My parents are workaholics. They are constantly busy and doing something, remodeling our business, upgrading our house, working, etc. When I over dramatize our family situation, I tend to say that they neglect us kids. Our last full family vacation was over 3 years ago, when we took a trip to Myrtle Beach, SC. For those who don’t know, Myrtle Beach is an okay beach that everyone in my area likes to go to because it’s the best we have around my small town. Isn’t that what life kind of is though?
As I mentioned in my latest reflection, this year, I had my way in planning a trip to Pensacola and Destin, FL! I’m beyond psyched because I loooove trip planning. The prospect of being away from the stress at home, seeing someplace new (a white-sand, clear-water beach on the Gulf of Mexico no less), and staying at a hotel or condo (we get really excited when we get to sleep somewhere new) was overwhelming. Even if it was a 7 hour drive, it was worth it to spend some relaxing time with the family.
Now, also keep in mind that planning at family trip is very different from a solo backpacker trip. My usual travel style in my other post isn’t applied to these vacation as my family’s tolerance for discomfort and inconvenience is very low.
The Beach: What Everybody Comes For
The two most popular Pensacola beaches are: the Casino Beach and the Quietwater Beach. Both beaches are full of tourists (like us) in the water. Beach umbrellas costs $40 to use until 6pm. Being adventurous that we are, as soon as we took a break from swimming, we explored the island strip. One end of the island is the Gulf Islands National Seashore, which charges a small $6 entry fee for a day. The other end of the island is littered with large hotels and bountiful amounts of condos. About 10 minutes in driving on eastwards of the island, we start to see pull-offs where people park for beach access. Yes! We finally found the empty beaches where we could have it (almost) to ourselves! There were never more than 10 people in our sight!
Our beach access in Destin was a short 10 minute walk from the condo. There was enough distance between us and our neighbor swimmers that we had plenty of room to swim. In the afternoon, it gets pretty crowded, but not nearly as much as Pensacola’s 2 main beaches. The fish were smaller and more sparse than Pensacola. The waves were bigger than Pensacola’s, perfect for body surfing.
Result: Admittedly, the water condition depends on the day that you’re going. Both beaches are beautiful and full of sea life. If I had to choose, I would go with Pensacola beaches. The sea life is plentiful, pretty water, nice private beaches. However, I want to strongly reiterate that Destin waves were excellent for body surfing!
Things to Do Around Here???
To get to the beaches in Pensacola, we have to cross two bridges. The first bridge gives us access to a part of Gulf Islands National Seashore, which we didn’t get a chance to visit because we were more interested in seeing the Pensacola beaches. This strip does have plenty of great restaurant options to try! At the end of the second beach is the entrance to Pensacola. Each car pays a small toll of $1 to enter Pensacola. Things to do in Pensacola are sparse, it has a lot of interesting restaurants, but for the real things to do, we would have to go to the mainland.
From the north, there are two ways to enter Destin, one with about a $10 toll and another is free. We entered through the $10 toll road, and left through the free route. Both took the same time, so it was annoying that we didn’t plan our route well enough to avoid tolls. Luckily, there are much more things to do in Destin. So many shopping malls, restaurants, and also a very nice boardwalk!
Result: With way more things to do and an option for no toll entrance, Destin wins this round!
Our Lodging: Hotel vs. Condo
We traveled to Pensacola right after Independence Day and on a weekend. The rooms were expensive at $99-$120/night. We stayed at an Econolodge, with was the cheapest option nearby with free breakfast available. It took about 25 minutes to drive to beach, which isn’t bad. Again, we haven’t taken a vacation in years, so anything is better than nothing. 😉
We rented our first condo ever in Destin! We booked it through VRBO, which turned out to be cheaper than most of the hotel options available! It came up to $500 for our short 3 day stay for six of us. It was quite expensive (for me), but I would say it was entirely worth it for the 10-minute walk to the beach. We had washer/dryer, kitchen, a full bathroom, and TVs. It was a wonderful experience and would not trade it for anything. My mom was so happy about the kitchen that she gets to cook in for all of us.
Result: Since we did not have a constant variable here, I will just say that if you have a chance to book a condo- do it!!! The amenities are worth it!
Thanks for reading my little blurb! I hope you enjoyed it and hope that I have somewhat helped your vacation out, too. I value every trip I take with my family, as we don’t spend all that much time together. I loved seeing my brother and sisters freak out at the beach. Any amount of time and money at this paradise would be worth it. If I had to choose, Destin would be my choice for us. With condo options, we had all the amenities we needed.