Today, we pulled out of the hotel at 9:40. We were about 60 miles from the beaches of Destin, Florida – our main destination for the day. As we were driving down the road heading for Destin, we ran across a couple of unexpected surprises.
We knew that the route we were taking to Destin was along the Gulf Islands National Seashore, part of our National Park system, but we did not expect to see a Visitor Center, since it spans off and on for many miles. Well, as luck would have it, right at the edge of Pensacola is one of several Visitor Centers for the National Seashore. We stopped in for a few minutes and got a stamp in our National Park Passport book we purchased last summer. They had a Junior Ranger program there (activities for kids to learn about the specific national park, and earn a patch), but since we didn’t anticipate stopping, we didn’t have time for that.
Right before we got to the Visitor Center, we saw a beautiful retro Pensacola Beach sign. This prompted Dad to suggest we drive over to Pensacola Beach and take a look around. KK took his Senior Class Trip to Pensacola Beach in 1965, and I’m not sure he’s been back since. That visit to Pensacola was KK’s first time to ever step foot in the ocean (I know it’s the Gulf of Mexico, so don’t get technical on me), and in a very interesting turn of events, that same beach is where my kids got to first step foot in the ocean also. We splashed around for a few minutes there, picked up a couple of seashells, and then got back on the road.
We took “Scenic” Highway 98 between Pensacola and Destin, and it was anything but. This road travels about 50 miles, and I think that most of it is probably within 1/8 to ¼ mile from the Gulf, but you would never know it. With all the trees, homes, businesses, etc. packed in next to the Gulf, we rarely saw it.
As we started driving through some of the smaller towns right before we got to Destin, we started seeing more beaches and beachgoers. When we finally did get to Destin, the kids were getting very restless, and were repeatedly asking when we were going to get to “our” beach. We immediately pulled off the road at the first “Beach Access” sign we saw. We quickly parked, got unloaded, and headed for the beach about 1:30.
The Public Beach Access we selected was crammed between several Private Beach Access areas. I presumed these private areas belonged to whatever hotel or condo was on the beachfront. However, we had plenty of room, and I did not think it was overly crowded.
Everybody had a GREAT time at the beach. We were a little unsure of the 3-year-old, but she took to it wonderfully. Mom & Dad had experienced enough fun in the sun after several hours, and they decided to pack up and head on down the road to our hotel for the evening. The rest of us stayed until 7:30. The sun was setting, and we definitely had the place to ourselves. Actually, probably by 5:00, the beach really started thinning out quite a bit.
Miles, Mallory and Stephanie enjoyed snorkeling (we brought some cheap equipment), and simply walking/swimming out as far as they could, and then letting the surf bring them back to shore. Marissa and I spent a lot of time on the beach, or playing in the shallow waters. (If you’re ever in Destin, be sure to look for some of the treasure that Marissa buried there. We even marked the location with an “X”.)
Every day at the beach, flags are posted that indicate what the environment is like. The most desirable flag would be “green”. It is defined as “conditions favorable for swimming” and is identified as a “low hazard”. Unfortunately, we didn’t get that flag. We got the “yellow” flag all day, which is “medium hazard”. I didn’t see a definition for this color, but I would safely describe it as “getting pummeled by 3 to 5 foot whitecaps”. It reminds me of a Seinfeld quote, “The sea was angry that day my friend”. The conditions were not unbearable, but they were not relaxing, either.
Regardless of the weather conditions, we were glad that we stayed until we closed the place down. The kids truly enjoyed the whole experience, and they are ready to go back some day. Besides the playing in the ocean, all three of them were also buried in sand, picked up seashells, and wore themselves out.
We pulled out of Destin about 8:00, and made it to the hotel in Marianna, Florida, around 10:00. We met up with KK there, and we made our plans for getting on the road tomorrow.
With so many of us traveling to Orlando for the wedding (12 in all), we have rented two vacation homes in Kissimmee, located just outside Orlando. When you rent the home, you don’t know its address, you just know the town & neighborhood it’s located in. You find out the actual address later. Well, we just found out today that our two homes are located in the same neighborhood, on the same street, and are just 1 house apart. We were very excited to hear that, as it will make a lot of the week’s logistics much easier!
Tomorrow we plan to tour a nearby cave, and then head to Orlando to get checked into our house. We are only about 350 miles from Orlando now, and we are ready to get there.