Personal Experience of our Beach Walk along Perdido Key, Johnson Beach, Fort Pickens, Pensacola Beach, Santa Rosa Island, Gulf Islands National Seashore, Navarre Beach
The Journey to Walk in the Sand of every beach in Florida started at one of the most beautiful and natural beaches on the planet, Pensacola area beaches. This includes all of the beaches in the Pensacola Metro Area, which includes Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties. Along with me on this journey is my beautiful and brilliant daughter. Together, we are exploring the coasts of Florida, walking in the sand of every single beach, and discovering the wildlife, town culture, and of course, the beachfront. This blog is a personal experience of our walk documenting our month long stay in the Pensacola Area Beaches. At the end of each blog, I will share our recommendations for each beach on choosing the location for a vacation or a home, based on the experiences, interviews and insights that we uncover.
Heading into Pensacola Beach, as we drove over the bridge on highway 281 into Gulf Breeze, we were literally greeted with a flyover of 4 Blue Angels. Welcome to the home of the Blue Angels Navel Base! They were not directly overhead, and it doesn’t happen all the time, we just had good timing to see them as we were coming in to the area.
Directly in front of us as we came down the bridge onto Santa Rosa Island, was the iconic Pensacola Beach water tower. No longer in use, the tower still stands as an icon to the community sitting in the parking lot of the notorious Pensacola Pier Park.
Off-Season in Pensacola Beach
Pensacola Beach during the late fall, early winter months, is so peaceful and non-crowded. The lack of locals coming to the beach during our stay could also be the result of the bridge between downtown Pensacola and Pensacola Beach being closed due to damage from Hurricane Sally, and it is a 45 minute drive for those residents to get to this beach without that bridge. Perdido Key is much closer to residents in the Pensacola area without access to the bridge into Pensacola Beach.
Many places were closed during our stay. Some, such as the water park, water activities, city trolleys, and other seasonal businesses were closed for the winter season, while other businesses and parks were closed due to Hurricane Sally damage and COVID closings.
Something important to emphasize for anyone planning a beach vacation:
1. If the beach is a barrier island that is accessible by bridge, there is always a chance that the bridge could close making getting around more difficult.
2. You never know what the weather will be. We were on Pensacola Beach for a whole month in November and saw some of the most beautiful weather, shorelines and sunsets I have ever experienced, while also experiencing cloudy and rainy days with rough, red flag waters. Four days over Thanksgiving weekend were all cloudy, rainy and anything but ideal beach weather.
So it is important to realize that much of your experience in a beach town is related to Florida’s weather and the water currents and not the beach or the town itself.
Our Walk in the Sand Journey
Walk in the Sand in Perdido Key
Starting our Walk at the Alabama border, we went straight to Flori-bama, a local favorite, got a bite to eat, and stood at the border and started walking.
Interestingly, there is nothing on the beach side to show exactly where the border is.
We walked over 6 miles in under 3 hours. The first 2 miles was along the commercialized coastal area with condos, hotels and beach houses.
Then we came to Perdido Key State Park, which was closed at the road access points, but was still accessible on the beach side.
We walked across the entire park back into commercialized area. The walk was perfect. A perfectly beautiful day without a cloud in the sky, but slightly cool in the air. Wide open beachfront with very few people. While there were shells to be found, there were not many. The beachline also had very few broken shells which is an indication that not as many shells are present in this area.
Monarch Butterflies are also common at seasonal migration times of the year.
Blue Herons, Gulls and Terns were common birds along the walk.
The sand was a luxuriously soft that was easy on the feet, though the walk was more of a challenge due to the soft sand. It felt like we were walking on a elliptical. And I can’t think of a better way to get that kinds of leg workout!
One thing to note, there was nowhere along the path on the beachside for food and drinks. The access point where we ended our walk had a few small local restaurants, but the choices were minimal.
Johnson Beach and Gulf Islands National Seashore area
We were disappointed to see that part of this area of Perdido Key area of the Gulf Islands National Seashore was also closed due to storm damage. Johnson Beach was open but the road going into the Seashore was closed. And even though the road is closed, you can still walk into the park on the beach.
We walked a couple miles into the seashore along the beach. It is a gorgeous beach area with a wide beachfront.
The damage from the hurricane Sally in October 2020 was evident with many of the larger dunes being flattened and the boardwalks broken.
But the sand and beach areas were just as gorgeous as ever and proof that if you want to go to the beach during COVID, you can find areas where it is easy to social distance!
The Blue Angels were practicing in the distance and it was fun to see them.
Birds were abundant on this beach and always fun to discover how beautiful they are in their natural habitats.
Walk in the Sand Pensacola Beach
The Pensacola Pier Park has everything any beachgoer could ask for. Every activity is available during the spring, summer and early fall seasons. The pier offers gorgeous views and fishing, though we were not able to access the pier this time due to damage from the storm.
It is the sandy wide beachfront that makes this beach one of the best in the world. The crystal white sand and emerald waters with lots of room on the beach for activities, surf fishing, walking and shelling, are all part of the reason why once you’ve been here with your friends and family, you always come back.
Our Home Beach
Our home for the month was about 2 miles from the Pier. This area of the beach is less crowded and everything you think of when you think of beachfront living in Florida.
This time of year, the sunrise and sunsets on Pensacola beach are breathtaking.
We spent many hours on this beach and watched the shifting sands, moving sandbars and gorgeous sunrises at low tide.
One of the most memorable and breathtaking days was a day I decided to stay at home and work and skip the beach. My daughter went to the beach and called me and said “you have to come down here and bring my camera.” This was a day that people dream about, a day where stories are inspired, and a day where relaxation is an understatement.
The waters were crystal clear with the emerald green shimmer. The sandbars were wide and flat, some exposed with others just a few inches deep. Not a cloud in the sky, 70 degrees, and waters almost as calm as a swimming pool.
Western Side of Pensacola Beach – Fort Pickens area
On the western side of Pensacola Beach, Fort Pickens was unfortunately closed so we were not able to get into see the historic fort. We did park at the entrance access point and walk a couple miles into the park on the beach.
With the beautiful dunes on the north side, wide open beachfront and emerald green and blue waters on the south, the walk is incredible.
East Side Pensacola – Santa Rosa Beach area of Gulf Islands National Seashore
On the eastern side of Pensacola Beach, the road was also closed due to Gulf Islands National Seashore being closed from Hurricane Sally damage.
On the eastern side of Pensacola Beach, the road was also closed due to Gulf Islands National Seashore being closed from Hurricane Sally damage.
I am still practicing my wildlife bird photography skills using my Galaxy S20. The Blue Heron is my favorite bird and it has been awesome seeing so many in the Pensacola Beach areas.
The Sound Side of Pensacola Beach also has beaches that are areas where families with small children like to visit due to the calmer waters and quieter beachfronts.
Shelling on Pensacola Beach was fun and rewarding! Cortney is the queen of shelling! Together we found more olive shells on this beach than any other whole shells. Other common shells were conchs, scallops, and whelks.
Walk in the Sand Navarre
Navarre is a small town with a different kind of charm. The vibe here is all about being the most relaxing beach town. And it truly is a place to go and unwind and relax! At the far western end of Navarre is the Gulf Islands National Seashore which is the other end of the Seashore from Pensacola Beach.
Along the beachfront are cute beach homes and townhomes, condos and just a few hotels.
The Pier is a popular place to be for viewing the gorgeous green water and for fishing. With a wide open beach that is well maintained with pavilions and activities, the pier area is a perfect starting point to explore the area.
The area next to the Pier is Navarre Beach Marine Park where the Turtle Conservation center is located. Walking in the sand east from the Pier took us into a natural protected area of Santa Rosa Island with the natural beauty of the coastline, with dunes, birds and wide open beachfront.
There were more birds in this area on this day than any other beachfront in the Pensacola area. I saw more blue herons, my favorite bird, and different types of gulls. Shelling was ok, but not as plentiful as Pensacola Beach.
Navarre’s sand is just as soft and snowy white as the other Pensacola area beaches though it may be even brighter!
Pensacola Beaches Summary, Thoughts and Recommendations
Overall, walking the entire stretch of Perdido Key, Pensacola Beach and Navarre, I would recommend any of these areas for a perfect beach vacation. I just love them all.
Beach Ecosystem & Cleanliness
The beaches are clean, nature is abundant, the beachfronts very wide, the water is gorgeous and nice for swimming, shelling and light surfing, and the sand is snowy white, finely ground, soft and perfect for barefoot walking. Local government and organizations highly support beach and wildlife environmental efforts and the beaches are well-kept and maintained.
Not one of these islands had a Starbucks, which shows that chains are not as welcome. There were local coffee shops and local restaurants with only an occasional fastfood like Subway. However, the quick service and chains were right across the waterway into Pensacola or Navarre. I suggest supporting the local mom and pops. The food is fabulous and you can eat on the beach!
Parking was free on all of the beaches and beach access areas, though the State and National parks do charge a fee to get in. It’s worth it and it supports the programs to protect and conserve. And all of these areas have shuttles that operate during the season.
Free Beaches for All to Enjoy
Another note is that the beaches are completely open for all to walk on. While there is a battle going on in the state of Florida regarding beachfront property lines and private ownership, this was not at all evident in this area. Only one location on Perdido had posts marking a private beach area, but there was plenty of space behind their private area to walk in the sand.
Boating and fishing are common activities. For shopping, antiquing is popular. There is a mall in Pensacola and lots of shopping in nearby Destin area. Nature trails, hiking, biking, kayaking are all popular.
People and Culture
Everywhere we went on Pensacola Beach, people were super friendly. Everyone says hi, people you pass wave at you and smile, and stores and restaurants had a friendly vibe.
The Pensacola metro area is majority republican and conservative, though people seem to be accepting of all types of visitors and do support LGBT+ with an annual Memorial Day event in Pensacola Beach. The area also showcases their religious memberships and beliefs on government websites showing that religion plays a role in elected officials and the beliefs of the people in the area.
Something I want to point out is that we were here during the election and the aftermath of the election. And while there are some who kept yard signs and flags up, none of the discourse between political parties or in our country showed at this beach town. At least not for us personally. While I’d rather not see political reminders when visiting a town, it is important to remember that we are all together in this country and we all need to be understanding of one another and care about each other as a community.
This is showcased in community efforts for beach cleanup, beach wildlife protection, and stories of residents helping each other in the aftermath of Hurricanes that tend to like this area.
The area is a good retirement choice for retirees who love boating, love the beach and are looking for a charming small town vibe, with larger city options nearby. It is recommended for both retirees who want a relaxed lifestyle and those looking for an active lifestyle.
Other Real Estate Recommendations
During our stay, we visited open houses in the area to get familiar with the real estate. The real estate on the beach is limited as it is a smaller town, but vacation rental homes are abundant, both for rent and for sale. Gulf Breeze, Pensacola and Navarre are good alternatives to those who can’t afford to live on the Beach barrier islands or who prefer to be on the mainland.
These areas are not just for retirees. Singles, couples, families with kids of all ages, will all find a tremendous home in these beach towns with all of the activities that are abundant.
All of the beach towns in the Pensacola area offer a beautiful beach vacation with the gorgeous white sand and emerald waters, water that is swimmable with shallow areas and sandbars, wide beachfronts for relaxing, surf fishing, playing or enjoying bird watching. Perfect for those who love nature and outdoor activities. Not recommended if you are looking for the convenience of fast food and grocery stores a minute away.
And yes, you can stay close to the beach on a budget. Check out this studio apartment located in the area of beach homes, approximately 2 miles east of the Pensacola Beach Pier and only 1 block from the glorious sand. This is where we stayed for a month. We fell in love with this place and what became known as “our beach.” This is the beach we spent the most time on and became quite attached to. The beach was surrounded by homes with no big condos or hotels around, and the beachfront is gorgeous.
Pensacola area Beaches are truly worth a visit and consideration for living if you are looking to relocate to Florida.
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