Travel dates :: Jan 23 – 28, 2016
After leaving O’Leno State Park we headed north and west to the Florida panhandle. We were really looking forward to this area of Florida. We heard the beaches were amazing and we couldn’t wait to check them out. Our first stop was St. Andrews State Park where we had a two-night reservation in spot 104. This spot was AWESOME – right on the end of a row, it was huge and shared one side with a lot of shrubbery – so it felt nice and private.
It also had access to the lagoon (read: muddy shoreline) which the kids really loved. They had a lot of rain before we got there so it was muddier than normal. But the kids loved that. They had fun picking out the deer footprints in the sand. We saw a lot of deer while we were here!
And the kids spent a lot of time RUNNING around our campsite. It was big enough that I didn’t have to worry about them bothering other campers. I like it when this happens (and I think the kids do, too).
The first night we were at St. Andrews, the Bareneckers graciously had us over for dinner! We always love hanging out with the Bareneckers and their four adorable kids – and they always seem to have a delicious meal to share – we are so grateful for them and we had a great night hanging out with them.
The first full day in town it was pretty cold. So we ended up using the day for errands. I dropped Jeremy off at a laundromat (he gladly does all the laundry – he always has!) while the kids and I ran to Target for groceries. Then we filled up the truck with gas and stopped in at Goodwill. We found a TON of reader books – right at our kids level – for $0.29 – $2 each at a local Goodwill store. We often buy books at Goodwill (or local thrift shops) and then re-donate them after they’ve been read over and over. This saves us the hassle of the library and allows us to keep a lot of reading materials in the truck for a fraction of the price of buying them new. We simply pass them along to other traveling families or donate them when we are done – it’s like a low budget rental program for books and it works splendidly for us with our limited space.
I also found Hadley some badly needed rain boots (remember that mud I mentioned on the beach?) for about $7 at a thrift shop. See photo above. We also ended up eating lunch at Sonic for the FIRST time ever and frankly, we were instantly in love. The kids raved about their burgers and it was a great choice for lunch on the run.
That night I made Chicken Santa Fe in the Instant Pot and we had the Bareneckers over for dinner and a movie night (it was too cold to hangout outside!). It’s one of my favorite crockpot recipes and I just decrease the cooking time to about 30 – 45 minutes when I make it in the Instant Pot. Serve over rice with fresh avocado and salsa it’s a great recipe to eat in a tortilla or over salad. The kids watched a movie while the adults got to visit! (p.s. I mentioned the Instant Pot in my favorite RV appliances post – I love it!)
We had beautiful sunsets from our campsite – I would definitely recommend site 104 at St. Andrews State Park – I hope to go back and spend more time in the future.
After St. Andrews State Park we headed to Henderson Beach State Park. This was a different atmosphere but equally as awesome. We didn’t have a beach side campground, but our campground had gravel, was level and was super private with all the surrounding vegetation.
Our camping site had plenty of space – a picnic table, a fire pit and even a place to hang/dry clothes. Although it was cold, it had lot of sunshine.
Here we are tucked into our spot. There were a lot of camping spots – but honestly they were all very private and the bathhouses were nice and clean.
Henderson Beach State Park is located in the middle of a TON of retail shops. You’ll find Walmart across the highway from the state park entrance and outlet malls just about 10 minutes away. Everything is close to the state park – so a great place to take care of errands and services. We stopped by the Gymboree Outlet and stopped by a few stores but didn’t take full advantage of all the shopping options. We didn’t need much, so we didn’t shop much.
Although on a busy main highway, we felt worlds away in the campground. There was some traffic and construction noise, but it really was pretty peaceful for being so close.
The kids personally loved the trees in our campground spot. The trees in the back of the lot were all at such an angle that they were easy to climb and made great “forts”- so the kids spent a lot of time hanging from the trees and playing outside in the brisk weather.
One night for dinner we had grilled pizza for dinner, using pre-made pizza dough from Trader Joe’s (we went in Gainesville) and this is always a family favorite. We have the Weber 50060001 Q1000 Liquid Propane Grill – which we found on clearance at Target this past fall – which means we paid a fraction of the price of a grill (and also means we had no color choice and have to accept that it’s a bright purple). But if I had to do it all over again, I would easily pay full price for this grill – it’s such a solid option for full-timing and I know a lot of other families who have this exact same grill. You can find my grilled pizza recipe here (it’s really easy).
After a couple day of dealing with cold weather, doing lots of homeschool and work, and getting settled in our campsite, we headed to the beach! The walk to the beach is only about 10 minutes away on a nice paved path through a wooded area . . .
and on a beautiful boardwalk. It’s really doable even with young kids.
We loved all the educational displays along the boardwalk (and the paved path) – all sorts of information on the flora and fauna in the area. Here Liam checks out the display on sharks, rays and skates.
Now let’s talk about the BEACH at Henderson Beach State Park – IT IS DREAMY. The sand felt like brown sugar. It was the softest sand I think we’ve seen during our travels. Seriously. It looks and feels like vanilla flavored brown sugar. So soft. . . . my kids loved playing in it. . .
Although the skies looked stormy (it wasn’t at the time) we spent lots of time playing in the sand on the beach. The kids made a castle and. . .
snow angels. . I mean sand angels. . .
And digging a hole to the other side of the earth. . .
And running. . . and more. . .
running. . . along the beach. Where do kids get all this energy? We honestly had a wonderful time at the beach here.
Even with stormy skies and cold weather we still found this place to be magical and beautiful. I can only imagine what it’s like on a beautiful summer day.
The consensus? We NEED to go back to this area when it’s a hot summer day. The beaches are AMAZING and the state parks are both beautiful. It’s on my bucket list to swim off this coast in the sunshine. . .
Oh. . .and one more detail. . .on our last morning at the campground we got a WILD HAIR and Jeremy picked up donuts at the nearby Dunkin’ Donuts for breakfast. We NEVER do this. Ever (only time ever on the road). But with the close proximity we decided “why not!?!” and splurged on some sweet treats for our travel day. The kids were down right giddy and we ate donuts for the next 2 days . . . it was awesome.
And after a wonderful (very FULL and eventful) couple months in Florida, we are now ready to head to Montgomery, Alabama to see Jeremy’s brother, sister-in-law and their two adorable kids . .stay tuned for more on this – we have so much to tell you about!
Do you have favorite camping spots or restaurants in the Florida Panhandle? Please leave a comment and share!
The best time on the panhandle is September and may. We avoid June, July and August- too hot and croweded. Next time be sure to check out 30a. It’s a 17 mile road along the beach filled with small beach villages – Rosemary, Alys, Deaside, watercolor, Grayton beach. It’s great to bike along the bike path and ride through each town,