Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Enjoying Florida’s Emerald Coast

I had not stepped on a Florida beach in five years before a few weekends ago. One of my best friends from college moved to Navarre, Florida five months ago after she got married. I could not wait to plan a visit and neither could she.
I must admit I’m not the biggest fan of the beach though. I love walking along the shore, sand squeezing through my toes with gentle waves crossing over my feet. It’s so relaxing. I don’t, however, like laying out in the sun or getting in the water, so I hoped our itinerary would be filled with many other activities—and it sure was!
Me & Mary
The first full day of the extended weekend did include a visit to Navarre Beach, but Mary and her husband know how to handle it. He brought a low tent that’s perfect to put beach chairs in and still feel the breeze on your face and have your feet in the sand while being shielded from the unmerciless sun. Mary did convince me to go out in the water and we all had a blast riding the waves.
Afterward, we ate Thai food and Mary and I readied for our first round of shopping, which was at the Pensacola Mall and included dinner at Red Robin. It was a great first day! The next day we continued shopping, but this time we headed further east to Destin and shopped at the Destin Commons, ate lunch at the fantastic Panera Bread restaurant and visited stores at the Destin Outlet Mall too.
Our dinner was definitely a unique experience at McGuire’s Irish Pub Restaurant in Destin. McGuire’s has been a Florida institution of great cuisine and music since 1977. The Destin location opened in 1996 and features a lengthy menu and live music with over a million one-dollar bills suspended from the ceilings and stuck to the walls. It’s also neat to note that Florida is called the Emerald Coast while Ireland is the Emerald Isle.
We sat outside on the upper deck, enjoyed live music and fare such as one of McGuire’s famous steak burgers with smoked Gouda cheese and Irish Potato Fries and their famous Reuben sandwich made with corned beef, swiss cheese and sauerkraut on rye bread.
Lovely sunset at Navarre
I also tried their delicious homebrewed root beer and their 18-cent Senate Bean Soup, which is made from the same recipe that was served in the U.S. Senate for 18 cents and which has been served at that price at McGuire’s since 1977. We also ordered a starter of Irish Boxtys, which is an old Irish favorite made with garlic mashed potatoes hand rolled in herbed bread crumbs and flash fried. They looked a bit like large hushpuppies and tasted great though they were quite different than the ones I had at the famous Gallagher’s Boxty House in Dublin, Ireland.
I enjoyed the beach and shopping, but Saturday held my favorite activity of the trip – visiting the Blackwater River State Park. The park, which is only about 30 minutes northeast of Navarre, allows for visitors to rent tubes and float down the Blackwater River. And that’s just what we did. It was incredibly relaxing. The scenery was beautiful, especially when it poured down raining several times during our two-hour float. I hadn’t been down a river in a tube since a trip to the Bogue Chitto River in Mississippi when I was a kid, so it was a great experience.
Tubing down Blackwater River!
After a day on the water, we had a nice Mexican meal at the Cactus Flower Café in Navarre and then paid a visit to the Navarre Beach Fishing Pier, which is amazing. The pier is the longest one on the Gulf of Mexico at 1,545 feet stretching out in the saltwater.
It’s also one of the most popular spots on Navarre Beach. We paid a dollar to walk out on it just after sunset and it was gorgeous. Later, we listened to some live music at the Navarre Beach Pier Restaurant and enjoyed the lovely gulf breeze on my last night in Florida.
Sunday was my final day and our destination was Pensacola. We had brunch at a fabulous little restaurant called “Another Broken Egg,” and then we made a trip to the National Naval Aviation Museum. This museum is incredible! I wish I had a whole day to explore it and the surrounding area’s historic Fort Barrancas. The museum opens up to a Wright Brothers plane suspended in the entrance. There’s also an IMAX theater and dozens and dozens of aviation displays with massive planes from multiple eras hanging from the ceilings. I’ll definitely be going back there.
Entrance of the National Naval Aviation Museum
The next and final stop of the day was something I was very excited about – going to the top of my first lighthouse. I was anticipating it – that is until we actually had to climb it.
The Pensacola Lighthouse was built in 1859 and gained damage during the Civil War from Union fire across the water at Fort Pickens. It’s also known for being “haunted.” I think the ghastly part though is the climb.
The Pensacola Lighthouse
At first, I scoffed at its mere 177 steps to the top. In the gift shop, there was even a certificate about it being such a feat to climb and I was like “I climbed 300 steps to get to the top of St. Peter’s Church tower in Munich, Germany.” I thought it would be nothing – and boy, was I wrong.
These stairs were not only spiraling forever upward, but they were also made of metal with decorative cutouts in them so you could see how far below you would fall if you tripped. Then, there was the part about how narrow the staircase was and that people were coming down as you were going up and they had the only railing to hold onto. We also had to make the climb barefoot because we were wearing flip-flops. It was all just a bit unnerving to say the least.
Gorgeous view from top of lighthouse
I’m not particularly scared of heights, but this place did a number on me, so I was more than thrilled to make it to the top, walk around the viewing platform and go down again. I can check that off my bucket list and not have to go up one ever again. After that memorable and daunting escapade, it was time for me to head back to Louisiana after a truly great trip of friends, food and fun in sunny Florida! I can’t wait to go back!
Do you have a memorable beach trip to share? How have you fared with climbing lighthouses? Please join the conversation below.


  1. I love the Gulf Coast! Beaches are so pretty ... next best thing to being in the Caribbean!

    1. This is so true, Carole! :) Thanks for stopping in!