Monday, July 20, 2015

The Blue Angels, Military Museums, Fort Pickens

You hem me in,
behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Psalm 139:5

~ The Blue Angels ~

Again, the Blue Angels.

Most folks have no idea that 1.5 hours from 30A near Pensacola is where the Navy's top dogs practice their awe inspiring aerial maneuvers.

NOTE: I-10 is the only traffic light free option! Driving through traffic light ridden Destin takes forever!!!

Watching the bystanding men stand up and remain riveted on these heroes of little boys literally brought tears to my eyes.

While we have only seen the Blue Angels in air shows in Tennessee, fellow homeschoolers told us they were able to watch the Blue Angels practice from the beach at Fort Pickens in Pensacola.

After researching, we found their practice times online and hope to plan an observation day for our next visit.

~ Military Museums ~

The Naval museum captivated my hubby during our day trip to Pensacola.

The display commemorating the POWs was sadly shocking. Our war heroes have been through far more than is imaginable in our bubble called the U. S. of A.

The Air Force museum is not on our current list of destinations because of a recent visit to the Air Force museum in the northeast.  But for military or airplane enthusiasts, it would no doubt be a delight.

~ Fort Pickens ~

Fort Pickens is a historical American fort we hope to visit in the future. 

Since we have a history lover in the family and we are trying to give the kiddos an appreciation for history, we tend to drag their begrudgingly selves through such things.

It will be a quick visit, but since we might be driving to that region to see the Blue Angels, we might as well maximize the visit.

Biking 30A

View from Breezy Seaside Pavilion

Keep me as the apple of your eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings,
Psalm 17:8

Biking can be a pleasure on 30A.

The scenery and the exploration of the architecture and landscaping of nearby communities make biking a popular past time.

Most of the 30A is covered with sidewalks.  Certain sections are better tended than others.

Regardless of sidewalk conditions, bikes appear to be the preferred mode of transportation.

Our favorite places to bike...

~ Watercolor community - views of beautiful homes, landscaping, bridges, and Western Lake
~ Grayton Beach State Park to WaterColor - relatively smooth path, views of Western Lake
~ Grayton Beach State Park - short bumpy ride with views of sand dunes, Western Lake, and access to trails

Biking comes with its own dangers...

Narrow Bridge overlooking Western Lake
between Grayton Beach State Park
and Watercolor

Road narrows approaching bridge
overlooking Western Lake

The two bridges crossing Western Lake on 30A are narrow and drivers go well beyond the speed limit.

Set up an order of cyclists. All three of our children now bike with us. So the youngest follows Daddy, with the next youngest following her. Mommy goes next with the eldest in the back. Our eldest has a tendency to tailgate and bump into younger siblings. :)

Daddy is our fearless leader so he determines whether or not we cross the bridges or dismount and walk. My job is to pray. :)

Several events end after dark, so a great addition for this last visit is a flashlight headlight for each bike. The width if the beam is adjustable as well as the angle.  We also have a tiny red light in the back of each bike.

The headlights may seem like overkill but we have tried biking back  with only Daddy's headlight after dark, and we were blind and unable to to see tree roots busting through trails.

In regards to the red rear lights, we regularly come to unexpected halts when driving our vehicle at night as unseen families appear from nowhere crossing busy roads with no bike lights.

Bikes are available for rent via many businesses. Shop around for pricing. Some offer free delivery.  If they do not have lights, bring your own!  If they do not come with helmets for the children, bring your own!

We like to bike from time to time to a different beach location. Hauling beach toys and umbrellas has become the job of our former kid trailer. Super handy at such times.

Need to cool off after biking to a destination? Head to a beach pavilion and let the ocean breeze provide relief.

Any day we bike to Seaside, our first stop after biking is the Seaside pavilion for a few moments of refreshment.

Free 30A Community Activities

July 4th symphony & fireworks @ Seaside
(Average weekly crowd NOT this large!)
And when you reap the harvest of your land,
you shall not reap your field
right up to its edge,
nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest.
You shall leave them
for the poor and
for the sojourner:
I am the Lord your God.
Leviticus 23:22

The 30A communities offer plenty of activities for visitors. One could drive to a different spot in 30A each day to experience fun and frolicking.

From soccer to theater improv lessons to comedians to digital graffiti to kickball to outdoor movies, the list is seemingly endless with possibilities.

Some of our favorite communities for their activities include Seaside, Alys Beach, and Rosemary Beach. Others communities we have yet to experience are SeaCrest and GulfPlace.

Outdoor concerts are popular with families. Parents enjoy their blankets and music while kids play with their youthful vigor.  See more about outdoor concerts here.

Outside of community activities, check out the numerous other posts for free or almost free offerings on and around 30A.

NOTE: Planning to bike between destinations after dark? Flashlight headlights and red rear lights are highly advisable! See post here.

Saint Andrews State Park

Display in Interpretive Center
King Solomon spoke of trees,
from the cedar that is in Lebanon
to the hyssop that grows out of the wall.
He spoke also of beasts, and of birds,
and of reptiles, and of fish.
I Kings 4:33

Saint Andrews State Park is well worth the drive from 30A.

The entrance fee is minimal.

Some of the opportunities included with the entrance fee:

~ a visit to the small nature center (interpretive facility) with history of the park and displays of local critters
~ ranger programs (check day and time)
~ a stroll around alligator pond
~ amateur snorkeling (bring gear)
~ a dip in the calm beach waters of the jetty-lined gulf access
~ crashing waves on the other side of the jetty

If desiring to experience Shell Island, an undeveloped habitat known for snorkeling and shells, boats will ferry your family for a fee ($17/adult, etc).

No bathroom facilities are available on Shell Island, nor water, snacks, or sunscreen, so pack for the island accordingly.

Lots of facilities are available at the state park.

Our family has not yet experienced Shell Island, but as a couple we enjoyed the other aspects of St. Andrews State Park.

Alligator Pond

Eating Out

Seagrove Market

And behold, an angel touched him
and said to Elijah,
“Arise and eat.”
And he looked,
and behold,
there was at his head a cake
baked on hot stones
and a jar of water.
And he ate and drank and lay down again.
I Kings 19:5-6

Restaurants abound in the 30A and surrounding areas. 

Eating out on a budget is not an easy task as prices are high.

Keep in mind tip jars when accounting for potential costs.

When traveling with the children, the majority of our meals are prepared in our kitchenette.  They can have their favorite foods and do not miss sitting through a table service meal. And it does not break the bank.

Just a reminder that lunch menus are  easier on the wallet and the gut, especially weekday specials.

This is the only visit of many to 30A that we have ever been diligent in planning ahead and tracking expenses. (Notepad on smart phone.) Definitely room for improvement in multiple areas, but our eating out budget was spot on.

Since the majority of our meals are counter service or takeout, we generally split entrees or large sandwiches and provide our own sides. Reduces the bill, but also keeps us from oinking out and my husband from gout attacks. 

When ordering table service, we try to order two entrees or one entree and an appetizer since restaurants are not generally pleased when customers split meals. Table service greatly increases costs as well as overall consumption, so we do not eat table service meals very often.

Some favorites...

~ Pizza by the Sea @ WaterColor ~

One favorite eatery from which we can squeeze one or two leftover meals is Pizza by the Sea. It is entirely kid and dog friendly, and they have weekday lunch specials.  Read more details on that here.

~ Subway @ Seagrove ~

If we are not mistaken, Subway is currently the one and only fast food chain restaurant on 30A.

Located in SeaGrove, it is easily accessible to Seaside and WaterColor. 

Subway is not a favorite for two of our three bambinos, but a big hit with the gout-induced vegetarian in the family.  On honeymoon vacations, my husband and I will split a footlong veggie with all the trimmings. Half for lunch. Half for dinner. Taking it with us to the beach with our chips and ice packed smoothie or fresh fruit from "home".

Another option is to enjoy eating in front of the Subway where live music is performed in the evening on certain days of the week.

As a side note, do not miss the beauty behind the Subway. Tiny but beautiful pond and walkway.

~ Panera @ SanDestin ~
Enjoying cozy date-like atmospheres that serve veggies and coffee and encourage long stays, Panera is a treat not terribly far from 30A.

A whole sandwich with chips, a bowl of soup with a baguette, a mug of coffee, and a 99 cent dessert comes out to $15. We share it all, and it is delicious.

Due to the crowds, it is one place we will break the lunch habit and have a late dinner. If lunch is preferable, avoid Saturday lunch hour at Panera.  Insanity hits on that check-in/check-out day.

~ SeaGrove Market @ Seagrove ~

A bike ride from Seaside and WaterColor, SeaGrove Market is a local, delicious joint. Eat in or take out.

Keeping with our frugality this trip, we ordered one huge weekday grouper sandwich to share and an order of hush puppies. We brought our own fresh fruit.

Taking it to my favorite spot in the fully shaded courtyard of Seaside, we had a romantic lunch amidst the beauty of lush greenery and twisted tree branches.

See pic @ top.

Donut Hole - East & West of 30A

~ Donut Hole @ Highway 98 ~

Strategically located at the end of 30A on either end, Donut Hole promises delicacies of fried, sugary crowd pleasers.  Arrive early to choose from a wide melt-in-your-mouth variety.

NOTE: Donut Hole was open only seasonally last we checked!


View from Bud 'n Alley's in Seaside
~ Bud 'n Alleys - Pavilion @ Seaside ~

The closer to the beach, the breezier and cooler along with incredible views!

Our big splurge on our last trip was lunch at the Bud 'n Alley's pavilion in Seaside.

Located above the dunes, with a view of the beach, outdoor covered or uncovered seating is a available.

We ordered a grilled mahi mahi sandwich, a veggie eggplant sandwich, and a serving of sweet potato fries. Instead of chips that normally come with sandwiches, the waiter kindly offered side salads.  After tax and tip, the total was ~$45.

Big splurge for us. Having planned ahead and estimated costs on this trip, we accounted for the expense by giving up some other take out meals.

~ Breakfast/Snack @ Meltdown - Seaside ~

They gave our dogs BACON. Have we mentioned the dog friendliness of this area? Lots of sweet folks on 30A. (BTW, we don't generally feed our dogs bacon, but who can resist such warm hospitality?)

The grilled biscuits with various toppings like Gouda cheese and ham are $5 (+tip +tax), and they are simply delish. Not quick to prepare, but worth the wait if you have time.

Why was this a splurge since the total was only $7 for two to spilt a biscuit?  Normally, finances go toward lunch yumminess. We do not mind eating breakfast at "home", and we love eating out for lunch. (Dinners are usually less heavy to loosen the belts.)

Art Created by Gifted Human Hands

Shopping Area in Seaside
And Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab
and every craftsman
in whose mind the Lord had put skill,
everyone whose heart stirred him up
to come to do the work.
Exodus 36:2

Simple yet magnificent creations are around every corner on 30A.

Growing to now appreciate this God-granted gift in others, 30A is a beautiful location to observe d├ęcor, clothing, accessories, furniture, architecture, and horticulture.

 The different communities have themes spread throughout their design such as the inspiration of Santorini, Greece at Alys Beach in the pristinely white buildings.  Rosemary Beach is reminiscent of Italy.  Cobblestone streets are common and the landscaping is simply stunning. We enjoy our drives and walks through WaterColor, Seaside, Alys Beach, SeaCrest, and Rosemary Beach.

View from Covered Outdoor Seating @ Fonville Press
Of special appreciation is the elegance and detail of design of Fonville Express, the coffee shop located in Alys Beach. Inside and out, it is worthy of a visit even if you do not drink coffee!

While we cannot afford the items in the shops, they are part of our experience and appreciation.  What an amazing God we serve who generously created us in His image to share in His talents and delight in creativity.

View inside Seaside Courtyard

What to Bring - Toys and Supplies

Boogie Boards @ Publix

When our days there were ended,
we departed and went on our journey,
and they all, with wives and children,
accompanied us until we were outside the city.
And kneeling down on the beach, we prayed...
Acts 21:5

Keep in mind – simplicity is sometimes best – heavy loads and small children and costly expenditures overwhelm!


~ High SPF Sunscreen – reapply constantly if midday (we did not reapply often enough) – or apply once and go mid-afternoon for cooler temperatures, smaller crowds, and less sunburns

~ Bug spray – for inland or lake adventures - Family poison level will suffice (Deep Woods not necessary)

~ Waters

~ Snacks – our preference is Cheezits for longevity and fruit for hydration

~ Lunch/Dinner – if traveling or beaching during mealtimes – kids may have to be reminded to ingest at the beach

~ Fan – if camping – not only for the heat but also to dry beach suits and towels and to keep away the mosquitoes

~ Evening cover-up – for cold natured mommas (or daddies) on breezy beaches


~ Beach umbrella – if any like shade and relaxation or need to escape nasty burns

~ Beach chairs – if any like to vegetate – lightweight is a plus – Sam’s shoppers?

~ Umbrellas/Ponchos/Rain jacket – when it rains, it pours

~ Boogie boards – if kids are old enough – tummy surfing is a blast

~ Shovel  & pail – if bringing any age kid – our 13-year-old digs as much as the little one

~ Towel – personal preference is a small hand towel – thick beach towels sour and reek in 2 seconds in Florida humidity and it’s HOT – rain showers also like to drench hanging towels, and small towels can more easily be hung inside during such weather – no need for a big honkin’ cumbersome beach towel J

~ White Vinegar – for adding to the sour towel wash; removes acidic smells like none other (btw, works on urine and vomit aromas as well)

~ Small Net – for catching sea creatures

~ Bamboo mat – for items that prefer limited sand exposure – dry super fast – LOVE ours

~ Tiny blow up baby pool or similar water holding device  – if bringing an itty bitty - thought this was ingenious of one family to entertain their itty-bitty at their beach umbrella



~ Wagon – tried a landlubbing wagon – drug it across the beach; beach wagons have big tires – big help! we no longer use one

~ Kid’s Bike Travel Trailer – for lugging way too much junk to the beach

~ Paddles with ball – older kids and parents have a blast with these

~ Skim board – for kids with perseverance – a hit with our 11 year old son

~ Surf board – good luck – we are still trying to get up on one

~ Paddle boards/Kayaks/Canoes – used more on the lakes than the gulf by families –one point of access to Western Lake at Grayton Beach State Park – available for rent by various businesses offering free delivery – limited canoes available for rent at Grayton Beach State Park

~ Skip ball – not sure the official name of this ball - it jumps across the water – hubby wants one J

~ Kites – wind blows HARD – watch out for amateur nose dives