Florida is often synonymous with Disneyworld. However, there is so much more to Florida North of Mickey Mouse’s house. The next time you are planning a trip to Florida, consider putting these five Panhandle activities into your itinerary.
The National Naval Aviation Museum and Fort Barrancas are both located on NAS Pensacola. I think the Naval Aviation Museum rivals the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum with its number of aircraft and activities available. Children and adults alike will enjoy climbing in and out of the jet and helicopter cockpits while they pretend to be pilots in the Cockpit Trainers. You will also find an IMAX theater, a flight simulator, and lots of great exhibits.
Pensacola is home of the Blue Angels and these amazing jets practice twice a week on the flight line behind the museum when they are at home. Make sure that you get there early so that you can get a great seat. The jets are loud and fly right over your head so bring earplugs for the little ones. While the Blues are performing, the museum volunteers give information about the Blues, point in the direction the Blues will come from, and answer questions. On Wednesday mornings after the practice, your children will love to meet the pilots at the weekly autograph signing. Make sure that you pack a picnic because when you are finished exploring the museum, head over to Ft. Barrancas for lunch. Constructed in the mid 1800’s, Ft. Barrancas is located less than a mile from the museum and has been well taken care of. You can play on the grounds and explore on your own, but you can also take a guided tour daily at 2pm.
The Florida Caverns State Park is located in Marianna, Florida. Your kids can pretend to be spelunkers for a day when you take the tour of the caverns. You will see the stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws and other geological wonders. It feels like you have stepped onto another planet. When you are finished with the cave tour, set up your tent at the campsite for a night of toasted marshmallows! The campsite offers a clean public bathroom, running water, and a fire pit. There is a fantastic open area a short walk from the campsite. The kids will love to run around, toss a football, or play tag here.
Florida has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The soft white sand makes for a great resting place for the parents! Pull up a beach towel and let your kids play in the sand and jump in the water all morning. Our favorite spot on the beach is Quietwater Beach in Pensacola because even if the surf is rough, the water here is quiet. The beach season has already started here on the Gulf Coast. Our first beach trip this season was on March 8! Quietwater can get crowded, but if you get there early you will have a spot right next to the water where it is easy to watch your children play. After you have had your fill of sand and sun, head to one of our favorite restaurants for lunch. Surf Burger is just a brief walk from the beach and has some of the best burgers on the beach. Peg Leg Pete’s is another great stop for lunch. The kids can play on the playground while you wait for your food. The kid’s meals, which can include grouper nuggets and fried shrimp, come in their signature teal sand bucket with a pirate eye patch that you get to take home with you.
When you are tired of the beach but the weather is too perfect to stay inside, head to Blackwater River State Park for some tubing. Rent a canoe or an inner tube and enjoy a leisurely day floating down the river. Adventures Unlimited or Blackwater Canoe Rental will take you to the drop off point and you can begin your trip down the river. The trip can be just a short 1.5 hours or an all day event. You can stop on the beaches to eat a picnic lunch or take a rest. Overnight trips are also an option if you can survive primitive camping conditions! Children under 8 must wear a life jacket at all times.
Florida’s Gulfarium in Ft. Walton Beach is home to lots of amazing sealife. The kids will enjoy watching the dolphins and the sea lion perform together. You can also watch the animals in their own shows and watch the feeding sessions. Although it comes with a higher price tag, the children over five can meet and feed the dolphins and children over seven can wade in the water with them during a Dolphin Encounter. You can also see stingrays, sharks, loggerhead turtles, and gators. Our favorite exhibit is the Touch Pool where the kids can touch horseshoe crabs and sea stars.
The Florida Panhandle has so much to offer. Be sure to include a stop here on your next Florida vacation! For additional resources, check out Visit Pensacola, or Destin-ation.
Jennifer Close lives in Pensacola, FL with her husband and two small children. She is the publisher of Two Kids and a Map, a travel blog about her family travel adventures.
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