Ron Stern has been a respected travel writer for over 12 years and is a trusted journalist in the travel journalism field. A common practice within the tourism industry is for the CVB or tourism department of an area to provide familiarization trips for travel writers in order to promote tourism. Mr. Stern and JustSayGo.com were not made aware that it was sponsored by BP. The area is very beautiful and there are local businesses that wish very much to bring tourists back. JustSayGo.com will continue to support the community, but not at the expense of BP or any other non-tourism-related businesses.
JustSayGo.com Editorial Staff
Text and photos by Ron Stern
The little sign along the beach road said: Navarre Beach — Florida’s Best Kept Secret. Trite? Perhaps, but I had three days to explore this little town along the Gulf Coast that was supposed to have clean beaches with no crowds, peaceful unspoiled beauty and a variety of family-friendly attractions. Gulf Coast, you say? Isn’t that where the birds are covered with oil and the beaches full of tar? Being of the opinion that much of the media coverage related to this was overblown, I decided to find out for myself.
I flew into Pensacola Airport and from there it was only a short 40-minute ride to Navarre Beach. Most of the accommodations here are in the form of privately owned condos along the beach and I checked into mine (Summerwind Condominiums), which are managed by Navarre Properties. I had a beautiful three-bedroom suite with sweeping views of the Gulf. They have one-bedroom properties that sleep six, starting as low as $595 per week, depending upon the season.
After checking in, I wasted no time and headed out to check the beach and water conditions. As I suspected, what I found was a beautiful white sand beach (actually comprised of quartz) with no visible tar. I waded out into the emerald-green water and looked for any signs of smelly, slimy oil. Nope, nothing except for some swimmers, seagulls and families enjoying the sunshine, gorgeous water and clean shores. So much for everything I had been hearing and seeing, at least in Navarre.
Located adjacent to the condos is one of the town’s popular spots, the Navarre Pier. Owned by the county, the pier attracts fishermen, walkers, and families just out for a stroll. The pier was only recently opened after hurricanes Ivan and Dennis demolished most of it. Today, the new and improved version is about one third of a mile, making it the longest pier in the state of Florida as well as the entire Gulf Coast.
Experienced and amateur anglers alike can try their hand casting their lines off the pier for a chance to catch grouper, cobia or, during my stay, king mackerel, which seemed to be in abundance on this day. Each time one was landed, curious visitors would gather around to admire the prize, which would either be released back into the water or end up on a table for dinner.
Each year, a number of events are planned, and on this occasion, crowds were starting to form on part of the beach for the first Navarre Beach Sand Sculpting Festival. Master sculptors from all over the U.S. were busy turning ordinary sand into creative works of art, including an iguana, elephant and beach babes (actually sand sculptures of babies), all to the delight of the constant stream of beach going admirers.
Navarre Beach is ideally situated next to the Gulf Islands National Seashore, one of only 10 designated areas in the country. Here you can enjoy miles of pristine coastline only occasionally interrupted by some residual cleanup operations.
While touring this area, I stopped by the Naval Live Oaks Visitor Center on U.S. 98, east of Gulf Breeze. They have an impressive interactive display as well as information about the habitat and indigenous wildlife. There are also more than 7.5 miles of hiking trails located directly behind the center.
Another area attraction popular with locals and visitors alike is the Gulf Breeze Zoo, with 50 acres of outdoor adventure. Hop on their Safari Line Limited train for an unobstructed view of chimps, zebras, antelope, gorillas, and a pair of hippos, including the recent addition of an irresistibly cute baby hippopotamus.
If you’re in the mood for a little soft adventure, take a day trip to the north end of the county for some outdoor fun at Adventures Unlimited. Here, you and the family can zip-line among the treetops or take a canoe, kayak or slow moving tube ride down a lazy river. They have many different activities and packages from which to choose and all of them will get you back to nature.
Of course, one of the best things about travel is discovering the food, especially any local favorites. And here in this part of Florida, they definitely have some good eats, all of which can be ordered with one of my favorites, a tall ice cold glass of sweet tea.
I have to admit to gaining a few pounds sampling a fried shrimp po’ boy at T.C.’s Front Porch Café, grilled bruschetta at Guglielmo’s and a charbroiled salmon filet with Swiss cheese and bacon at a place with the crazy name of Juana’s Pagoda Sailor’s Grill. It was here that I also tried my first Bushwacker, a creamy cold concoction of ice cream, coconut milk, rum, Kahlua®, and…who knows what else! All I know is that this was the perfect way to end a day watching the orange glow of the sun slowly setting on the water.
So what did I find here? Navarre Beach is the sort of place where life moves a little slower. Here, you can relax and spend time getting reacquainted with nature and your loved ones. But there was something else I discovered— the kindness of the people. Strangers still smile and say, “Hello, y’all.” Young and old alike politely refer to you as sir or ma’am. And I had more than one person come up to me and simply ask if I was enjoying my stay in Navarre. All this left a lasting impression on me and I’m sure it will on you as well. After my visit, there is one thing of which I’m sure, Navarre Beach — Florida’s Best Kept Secret isn’t just a trite expression.