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.