Thursday, February 29, 2024

Beach Guide 2023

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After a winter of being cooped up inside, it’s time to hit the beach! Luckily Nashville has a wealth of sunny escapes just a short drive or flight away. We’ve rounded up a few of our favorites so you can start making your spring break plans.


Beaches of South Walton

Located on Northwest Florida’s Gulf Coast, South Walton’s sugar-white sand beaches and turquoise water complement 16 unique beach neighborhoods. South Walton is easily accessible from the Nashville area and perfect for a relaxing spring vacation. Set apart by its unmatched natural beauty, vast nature preserves create a relaxed respite not often found in similar destinations. Craving some outdoor exploration to go along with your beach trip? South Walton offers adventure-seekers much to explore with more than 200 miles of hiking and biking trails, four state parks, a state forest, and 15 rare coastal dune lakes. And after all that activity, you’re sure to work up an appetite. Not to worry, South Walton is a culinary hotspot with 200-plus restaurants featuring fresh-from-the-Gulf seafood and other locally sourced ingredients. The area also offers fabulous resorts, golf courses, historic sites, shopping, and of course, some of the most breathtaking beaches in the country. (visitsouthwalton.com)

Gulf Shores/Orange Beach

Set along the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Alabama’s Gulf Shores is marked by its 32 miles of white sand beaches, and acres of preserved wildlife. Yes, there’s kitschy beach-town fun and plenty of shopping, but it can also be a retreat into nature. Plan to anchor your stay at Gulf State Park, a 6,150-acre destination that stands out for its preserved ecosystem—as well as the many ways it allows visitors to connect with the nature around them. There are two miles of beach connected to the park, so you can walk, run, and swim the surf, hit the trails for a hike through the park, or drop a line at the fishing and education pier. The park is also home to Lake Shelby, where more swimming and paddling await. With so many unique waterways surrounding the Alabama Gulf Coast, visitors can enjoy an array of outdoor activities. Whether it’s kayaking on the Coastal Alabama Back Bay Blueway, biking on the Hugh S. Branyon Backcountry Trail, golfing at one of the area’s 15+ courses, or fishing out in the Gulf, there’s something for every nature lover to enjoy. Cap off the evening with some traditional Gulf Coast dining at one of the many beachside restaurants and enjoy fresh Gulf seafood while basking in the stunning waterfront-seating views. (gulfshores.com) While you’re there, book a stay at the stunning Lodge at Gulf State Park, a Hilton Hotel with stunning beach views and four star accommodations. (lodgeatgulfstatepark.com)

Baytowne

Located along the shores of the Choctawhatchee Bay in Northwest Florida, The Village of Baytowne Wharf is home to a plethora of activities the whole family can enjoy. Known as the heart and soul of Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, The Village of Baytowne Wharf is a must-visit spot for all things dining, shopping, and entertainment. Visitors and locals alike flock here for everything from a fun-filled day trip to a full-fledged vacation that will have you anxiously awaiting your next trip. Relax while the kids burn off all their energy playing at the nautical-themed Adventure Land Playground, or head to the Baytowne Adventure Zone and zip line across the lagoon for soaring views the whole family can enjoy. With more than a dozen restaurants, charming boutiques, vibrant nightlife, and an array of outdoor festivals and events, there is no shortage of entertainment in Baytowne. The village is also close to the Baytowne Marina, Jolee Island Nature Park, and is just a tram ride from the beach. (baytownewharf.com)

Pensacola, FL

Whether it’s swimming in warm Gulf waters or savoring a mouthwatering meal in a historic hole-in-the-wall, Pensacola welcomes everyone in the fam to coastally distance. Just a six- hour road trip south to the western tip of Florida, Pensacola’s access to miles of crystalline white sand beaches and clear blue waters makes it the perfect destination to get outdoors, soak up the sun, and enjoy a vacation. But the beach isn’t the only thing on the agenda here—in fact, Pensacola offers plenty of adventures and history the whole family can enjoy. The city’s historic section encompasses eight and a half acres and 28 properties located within the footprints of the original Spanish and British forts in downtown Pensacola. Take a self-guided tour of historic homes and watch period-dressed living history interpreters before dipping into one of Pensacola’s unique museums. Have a hankering for freshly caught seafood? Funky food trucks, historic hole-in-the-walls, and white tablecloth eateries cater to all tastes and experiences. The views offer plenty to write home about, too—sparkling ocean crests and charming old-town architecture make a standout meal a simply unforgettable experience. (visitpensacola.com)

Gulf County

Located in Northwest Florida and comprised of St. Joe Beach, Cape San Blas, Port St. Joe, and Wewahitchka, Gulf County boasts 244 miles of natural shoreline and 43 miles of sandy shoreline—providing a beach for every interest under the sun. Think of Gulf County as one giant outdoor family-friendly playground; perfect for activities like shelling, kayaking, paddle boarding, boating, snorkeling, and more. Almost all of Gulf County’s beaches are pet-friendly, so fur-babies can join in on all the fun as long as they are on a leash. From the crystal-clear waters and white sand beaches to tranquil inland passages, Gulf County was designed by nature, and the county’s lifestyle ensures those beautiful natural views remain on full display thanks to its no high-rise policy. With so many expansive miles of shoreline there’s plenty of room to spread out even during the busiest travel months. However, visitors will have the pleasure of sharing the beach with wildlife such as nesting sea turtles, as Gulf County is the largest nesting place for sea turtles in Northwest Florida. (visitgulf.com)

Mississippi Gulf Coast

More than 1,600 miles in all, the Mississippi Gulf Coast includes a 62-mile stretch of coastal towns. Less than eight hours driveway to sand, the quaint, walkable town of Ocean Springs can be found along this stretch—boasting more than 100 restaurants, a slew of art galleries and shops, and plenty of outdoor adventure, too. We love Front Beach in Ocean Springs. Along the one-mile, dog-friendly path, enjoy views of the Mississippi Sound, fishing piers, and even an oversized chessboard. Come dusk, you’ll find breathtaking sunsets over the Biloxi Bridge. Get out on a boat at Ocean Springs Harbor’s resident Strictly Fishin’ Charters, where you can fish inshore or along the barrier islands and enjoy a little sightseeing while you’re at it. It’s all about core strength at Paddles Up, where stand-up paddle boards (SUP) and kayaks are a specialty—they offer multi-level classes, too. You can even paddle among dolphins and watch pelicans scoop up their next meal. There may be no swimming beaches at Gulf Islands National Seashore, Davis Bayou, but there’s plenty of fishing, hiking, birding, and other ranger-led programs to round out an Ocean Springs experience. (gulfcoast.org)

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