Your landing in the ocean may not be as spectacular as that of the SpaceX Dragon last Sunday morning.
With summer break around the corner, the seaside is always a popular holiday destination.
Because two-thirds of Florida is a peninsula, it’s difficult to pin down which beaches are the best because there are lots to choose from. On the west are the warm waters and gentle waves of the Gulf of Mexico.
That’s where we’re heading to visit these two beaches on the Emerald Coast.
We’ll start in the Florida panhandle, in the north-west with our first stop at Pensacola Beach, a resort community, close to the city of Pensacola, which sits atop the barrier island of Santa Rosa, one of the longest barrier islands in the world.
Then we’ll head east 60 miles to Fort Walton Beach to the east side of Santa Rosa, where you can enjoy the fine white sands of Okaloosa Island, home to the Gulfarium, a top attraction in Florida.
There is so much for the family to see and enjoy in both these cities, you could be a glutton and visit both during your break if your timetable allows!
#1 Pensacola Beach
With 18 miles of powdery fine white sand, which stays cool, emerald-green water, warm weather and 344 days of sunshine, Pensacola Beach forms part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore.
Trip Advisor named it one of the top 15 beaches in the nation for 2021, top 4 beaches in 2020, and top 5 beaches in 2019!
Because of Hurricane Sally the Three Mile Bridge access from the city of Pensacola is closed. You can reach the beach on this alternative route. (The Garcon Point Bridge toll has been suspended. For updated info, visit this site
The Pensacola Beach Pier and Observation Post which stretches 1,472 feet into the Gulf of Mexico is also closed at the moment. Maybe by summer you can enjoy fishing on the longest pier in the Gulf of Mexico.
It also features Portofino Boardwalk, complete with open-air bars, restaurants and shops.
The Paradise Bar and Grill, a beach-shack bar, provides drinks, casual eats and live music, just across the street from the beach..
Or enjoy Caribbean cuisine at the Casino Beach Bar a few steps from the beach, with live entertainment by local bands at 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday from May through August.
On the north side of Pensacola Beach, you can explore Fort Pickens, a military fort completed in 1834 and named after American Revolutionary War hero Andrew Pickens. Geronimo was held captive here.
THere are no special events in May or June in Pensacola, but you can celebrate your independence with Fourth of July Fireworks at 8.30 pm on July 4.
The Pensacola Beach Air Show is from July 7-10 where the U.S. Navy’s flight demonstration team and hometown heroes, the Blue Angels, civilian and other military aircraft will perform acrobatics over the Gulf of Mexico.
The Naval Aviation Museum, which offers free guided and trolley tours, has advised they have suspended these for the safety of visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic. Check for any changes here
Bands on the Beach, in the Gulfside Pavilion, continues its 2021 schedule, which began Tuesday, April 6, and continues every Tuesday through October 26 at 7 p.m.
#2 Fort Walton Beach
Rich in history, with 226 days of sunshine, you’ll find miles of soft white sand beaches on the adjacent Okaloosa Island, but plenty more to offer than just the shore and clear emerald waters.
You can steep yourself in science and history or indulge in the retail therapy at the Uptown Shopping District with over 60 national and local retail stores and restaurants.
The Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park is next to the Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier and has been entertaining and educating visitors and locals alike for almost 60 years. It still has that Old Florida feel.
Here you’ll find dolphins, sea lions and other marine animals. There are also plenty of alligators, turtles, tortoises and birds to see along the Expedition Trail. Most enclosures are kid-friendly—at a perfect height for them to view.
The Heritage Park & Cultural Center presents the history of the Fort Walton area from as far back as 12,000 years ago. Plenty to occupy you and the family:
- Camp Walton Schoolhouse Museum.
- Garnier Post Office Museum
- Fort Walton Temple Mound
- Civil War Exhibit building
- The Indian Temple Mound Museum includes the prehistoric Temple Mound and artifacts from Native American’s daily lives, early settlers, local pirates, and European explorers.
The Native American Flute Festival, held each spring, pays homage to the area’s earliest residents.
In June each summer, the Billy Bowlegs Pirate Festival takes place to commemorate the days of large sailing vessels and privateers. Boats drops anchor at the Landing, where the event happens on the grassy knoll surrounded by ancient oak trees.
(Sadly, you missed the Billy Bowlegs Pirate Invasion & Downtown Party - held earlier this year on May 1.)
The Landing is a beautiful park in the heart of downtown, which sits on the sound. A place for Friday night concerts, movies in the park, Saturday farmers' markets and even holiday fireworks.
The Emerald Coast Science Center, just west of downtown, is an interactive museum which encourages visitors to play and conduct experiments. They also host fun events throughout the year, such as Planetarium Nights.Check here.
The Air Force Armament Museum contains a collection of over 15,000 artifacts from World War I through today’s high-tech bombs and planes. It’s the only museum in the United States dedicated to the display of Air Force armaments. They have a cockpit simulator allowing wannabe pilots to feel what it’s like to fly.
Goofy Golf has two 18-hole putt-putt golf courses in Fort Walton. Over 50 years of memories and fun for young and old. Great for the family - $3 for adults and $1.50 for kids—cash only! Open from 10 am - their address is 401 Eglin Pkwy NE.
For summer fun and entertainment with your family, you can’t go wrong, whichever beach you head for.