Ten Fun Ways to Explore Navarre Beach & Pensacola Beach
Looking for ways to explore the area, check out some of our family’s favorite activities!
- Hit the beach
This is why you’re here right, the sugary white sand and crystal clear water of the Gulf of Mexico in Navarre Beach and Pensacola Beach is unmatched! There is just over 27 miles of beach along the Gulf of Mexico to explore. Finding the beach a little crowded, check out the many beach access points along the Gulf Islands National Seashore for a more remote feel, the drive alone is worth it! Be sure to swim safely and watch the lifeguard flags for swimming conditions. If the Gulf is a little rough and you want a calmer area for swimming, especially for young kids, check out the many sound side beaches on the Santa Rosa Sound.
- Explore the Sound
The Sound is the area of water between the barrier island and the mainland. On the sound side of the island (backside of the island) you can find many beach access points. The water in the Sound might not be as clear or emerald green as the Gulf but it is typically calm and shallow making for great swimming conditions, especially with young kids. The sound is always a favorite of my family. Take a small dip net, find a patch of seagrass and drag the net along the bottom in the grass. You may find all sorts of cool aquatic sea life, such as small crabs and even sea horses. This is a great way for kids and adults to explore some of the smaller sea life, just be gentle and release them back to their homes. When you’re in the sound, you’ll also notice small mounds with holes in the sand. These are often made from ghost shrimp who burrow into the sediment. Barefoot Beach Equipment Rentals makes and rents out ghost shrimp pumps, which essentially suck out ghost shrimp from these holes, it can be a blast! Check out our how-to-videos for a demonstration. Ghost shrimp make excellent fishing bait but catching them can also be a fun learning activity. Remember with all sea life, to respect them, be gentle and always release them back to their home (unless you are catching them for bait).
- Collect Seashells
I’ll admit it, my family might be seashell-a-holics, but it’s such a fun way to spend time at the beach and hunting for shells is addictive! Any stretch of beach could hold seashells at any time, going at low tide and early in the morning is always a great bet, but you can find them any time of day depending on weather patterns, tides and how busy the beaches are. You may see seashells washed up into the sand in a line parallel to the water, this is called a wrack line and is a great place to find shells. Another great spot is right at the water’s edge where waves push sand and shells into a small shelf. Seashells will wash up in this area, using a sandflea rake along this shelf can be a great way to find shells that are buried. If the water is clear and calm, visual observation is also great. You can use a sand dipper to reach down and grab the shells you spot. Another option is to snorkel along the beach and look for shells. Whichever method you choose, just make sure no creatures are still home in the seashell before you keep it.
- Walk the Piers (Navarre Beach & Pensacola Beach)
One of my personal favorite things to do in the area is walk the piers. You never know what you will spot, there is always a good likelihood of spotting dolphins and sea turtles, and if the water is calm and clear you can spot schools of fish. Fishing is great off the piers offering a variety of species to catch, check out the local bait shops and pier stores for more information on fishing the piers.
- Go Fishing
Fishing is excellent in both the Gulf and inshore in the bay and sound. We recommend stopping at Half Hitch Tackle Shop in Navarre or Gulf Breeze Bait and Tackle in Gulf Breeze to get everything you need; they will steer you in the right direction. There are also several places that rent boats if you want to venture out in the Bay or Sound on your own or hook up with a charter boat and guide to really get you on the fish. One of our favorite things to do is surf fishing right off the beach!
- Visit Fort Pickens
At the far west end of the island is Fort Pickens, which is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore operated by the National Forest Service. Exploring the Fort is an awesome family experience. There is also a campground here and fishing pier, along with Soundside and Gulfside beaches that are true hidden gems! There are also multiple trails in this area and so much wildlife to see. We highly recommend a visit to this area. Keep in mind, there is a fee to enter Fort Pickens.
- Try skim boarding
If you haven’t tried skim boarding, it’s a must! Think of a smaller version of a surf board that is completely flat and smooth on the bottom and is used to skim the water across the sand as waves break and leave a thin coating of water. Be prepared for some trial and error and some falls before you get it down, but it can be a blast! There are different types of boards, but smaller wood boards are great for beginners and for skimming across the sand. Barefoot Beach Equipment Rentals has wood skim boards in stock for you to try on your next vacation! Check out some of our videos to get an idea how to do it or check out youtube to watch some really experienced skimboarders. The basic technique for skimming across the sand is to hold the board with two hands, one hand on the back of the board and one hand on the side. Wait for a wave to crash and recede. As it recedes it leaves a thin coat of water, start running with the board and drop your board out in front of you. It’s all about timing and balance, you’ll want to run with the board and get one foot on and then the other to start gliding across the thin coat of water.
- Visit the Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center
Who doesn’t love Sea Turtles! Navarre Beach and Pensacola Beach are home to numerous Sea Turtles and the Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center is there to give Sea Turtles more tomorrows! Stop by and learn all about Sea Turtles and what you can do to protect these amazing animals during your stay. You can visit Sweet Pea, the resident Sea Turtle that lives at the Conservation Center along with numerous other animals and exhibits.
Some things we recommend to protect Sea Turtles during your stay:
- Don’t leave trash at the beach, leave with what you came with.
- Fill in any holes you dig in the sand, these can impede nesting and hatching sea turtles.
- Lights out at night and use red lights if on the beach. Bright white lights can be disorienting to nesting and hatching Sea Turtles, use turtle safe red lights at night. You can order red flashlights online, or pickup a red lense cover at the Sea Turtle Conservation Center or Visitor Centers. Barefoot Beach Equipment Rentals also has red flashlights available. Finally, just be aware of Sea Turtle nesting areas and avoid hatching turtles. Once nests are discovered, they are taped off and signs are placed to make people aware. If fishing on the pier and you hook a Sea Turtle, don’t cut the line, instead call the phone number listed at the pier for the Sea Turtle Conservation Center or Pier office, and they will send out a team to rescue the Sea Turtle and handle them properly.
- Watch a sunset on the beach
Generally, between the months of October and March, the sun will set over the Gulf and sunset views from the beach are unbelievable! Between April and September, find a spot along the Sound to watch the sunset over the Sound! There are always great views to be had no matter what time of year you visit.
- Watch the Blue Angels Practice
The Blue Angels are a United States Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron based out of the Naval Air Station in Pensacola. If you’ve never seen the Blues fly, you are in for an amazing time! They generally have two air shows in the area each year, a summer show over Pensacola Beach and a fall show at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola. If you’re not in town for a show, you can potentially watch them practice during most weeks. For more information on air show dates, practice schedule and where you can watch them practice, check out some of the links we provide on the Resources page on our website.