Continued from Region 5 Northwest Florida:
Just to the west of the city, a 52-acre natural habitat is the home of red wolves, Florida panthers and river otters at the Tallahassee Museum of History and Natural Science. Combining a natural habitat zoo, historical buildings and an environmental science center, this is one of the most unique museums in the South.
Make a splash and beat the heat in the cool, clear waters at nearby Wakulla Springs State Park, one of the world’s deepest and largest freshwater springs. This 6,000-acre wildlife sanctuary located south of Tallahassee offers hiking, biking or a river boat tour along the Wakulla River. The Wakulla Springs Lodge was built in 1937 and is listed with the park on the National Register of Historic Places.
Tallahassee-St. Marks Historic Railroad State Trail, which runs 20 miles from the capital to the coastal community of St. Marks, cuts through dense pine forests and small rural communities before ending near coastal marshlands by the Gulf. It is the route of Florida’s first rail trail built primarily to transport cotton to awaiting ships.
In Jackson County is Three Rivers State Park, named for the Chattahoochee, Flint and Apalachicola Rivers. The Chattahoochee and Flint combine to form Lake Seminole above the Jim Woodruff Dam. Below the dam, the water forms the mighty Apalachicola River which flows to Apalachicola Bay and the Gulf. The 682-acre park which has two miles of shoreline on Lake Seminole at the Florida-Georgia border, includes a 100- foot pier for fishing. RV camping is welcome.
A rare opportunity to tour dry caves and see dazzling formations of limestone stalactites, stalagmites and flowstones can be found at the Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna, Jackson County, the state’s only such public access to underground caves. The Chipola River and freshwater spring provide fishing, boating and canoeing, plus the park has camping and horseback riding. There is also a nine-hole, New Deal-era golf course on site.
South of Tallahassee, one of America’s most significant sites is preserved today at Fort Gadsden State Historic Site in the Apalachicola National Forest, Franklin County. The original fort at the site was built by the British in the War of 1812 and defenders included Red Stick, Seminole, a few Choctaw warriors and free black citizens of Florida over its unique history.
The Cape St. George Lighthouse originally stood for 153 years on St. George Island before falling in 2005 and was rebuilt in a new location in 2008. A museum and keeper’s house on site are open for seasonal tours. This beautiful barrier island includes St. George Island State Park and miles of undeveloped white-sand beaches.
For a bird-watchers’ haven, don’t miss the undeveloped barrier island of St. Vincent, just offshore from the mouth of the Apalachicola River, and the St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge. Water shuttles are available near Port St. Joe.
Off-the-beaten-path destinations in the Panhandle include quiet Mexico Beach, the fishing community of Port St. Joe with its summertime scalloping and Apalachicola, famous for oysters.
Twenty-seven miles of white sand beaches and a wide variety of entertainment make Panama City a family favorite. There’s Shipwreck Island Waterpark, a 20-acre landscape filled withslides, rapids, tube rides and a wave pool; Gulf World Marine Park, featuring daily live shows with dolphins, sea lions and interactive programs.
In the nouveau-Victorian town of Seaside, pastel-hued Victorian cottages with tin roofs and whimsical names like Serendipity and Bit O’ Heaven line red brick streets leading to exclusive beaches. In the century-old community of Grayton Beach, with its sand streets and weathered cypress houses, adventurous wanderers will discover places like Grayton Beach State Park and The Grayt Grounds of Monet Monet, a re-creation of Claude Monet’s home and garden in Giverny, France that houses an art gallery, venue and coffeehouse. Strung together along Scenic County Road 30A, a collection of 16 beach communities called the Beaches of South Walton remain wonderfully secluded. Stretching for 26 mesmerizing miles between Panama City and Destin, these sugar-white sand beaches are continually ranked among the best in the United States.
In Fort Walton Beach, the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park’s live exhibits and performances display a panorama of sea life and Zoo World Zoological and Botanical Park in Okaloosa County, where visitors can interact with animals. At the Indian Temple Mound and Museum, also in Fort Walton Beach, visitors can journey through exhibits depicting 12,000 years of Native American occupation. More than 1,000 artifacts of bone, stone, clay and shell are exhibited from European explorers, local pirates and early settlers. The massive mound was believed to have been built in the 1500s for political, religious and ceremonial purposes.
Another great stop is Gulf Breeze Zoo, home to more than 900 different animals roaming over 50 acres. Beach lovers will enjoy Pensacola Beach and nearby Perdido Key for their more than 40 miles of Gulf shoreline, more than half preserved in federal and state parks.
Many families choose to vacation year after year on the sparkling beaches of Destin, Fort Walton Beach and Okaloosa Island, part of Florida’s Emerald Coast. Signature emerald-green water and brilliant white sands provide the perfect backdrop for fun. With more than 100 festivals and events held annually, a good time is always available.
Nearby to the north in Milton, dubbed the “Canoe Capital of Florida” thanks to the Blackwater River State Forest, visitors can canoe, kayak and tube along the crystal-clear, spring-fed waters of the Blackwater River. It is also home to the West Florida Railroad Museum.
Pensacola, at Florida’s western tip, was the site of North America’s first European settlement with Spanish colonists arriving here in 1559.
The place to start a family tour is Historic Pensacola Village, a complex of unique museums. Tour a portion of the Pensacola Historic District and the Barkley House, learn early 19th century cooking techniques, visit the Discovery Gallery of the Pensacola Children’s Museum, and realize how five different flags have flown over the city – Spain, France, Britain, United States and the Confederate States of America. Families can meander through Creole and Victorian homes, dating from the 1780s to the 1800s, restored and converted into charming shops and restaurants.
Nearby, the T.T. Wentworth Jr. Florida State Museum, Civil War Soldiers Museum and the Pensacola Museum of Art offer additional entertainment.
For a look at Pensacola’s more recent history, visitors can “take off” to explore two aviation museums on nearby military bases. The National Naval Aviation Museum spans a century of military flying, from the first flight in a wood-and-fabric biplane to today’s space travels with a Skylab command module. Attractions include more than 150 restored military aircraft, motionbased flight simulator rides and an IMAX theater. Have a blast at nearby Eglin Air Force Base, where the Air Force Armament Museum showcases historical
Air Force planes and weapons, as well as a variety of the latest technology in bombs, missiles and rockets.