Who says a beach vacation has to be expensive? On the Northwest Florida Gulf Coast, there are lots of tourist attractions and things to do for under $10 per person. In addition, the 227-mile stretch of white-sand covered coastline that is known simply as THE Beach, also offers a variety of entertainment choices from miniature golf to ecotourism that are easy on the family budget.
Museums and art galleries dot the gulf coast offering an insight into Florida history and culture. In addition, ecotourism opportunities abound with some of the longest federally protected coastline in the country and thousands of acres of state and national forests. Finally, old Florida comes alive again with some old fashion tourist attractions.
Visit a Florida Museum
Pensacola Museum of Art, (850-432-6247) – Emphasizing contemporary art from the 20th and 21st Centuries, the collection includes painting, sculpture, and works on paper by such noted artists as John Marin, Salvador Dali, Miriam Schapiro, and Fairfield Porter among others. Admission: adults $5, children 5 and older $2
Heritage Park & Cultural Center, (850-833-9595) – Owned by the city of Fort Walton Beach, this three-in-one museum presents the history of the Fort Walton Beach area from about 10,000 B. C. to the first school in 1912, and through the close of the original post office in the 1950’s. Admission: adults $5, children 4 and over $3.
Emerald Coast Science Center, (850-664-1261) – Kids love this interactive museum in Fort Walton Beach with its more than 250 hands-on exhibits on everything from wind and electricity to animals and the human body. Admission: adults $5, children ages 3 to 12, $3.50
Destin Fishing and History Museum, (850-837-6611) – Learn about life in the Gulf of Mexico with award-winning examples of fish caught in Destin, the World’s Luckiest Fishing Village. Also on display is a large collection of antique fishing rods and reels, including one once owned by Ernest Hemingway. Admission: adults $5, children 4 and over $3
Things to do on a Florida Beach
Gulf Islands National Seashore/Fort Pickens, (850-934-2600) – The Pensacola Bay Area is home to the largest protected seashore in the country, 80% of which is submerged lands, and where shore birds and other wildlife can be seen. In addition there are several historic sites, including Fort Pickens, built between 1829 and 1834 to protect Pensacola Bay and its navy yard. National park rangers lead free programs from beach walks and bird watching to star gazing and snorkeling. Admission: $8.00 per vehicle, good for up to seven days
There’s nothing like the view from the top of a lighthouse, and three lighthouses along THE Beach offer visitors the chance to climb to the top and enjoy that view.
Pensacola Lighthouse, (850-492-5363) – Tours are from May-October on Saturdays from Noon to 4 PM. Admission: adults $5, children $3 (must be at least 42-inches tall)
Cape San Blas Lighthouse, (850-229-1151) – Open Wednesday through Saturday from 11 AM to 5 PM. Admission: adults $5, children under 10 are free with adult
Cape St. George Light, (850-927-7744) – Open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, 10 AM to 5 PM and Sunday, Noon to 5 PM. Admission: adults $5.00, children 15 and under $3.00
Eden Gardens State Park, (850-231-4214) – Visit this historic home in South Walton County and picnic along Tucker Bayou, stroll on the nature trail, or simply enjoy the gardens. Tours of the Wesley House are available hourly Thursday through Monday from 10 AM to 3 PM. Park Admission: $3.00 per vehicle. House Tours: adult $3, children $1.50
Grayton Beach State Park, (850-231-4210) – Canoe or kayak on scenic Western Lake (a rare coastal dune lake) to get a closer look at a salt marsh ecosystem (yes, there are alligators), hike or bike the over four miles of trails through pine flatwoods, or follow the nature trail that winds through a coastal forest that looks like “Middle Earth.” Park admission: $4.00 per vehicle.
Old Florida Tourist Attractions Are Fun
Goofy Golf: Fort Walton Beach, (850-862-4922), Panama City Beach (850-234-6403) – Invented by Lee Koplin in the 1950s, Goofy Golf focused on oversized and outrageous cement figures. Today, these two courses have survived time and have all the charm and nostalgia of that era. The Fort Walton Beach course was built in 1958 and the Panama City Beach course was built in 1959 and was Koplin’s largest. Fort Walton Beach Admission: adults $2.50, children 12 and under $1.Panama City Beach Admission: adults $7, children under 5 free
Miracle Strip Carousel, (850-236-9974) – The Miracle Strip Amusement Park may be long gone, but the gorgeous 30-horse carousel is alive and operating at Pier Park in Panama City Beach. The 1964 Allan Herschell carousel was salvaged from the old amusement park and restored to its former grandeur. Tickets: $2.50 per ride or $5.00 for a day pass.