Savvy travelers looking for a family vacation with value and variety need look no further than the Northwest Florida gulf coast. The region, known as THE Beach, boasts 227 miles of white-sand beaches and turquoise-colored water, with more than enough sun, surf, water sports and fishing to create the best beach vacation.
Dozens of beach towns line the coast, each with its own unique history, atmosphere and attractions. From the 450-year old city of Pensacola, founded by Spanish explorers, to Apalachicola, home of the famous Apalachicola Bay oysters, the Northwest Florida Gulf Coast is a region just begging to be explored. Visit Destin, the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village,” experience new urbanism at Seaside, or find old fashioned Florida fun in Panama City Beach. There’s plenty to do.
However, a beach vacation doesn’t have to be expensive. There there are lots of free things to do or things that cost under $10 among the many tourist attractions available. Forget the pricey theme parks. Here are the top ten free things to do on the Northwest Florida gulf coast.
One of the most popular Florida attractions is the National Naval Aviation Museum at Pensacola Naval Air Station. This 300,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art museum is the world’s largest naval aviation museum and houses 150 vintage aircraft and over 4000 pieces of memorabilia, including uniforms, flight gear and weaponry. Throughout the summer, the Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron practices at 8:30 AM on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
The Panhandle Butterfly House in Navarre offers a rare glimpse of the life cycle of butterflies. This interactive educational conservation facility is open through the summer and is located in the Navarre Park on U. S. Highway 98 and offers an outdoor garden for migrating butterflies and a butterfly habitat housing local species.
The Historical District in Milton, 25 miles north of Navarre, reflects the 1825 beginnings of this old Florida trading post town. The West Florida Railroad Museum, the Milton Opera House/ Imogene Theatre and the Blackwater Heritage Trail are all great for family time explorations.
Stroll along the Destin harbor for sights, sounds and smells of the fishing industry that has long been a staple of the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village.” Restaurants cook the catch of the day brought in by the fishing boats that dock here.
Also in Destin, visitors and locals enjoy free concerts every Thursday in May and June on the event lawn at the Mattie Kelly Cultural Arts Village.
Turtle watching on the Beaches of South Walton is an educational family time activity. From May through October, sea turtles nest on the beaches, laying hundreds of eggs at a time. These creatures are protected, so be sure not to disturb them or their nests and keep the beaches clear for their laborious crawl from the gulf to their nesting site.
The Ogden Museum of Southern Art @ Watercolor in Santa Rosa Beach is the first branch of New Orleans’ famed Ogden Museum. It houses paintings, photographs, and sculptures by famed Southern artists.
Panama City Beach Area
The Frank Brown Park on U. S. Highway 98 offers more than 200 acres of recreational facilities, including a freshwater fishing pond, trails and greenways, a playground, tennis courts, shuffleboard courts, and a fenced dog play area.
Apalachicola Bay Area
The 1997 movie “Ulee’s Gold” was filmed in the little town of Wewahitchka where the famous Tupelo Honey is made. Here visitors can learn about the method used to make this premium nectar, which involves placing bee boxes in the swampy areas of the Apalachicola River.
The Three Servicemen South Statue in Apalachicola is part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. It is a one-of-a-kind detail of the original bronze sculpture made from part of the original molds and is the centerpiece of Apalachicola’s Veterans Memorial Plaza.