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.

Top ten reasons to visit Navarre Beach

There are a million reasons to visit Navarre Beach. Florida’s panhandle boast white sandy beaches, shimmering gulf coast waters and a variety of activities and fun in the sun. But Navarre Beach takes the cake and here’s why:

  1. Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center- This place is one of a kind in our area. The conservation center offers a variety of exhibits and activities focused on the gulf coast’s favorite marine critters, sea turtles.


  1. Navarre Beach Marine Science Station- Experiment and explore all the wonders of the Gulf of Mexico at this one of a kind educational center. Summer camps will engage your child in science and sea life.


  1. Navarre Beach Marine Sanctuary- Dig diving? Snorkeling your thing? How about a glass bottom kayak tour? The near shore and deep water artificial reefs of Navarre Beach will blow your mind! Check out sea turtles, fish, dolphins and more!


  1. Panhandle Butterfly House- Navarre is known for having one of a kind ecotourism attractions, and the butterfly house is no exception. This enclosed garden boasts dozens of fluttering butterflies and flowers. I could sit beside the koi pond for hours.


  1. Uncrowded beaches – Navarre Beach boasts miles of the most undisturbed beaches in the world thanks to Gulf Islands National Seashore. Known by the locals as “Florida’s best kept secret,” Navarre Beach offers visitors their own private oasis, something most gulf front beaches cannot claim.


  1. Boutique shopping- Shops like Saltwater Cottage offer unique finds that you will not see anywhere else. Take home a new painting created by one of our local artist or how about a homemade scented candle?


  1. Amazing sunsets- Words cannot properly describe what it is like to stand with your toes in the sand and watch the sun slip down over the water after a perfect day in paradise. Each sunset is one of a kind here on Navarre Beach.


  1. Juana’s Pagodas- Located along the beach water front this restaurant has got it all. Recently named to the Top 10 Florida Beach Bars, Juana’s is a staple among long time visitors and locals. Try out their killer shrimp tacos or dance the night away to live music.


  1. Tunes by the Dunes- As the summer heats up, the summer concerts start. This long time tradition brings live music and dancing to the beach each Thursday night. Visit before Aug. 31 to get in on the fun.


  1. Navarre Beach Fishing Pier- Cast a line from one of the longest fishing piers in the Gulf of Mexico, or simply take a stroll down the pier.

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.

Top Restaurants for Navarre Beach

TripAdvisor has become a reliable source for all things travel.

These guys are a globally recognized source for reviewing of vacation options including accommodations, airlines, attractions and especially restaurants. They have received more than 500 million reviews and opinions from travelers. They have posting offering information on more than 7 million around the world.

When I head out of town, I frequently find myself looking on their site for where the best place is to chow down. From seafood to take-out to fusion cuisine, they are a trusted source where I can see what previous visitors thought of the ambiance, the service and most importantly the food.

So out of curiosity I looked to see what they had to say about our dining options here on Navarre Beach. I was not disappointed as some of my personal faves were highly reviewed by the thousands of visitors that weighed in.

So dear visitor here are the best places to eat on vacation in Navarre as chosen by TripAdvisor reviewers and endorsed by the locals. (I have marked my personal favorites with a *.)

  1. Scooter’s Fish House, 4 and a half stars*
  2. Cactus Flower, 4 and a half stars*
  3. East Bay Crab House, 4 and half stars
  4. Alphy’s Catfish House, 4 and a half stars
  5. Johnny Huston’s Grille and Bar, 4 and a half stars*
  6. Shrimp Basket, 4 stars
  7. The Slippery Mermaid Sushi Bar, 4 and a half stars
  8. J. Chagos, 4 and a half stars*
  9. Shark Bite, 5 stars
  10. C.’s Front Porch, 4 stars

It is worth noting that Tommy’s New Orleans Snoballs did tie with Scooter’s for first place, but since they are exclusively dessert I took them out of the main list. But you should still check them out. Tommy’s received 5 stars for their snow cones. No surprise there.

Not listed but definitely worth a shout out is Smokin’ Oasis on the beach and the new Beach House Bar and Grill. So get munching here on beautiful Navarre Beach.