Visit www.navarresciencestation.org for more information.

 

Mom and Dad

Most of the station’s camps will keep the kids occupied for the day, so what are you going to do? Might I recommend toes in the sand, drink in hand and not a care in the world? Walk down to the water from your condominium rental then grab lunch at the water front at Juana’s Pagodas and Sailors Grill at the foot of the beach bridge.

Or for the more adventuresome rent a Jet Ski, go snorkeling on the Navarre Beach near shore reef or even charter your own deep sea fishing trip. Don’t forget the sunscreen!

Slots and accommodations fill up fast. Register your child for camp at navarresciencestation.org, and find yourself a home away from home today. We offer a variety of options to make your trip relaxing and memorable.

Fish the Gulf of Mexico from Florida’s best pier

The longest pier in the Gulf of Mexico just happens to also be located on the best beach on the Gulf of Mexico in my humble opinion.

Navarre Beach offers one of the best fishing spots in Florida at the Navarre Fishing Pier. This 32,000 square foot pier is suspended 30 feet above sea level on concrete piles.

Located at the end of the bridge onto Navarre Beach, fishermen and women have been pulling up behemoth fish since the pier was built in 2014.

Gulf coast fishing is a treat. From 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. fishermen can cast their lines for a variety of sport fish.

Some of the best catches off the pier are Cobia, King Mackerel, Mahi Mahi and Red Drum. Other common catches include:

  •  African Pompano
  • Atlantic Spadefish
  • Atlantic Thread Herring
  • Blue Runner
  • Crevalle Jack
  • Florida Pompano
  • Gray Snapper
  • Gulf Flounder
  • Round Scad
  • Scaled Sardine
  • Speckled trout
  • Sheepshead
  • Blue Fish
  • Striped Mullet
  • Spanish Mackerel
  • Tarpon
  • Bonnethead
  • Redfish

Mako sharks and Sail Fish have even been hooked off the end of the pier in recent years. The pier lends itself to the amateur and the aficionado.

Wet your line for $7 a day or if you stay the week in one of our condominiums you can get a cheaper rate of $45 for the week. Military receive a discount for daily, weekly and annual entry.

Not everyone is into fishing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the pier. Grab a bite to eat at Loggerheads at the foot of the pier and play a round of beach volleyball on the sand courts.

Then walk off your meal down the longest pier in the Gulf for just $1.

During the day you will be able to see some of the amazing wildlife Navarre Beach is known for.

Loggerhead and green sea turtles often breach near the end of the pier chasing their favorite snack, jellyfish. Shore birds such as pelicans fly past and the variety of fish are endless.

A daytime stroll is great, but there is nothing quite like finishing out a day on the beach with a walk on Navarre pier at sunset. The sky comes to life like fire with streaks of blue, purple, orange, red and gold over the condominiums and stretches of undisturbed pristine white sand.

As you stroll families are still casting their lines and couples lean quietly against the rail taking it all in.

No sunset is ever the same twice, so bring your camera. Trust me when I say, you will want to remember that view.

After the sunset catch some live music at Loggerheads to round out the evening.

Don’t miss your sunset, or the perfect catch. Make a reservation at one of our beach front condominiums and get fishing.

Get up close with Navarre Beach sea turtle

Gigi the loggerhead sea turtle had a rough life.

In 1998, Gigi washed ashore in central Florida after a storm. Covered in barnacles and badly emaciated, she would not have survived very long. Despite being an otherwise healthy turtle, she had not been eating for some time, and the stress had taken its toll.

The problem lay in her eyes. Either through illness or injury, Gigi had become completely blind.

Fortunately, Sea World rescuers found Gigi and brought her to their rehabilitation center. Through antibiotics and months of care, they got her back to a healthy weight.

But her vision never returned.

Without her sight, she could not be released into the wild because she would be unable to locate food or avoid predators.

For 17 years, Gigi remained in the rehabilitation center, receiving upstanding care, but awaiting a forever home. With her disability, Gigi would need a special setup and a special team of people to care for her.

That is where the Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center comes in.

The center welcomed Gigi to her new home in August 2016. Now she spends her days educating thousands of yearly visitors about sea turtle conservation. She swims around her state of the art, saltwater pool greeting visitors with a friendly breech when she hears them approach.

To say the sea turtle center is my favorite place on Navarre Beach is an understatement. This beachfront center is just inside the Navarre Beach Marine Park one left turn away from the Navarre Beach Bridge.

Once an abandoned state park information center, the building now displays brightly painted sea turtles. The center is the only one of its kind in the Florida Panhandle.

Along with Gigi, the center is home to a variety of other species. Pumpkin the diamondback terrapin sometimes greets visitors in her out door abode or splashes a hello from her indoor tank.

Native species of fish swim around a mock-up of the Navarre Beach reef, and another tank houses invasive lionfish to illustrate to visitors why invasive species threaten our ecosystem. Interactive displays teach visitors young and old about the life cycle of sea turtles from eggs buried in the sand to hatchlings scurrying to sea to adults swimming the deep for 100 years.

There are also lessons on how humans can limit their impacts to threatened and endangered sea turtle species.

The gift shop offers unique and handcrafted souvenirs themed around the Gulf of Mexico and its creatures that cannot be found anywhere else.

But Gigi is the star of the center. She loves to devour her favorite foods of mackerel and squid and swim close to children pressing close to her pool’s glass. She has stolen the hearts of her caregivers as well as the locals.

Come fall in love with her, too.

Visit the sea turtle center and all the great ecotourism stops on Navarre Beach while staying beachfront at one of our great accommodations.

Science station delights on Navarre Beach

It’s no secret that Navarre Beach is a hub of ecotourism. From our man-made near shore snorkel reef to our unique-to-the-area Sea Turtle Conservation Center, we have more than a few opportunities to get up close with the Florida’s beach wildlife.

But the Navarre Beach Marine Science Station takes it to another level.

The station offer events throughout the year that get families engaged in activities focused on beach fun and conservation.

Do you want to touch one of the oceans prehistoric inhabitants? Meet the stations resident horseshoe crab, a family of animals that have existed for nearly 445 million years.

Love water sports? Try the glass bottom kayaks and get an amazing view of the underwater ecosystem or stand up paddle board in the Santa Rosa Sound.

Want to pilot an underwater remote operated vehicle or ROV? The station has students build these and lets visitors test drive them. Your child could learn to build one over the summer.

The station students also love to hold dissection demonstrations with species such as squid and starfish.

In the summer, day camps range in themes from Guy Harvey Fishing to underwater remotely operated vehicles to mermaids and pirates.

The center also offers an array of homeschool student activity days, and a Spooktacular in October with creepy science that is can’t miss. Children can make their own slime, learn about bioluminescent species and create smoke bubbles. For children on the autism spectrum, the science station holds an annual Autism Odyssey.

And the station is expanding their reach. A recent IMPACT 100 grant will allow the station to take their activities on the road with a new traveling interpretive center, complete with touch tanks and more. The station offers a variety of classes to local students researching the wide array of marine wildlife found off Navarre’s white sand coast.

Visit navarresciencestation.org for a schedule of upcoming events. Rentals fill up fast. Don’t miss your chance to explore all the science station has to offer this summer and all year-round.

Man-made reefs growing on Navarre Beach

If snorkel, kayak or scuba is your thing, Navarre Beach is your destination.

Navarre Beach boasts man-made reefs just off shore in the Gulf of Mexico that are teaming with life. The Navarre Beach Marine Park is just a short drive west of the Navarre Beach Bridge.

Once on the reef sea turtles abound and a variety of fish school around the “modules” or structures that build up the reef where coral can grow.

If you are lucky you may even see a dolphin or two.

It’s never been easier to get your kayak in the water thanks to the new kayak and scuba friendly walk over in Navarre Beach Marine Park.

This walk over has no rails meaning it’s easier to carry kayaks and equipment down to the water’s edge. A wash down station has also been added to the path for convenience. The path leads directly to Navarre’s near shore artificial reef, one of two man-made reefs in the area.

Glass bottom kayak tours along the reef are a must do, and snorkelers of any skill level can enjoy this reef.

The new walkover allows visitors to keep off the dunes protecting the wildlife that call Navarre Beach home. Shorebirds such as sandpipers often nest in the grasses of the dunes. In late spring and early summer, keep an eye out for the fluffy white chicks along the dunes edge.

After a morning snorkel, there are several large public pavilions that serve as a perfect spot to chow down on a picnic.

Deeper in the Gulf, just off the end of the Navarre Beach Fishing Pier there is a second man-made reef for scuba diving. These reefs are known for their amazing array of wildlife and require a bit more skill to appreciate.

Whether you are a near shore novice or a deep reef pro, there is good news on the horizon. Navarre Beach’s pristine man-made reefs are about to get a whole lot bigger.

Hundreds of new modules will be added to Navarre’s near shore snorkel reef and off shore scuba reefs in the coming year meaning more to love and more for the local wildlife to call home.

Want to preview the dozens of species that call the reef home? Video of the sea turtles and unique schools of fish are available online thanks to the Gulf of Mexico’s first ever underwater live feed camera. Test video is available at navarresciencestation.org. Keep an eye out for a rare loggerhead sea turtle swimming on by.

Or better yet come to see it for yourself while staying in one of our beach front condominiums.

Navarre Beach offers relaxing, family Spring Break

If you are like me, you were appalled watching the TV news coverage of Panama City Beach during Spring Break. It was crowded. It was loud. It was vulgar.

It did not accurately represent what a family Spring Break on Florida’s beaches should be. For that, you need to head north to the hidden gem of the Florida panhandle: Navarre Beach.

This Gulf front paradise is referred to locally as “Florida’s Best Kept Secret,” and it is easy to see why. While other beaches are battling college-aged Spring Breakers drunkenly crowding the coast, Navarre’s beach is clean and clear. This is a quiet community of locally-owned restaurants and shops. There is art and history to be explored.

The lifeguards are on duty and it is easy to find a place to spread out a blanket and some chairs on either the Gulf of Mexico side or Santa Rosa Sound side. Known as “mother’s beach,” the sound side features gentler waves, perfect for younger children, and pavilions for a picnic lunch.

My personal preference is to waste the day on the shore, toes in the sand, book in hand, while the sun warms my skin and the kiddos run around and splash in the surf, but there is more to do than sit around all day.

Navarre Beach offers a variety of water sports. Get a stand up paddle board lesson in the Santa Rosa Sound or take a kayak out for a spin on the man-made near shore reef. Snorkelers at the reef, tucked away in the beach’s marine park, have spotted everything from fish to green sea turtles and even dolphins.

Speaking of sea turtles, any family paying a visit to Navarre Beach must stop by the Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center. This one of a kind conservatory is home to a live loggerhead sea turtle, Gigi. She is completely blind and starving when she was rescued. Now she lives at the center full time as an animal ambassador. Children (and parents) will learn about the wide variety of marine life on the coast and come face to face with some of its creatures.

The center offers a variety of special events, including glass-bottom kayak tours, throughout the year.

Inland, there is Navarre Park. This recreation area offers play grounds, picnic pavilions and a walking path to stretch your legs. There are a handful of cute, locally-owned shops to buy unique gifts and souvenirs.

Less than 20 minutes down the road is the Gulf Breeze Zoo where a variety of animals await to say hello including two new baby giraffes, Gibson and Kelly. Children can feed the babies and their moms by hand.

The family-friendly condominiums along the coast here are also a plus. These rentals offer gorgeous views of some of the whitest beaches on earth, and Navarre Beach condominiums are a huge savings compared to their busier and more crowded neighbors in Pensacola and Destin. And there is space for the kids and a kitchen to prepare meals when you aren’t dining out.

All the luxury, half the cost and half the crowds, you can’t beat that for your family Spring Break. While the rest of the Spring Breakers crowd into the same old tourist traps, you can chill like a local on your own private beach. Find the relaxing family vacation you’ve been dreaming of and make your reservation today.

There is fire in Holley’s hills

Amidst the white sandy beaches, there is fire in Holley’s hills. Navarre is home to Florida’s largest kiln, an anagama kiln, and this 60 foot dragon had a special firing this month in preparation for the Feb. 10 viewing of the documentary “Alchemy: Anatomy of a Wood Fired Kiln.” Created by award winning director and producer Patty Newton, the film documented the challenging process of building a “cave kiln” or Japanese anagama. This style of kiln is ancient, like 15,000 years old ancient, and by all accounts magical.This beast is a long tunnel of flame buried into an embankment of dirt with a upwards of 20 foot chimney sticking out the top. It takes days for this wood powered monster to get hot enough to work its magic on the hundreds of pottery pieces tucked inside its belly, but I have to say it is worth it. The kiln gets so hot it turns the wood ash inside into liquid that rains down on the pottery. This liquid ash becomes a beautiful array of colors splashed upon the pots surfaces. One pot from a previous firing had emerald green, bright yellows and orangey stripes, all from the ash. At night you can see the flames shooting out of the massive chimney from a mile away and feel the heat radiating off its brick and clay body.The Imogene Theater in Milton will be doing a special premier of the film documentary on Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. Tickets are available for a requested $5 donation, and a social hour will precede the viewing.    The kiln will finally be cool enough to be opened the following day as part of the annual WoodStoke Festival and Kiln Openings starting at 9 a.m. Homemade seafood and chili will also be served at noon.