Will you take the plunge?

For more than 100 years, brave (or possibly very foolish) souls have been jumping into freezing water across the U.S. to ring in the first day of the year.

While the tradition started in Boston, it has grown to include more pleasant climates for a winter swim.

On the first day of the year, Navarre Beach residents and visitors will gather for a long standing tradition. Toes in the cold sand, some dressed in costume, we will gather at the edge of the Gulf of Mexico or inches from Santa Rosa Sound.

Then as one big group we will all scurry, dive and dash into the often frigid water as part of a long standing tradition: New Year’s plunging.

It is one of my favorite new holiday traditions. While I will admit I felt a little insane doing my first plunge last year, it was really pretty fun. So fun I am now dragging the family out for it every year.

And the best part is it’s all for charity.

Should you decide yourself to be brave enough for the chill, you have two options.

The Penguin Plunge will ring in the New Year for the ninth year in a row at Juana’s Pagodas. Participants will be splashing into Santa Rosa Sound at 1:30 p.m.

The plunge will be preceded by a Paddle Board Adventure course at 12:30 p.m. The University of West Florida ROTC has contributed some new challenges for the course this year (neat!). Raffle prizes will be drawn at 2 p.m., and live music will start at noon and go until 4 p.m. with food and drinks for participants (yum!).

Proceeds from the registration and event raffle will benefit Santa Rosa Kid’s House and Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center. These organizations work to protect and assist area children from abuse and neglect through treatment, prevention and advocacy.

Registration is available online at juanaspagodas.com/penguinplunge.htm. Registration is $25 to plunge, $25 for those “too chicken” to plunge and $35 for those plunging and participating in the adventure course. A long sleeve T-shirt is included with registration.

On the other side of the island, the Pirates of the Panhandle will be launching their first plunge event alongside the Navarre Beach Fishing Pier.

The Pirate Plunge will have folks flocking into the water at noon with a party to follow. Festivities will include food, draft beer, live music and door prizes. The best dressed pirate will receive a $250 first prize, and a raffle will be held for a 55” 4k television.

This event will benefit the Weekend Food Program which provides meals for school children in need over the weekend. The program serves approximately 540 students in Navarre.

Registration for the Pirate Plunge is $20 to plunge and party while entry to the party alone costs $10. Tickets can be purchased at the Navarre Beach Fishing Pier up to the day of the event.

So welcome the New Year with us here on relaxing (and only mildly frigid) Navarre Beach.

Zoo Lights bring beauty to Navarre Beach

Christmas lights are just pretty. Every year right about the time they go up the world becomes a little warmer in the heart and a little brighter in the spirit regardless of which holiday(s) you celebrate.

So, combine the wonder of Christmas lights with the fun of the Gulf Breeze Zoo, located minutes from Navarre Beach, and you have a recipe for a great evening.

Come check out Zoo Lights, the annual event where Navarre Beach’s area zoo transforms into a twinkling jungle of lights.

Walking through the event this year I was greeted by the reflection of a rainbow of glowing palm trees in the waters of the zoo’s monkey island pond. Neon howler monkeys swept their way over your head as kangaroos hopped by in an animated light display.

Making my way toward the petting zoo, I am greeted by a “snow” machine blowing waves of bubbles over a gaggle of giggling children. The scene is surrounded by larger-than-life toys and treasures created out of hundreds of bulbs.

The petting zoo offers children a chance to pet and hand feed critters while illuminated flamingos gaze on. Rounding a corner a blue lit tree glows with cascading, shimmering icicles in front of a forest of Christmas trees.

An otter chirps for gathered guests as a lighted Santa Claus flies by. Also in “flight” are models of our local Blue Angels performance jets.

In the pavilion I hear a local A Capella group performing Christmas classics for a gathering of starry eyed children and smiling parents.

I could go on about the view from the train and the acres of beautiful displays, but I think you should come see it for yourself. It’s on display now through Dec. 30 and will return again next Christmas.

What a whale!

Children visiting the Navarre Beach Marine Science Station are being greeted by one massive new friend.

Diana the humpback whale has made her debut, and she is awesome!

Diana is a life-size inflatable model that the science station will be using to teach lessons about marine mammals. Composed of plastic, tape, paint and hours of hard work, she was built by the science station’s students who dual enroll from our local high school.

These smart kiddo’s gave up their Thanksgiving break to create Diana. These kids put in countless hours and it shows.

She’s just so cool.

But the best part is yet to be revealed. On the outside Diana is a lifelike version of her ocean-dwelling cousins, but on the inside she’s even more. Students can enter through a door on the side of this inflatable learning lab where they will be greeted by a realistic skeletal structure painted along the walls.

Visitors can count Diana’s ribs, learn about her diet, hold a real humpback whale “tooth” and even learn the words to the Whale Rap (which I highly recommend you look up on YouTube as soon as possible).

When Diana is not teaching children at the science station, she will be taking her show on the road. She deflates to the size of a suitcase, and she will likely be a showstopper as she travels with the science station’s Discovery Depot to area festivals.

Come check her out!

Here are a few fun facts about humpback whales that I learned thanks to Diana:

  1. The scientific name for this species is Megaptera Novaeangliae, which means “big winged New Englander.”
  2. Humpback whales can grow up to 62 feet long and weigh 53 tons. That is more than the weight of 4 school buses, and longer than the Hollywood sign is tall.
  3. Humpbacks can be found in nearly every corner of the world’s oceans except polar regions. They migrate to warmer waters in the winter and cooler waters during the rest of the year.
  4. Though they are among the largest mammals in the world, humpbacks eat tiny prey. Their diet consists of plankton, krill and anchovies. To fill their stomachs, these whales eat up to 5,000 pounds of food a day. Think of how many anchovy pizzas that is!
  5. Diana and her cousins don’t have teeth. Instead, they have baleen plates that act as a strainer, letting the water out and keeping thousands of tiny plankton and fish in with one big gulp.
  6. Humpback whales sing some of the most complex songs of any species. The songs have specific patterns of sounds arranged in an order that can last as long as 30 minutes. As they sing, these whales can be heard from miles away under the ocean’s surface.
  7. They are also dancers that can launch their entire bodies out of the water. Humpbacks will also splash their tails and flippers on the surface.

Navarre Beach named to South’s Best Tiny Towns

Southern Living magazine has released the 2017 South’s Best Tiny Towns list, and not surprisingly Navarre Beach was among the 19 places acknowledged for their charm.

Our beach community boasts a population of a little more than 1,000 permanent residents making us the largest of the tiny towns listed.

Find the listing here: https://www.southernliving.com/travel/tiny-towns#navarre-beach-florida-tiny-towns

On both sides, Navarre Beach is sandwiched between overdeveloped, overcrowded, tourist trap-style beaches.

But we have maintained our small town charm.

Here you truly vacation as a local, not a tourist being herded like sheep. The shores are uncrowded even at the peak of summer, and when you talk to someone in a store, restaurant or on the street southern hospitality is what you will find.

Navarre Beach boasts plenty of locally-owned shops with unique gifts and finds. And when you do business here, you are likely to be talking face to face with the owner every time.

There is also a seasonal farmers market Saturdays offering locally grown produce, crafts and more.

Locally owned restaurants like Juana’s Pagodas and Sailors Grill or the enchanting Bella Luna Italian Bistro will satisfy any appetite.

While Navarre Beach does offer a small town vibe, a vacation here can be anything but quant.

Adventures await with watersports like stand up paddle boarding, reefs for diving, zipline tours, golf, the longest fishing pier in the Gulf of Mexico and even helicopter tours.

The best part of a Navarre Beach vacation is that you truly can mold it to what you want whether that be a relaxing getaway or a more active adventure. Start planning your vacation today.

Christmas on the Beach

We’ve all seen those cheesy commercials with the palm tree done up in Christmas lights on a beautiful beach. The guy is still wearing shorts and looking out over the tropical waves.

Cheesy or not, it is not that far off from what a Navarre Beach Christmas really looks like.

Now, you will not catch me climbing any palm trees to hang my Christmas decorations, but you may catch me taking a trip down the beach for a little lounging time.

Christmas on Navarre Beach is a wonderful time of year, not just because of the holiday cheer (and fantastic weather), but because it is the time of year when our community comes together for a whole lot of fun.

Here are just a few ways to ring in the holiday fun on beautiful Navarre Beach:

Jingle Bell Fun Run

Take a run for a good cause with the annual Jingle Bell 5k Run/Walk/Fun Run put on by the Navarre Beach Area Chamber of Commerce Foundation. This non-competitive 3.1 mile trek through the center of town is for all ages. Fun starts at 8 a.m. Registration is $20 which includes a festive long sleeve tee. All proceeds go toward the Foundation’s community projects. Register online at navarrechamberfoundation.org/jingle-bell.html.

Local Christmas Shopping

Several local boutiques will be selling unique items perfect for gifting. From monogramed mugs to designer jewelry to southern comfort wear, these stores are offering gifts that are sure to be one of a kind. Support small business while checking off all the nice ones on your list.

Navarre Community Christmas Parade

Ring in December with some holiday fun at the annual Navarre Community Christmas Parade. This is one of my favorites each year. This year’s parade participants include a variety of local nonprofit organizations, the Sheriff’s office mounted posse, dancers, the Navarre High School Band and more. Some will bring treats to share. The parade will end with the arrival of Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus atop a fire truck, a must see for the kiddos.

Christmas in the Park

After the Navarre Community Christmas Parade, Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus and the Grinch settle in at Navarre Park, our waterfront park. The Clauses and the Grinch will be available to meet the children in Navarre Park during the annual Christmas in the Park celebration.

Vendors will have food, games, unique gift shopping and sweet treats. From baked goods to fair hair this is a perfect time to start a new family Christmas tradition.

Local schools, choirs and other performers will be singing seasonal tunes throughout the event.

As the sun goes down the festivities will be wrapped up with the lighting of the 20 foot Christmas tree at 5:15 p.m.

For me, when that tree lights up the night and the children begin to dance with glee that is the official start of the Christmas season.