Exploring Navarre Beach and Santa Rosa County, Florida

Written by Loretta Berry

February 27, 2023
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Looking for a relaxing vacation in the Florida Panhandle? Navarre Beach in Santa Rosa County might be one of Florida’s best-kept secrets. Read on to discover why you should explore Navarre Beach in Florida.

Santa Rosa County is located on the western end of the Florida Panhandle and includes the towns of Navarre, Milton, and Navarre Beach. Santa Rosa County feels off-the-beaten-path between Fort Walton/Destin and Pensacola. There are fewer hotels and restaurants, although there are some great ones and not too many “touristy” activities. However, that only means fewer crowds, especially at Navarre Beach.

Beachgoers flock to the more populated Fort Walton/Destin area and Pensacola. Don’t get me wrong, we love both these places, but after traveling the Panhandle extensively, our hearts belong to Navarre. Why?

Recently Navarre’s motto went from “Florida’s Best Kept Secret” to “Florida’s Most Relaxing Place”—and while the latter is very true, I, and many others, still think that Navarre is Florida’s best kept secret. Santa Rosa County is the place if you are looking for a truly relaxing, sunshine-filled Florida vacation.

Navarre Beach sign.

Welcome to Navarre Beach. Photo by Loretta Berry

Stunning, Uncrowded White-Sand Beaches

Located across the Santa Rosa Sound, also the Intracoastal Waterway, from the town of Navarre, on Santa Rosa Island, lies 12 miles of the purest, softest, white-sand beaches and crystal-clear turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Open to the public. It rarely gets crowded at Navarre Beach.

Bring your beach blankets, umbrella, and chairs, and pick your spot. Spend the day lounging, reading a good book, strolling along the beach, hunting for seashells, or swimming in the warm and calm water. Regardless of the season, Navarre Beach is the perfect spot for witnessing some of the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets.

Navarre Beach on Santa Rosa Island.

Navarre Beach on Santa Rosa Island. Photo courtesy of Santa Rosa County Tourist Development

Navarre Beach Fishing Pier

Stretching out 1,545 feet into the crystal-clear Gulf waters, Navarre Beach Pier is the longest fishing pier in Florida and is one of the premier spots for excellent fishing. Towering 30 feet above the water, the pier offers fun for the entire family. The privately-owned bait and tackle shop allows guests to rent fishing poles and gear. So whether you stroll or jump right into the middle of the action, Navarre Pier is an ideal place for every age.

Navarre Beach Fishing Pier.

Navarre Beach Fishing Pier. Photo courtesy of Santa Rosa County Tourist Development

Outdoor Recreational Activities in Santa Rosa County

You’ll find various recreational activities in Santa Rosa County—on the Gulf, the Sound, and Blackwater River State Forest, north of Milton. Activities include snorkeling and diving, kayaking and stand-up paddling, hiking and biking, archery, yoga, swimming, boating, fishing, and wildlife viewing, to name a few.

Mountain biking at Bear Lake.

Mountain biking at Bear Lake. Photo courtesy of Santa Rosa County Tourist Development

Blackwater River State Forest: Everything for the Outdoor Enthusiast

Blackwater River State Forest is located just north of Milton in Santa Rosa County. This 219,077-acre state forest offers just about everything for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers: camping, hiking, biking, fishing, swimming, horseback and OHV riding, paddling, birding, and more.

The state forest has multiple outdoor recreation areas, including Krul Lake, Karick Lake, Hurricane Lake, Bone Creek, and Bear Lake. Be sure to check the website for permits and reservations.

Hiking in Blackwater River State Forest.

Hiking in Blackwater River State Forest. Photo courtesy of Santa Rosa County Tourist Development

Glamping at Coldwater Gardens

Coldwater Gardens is Florida’s most serene outdoor hidden gem. Glamping, stargazing, hiking, biking, paddling, swimming—you can immerse yourself in nature. Coldwater Gardens is a fully sustainable agri-tourism destination located near the historic city of Milton, and it sits on the banks of Coldwater Creek.

Locals and tourists visiting Coldwater Gardens can stay in private cottages, treehouses, cabanas, and glamping tents.

Coldwater Gardens Luxury Tent Glamping.

Coldwater Gardens Luxury Tent Glamping. Photo courtesy of Santa Rosa County Tourist Development

Along with the ultimate eco-designed glamping experience, you can participate in relaxing activities such as yoga, star gazing from an elevated platform, kayaking, nature walks, and more. Check out the on-site gardens, hammock deck, and bunnies.

Night Sky View at Coldwater Gardens Star Gazing Platform.

Night Sky View at Coldwater Gardens Star Gazing Platform. Photo by Loretta Berry

Adventures Unlimited Outdoor Excursions

A stone’s throw from Coldwater Gardens is Adventures Unlimited Outdoor Center. Here you can discover the fun of outdoor adventure and the glories of nature. Adventure Unlimited offers a zipline canopy tour, canoeing, kayaking, tubing, and camping along Coldwater Creek in Blackwater River State Forest.

Note: Some activities are seasonal. Be sure to check the website or call ahead.

Exploring Navarre, Navarre Beach, and Santa Rosa County.

Adventures Unlimited Coldwater Creek Kayaking. Photo by Loretta Berry

The Ulitmate Beach Experience—Full-Moon Beach Yoga and Healing Soundbath

Something I tried for the first time on my last trip to Navarre, and loved it, was beach yoga. Navarre Beach Yoga Studio does have a traditional brick-and-mortar building. However, if you want a truly amazing experience, you’ve got to try beach yoga. I was lucky enough to be in Navarre during a full moon and experienced yoga after dark on the soft white sand beach with the full moon shining overhead and the sound of gently crashing waves. Be sure to ask Kasey, the yoga studio owner, about a sound bath healing session.

Full Moon Beach Yoga on Navarre Beach.

Full Moon Beach Yoga on Navarre Beach. Photo courtesy of Navarre Beach Yoga Studio

Diving and Snorkeling at Navarre Beach Marine Sanctuary

The Navarre Beach Marine Sanctuary (NBMS) consists of three separate reef areas off the shores of Navarre Beach Marine Park. Two sites are in Santa Rosa Sound and one in the Gulf. These artificial reefs boost marine habitats and provide snorkelers and scuba divers with easy access to undersea exploration.

Note: All snorkel reef sites are located in Santa Rosa County Navarre Beach Marine Park and are open to the public free of charge from sunrise to sunset.

Where to Rent Recreational Equipment

There are many places to rent recreational Equipment. You can find sea-doos, catamarans, pontoons, kayaks, SUPs, and more to rent at Juana’s Pagodas. They also offer para-sail rides. Other options include Navarre Kayak Rentals and Navarre Family Watersports. For archery, try Broxson Outdoors. Lazy Lizard Tours and Charters offers a variety of boating options: fishing, dolphin tours, sunset cruises, plus snorkeling and paddling. The day we went out with Mike on the pontoon boat, the weather had just turned cold, so we bundled up and toured Navarre and Navarre Beach from the Sound.

Note: Many rental places and excursions are seasonal. It’s best to check the websites or call for dates, times, and other information.

Lazy Lizard Tours-Santa Rosa Sound and Sunset Tour.

Lazy Lizard Tours-Santa Rosa Sound and Sunset Tour. Photo by Loretta Berry

Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center

The Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center (NBSTCC) is a small but interesting educational facility. It is worth the stop. NBSTCC’s mission is “Giving sea turtles more tomorrows through conservation, education, and research.” A tour of the center includes interactive exhibits for all ages. Visitors will meet Sweet Pea, a rescue turtle, and see tortoises and terrapins, plus lionfish, jellyfish, and seahorses.

Note: The small entry fee and any purchases made in the gift shop go towards the center’s conservation efforts.

Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center.

Navarre Beach Sea Turtle Conservation Center. Photo by Loretta Berry

Lose Yourself at Gulf Islands National Seashore

Pristine and unspoiled, Gulf Islands National Seashore stretches for eight miles between Pensacola and Navarre Beaches in the middle of Santa Rosa Island. With the Gulf on one side and the Sound on the other, you’ll find plenty of isolated space that makes you feel like you are on a deserted island. On our last visit, we walked three miles along the Sound-side beach and never saw another human.

Note: There are multiple free parking lots along the only road through the National Seashore. Pulling off on the side of the road is illegal and frowned upon.

Gulf Islands National Seashore Blue Heron.

Gulf Islands National Seashore Blue Heron. Photo by Loretta Berry

Explore Unique Florida History at Arcadia Mill Archaeological Site

Experience the rich heritage of northwest Florida’s milling industry at historic Arcadia Mill, which encompasses 42 acres spanning two different properties located within the footprint of the original Spanish land grant. Arcadia Mill was the first and largest water-powered industrial complex in antebellum Florida.

Nearby, and also open for tours, is the Arcadia Mill Homestead. The former Simpson House is now a historic museum highlighting life at Arcadia Farms during the Great Depression.

For an extra adventure while visiting Arcadia Mill, spend some time on the boardwalk and nature trails that wind through thick forests, wildflowers, and native plants. Trail signage points out the foundations (ruins) of the sawmills and the textile mill. The signage will also direct you to where the blacksmith shop, tannery, and other structures once stood.

Arcadia Mill Archeological Site Trailhead.

Arcadia Mill Archeological Site Trailhead. Photo by Loretta Berry

Where to Eat at Navarre Beach and in Santa Rosa County

If you are a foodie, Santa Rosa County and Navarre are great places to be and eat. Ask the locals for “the best” restaurant, and you’ll get a dozen different answers—Blackwater Bistro, Gud Vybes Jamaican Grill, La Hacienda Mexican Restaurant (all in Milton), The Slippery Mermaid Sushi Bar and Beach House Bar & Grill (Navarre)—they are all that good.

Beach House Bar & Grill.

Beach House Bar & Grill. Photo by Loretta Berry

Broussard Bayou Grille

Brothers Carl and Cory Broussard wanted to bring the unique cuisine of their native South Louisiana to Florida. Thus, Broussard’s Bayou Grill opened in 1996 in Navarre on the Gulf side of the Navarre Bridge.

At Broussard’s, you’ll enjoy genuine “bayou-to-table” goodness with something to please everyone. They serve all your Cajun favorites and fresh oysters, seafood, salads, chicken, pasta, and even hamburgers in a warm, welcoming, family-friendly atmosphere.

Ye Olde Brewery

Take a break from the beach at Navarre’s first craft brewery, Ye Olde Brothers Brewery. Here you will find southern hospitality combined with quintessential small-town charm.

All their brews are hand-crafted on-site, including seasonal beers to suit the season. Their craft libation menu includes wine and their signature, in-house roasted coffee.

As good as their beer is, their food is terrific. Remember that Southern hospitality I mentioned? Christy outdid herself when my husband and I visited. We tasted a bit of everything: beer cheese and pretzels, wings, baked mac ‘n cheese, brisket, a Paul Revere (meat lovers) pizza, and my personal favorite, homemade sweet potato casserole. Ye Olde Brewery is a must-visit, classic southern treat.

Ye Olde Brothers Brewery In Navarre.

Ye Olde Brothers Brewery In Navarre. Photo by Loretta Berry

Juana’s Pagodas and Sailor’s Grill

Navarre’s oldest family-owned and operated restaurant and bar, Juana’s Pagodas and Sailor’s Grill, serves great food, drinks, and fun. Just driving by and seeing all the pagodas makes you want to stop.

Sailor’s Grill serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily with indoor and outdoor seating. Juana’s Bites To Go is a walk-up, take-out window for snacks, beach food, or take-home. The pagodas are fun-filled bar areas, some outside and some inside, with beach sand floors. In addition, there is live music and other events throughout the year.

Juana's Pagodas and Sailor's Grill Past And Present.

Juana’s Pagodas and Sailor’s Grill Past And Present. Photo by Loretta Berry

Where to Stay

In addition to the Blackwater River State Forest, Coldwater Gardens, and Adventures Unlimited, all north of Milton, there are several great camping locations close to the beach, including Navarre Beach Camping Resort and Santa Rosa Waterfront RV Resort.

In addition, there are many vacation rentals and several hotels, such as Hampton Inn & Suites on the Sound side and Springhill Suites by Marriott on Navarre Beach.

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When You Explore Navarre, Navarre Beach, and Santa Rosa County in Florida

Whether you are a seasoned Florida traveler or just looking to head to Florida for the first time, you probably know there are many great beaches to choose from. However, if you are looking for more than just a beach vacation, if you want the whole package—great beaches plus great food, historical sites, and exciting outdoor adventure, all with minimal crowds—head to “Florida’s Best Kept Secret,” Santa Rosa County, where you’ll find it all. Use Wander With Wonder as a guide when planning your next trip to Florida or another beach vacation.
Looking for a relaxing vacation in the Florida Panhandle? Navarre Beach in Santa Rosa County might be one of Florida's best-kept secrets. Read this article to discover why you should explore Navarre Beach in Florida.

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Exploring Navarre Beach and Santa Rosa County, Florida

Written by Loretta Berry

Loretta Berry is a freelance travel writer and photographer. She loves discovering new places, learning its history, and experiencing the local food and drink. She has traveled extensively throughout the United States. She loves traveling with her kids and grandkids, sharing with them her passion for fun and adventure. She is a member of North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA), International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA), and TravMedia.

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