Panhandling in Florida

While 2014 was a pretty good year for us camping & hiking in Indiana, circumstances dictated that we didn’t take our annual week-plus getaway to the mountains or ocean.  Sometimes you just need to get away and immerse yourself in an entirely different environment to renew your spirit.  Feeling burned out with winter setting in early here in the Hoosier state, we decided to fit something in over our four day Thanksgiving weekend, so off to the Florida panhandle we went!

We love the panhandle of Florida, it’s the quickest route to the ocean for us.  But typically, we do so with the intent of camping at a state park, doing our best to stay away from tourists and finding the deserted beaches along the way.  Our 2012 trip to St. George Island (about an hour drive south of Panama City) is one of our all time favorites, miles of beach to ourselves.  But we didn’t have that luxury with time against us on this trip, so we booked a room at a quaint little motel in Pensacola Beach, called the Paradise Inn.  The room was extremely basic, but all we needed was a base camp to sleep, and it fit the bill just fine.  The bonus was that their employees were all very friendly, there was a nice open air bar & grill with live music in the evenings, and a sand beach behind the motel with a nice long pier out into the bay.  The walk to the beach on the gulf side was actually closer than most campgrounds we’ve stayed at, so catching the sunrises and sunsets was convenient.  For the price (less than half of most other options in the area), we’d stay there again in a heartbeat.

After a long drive down, we arrived at the gulf Thursday morning and headed east on Santa Rosa Island, into the heart of Gulf Shores National Seashore.  We spent most of the day walking the beach, finding shells, and even found several washed up star fish.  The weather was very brisk, with highs in the 50s and lows in the 30s on Thursday and Friday, but that didn’t stop Robin & Kaden from wading in the waves.  The sun was out the entire weekend, and that’s all we required.  Later on Thursday, we checked into the motel, and my daughter (who has lived in Panama City for the past 1.5 years) drove over and joined us.  We crashed hard that night, but were back up and at it on Friday, with a trip onto the mainland to visit the Pensacola Lighthouse, and then spent the rest of the day back on the shores of the gulf.

Saturday was probably our most eventful day, as we got up for the sunrise over the ocean, then went west to Fort Pickens, part of the Gulf Shores National Seashore.  It’s an old military fort that dates back to the early 1800s, and it was the furthest south military base that remained Union during the Civil War.  It was also the site where the Apache warrior Geronimo and many of his tribe were imprisoned.  We drove through to the very end and then walked to the beach, looking for shells, though frankly Santa Rosa Island isn’t particularly good (at least not for us) for shelling.  We did find many washed up jelly fish, and shore birds are always fun to watch.  Eventually, we made our way back to the fort, took the tour, and even had an encounter with an armadillo.  It’s an amazing place with a lot of history.

Saturday evening, we ate at the Paradise Bar & Grill at our motel, and enjoyed some live music before my daughter had to head back to Panama City.  Sunday morning, the rest of the family reluctantly packed up, but not before we walked the beach some more, enjoying the 74 degree weather before fighting traffic to get back to Indiana just in time to go to work Monday morning.  Would I do it again?  Absolutely.


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