We left the hotel in Pensacola under partly cloudy skies. The forecast is the same as always in this area in the summer… 40% possibility of scattered storms. We continues to stay off the Interstate until we neared Tallahassee, FL.
We headed south to Pensacola Beach which is on Santa Rosa Island, a narrow barrier island. Pensacola Beach occupies the western portion of the island. Most of the island between Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Once you leave Pensacola Beach and its high rise buildings behind, you enter a narrow stretch with beaches on both the Gulf and Bay side. While Pensacola Beach is crowded, the beaches to the east had few people scattered here and there. I was under the impression, courtesy of Google Maps, that the road continued much further then Navarre Beach and continued on past the intersection past the causeway leading to the mainland. I quickly learned that the road only went a few hundred yards further east into a beach parking lot… U-turn time.
Once back on the mainland, we picked up US-98, which took us through Fort Walton Beach, Destin and a few other smaller beach towns. Because of the hotels and condos on the beach side of the island, you only get a glimpse of the beaches. The whole strip looks like any beach town in the U.S. with its hotels, condos and beach shops.
When we reached Panama City Beach we opted to discontinue following the Gulf coast and headed inland via US-231, FL-20 and FL-12. The terrain was completely different than the beaches. Miles and miles of stands of Southern Pine lined the road. Most of the woods were tree farms in various stages of growth. We picked I-10 about 25 miles west of Tallahassee and were in our hotel 25 minutes later. By the way we didn’t encounter rain on this trip.
Looking back at the beaches that we passed in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida the last two days, I think I would opt for the stretch east of Pensacola Beach in the Gulf Islands National Seashore. You can stay on the mainland in hotels that are cheaper than on Santa Rosa Island, drive east to the National Seashore and have a piece of beach all to yourself. If you don’t mind the crowds, Pensacola Beach has the same powdery white sand.